When we talk to our closest friends about our problems, what we want most from them is their understanding and support. Building and maintaining a strong connection to a reliable support system is one of the most important parts of practicing good self care! 

Dr. Gottman’s research has taught us a great variety of things about relationships of all kinds, but whenever he discusses romantic relationships, he begins with a deeply meaningful idea: the most important predictor of a good relationship is the friendship at its core. Couples who “know each other intimately [and] are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams” are the couples who make it. 

To deepen your connection with your partner, and to build on the first two skills of self care described this week here and here, we offer you this powerful exercise. Its beautiful simplicity allows you to apply it in everyday conversations to build trust and friendship with your partner – Dr. Gottman’s keys to romance.

The purpose of this exercise is to assist you in the management of daily external stress, stress that comes from OUTSIDE the relationship. How you manage stress turns out to be very critical. Research has shown that the couples who buffered their relationships from external stressors were more capable of maintaining consistent progress over time.

This weekend, talk to your partner about a recent or upcoming stressor in each of your lives, like an upcoming job deadline, or a future event (outside of your relationship) that may prove stressful. When your partner speaks, respond in your own words, reflecting the emotion that you just heard back to them. Don’t give advice! Remember, you don’t have to hit the ball out of the park right off the bat. To extend the metaphor, as long as you are in the ballpark, your understanding and encouragement will open your partner up to sharing more with you. 

Example: 

David comes home very late from a meeting with an old friend, and flops into an armchair in the living room next to his wife Lisa. Both are exhausted, and David is stressed. He wants to talk.

Failing to Deepen Connection:
David: Rich was ridiculous tonight. I’m not sure what to do with him.
Lisa: You sound like you’re mad at him.
David: (frowning) I guess.
Lisa: What are you so mad about?
David: I don’t know, we’re both tired. Forget it. Let’s just go to bed…

Succeeding in Deepening Connection:
David: Rich was ridiculous tonight. I’m not sure what to do with him.
Lisa: Are you feeling like you need to do something with him?
David: I’m just so frustrated, he seems like he’s trapped in life.
Lisa: It sounds like you feel responsible, is that what’s making you frustrated?
David: (sigh) Yeah. He’s relying on me, we’ve known each other since we were little, and I know his family life isn’t exactly peaceful.
Lisa: He’s lucky to have you, someone who cares so much about him. I’m lucky to have you!
David: Let’s invite him over to dinner Tuesday night? I’m sure he would relax. I would relax.
Lisa: (laughing) We would all relax…

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As you can see, in the second example Lisa restates how David is feeling (“It sounds like you feel responsible”) and empathizes, which tells him that she is actively engaged in the conversation. This deepens their connection and ultimately leads to David feeling comforted and supported. Try it at home with your partner this weekend – the conversation will give you a great opportunity to turn towards each other, thereby building your Emotional Bank Account!


More in The Archives
Weekend Homework Assignment: Statements That Deepen Connection

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.