Unlocking the Secrets to Thriving Relationships: Insights from Dr. John Gottman
Updated: Sep 27
Relationships are often at the heart of our lives, encompassing diverse connections with romantic partners, friends, colleagues, family, and children.
"While there's no magic formula for creating perfect relationships, well-researched ideas can certainly help."
In 1990, psychologist Dr. John Gottman embarked on a groundbreaking experiment, setting up "the love lab," a space to study the intricacies of marriage and relationships. This unique laboratory, where couples lived for a weekend under the watchful eyes of researchers, paved the way for insights into what fuels thriving relationships. Over the years, Gottman and his team have distilled valuable knowledge applicable to all relationship types.
Creating Happy and Healthy Relationships: The Essentials
You might believe that divulging your deepest thoughts and emotions is the key to forming close, happy relationships. While authenticity matters, Gottman's research indicates that it's not just what is said but how we converse about everyday matters that truly matters.
Idea No. 1: Master Your Bids for Connection
Gottman defines a "bid for connection" as any attempt to establish a connection through verbal or nonverbal communication. These bids can range from questions and exclamations to gestures and even non-verbal cues. The response to these bids can either "turn toward," "turn away from," or "turn against."
For instance, if you make a bid and receive a positive, engaged response, it's a "turning toward" reaction. Conversely, if someone changes the subject or seems disinterested, it's a "turning away" response. The worst is when the response is hostile, effectively "turning against" the bid.
Try this Exercise | Tune in to Bids
In the next week, become more aware of bids, both yours and others. Notice how different responses affect the mood and atmosphere of interactions. Recognise the power of certain responses to either nurture harmony or create discord.
Idea No. 2: Decode Hidden Messages in Small Talk
People often avoid deeper feelings in everyday interactions, discussing mundane topics to deflect vulnerability. This is common with acquaintances and even close relationships. Yet, beneath the surface, deeper emotions may lurk, concealed by the protective shield of small talk.
Advanced listening entails going beyond surface words to decipher unspoken feelings and needs. It's a skill that requires practice but pays dividends in emotional intelligence and improved connections.
Try this Exercise | Deepen Listening
Over the next week, practice advanced listening. Pay close attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues. Tune in to hidden messages beyond superficial conversation.
Idea No. 3: Embrace Openness and Non-Judgment
Understanding emotions, both in ourselves and others, can be challenging. We often carry baggage from past relationships into our present interactions. Sharing our complete stories, free from judgment, can lead to mutual understanding and foster emotional intelligence.
Try this Exercise | Non-Judgmental Practice
In the coming week, consciously practice non-judgment. When someone shares, focus on understanding rather than passing judgment. Consider sharing more about yourself appropriately, deepening mutual understanding.
Idea No. 4: Soften Your Start-Up
Effective communication isn't always easy, especially during challenging conversations. Gottman emphasises the importance of starting discussions gently with a 'soft start up'. Harsh beginnings can trigger defensive reactions, hindering productive communication.
Try this Exercise | Gentle Start-Ups
Practice initiating conversations using a softer, gentler approach. Express your underlying needs through mild language and (I feel) feling statements, avoiding accusatory or harsh language, such as (you always) statements or criticism.
Idea No. 5: Learn to Self-Regulate
Strong emotions can trigger emotional flooding, the fight-or-flight response. This can lead to ineffective communication, particularly in moments of conflict. Learning to regulate your emotions can help maintain constructive dialogues.
Try this Exercise | Emotion Regulation
Practice self-regulation techniques to prevent emotional flooding during conversations. This will help maintain composure and clarity during discussions.
Seeking Further Help and Support:
Wellbeing Coaching Sessions
Improve your communication skills and emotional regulation to facilitate smoother conversations, reducing emotional intensity.
Private Therapy Sessions
From mild to complex relationship issues, therapy offers a range of approaches to address emotional flooding and attachment styles.
Please Note: The tips outlined in this blog are not intended for use in abusive relationships. If you're experiencing abuse, seek help immediately. Physical violence, emotional abuse, and gaslighting should never be tolerated or ignored.
John Mordechai Gottman and Declaire, J. (2002). The relationship cure: a five-step guide to strengthening your marriage, family, and friendships. New York: Three Rivers Press.
The Gottman Institute. (n.d.). The Gottman Institute | A research-based approach to relationships. [online] Available at: https://www.gottman.com.