Several years ago, my husband and I heard about the exciting work that Drs. John and Julie Gottman were conducting on marriage relationships. We were amazed by the fact that it was based on over forty years of research with thousands of couples. Coming from the nursing world where empirical research is paramount, I was intrigued by their data-driven approach to understanding couples dynamics. Naturally, I started reading and talking about their books.
For my much beloved and somewhat thrifty, high-tech husband Mike, the journey began differently. After hearing me talk non-stop for weeks about the Gottmans, he found out that his company’s EAP benefit plan would pay for The Art & Science of Love weekend workshop. He was so excited about this news when he came home from work. Perhaps he was hoping I would get my fill of the Gottmans or that I would stop talking about their work. On the other hand, maybe my regular book reports were beginning to germinate in the back of his subconscious?
Whatever the reason, we went to The Art and Science of Love together in downtown Seattle. We were expecting to take some notes and learn about relationship theory – we ended up getting a whole lot more than either of us had bargained for. John and Julie were incredibly vulnerable and authentic. They re-enacted a real argument from their own relationship, right there in front of us. Who does that?
The most meaningful moment of the weekend came when we were leaning against a big rock in front of the arena where the Sonics used to play (don’t get me started, that’s a separate article). We had been instructed to wander away from the exhibition hall and find somewhere to work through an exercise. Somehow that one simple activity led us to a moment of intense closeness. The experience was intimate, surprising, and exciting all at the same time – and according to the science we had just learned about, it was also entirely predictable.
In the weeks that followed the workshop, we started applying the tools we had learned. We began asking open-ended questions and making “salsa appointments.” We looked for opportunities to build Love Maps. At one point in the middle of a fight, my husband froze mid-sentence and said, “hold that thought!” and came back with the Aftermath of a Fight pamphlet. In retrospect, I think we were trying to reproduce that moment of closeness we’d had in the workshop. We found ourselves sitting in restaurants on our date nights, arguing about which stack of Gottman cards to use while we waited for our entrees to arrive.
While the tools weren’t very well integrated into our busy lives, they worked nonetheless and we had several more moments of deep closeness in the weeks following. We were both intrigued by the idea that this experience could be replicated. I’ll spare you romantic details (maybe a separate post if the Gottmans invite me back), but we absolutely loved what these tools had done for our relationship and we wanted to find a way to bring them to others.
We started by building an app. Mike approached John and his team at The Gottman Institute, and they agreed to a partnership. Using my sketches of scenarios, my husband and his friend prototyped and refined a Windows 8 app, which we named The Gottman Love Jungle. It wasn’t perfect but it helped us understand the market demand for a couples-oriented game. From there, we continued brainstorming with the team at TGI and experimenting with other product ideas. We studied experiential learning principles and looked for ways to pair memorable couples activities with the Gottman Method. Our goal was to facilitate moments of connection and closeness for couples while locking in the learnings through shared experiences.
We would stop at nothing until we had created a safe, playful space where couples could apply and interact with Gottman research findings. Ultimately, we decided that a board game for couples was the easiest and most accessible way for partners to get started. This conclusion led us to the first version of The Gottman Couples Retreat Board Game, which after months of focus groups and beta testing, is finally available to the public. Mike and I will continue to work with The Gottman Institute to collect feedback from couples and use this data to iterate on future product versions – just as you’d expect from the unapologetic Gottman groupies that we have become. If you’ve played the board game, I would love to hear about your experience. You can find me on Twitter.
You can purchase the Gottman Couples Retreat Board Game here.