Welcome to Small Things Often,
a podcast from The Gottman Institute
Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts. Every Monday and Wednesday morning, we’ll talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in five minutes or less.
Small Things Often is an invitation to think small. It could make a big difference.
Finding Ways to Accept Influence
Accepting your partner’s influence doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain why it’s all about acknowledging that your partner has a valid perspective and how you can find ways to accept their influence.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about accepting your partner’s influence.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically say, “Yes, dear” to everything they say. Because it’s okay to have differing views — you are not a clone of each other. Accepting influence is simply being open to the ideas and opinions of your partner… not agreeing or complying or giving in. By accepting influence, you’re acknowledging that your partner has a valid point of view. You welcome it, are willing to be influenced, and it’s possible to change your perspective. Accepting influence is saying, “You are important and your opinions matter to me even if I don’t agree with you.”
Problems with resisting influence can show up in your relationship in many ways. Some problems are clearly about one partner rejecting the other or needing to always have their way. Other problems are more subtle… like one partner who seems to be seeking input on something, but actually already has their mind made up. And some people say “no” like a reflex — as a way to maintain control over a conversation or decision even if they actually agree with their partner.
So how can you avoid the tug-of-war and accept influence? First, check yourself… because self-awareness is key. You’re probably not trying to shut your partner down, but you could be inadvertently. Like when you’re in an argument with your partner and say, “I’m just expressing my opinion!” They could be thinking, “Yeah… and that’s the only opinion that matters.” It’s important to ask yourself, “Am I really staying open to their perspective?”
Remember to listen to their point of view with curiosity. Check to see if you’re understanding correctly! This may be hard to do when you’re disagreeing… but the solution you ultimately come to will feel a lot better if you both feel understood and respected.
Also keep in mind that influence goes both ways. The more influence you accept, the more influential you will be. Accepting influence is an equal opportunity concept! In fact, it’s an indicator of a successful relationship. Your relationship will work better if both partners have and accept influence. When there’s a pattern of respectful influence going back and forth, you’ll likely both feel that things are fair.
So here’s today’s small thing: Look for ways in your relationship that you can say “yes” or “I see your point” — and accept your partner’s influence. Try not to be defensive and be open to seeing that your partner has a valid perspective.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for another quick tip from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships.
Do You Look at Your Partner Through Rose-Colored Glasses?
How do you view your partner? The answer to this question can be the difference between a successful relationship — or one at risk. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn why your perspective can change your relationship for the better.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about looking at your partner through rose-colored glasses.
So here’s a question for you. How do you view your partner? I mean, when you really think about them, what part of them do you focus on? What pops into your mind? Do you automatically think of the positive parts? Like, how supportive they’ve always been? How compassionate and loyal they are? Or do you think about their issues and the things that irritate you — like they hardly ever help around the house or they spend too much time on work.
If that’s the case — and you’re in a healthy, secure relationship, free of any emotional or physical abuse issues — it may be time to put on some rose-colored glasses. Because the way you perceive your partner — the lens you view them through — can be the difference between a successful relationship and a relationship at risk.
Here’s the thing: The more you see your partner and your relationship’s history as positive, the more likely you are to have a happy future together. For couples in healthy relationships, we call this the Positive Perspective. If you see your partner through this positive lens, then when challenges arise, you’re more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt — and can more easily problem-solve through any conflict.
On the flip side, if you generally focus on your partner’s flaws or issues, you may be seeing them through a distorted lens. And during difficult times, this may cause you to take even harmless or neutral comments as negative — which can lead to defensiveness — and even more conflict over the smallest things.
Bottom line: Your perspective can change your relationship.
So how do you keep yourself in a Positive Perspective — and view your partner as an ally — someone who is always on your side? Here’s some tips…
First, if a problem comes up in your relationship, don’t hold it against your partner — instead accept their “influence” when discussing it. What does that mean? Say you’re having an argument, and your partner begins to tell you their opinion or ideas on the subject. Instead of trying to convince them to see it YOUR way, listen to them and value what they have to share! Always realize that you are partners with equal say in your relationship.
Next, increase your fondness and admiration. Think about the things that you love about your partner — and tell them! Maybe you’re proud of them for how they handled something at work. Or you’re attracted to them because of their kindness and generosity. And don’t forget to tell them each day something that you appreciate about them. Maybe they did an errand for you unexpectedly, or cleaned the kitchen. Whatever it was, don’t just think “Thank you” — say it out loud. By committing to expressing your fondness and admiration, you’ll find so many reasons to cherish each other — and strengthen your positive perspective.
And finally, remember to always turn towards your partner when they make a bid for connection. This can be anything from a question, like “how was your day?” — to a smile or hug — or a meaningful glance. Whatever the bid, notice it, and then reach back to them either physically or verbally in a loving, positive way.
So, if you’re in a healthy relationship, work on your Positive Perspective daily! Handle conflict and issues more easily — and see your partner and your relationship through a whole new lens.
Today’s small thing: Be on the lookout for opportunities throughout the day to strengthen your Positive Perspective to draw you and your partner closer together.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for another quick tip from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships.
Ways to Invest in Your Relationship
When it comes to relationships, the grass is greener where you water it. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain the ways that you can invest in your relationship so you can recognize and appreciate what you have.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about investing in your relationship.
The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. When it comes to relationships, the grass is greener where you water it… meaning, happiness isn’t a result of getting something you don’t have… it’s recognizing and appreciating what you do have.
You can do that by investing in your partner — and choosing them every day. Start by turning towards bids for connection. Bids are the building blocks of lasting love. Bids can be verbal like saying to your partner, “Do you want to have breakfast together?” Or nonverbal, like smiling at your partner or giving them a kiss.
You know what causes a lot of missed bids? Negative thoughts — which makes it difficult to build trust. Try flipping your internal script! Learn to separate specific relationship problems from your overall view of your partner. Replace negative thoughts with compassion and empathy.
The best way to keep yourself from making negative comparisons is to make an effort to cherish your partner. And do it often! Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about each other rather than thoughts about someone else. Think about the things you appreciate about your partner and tell them. Say, “Thanks for going along with my wild ideas!” Or, “I appreciate you being so patient with me.” Whatever you appreciate about them, it’ll mean a lot to hear it.
But not everything is sunshine and rainbows. So how can you still invest in your relationship in the middle of an argument? Complain without blame by talking about what you feel and what you need, not what you don’t need. Be gentle and give your partner a recipe for success. It could be something like, “I feel lonely. I need more quality time with you.” Lay it all out there!
And finally, dedicate time to your relationship. There will always be excuses. “We’re too busy.” “We work a lot.” “We’re always with the kids.” Throw those excuses away and find time to go on dates. It can even be a date where you stay at home and watch movies and order takeout. Just remember to ask each other open-ended questions and continue to connect emotionally. It’s the best investment.
So here’s today’s small thing: Invest in your relationship by doing things like turning towards bids for connection, cherishing your partner, and making time for them.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for another quick tip from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships.
6 Ideas for the Perfect “Play” Date
Has your sense of playfulness gotten lost in the busyness of daily life? If so, it’s time to make a playdate with your partner. On this episode of Small Things Often, discover six ideas to reconnect and have fun!
Today’s tip is about going on the perfect playdate.
Playdate!? Yep! You heard us right. And no, not for your kids. And no, not for your dog, either. We’re talking a playdate just for you and your partner — a time to reconnect, have fun, let go — and maybe indulge in a bit of adventure.
Why a playdate? Because making intentional plans to share fun times together is yet another ritual to keep you connected and your relationship happy and growing. Not to mention — and you’ll love this — playfulness is very attractive!
So here’s six playdate ideas to get you started.
First: Teach each other about something you love. For instance, maybe you love modern art, and your partner is totally perplexed by it. Give them a “class” on what you find so beautiful and moving about the art form. On the other hand, perhaps your partner has always loved gardening. Put aside an afternoon when they can tell you all about their favorite plants, and why working with the earth makes them so happy.
Or maybe attend a virtual concert together. But do it in style. Get dressed up in your best evening clothes, as if you were actually going to a concert hall. Dim the lights, munch on fancy hors d’oeuvres, drink something special, and enjoy the high life in your own living room.
Like to play games? Playing a board game that interests you both encourages conversation and friendly competition. Or maybe act out words and phrases with Charades! And, of course, there’s always strip poker.
Do you have lots of memorabilia and photos laying around in boxes or stuck in drawers? If so, start a joint project of putting them in scrapbooks. Not only will you enjoy doing it as a couple, but you’ll be able to reminisce and relive favorite memories of your life together.
If you both like nature, get outside, and have a nature scavenger hunt. As you explore, you’ll be able to enjoy the great outdoors as well as each other. If this isn’t your style, create a scavenger hunt in your own home. Remember the winner gets a prize!
And finally: Write each other a love letter. Pour out your heart. Tell your partner all the things you love about them and how they make you feel. It doesn’t have to be pages long. It just needs to be from the heart. It’s something you each will treasure forever.
The truth is that couples who play together, most likely will stay together. So have fun with each other, feel the connection, laugh till your stomach hurts, and bring some excitement back into your relationship!
Today’s small thing: Sit down with your partner and plan a playdate together! Or surprise your partner with an adventure you’ve come up with on your own — and have fun!
Rituals to Reconnect in Your Relationship
How much time have you actually spent with your partner lately? Have you been starting to take each other for granted? Or drifting apart? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to create daily rituals to turn towards each other daily, reconnect, and get your relationship back on track.
Today’s tip is about rituals to reconnect in your relationship.
So how much time have you actually spent with your partner lately? Have your lives become so hectic and busy that you’ve begun to take each other for granted? Or maybe you feel as if you’re drifting apart — almost as if you’re living parallel lives. If so, it’s time to explore some rituals of connection to keep your relationship strong, healthy and get it back on track.
Why are rituals so important? Well, if you think about it, daily rituals shape our lives in all kinds of positive ways. Maybe you have a ritual of getting up early to meditate or work on an important project before the sun comes up. Or maybe you take a quick jog before dinner — or write in your journal every evening. These daily rituals can make you more productive, happier and healthier. And the very same is true of creating rituals with your partner. Because by intentionally turning towards each other daily, your relationship will thrive.
Need some ideas? Here’s five rituals to get you started.
As often as possible, have dinner together without the roar of the TV in the background, or cell phones dinging and ringing with email or work-related calls. Instead, turn off all electronics, and really focus on one another. Sharing a meal together daily will help you re-connect. So as you fill up on dinner, you’ll also fill up on each other.
Another idea: Have a regular stress-reducing conversation. Take 30 minutes out of your day to sit down and ask each other, “How are you? How was your day?” Then really listen. Remember that the point of the conversation is to talk about any stress OUTSIDE your relationship. Take turns sharing and showing compassion — and watch the rewards you’ll reap.
How about exercising together? Start a ritual of taking a walk after dinner — or maybe go biking on weekends. If your partner loves working out with weights, but you’ve never tried it — grab those hand-weights, join in, and take the opportunity to learn. Whatever the activity, together you can improve your overall fitness, spend some real quality time together, and decrease your stress to boot!
Next: Share a six-second kiss every day. That’s right. Not a quick peck on the cheek. A six-second kiss. According to research, physical contact can help you stay calm, improve your mood, and stay connected. And if a six-second kiss feels too much for you or your partner, try a six-second hug! That works, too!
And finally, keep dating! Being in a long-term relationship, doesn’t mean date night is a thing of the past! This could be anything from watching a much-loved movie on your couch and holding hands — to going out to dinner at a local restaurant. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Make date night a regular ritual — and keep your love alive!
These ideas are just a start. Discover what rituals work best for you as a couple. As you do, you’ll build a stronger bond — and deepen your emotional connection. You’ll find that the rewards are enormous.
So here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about what daily rituals you can add to your relationship to bring you closer. Be creative! You’ll love the results.
Ways to Stop Taking Each Other for Granted
Are you and your partner taking each other for granted? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain 3 daily rituals to keep romance, affection, appreciation, and communication strong in your relationship.
Today’s tip is about avoiding the trap of taking each other for granted.
Romance, affection, appreciation, and communication can decline over time in a relationship. That’s natural, right? It’s not because couples start to dislike each other — but because they become too comfortable together. Sound familiar?
You and your partner need a strategy to stay happy. It all comes down to being intentional. You need to be aware of what you’re doing and you need to have a plan to nurture all of the positives in your relationship.
You can do that with daily rituals that’ll keep you and your partner from taking each other for granted and drifting apart.
Start by creating a habit of reunion. Think about it. If you consistently greet each other in a positive way, you’ll look forward to seeing each other. If you’re inconsistent about how you greet each other, you can lose that sense of excitement. And if you criticize each other when you reunite, you can even become fearful of seeing each other. Make reuniting, the best part of the day. Have some fun with it! Give them a big hug and kiss… maybe even get a running start. Or get a little wild and spin them around for a quick dance. Whatever your style, make sure that you and your partner are always excited to see each other.
Another crucial ritual is setting aside two minutes of undistracted communication. It can be more important than spending a whole unfocused week together. But this means, completely undistracted. As in… you shouldn’t even be eating. This is one on one time. No phones, no one else, just two solid minutes of both of you talking and listening. You could even do this during or after your reunion. Dance for two minutes in your kitchen… or take a seat at the table… and talk about your day.
And finally, practice an appreciation ritual. It can be easy to focus on the petty things that annoy you both, but instead shift your focus on all the good things that each of you are doing. Say thank you throughout the day! Thanks for making coffee. For sending that sweet text when you knew I was having a rough day. For starting the laundry. For doing what I forgot to do. It can literally be anything… big or small… all that matters is you’re showing that you appreciate your partner. A thank you ritual can help you become more tolerant of each other’s shortcomings… because let’s face it, no one is perfect.
So here’s today’s small thing: Incorporate at least one of these daily rituals into your relationship! Create a habit of reunion, set aside two minutes of undistracted communication, or practice an appreciation ritual.
Mindful Listening Tips During Conflict
Are you really listening to your partner during conflicts? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how you can listen mindfully so that you can move through whatever conflicts you face in your relationship.
Today’s tip is about mindful listening.
When you’re in a disagreement with your partner, you might think, “If only they would listen to what I’m really saying.” Or, “I wish they would see things from my point of view.” While, of course, we all want to be (and should be) heard and understood, try flipping the lens. Instead of going down a rabbit hole of thinking about what they should be doing… while they’re still talking… think about how you can listen more closely and start to understand your partner’s point of view in a new way.
Mindful listening is about listening in ways that help your relationship effectively move through whatever conflict or challenge it’s facing. Start by approaching the conversation with curiosity. Don’t just assume that you already know exactly what your partner is thinking and feeling. Why? You’ll close yourself off from discovering something new about their perspective. So be open and willing to learn! You can practice this by asking for more details, seeking clarification when it’s needed, and mindfully noting your assumptions or judgments.
Also try to tune into your inner silence. That means setting your own views aside to better understand your partner’s experience. If your mind is racing while your partner is speaking, you can come back to your inner silence by taking a moment to focus on your breathing. Then go back to giving your partner your full attention… while staying open to their views.
While you’re listening, are you being mindful about your intentions? Are you listening to understand or to respond? It’s pretty common when someone is speaking to formulate a counter argument. However, true listening requires you to be present and a yearning to understand. But understanding doesn’t mean condoning a particular behavior or agreeing with a certain belief. It just means that you’re open to seeing where another person is coming from. It’s possible to understand and to validate your partner without agreeing.
Another important practice for mindful listening is cultivating heart-centeredness. It’s about approaching an argument or discussion with care and compassion. In the heat of the moment, that can be difficult. But the more you practice, the easier it becomes. When you disagree, you can do things like… take a pause and invite your partner to do the same. Close your eyes and take a long, deep breath. Tap into your love and care for your partner and recommit to finding a way for both sides to be seen and heard. After this mindful pause, go back to the conversation feeling calm, patient, and present.
When both sides are open to mindful listening, conflict loses its charge. Instead, it becomes an opportunity for both of you to grow together!
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you and your partner face a conflict, practice mindful listening. Remember to approach with curiosity, tune into your inner silence, listen to understand rather than to respond, and cultivate heart-centeredness.
How to Become a Really Great Listener
How are your listening skills? It’s more important than you may realize. In this episode of Small Things Often, learn tips to become an “active” listener — and watch how your relationship improves and strengthens.
Today’s tip is about becoming a great listener.
So how’s the quality of your conversation? When you sit down to talk, are you really listening to your partner? Or are you just “hearing” them? There’s a big difference. When you’re just hearing, you may be aware of the words your partner is saying, but not their message. On the other hand, really listening —actively listening — requires a conscious effort. It takes practice — but it’s so worth it. Because by the end of the conversation, your partner will feel heard, valued, and appreciated.
Here’s how to become a great active listener.
First, turn off your phone, your tablet, your laptop — stop folding the laundry, or cleaning the kitchen, or anything else that may distract you. Active listening requires you to put your full attention on your partner.
Then, take the focus off yourself! Sometimes we get so caught up in talking and expressing our own points of view, that we miss what the other person is actually saying. And don’t make the mistake of silently planning what you’re going to say next while your partner is speaking. Listen to understand rather than respond.
Don’t interrupt! But DO let your partner know you are actively listening by occasionally nodding or saying “yeah” or “mm-hmm”. Don’t overdo it! Mindless reactions can have the opposite effect, and your partner may think you’re not listening at all.
Also, at the right time in the conversation, ask open-ended questions. If you don’t understand something, ask for more details. Also, at times, you may want to paraphrase what your partner has just said to clarify — and to let them know you’re truly listening and want to learn more. You might say something like, “You said your boss seems to be dissatisfied with your work? What makes you think that?”
And don’t forget to maintain the right amount of eye contact. Too little can seem like you’re disinterested. Too much, like staring, can come across as hostile. Good eye contact shows you are focused and paying attention — and it will put your partner at ease.
And finally, let go of your own agenda. Don’t try to give advice or solve your partner’s problems. Just be there for them. Listen with an open mind and heart. Your presence and attention and willingness to listen will go far to improve your relationship. It takes practice — but it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your partner.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner has something on their mind, sit down and practice your active listening skills. The more you do, the more it will become second nature to you in all your communications.
Ways to Invest in Your Emotional Bank Account
What’s the state of your Emotional Bank Account? Have no idea? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why your Emotional Bank Account is so important to the health of your relationship — and discover tips to get it back on track.
Today’s tip is about investing in your Emotional Bank Account.
What does that mean? Think about it. You make regular deposits into your savings account to keep your financial life secure. Daily deposits in your Emotional Bank Account keeps your relationship secure.
But instead of making a deposit of cash, you make deposits of kindness and appreciation during the small, everyday moments of your life — to let your partner know they’re loved and valued. Basic rule of thumb: When you turn towards your partner, you’re making a deposit. When you turn away from them, that’s a withdrawal.
For instance, say you’re in the middle of writing an email, and your partner begins to share a funny story that happened during their day — and you stop typing to listen and share a laugh. Ka-Ching! You just turned towards them — and made a deposit! On the flip side, if you say, “I don’t have time right now, I’m busy!” — you’ve turned away from them, and made a withdrawal. Too many withdrawals, and your account balance could eventually fall to zero. Or even worse — become overdrawn. And when your Emotional Bank Account is in the red — that’s when you start drifting apart — or having frequent arguments — and before you know it, you realize your relationship is in big trouble.
But little by little, day by day, if you and your partner make a commitment to consciously make more deposits than withdrawals, you’ll eventually find you have an abundance of love and understanding stored away. And the trust and respect you’ve accumulated can help carry you through any conflicts or difficulties that may pop up in the future.
Here’s some tips to make that happen!
First, pay attention. No matter how busy your day is, be mindful of any “bids” for connection your partner may make. A bid could be anything from a remark, a touch, a sigh, a wink — or simply asking, “How was your day?” You may miss some bids, but the more you recognize them and respond, the larger and more stable your emotional bank account will become.
Also, make it a daily practice to thank your partner whenever they have turned towards YOUR bids. Be grateful for your partner’s love and support — and don’t hold back: tell them!
Another idea: Every week, take 20 or 30 minutes to have a stress reducing conversation. Take turns giving each other your undivided attention to talk about all the stressors in your life or job — with one rule: DO NOT discuss your relationship. Actively listen, let your partner know that you’ve heard them, then validate their feelings.
Also, be understanding! If your partner has a complaint, don’t get defensive, or try to solve their problem. Instead LISTEN, then express that you understand. And if they’re happy about something, get excited, too! Sharing joy is another huge deposit!
And finally, be physically affectionate. Kiss, hug, cuddle — hold hands while just sitting on the couch watching TV or taking a walk. These small deposits of affection add up and will strengthen your bond even further.
So start today to make your daily deposits into your Emotional Bank Account — and keep love and trust alive through your joint effort to stay connected.
Here’s today’s small thing: Be on the lookout today for any of your partner’s bids for connection— and make a big deposit!
Why Core Needs Aren’t Negotiable
Are you and your partner fulfilling each other’s core needs? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain why core needs aren’t negotiable and a crucial part of making your relationship thrive.
Today’s tip is about core needs.
Some things are negotiable in a relationship… like whose family you visit on holidays or who does what around the house… but core needs? They’re not negotiable. If your partner isn’t willing to meet your needs, the relationship can’t thrive — and vice versa.
Core needs in a successful relationship come down to some basic questions. What do you need in a relationship to feel loved, happy, fulfilled, and secure? What does your partner need in a relationship to feel the same? Is your partner willing to meet your needs? Are you willing to meet theirs?
Let’s say after making plans with your friends… when regular hangouts were a thing… you called your partner to let them know you’d be out for a few hours. Your partner, whose core need is to connect regularly, asks, “When will I hear from you?” It rattled every independent bone in your body. You simply don’t understand the notion of checking in, keeping in touch, or staying emotionally connected while apart. Their need challenges your own… but what’s important is whether or not you’re willing to give them what they need.
How you give them what they need is negotiable though — and we have a recipe for success! First, communicate that you understand your partner’s need and why it’s important to them. Reiterate why tending to this is important to you. And then be clear on your own boundaries and limits in meeting that need. Communicate what your partner can expect from you going forward. Follow up by checking back with your partner to make sure they understand your limits and are okay with them.
Let’s say your partner’s need to connect regularly carries over to your very-busy, jam-packed work life. You could say, “You are important to me. I understand you hate feeling like my busy schedule keeps me from thinking of you. I don’t want you to feel that way. I am going to keep in touch and I need you to understand there’s no way I can promise when, for how long, or how often I’ll be able to do so. Does that make sense — and are you okay with that?”
Working together to meet each other’s needs is a dance that can create a meaningful and lasting relationship. It requires communication and compromise… but the payoff is trust and security! The key is to take your partner’s needs into account while also expressing your own.
So here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about fulfilling each other’s core needs. What do each of you need to feel loved, happy, fulfilled, and secure?
A Guide to Complaining
Do you know how to effectively complain? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain a 3-part formula to help you complain without criticizing.
Today’s tip is about effective complaining.
Couples will always have complaints about each other. Are you annoyed that your partner puts their dirty plate on the kitchen counter… and doesn’t even attempt to put it in the dishwasher? Or that you can tell your partner something twelve times, but they still won’t remember because they’re not really listening? We all have complaints! But instead of expressing complaints, a lot of couples resort to criticizing each other. Unchecked criticism can lead to contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
So how do you discuss complaints effectively? There’s a simple, three-part formula.
First, express how you feel. Effective complaints begin with a soft startup and are best launched by communicating an emotion like anger or fear, or a physical state like tiredness or pain. This is in contrast to a harsh start-up that usually accompanies criticism and often begins with phrases like “you always” or “you never.” Instead, shift the focus to how you’re feeling and use an “I” statement like this… “I feel sad.”
The second part is talking about a very specific situation. After stating how you feel, describe the situation or behavior that caused that feeling. For example, “I feel sad that we don’t have time to talk with each other after dinner.”
And finally, ask your partner to take positive action to resolve the complaint. That could be something like, “Can we take a walk — and talk for a half hour?” Hear how much better that sounds than, “You never talk to me!”
Using this formula doesn’t guarantee that complaints will be resolved — but it does give you and your partner a tool. You can both use it to express complaints without the risk of requests being sidelined by feeling the need to defend yourself against criticism.
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you have a complaint, try running it through the three-part formula to make sure you’re complaining without criticizing. Express how you feel, talk about a specific situation, and request a positive action!
How to Turn Towards Instead of Away
Every day is filled with small moments when you could turn towards your partner or away from them. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how and why these small moments can make or break a relationship.
Today’s tip is about how to turn towards your partner instead of away.
It’s the one thing you can do everyday — even right this minute — to help dramatically change the course of your relationship. And it starts with a “bid” of connection. Here’s an example:
Say you’re on the phone with a good friend, deep in conversation, and your partner walks in with the mail. As they start to open it, you see them shake their head, and let out a long sigh. You know something is bothering them. So what do you do? Do you turn away and stay on the phone? Or do you turn towards them by hanging up, and saying, “Hon, what’s wrong?”
Think about it. Every single day is filled with small bids of connection just like this when you have the opportunity to turn towards or away from your partner. Bids can be verbal —like asking, “How was your day?”or “Want to go for a walk?” Or they can be non-verbal — like a sigh, a touch, a look, a wink, or a kiss. They can be funny or serious or sexual. In fact, some bids are so subtle that you might just miss them. The one thing they have in common? They need your attention.
The thing is: Research shows that relationships are not maintained by grand gestures, like a big night on the town, or an expensive gift, or an exotic vacation. Instead, they’re nurtured and built through these small every-day moments. And overtime, if bids are ignored, the rejections add up, creating frustration and resentment — which can lead to arguments — and, ultimately, a breakdown of your relationship. On the other hand, turning towards each other’s bids builds trust, connection, passion — and a strong, loving bond between you both.
So imagine this, and think about how you would react.
You’re listening to an audio book you’ve wanted to hear for days. And you’re just really getting into it, when your partner comes home, sits down next to you, and asks how your day has been. This is clearly a bid to connect. And there are three ways you might respond: You may turn AGAINST your partner and say, “Can’t I ever just relax? I’ve been looking forward to this all day!” You may turn AWAY from your partner, saying “My day was fine” and immediately returning to your audiobook. Or you may turn TOWARDS your partner by turning off the audio for a few minutes and telling them the details of your day. Hear the difference? So will your partner.
So be a detective. Watch out for bids both verbal and non-verbal. And when your partner reaches out to you — reach back, listen, connect, and show you care. Bid well and often. The power these small moments hold is enormous.
Today’s small thing: Watch out for your partner’s bids throughout the day — and turn towards them when they happen. Then see if the bids you make to your partner are accepted. If they’re not, talk about it, and share what you’ve learned about the importance of bids — and turning towards each other.
Ways to Make Your Love Last
Are you committed to making your love last? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how you can maintain and strengthen your emotional bonds so you can stay in love with your partner.
Today’s tip is about making your love last.
In the early days, a relationship can feel easy. You feel effortlessly connected, united, and so excited to be with your partner. But then the honeymoon phase sails off into the sunset. And suddenly it takes work to stay in love with your partner.
Commit to the work to maintain and strengthen your emotional bond with your partner that will give your love longevity. You can do that by seeking help early. Let’s be real, going to therapy can be beneficial to your relationship when everything is going great. So by all means… when things get rocky, consider talking to a therapist — whether that’s separately or with your partner for couples counseling.
You can also make your love last by catching criticism before it comes out. You know when your partner walks in the door… shoes still on… covered in mud… oblivious to the fact that you just vacuumed the floor for what feels like the 20th time this week? And now those beautiful clean floors that you could eat off of have a trail to your partner’s shoes. As much as you might not want to, think before you speak. Resist saying any initial critical thoughts like, “Are you joking? I hope you plan on cleaning that up.” Express your needs and concerns respectfully without criticizing or blaming your partner. That could sound like, “I’m struggling to keep up with cleaning. Do you mind helping me?”
Softening your “startup” can help in these situations. Arguments often start because one partner escalates the conflict by making a critical remark. Bringing up problems gently… and again, without blame… works much better and will allow you and your partner to calmly engage in conflict.
But you should expect that type of respectful behavior from your partner. Part of making your love last is having high standards. That means refusing to accept hurtful behavior from one another from day one. Low levels of tolerance for bad behavior in the beginning of a relationship equals a happier couple down the road.
And remember to focus on the positives! For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy relationship has five or more positive interactions. It’s about having a rich climate of positivity. It’s saying, “We laugh a lot” instead of “We never have any fun.”
So make your glass half-full and go the extra mile to make sure that you stay connected to your partner. When they see your effort and commitment, they’ll be likely to reciprocate.
Here’s today’s small thing: Talk with your partner about the ways you can make your love last. Is it a small act of kindness every day? A commitment to connect? Make a plan together to put in the work!
How to Get Your Relationship Back on Track
Feel as if you and your partner are drifting apart? Almost feel like strangers? On this episode of Small Things Often, we share an exercise that can get your relationship back on track!
Today’s tip is about getting your relationship back on track.
So how’s that backhand on your tennis game? You know — the one you’ve been working on for the last year? Getting better, right? Or your progress in your online French class? Seeing some improvement? Excellent! Now, how’s your work on your relationship with your partner going? Work? Yes, work. See, the fact is that many of us are willing to spend hours on improving a skill, but expect a good relationship … to just happen.
But the simple truth is: a good relationship requires work.
Because no matter how much you love each other, the every-day stresses and challenges of life can sometimes cause good relationships to lose their way. Many couples, after a period of time, may feel as if they’re drifting apart — feeling almost like strangers to each other. If this is the case, what can you do to get back on track?
Our answer — start by building Love Maps. It’s a simple exercise that will help you get to know your partner’s world. Not only will it bring you closer — but it’ll create a strong foundation of friendship and intimacy that will see you both through whatever challenges may lie ahead. Here’s how it works:
You and your partner sit down separately, and write down everything you think you know about each other’s inner world: Likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, worries — and anything else you can think of. For instance, who are their best friends? Who irritates them? What’s their biggest life dream? Biggest fear? Then go deeper. What’s their basic philosophy of life? What are the things that are causing them stress lately?
Then make a list of things that you DON’T know about your partner: Like…What is their happiest or saddest memory as a child? What was the most embarrassing moment of their life? What experiences in their past have made them into the person they are today?
After you both finish your lists, sit down together and talk about your answers. Were there any surprises? Are there things that you thought you knew about your partner that really weren’t the case at all? Discuss it. Listen to each other: But remember — there’s no judgement here! Don’t blame your partner for what they don’t know. The point of the exercise is to reconnect — by educating each other about your innermost feelings and thoughts — feeling heard, understood, and loved.
Update your Love Maps often! As time moves on, our likes, dislikes, dreams, fears and worries change. Stay in touch with each other’s inner worlds. Yes, a great relationship takes work — but almost anything is possible when both partners are committed to change. So learn a new skill — stretch those muscles — and get your relationship back on track.
Today’s small thing: Sit down with your partner and write your Love Maps. If you’ve already done this exercise in the past — update them!
How to Support Your Partner’s Life Dream
Does your partner have a life dream, but you don’t know how to support helping them make it a reality? On this episode of Small Things Often, we offer some ideas of what you can do to help their dream come true.
Today’s tip is about supporting your partner’s dream.
Has your partner shared a specific goal or life dream with you that they’re passionate to achieve? Something life-changing like…opening their own small business. Or finally going back to school to finish their college degree. Or perhaps taking a hiatus from work to write the book they’ve always had inside them — just waiting to be born.
Once you’ve both agreed that now is the time for them to go full throttle into the future to achieve that dream, how do you help them? What can you do to let them know you’re honoring their dream, and pulling for them every step of the way?
It starts with a conversation. Sit down together and brainstorm different ways you can support their goal. Explore all your options. But remember: Whatever plan you come up with, make sure it works for both of you, and if not, find a compromise. You both need to be happy and satisfied with the outcome.
Here are some ideas to consider…
If your partner’s dream is something they need to accomplish on their own — like going back to school — you might consider helping to support them financially. If this is something you’d like to do, have a conversation about it. Ask questions like: How will this work? What will need to be sacrificed? You both need to be comfortable with this idea before you move forward.
If your partner’s dream is some sort of endeavor, like opening a small business — and it’s something you would enjoy being a part of — join them! It’s a wonderful opportunity to find shared meaning in your relationship, build trust and appreciation — and create something together, as a team.
Or maybe become their logistical support system! Some people can’t even imagine going after their dreams because they just don’t have enough time between all their daily responsibilities. So perhaps offer to take some of those commitments off their plate. Run errands, do household chores, go grocery shopping, pick the kids up from school. Any support you can offer will give them the time and space they need to pursue their dream.
And finally, just be there for them as a stable and loving presence in their life. Cheer on their successes and progress — and when they’ve hit a road bump, listen to them with understanding and compassion. Encourage them. Stand by them. Tell them how proud you are of them. Love them.
Honoring and supporting your partner’s dream, will not only bring you joy, but deepen the emotional connection between you.
Today’s small thing: Sit down with your partner and talk about ways you can support their dream — making sure the plan you come up with works for you both.
Do You and Your Partner Dream Together?
Have you shared your dreams for the future with your partner lately —or ever? On this episode of Small Things Often, discover why sharing individual and shared dreams is so important — and how to start a conversation about it!
Today’s tip is about dreaming with your partner.
So when was the last time you and your partner talked about your dreams for the future? Recently? Not since you first met? Or..uh…never? The fact is — many of us are so focused on day-to-day life, the stresses, the chores, the bills, our jobs, that we haven’t really thought about our dreams in a while, much less talked about them.
And if you’re thinking you already know your partner’s dreams, think again. Because dreams change as people grow. Maybe when you first got together, your partner mentioned that one day they’d like to get their MBA. That was a few years ago and you haven’t discussed it since. Do they still hold that dream? Or has that dream changed over the years and now they wish they had a job working with kids? How will you know — unless you ask?
The thing is — sharing your inner most dreams with your partner — and then supporting each other to accomplish them — creates connection, intimacy and passion —and is so important to any loving relationship.
So take some time and sit down with your partner to talk about your dreams and goals — both large and small — both individual dreams and shared dreams. Maybe start with questions about dreams that are easily reached. Like, what book do you want to read? Or what new kind of food would you like to try? Or what color would you like to paint the kitchen?
Then go wild! What has always been in the back of your mind to do that you never expressed? Ride a motorcycle? Skydive? Swim with the dolphins? Or what city or country do you want to visit once the world is safe again? Maybe you’ve always wanted to see the ancient ruins of Greece, or go on an African safari! Really think about it! Unleash your bucket list! The possibilities are endless!
But dreams are not just about what you want to do. They’re also about who you want to become. Maybe you want to be more understanding. Or more confident — or more spiritual. Share that, too.
And then, of course, what do you want to accomplish as a couple? Do you both want to get your finances in order? Live in the city? Expand your family? Speak about whatever’s in your heart, listen to each other, and then work together to make those shared dreams come true. Your days and nights will be filled with enthusiasm and focus as you make plans for your future — together.
Whatever your dreams, cherish them, nurture them, honor them, and commit to supporting each other to make them a reality. You’ll discover it will bring you even closer together. And happier, to boot!
Today’s small thing: Dream together! Sit down with your partner and share all that’s in your heart — what you want to accomplish in the future. Take turns. You might be surprised at what you hear!
How to Build Trust In Your Relationship
Are you looking for ways to build trust in your relationship? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how you can build bridges of trust by doing things for your partner and doing things together.
Today’s tip is about building trust.
Trust begins and ends with emotional communication. The road to get there involves bridges of trust. If two people in a relationship build habits of turning towards each other in simple everyday moments, they build bridges marked with affection, fondness, and admiration for each other. A little bit every day goes a long way.
You can show your partner affection, fondness, and admiration in different ways — by doing things for your partner and doing things together. It’s all about building connections that’ll help build trust.
Start by doing things for your partner. That could be as simple as giving them a compliment. Maybe after they’ve worked all day, they still cook you dinner — that feta-tomato pasta dish you’ve been eyeing on social media — because they know it’ll make you smile. In that moment, you could say, “You’re an awesome chef! Thank you so much for cooking! I appreciate all that you do for me.”
Doing something for your partner, could also mean doing something for your partner’s friends or family. You know how good it makes them feel when you spend quality time with their parents? Help their dad at home! Or run an errand for their mom. The kind deed will get back to your partner, whether you tell them or not — and there’s a good chance it’ll make them feel even closer to you.
Then there’s the things that you can do together. Hugging, kissing, holding hands, and cuddling — all create meaningful moments. You could also do an activity together… like go on a little adventure. Take a class together! You know that virtual yoga class you’ve been wanting to try? Do it with your partner and have fun laughing together at their downward dog. Or volunteer! It always feels good to help someone… so share that moment together!
When activities aren’t feasible, make mundane moments special. Doing the dishes together might not light your fire, but look at it as an opportunity to have some fun. Make it a game! Whoever gets done drying the dishes the fastest gets a 5 minute massage. Or maybe the winner gets to pick what you watch on tv together!
It truly doesn’t matter what you’re doing… either for your partner or with your partner, as long as you’re turning towards each other and building a stronger connection that will inevitably build trust.
So here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about things you can do separately for each other and things you can do together… every day. What would mean the most to each other? Be intentional about your efforts to connect and watch your trust grow.
Here’s What Trust and Commitment Look Like in a Relationship
How can you show that you’re a committed partner worth trusting? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain what trust and commitment look like in a relationship.
Today’s tip is about trust and commitment.
If trust is something that you feel, commitment is something that you do. So what does that look like in your relationship?
Trust can start with cherishing. Do you feel like your partner is irreplaceable? Can you not imagine your life without them? Even when times are tough? That’s a good inclination that you cherish your partner. You can show your partner that you cherish them by telling them how much you appreciate them — and say it often. Dig deep and say things like, “I appreciate that you really listen to me and care about how I feel.” Or get super specific and say, “I appreciate that you took out the trash!” Whether the act that you appreciate is big or small, communicating it to your partner can build trust in the relationship.
So what does commitment look like? It’s resisting temptation to betray your partner. It’s a conscious decision — a mindset — to not just choose your partner, but to choose the relationship — every day. That means putting your commitment into action. Taking them with you, subconsciously, wherever you go. Would you behave differently at a bar when you’re single versus being in a committed relationship? Or even just going to the grocery store. Do you consider your partner’s needs? Their likes and dislikes? If you think about it, commitment is really a verb because it’s the actions we take daily to let our partner know we are with them — and that we make decisions with them in mind.
Commitment also means accepting your partner exactly as they are. Because we all have flaws and every relationship has flaws — and sometimes it can cause conflict. But you can create trust and safety by turning towards them to work out your differences.
So here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about trust and commitment in your relationship. How can you make each other feel safe? What can you do every day to show each other you’re committed and trustworthy?
What to Do if You Don’t Trust Each Other
Is your relationship lacking trust? Was it broken or never there to begin with? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn the steps to take and the questions to ask so you can begin to trust your partner.
Today’s tip is about building trust.
Maybe you’re the type of partner that isn’t automatically trusting. Or maybe you are, but that trust was broken. What do you do if you and your partner don’t trust each other? You both have to build it — proactively and intentionally.
Let’s say trust was broken after your partner racked up a $5,000 credit card bill. At times, they told you about purchases for their new business. Other times, they didn’t say a word because they were worried you’d think they were being too frivolous. They didn’t see it as being dishonest until you saw the bill and got upset. You think it’s shady and struggle to trust them — questioning their every move.
So now what? Make an effort to build that trust back. Here’s a few ways to do it.
Acknowledge your feelings and practice being vulnerable in small steps. Build confidence in being more open with your partner. Don’t walk on eggshells! But remember, start small. Tackle minor issues first — like figuring out schedules or juggling household duties — before getting to the bigger issues.
Being honest and communicating can also help build trust. As you work through those bigger issues, be forthcoming about the fundamental things that truly matter and affect your relationship — that could be anything from your past to finances to family problems. Start to lay your cards on the table. Do you feel like your partner’s family doesn’t accept you? Your partner needs to know that and you should be able to trust that your partner will validate your feelings. Don’t sweep these issues under the rug. That can lead to resentment!
While you’re having these conversations, make sure to challenge any mistrustful thoughts that you have. Ask yourself, “Is my lack of trust due to my partner’s actions, my own insecurities, or both?” Be aware of any unresolved issues from your past relationships that may be triggering mistrust in your current relationship.
While building trust, make an effort to assume that your partner has good intentions — but also trust your gut. You know that feeling when you know something’s wrong, but can’t put your finger on it? Have confidence in those instincts and pay attention to red flags. But again, communication is key here, so be vulnerable and ask for reassurance. Tell your partner if you feel like something’s off!
For a relationship to succeed in the long run, you must be able to trust each other. Building trust with a partner is really about the small moments of connection that allow you to feel safe and to truly believe that your partner will show up for you.
So here’s today’s small thing: Take one small step to build trust in your relationship. Start right now by initiating an intimate dialogue with an open-ended question like, “What are your 3 biggest needs and how can I fulfill them?” Building your connection will help build trust, one step at a time.
Learn to Create Shared Meaning in Your Relationship
Feel something is missing in your relationship? It may be “shared meaning.” In this episode of Small Things Often, discover why and how creating shared meaning can turn things around — and help your relationship grow deeper and stronger than ever before.
Today’s tip is about enriching your relationship by creating shared meaning.
Remember those early days when you first fell in love? The happiness you felt, as you began to experience life together as a couple? It was almost intoxicating, wasn’t it? But now, years later, you’ve found yourself feeling disconnected — as if something in your relationship is missing. Maybe, as life has gotten complicated, you hardly spend time together anymore. And when you do, you argue over small things, get irritated easily, and even question why you got together in the first place.
If this sounds familiar, you may be right: Something may definitely be missing. And that something…is a sense of shared meaning. Because long-lasting intimacy doesn’t just happen — it’s nurtured throughout your relationship. It’s a life-long process.
What does a sense of shared meaning actually mean? It starts with spending time together — and we’re not talking time paying the bills or doing the dishes — we’re talking QUALITY time. And not just sometimes, but regularly. It also means sharing dreams and creating daily rituals to stay deeply connected with each other.
How do you do this?
First, sit down and really explore your dreams and goals as a couple. Maybe you both want to create a financially secure future. Or maybe you both love the beach, and eventually want to live by the ocean. Or perhaps you dream of opening your own business. Whatever you choose to accomplish together will help you keep your eyes on the big picture — instead of focusing on the small issues that pop up in your daily life. Dream big! And talk about your goal often!
Then create some daily or weekly rituals of connection. Some ideas? Find rituals that can both begin and end your day. Have breakfast together in the morning — and share your nightly meals with the TV off and your cell phones silenced — and really talk to each other about your day with no distractions. Or maybe go for a bike ride or a walk after dinner. Or have a date night once a week, where you sit on the couch, munch on some popcorn, hold hands, and watch a movie you both love. You can even create an annual ritual — like each year play a song that has meaning for you both on your anniversary, as you toast each other and your life together. Be creative! Rituals help your relationship thrive!
And also is there some activity you both love to do? Gardening? Roller-blading? Trivia? Whatever your common passion, find time to do it together and often. Spending intentional time with your partner, doing something you both love, can bring you pleasure, spark passion, and draw you closer together.
Once you infuse your days and nights with purpose and meaning, you’ll see that something really WAS missing in your relationship — it was your connection to each other. So create a sense of shared meaning and watch your relationship grow deeper and stronger than ever before.
Today’s small thing: Sit down with your partner and begin to identify a dream or goal you both want for your future together. Then go for it!
How to Strengthen Your Relationship with State of the Union Meetings
Are you holding in feelings of anger or frustration with your partner that are impacting your relationship? On this episode of Small Things Often we explore the State of the Union Meeting — a powerful tool to repair conflict and strengthen your relationship. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Doctors John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about strengthening your relationship with State of the Union Meetings.
State of the Union? Isn’t that the speech that the President gives to Congress once a year? Yep. But with your partner, it’s a once-a-week conversation to discuss the state of your relationship. Here’s how it can help.
Say you’ve been having a hard time at work lately —struggling with a new project that you find overwhelming. You’ve mentioned it to your partner several times, but they always brush you off with, “No worries. You’ll get through it” — which is no help to you at all. You find yourself getting angry that they’re not taking your anxiety seriously. And the underlying anger is now causing you to explode at any small thing they do that irritates you — like leaving the towels on the bathroom floor, or not helping with the dishes — and now you’re both angry. And the thing is: if you don’t repair the conflict as quickly as possible, your relationship can easily go off the tracks.
So here’s where the State of the Union meeting comes in. This once-a-week conversation is a time when you and your partner can both be heard and understood — resolve your conflicts, and enormously improve your relationship. How to begin?
First, pick a good time when the two of you can meet in a quiet, comfortable place without any distractions. Then before you even begin to talk about any conflict, focus on the positive. Each of you tell the other five things they did during the past week that you appreciate. Like, “I was so grateful you picked up the dry cleaning.” Or “I loved it when you held my hand while we were watching TV.” This will create a foundation of fondness and admiration before you delve into any conflict you’re feeling.
After that, take turns being the speaker and listener. When you speak, remember to only focus on one issue. If you try to fit too much into the meeting, the issue is less likely to get solved. The speaker can talk as long as they need to express their feelings. If you are the listener, give your partner your full focus, listening with empathy and understanding. When they’re finished, summarize what they said, so they know they’ve been heard and understood.
During the conversation, make sure to choose your words carefully so your partner won’t feel defensive, or think they are under attack. To do this, choose “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For instance, instead of saying, “You totally brushed me off when I was expressing my anxiety about work!” Rather say, “I felt dismissed and alone while talking about my work stress.”
And finally, it’s only after you both feel understood, that you can begin to problem solve and compromise. For this, you both need to understand places you can be flexible, and places where you cannot. Compromise doesn’t work if one person influences the other to give up something that is essential to their happiness. For example, say you ask your partner to make dinner on Tuesdays, so you can join a zoom call with your friends — even though you know it will interrupt their late afternoon jog. Maybe the compromise would be to take their jog an hour or two earlier than their regular time. The point is to find a solution that satisfies both of you.
The State of the Union meeting is powerful stuff. And if you stick with it, and repair conflicts as they arise, it will strengthen your relationship and open doors to understanding and connection.
Today’s small thing: Schedule a time with your partner for your first State of the Union! Bring notebooks to write down your thoughts and feelings as you talk through your conflict to reflect upon later.
So you just had a fight. Now what? In the latest program in the Gottman Relationship Coach, Drs. John and Julie Gottman will guide you through the science behind conflict and what you can do to course-correct. You’ll learn how to stop conflict from spiraling by identifying the signs of Flooding, what repair attempts look like in your relationship, and what triggers you and your partner. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for more.
How to Use a Repair Remote Control
If you’re struggling with repair attempts, visualize a tv remote control! On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how you can rewind, fast forward, and pause during conflict so you can get your relationship back on the right track. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Drs. John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about using a repair remote control in your relationship.
Think about your tv remote. There’s buttons like rewind, fast forward, pause, stop, and record — all things that you can do during repair attempts. Mistakes, carelessness, and conflict are all inevitable in relationships, but having the right repairs at your fingertips can make all the difference.
So envision the options on a remote when repairs are needed. Let’s say you and your partner have been arguing all day. They made a mess in the kitchen and left it because they know you’ll clean it up, they “accidentally” spilled coffee on your laptop, and then they forgot the one thing on the grocery list that was really needed — toilet paper. Altogether, it makes you want to scream. You shout, “Do you pay attention to anything but yourself?” Yikes, right? And “yikes” is what you might be thinking too as soon as those words leave your mouth.
How can you quickly repair the situation? Start with the “rewind” button on your repair remote — that means backing up, trying again, or simply apologizing. That can sound like, “I’m so sorry for reacting that way! Can I go back and reword how I was feeling?”
Or maybe you need a minute to self-soothe after the conversation gets heated. That’s when you’ll want to hit the “pause” button. Pausing means signaling to your partner that you need to take a break. You could say, “I’m starting to feel flooded. I need to walk away and calm down.”
Once you’ve taken the time to self-soothe, your partner might want to press “fast forward” on the repair remote. After explaining to your partner that you feel like they were being inconsiderate, your partner jumps ahead and tells you “yes” — they agree! But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Maybe they want to compromise or meet you halfway. They say to you, “I agree with part of what you’re saying.”
If the conversation starts to derail, hit the “stop” button! When your partner goes off about the other part of the argument that they don’t agree with, they start rehashing past arguments that have nothing to do with the current one. At that moment, you can say, “We’re going off track!”
But always remember to use your record button! That’s showing your appreciation. Record your appreciation so you can share it often! Maybe give credit where it’s due and say, “That’s a good point.” Or if all else fails, just say, “I love you.”
Keep the conversation moving in a positive direction so you’re pressing the buttons on the repair remote… and not just pressing each other’s buttons.
So here’s today’s small thing: Make an effort to use and recognize repairs when conflicts arise. Use the repair remote so you can understand what went wrong, heal, and make the next conversation more constructive.
So you just had a fight. Now what? In the latest program in the Gottman Relationship Coach, Drs. John and Julie Gottman will guide you through the science behind conflict and what you can do to course-correct. You’ll learn how to stop conflict from spiraling by identifying the signs of Flooding, what repair attempts look like in your relationship, and what triggers you and your partner. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for more.
What to Do When You Disagree
It doesn’t have to be the end of the road if you and your partner disagree about important issues. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain a “sandwich” approach for talking through difficult topics so you can both be seen, heard, and accepted. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Doctors John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about what to do when you disagree.
When you and your loved one have different opinions, it could feel like a red flag in the relationship. It might feel necessary that for the relationship to be ok, you have to be on the same page. About everything. But that doesn’t always create a healthy relationship — which requires the thoughts, feelings, and needs of both people to be expressed and to hold value.
Some of the happiest couples disagree about important issues — maybe even core values like religion… or dare we say politics. You don’t have to agree on everything. Staying relationally connected is about being seen and heard, while also being accepted.
If you find yourself in a divisive disagreement, try using a “sandwich” approach for connecting around difficult topics. Sandwich your challenging message between two positive statements.
Here’s what we mean. Start off the conversation with an “I see you” statement. That’s a statement that respectfully validates your loved one — creating a bridge of connection. But in that same sentence, also speak your truth. Connect your “I see you” statement to your “truth” statement using the word “AND.” Don’t use the word “BUT” — which can discount their point of view. Complete your sandwich message with a positive affirmation.
So this is how it would sound. Let’s say you and your partner are fighting because they think you’ve been working too much. You’re now working remote and trying to find a work-life balance. You think you’re doing your best, but your partner says they need more of your time. You’re going head to head and neither one of you wants to budge. You could start the conversation by saying, “I see why you think ‘abc,’ AND I actually think ‘xyz.’ Even though we disagree, there are valid points on both sides and I think we can accept each other, even if our views don’t line up.”
Repair can happen when you build bridges of validation that connect you and your partner, deepening your sense of belonging and security. It can help you let go of rigid stances, even if you have strong feelings and opinions. It’s important to remember, throughout these challenging conversations, that neither of you is defined entirely by your opposing values. For example, if one partner is a “dog person” and the other prefers cats, these preferences don’t override their other dimensions as a human being.
So here’s today’s small thing: Make an effort to hold respectful space for your loved ones whose views may differ from your own. If you enter the argument zone, use the “sandwich” approach to validate their views while still speaking your truth.
So you just had a fight. Now what? In the latest program in the Gottman Relationship Coach, Drs. John and Julie Gottman will guide you through the science behind conflict and what you can do to course-correct. You’ll learn how to stop conflict from spiraling by identifying the signs of Flooding, what repair attempts look like in your relationship, and what triggers you and your partner. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for more.
How to Process an Argument
You and your partner just had an argument… now what? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll guide you through 3 steps to process the argument so you can repair it and move forward together. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Drs. John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about how to process an argument.
When you or your loved one feels hurt, frustrated, or angry after an argument… wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hit the restart button? Unfortunately, you can’t erase the argument from your memory, but you can process it and talk about what happened without jumping back into the argument. One of the most important tools for building a healthy relationship is knowing how to process it in a way that helps you learn from it so you can move forward together.
That can begin by going through three steps that will increase understanding between you and your loved one. It’ll help you focus on finding ways to understand why the conversation was so unproductive so you can make this type of interaction better in the future.
For the first step — both of you will take a turn talking about what you were feeling during the argument. Use an “I” statement and be specific about the emotion. Let’s say you and your partner were fighting about money. You could say, “I felt criticized while we were talking about the money I spent.” Take ownership of your feelings and be honest.
Step two is discussing and validating both subjective realities. In any given argument, there is no absolute “reality” as to what happened. There are always two “subjective realities” or perspectives. So take turns talking about how you each saw the situation while remembering that neither of your perspectives is “wrong.” Focus on each of your feelings and needs. It’s crucial that you validate your loved one’s experience and communicate that you understand at least some of their perspective. You could say, “I understand that you felt not listened to. I see where you’re coming from.”
The third step is to accept responsibility. What role did you play in this argument? What could you have done differently? Start by saying what set you up. Maybe you didn’t communicate this month about finances like you normally do. You and your partner set a tight budget, but you desperately needed a little pick-me-up. You’ve been working hard and you’re mentally, physically, and totally exhausted. So you went for it and treated yourself to the latest and greatest phone. But now you’re realizing that you didn’t let your partner know and the argument suddenly had nothing to do with your shopping. It spiraled out of control. To accept responsibility, you say “I haven’t asked for what I needed.”
While it’s important to recognize your part in the argument, also remember that no relationship is perfect. The goal shouldn’t be to keep yourself from making mistakes or saying the wrong thing. It’s all about your ability to go back and make attempts to repair the situation.
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you and your loved one have an argument, try to find ways to course-correct early. Work through the three steps so you can salvage the point of the conversation and create a more productive and positive outcome.
Rules for a Stress-Reducing Conversation
Feeling stressed at the end of your day, and not knowing how to deal with it? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn rules for having a stress-reducing conversation with your partner, to help you both connect, unwind and relax. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Doctors John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about how to have a stress-reducing conversation.
Ever experience this? It’s the end of a stressful day, and you’re starting dinner, and your partner walks into the kitchen. You offhandedly ask, “How was your day?” — and it’s like that one small question opened the floodgates. Your partner goes off on a rant about their inconsiderate boss, their unending workload, their computer problems, and the dog’s incessant howling while they were on a zoom call.
You’ve had a hard day, too. You’re behind on a work project, the pipe under the sink is leaking, and your nosy neighbor complained about the placement of your trash cans on pickup day.
So now what? You have two choices. You can have a conversation that makes a difficult day even more stressful — or the conversation can provide a safe haven for you both to be heard, relax and unwind. Yeah, let’s go with the latter — which we call “the stress-reducing conversation.”
How does it start? Grab a pen and write down these rules. It will help strengthen your love and trust for each other, one conversation at a time. Ready?
First: Take turns! Each of you gets to complain all you want for a predetermined amount of time. Whatever stressed you out today, get it all out! Remember: it’s not a competition to see whose day was worse or more stressful.
Next, if you’re the listener in the conversation, give your partner your undivided attention. Make eye contact — and actively listen with genuine interest, concern and empathy. And don’t forget to silence your phone!
Also, don’t problem solve or give unsolicited advice! Even if you have a good idea to help your partner deal with their boss, keep it to yourself. It’s only after they feel understood that they might be open to suggestions.
Next, no matter if you think your partner’s perspective on their issue is wrong or unreasonable, always take their side. Never back the opposite viewpoint or play devil’s advocate. Your job is to express compassion and not cast judgement on what they’re feeling. Let your partner know that whatever the issue, you two are a united team — and that nothing can come between you.
And don’t forget to validate your partner’s emotions by TELLING them that their thoughts and feelings make sense to you. A simple phrase like “I understand why your feelings were hurt” or “That sounds terrible” will let your partner know that they have been heard.
And finally, express your affection. This may be a quick hug, a touch of the hand, or simply saying “I love you.” Let your partner know you are there for them.
The stress-reducing conversation will help you and your partner realize that neither of you ever have to deal with the day-to-day stresses and challenges of life alone. You are on the same team, side by side, and always ready to listen to each other, understand, and connect.
Today’s small thing: After asking your partner “How was your day?” sit down with them using the rules you learned today — and have your first stress-reducing conversation!
How to Rescue Your Relationship From Stress
How’s your stress level lately? Whether you realize it or not, the way you cope with it could be affecting your relationship. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll give you tips on how to manage your stress in order to get back on track with your partner. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Doctors John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about rescuing your relationship from stress.
So how IS your stress level lately? And how are you managing it? Think about it.
Maybe you’re so stressed-out by the pressures of a new job, that by the end of the day, you’re too tired to have any kind of meaningful conversation with your partner. Or maybe you just bought a new home, and you’re so overwhelmed by all the new expenses, you find yourself getting angry and snapping at your partner over the smallest things. Or perhaps you’re so saddened and worried by the illness of a parent, you can’t think about anything else— and spend most of your time isolating, in silence.
It’s not intentional. You still love your partner deeply. You’re just trying to cope with your stress in the best way you can, right? But here’s the thing: when your coping method causes you to shut your partner out of your inner world, trouble follows. That is, IF you don’t first recognize it — and THEN find better ways to manage it.
So here’s some steps you can take right now, today, to grab hold of the way you manage stress —and get your relationship back on track.
First, identify what exactly is stressing each of you. Is it a new job, loss of a job, trouble with in-laws, financial worries, health? Whatever it is, name it — and realize that your own individual stress from OUTSIDE your relationship can impact your ability to connect with your partner emotionally.
Then once you’ve identified your stressors, sit down and share with your partner exactly what you’ve been going through. Take turns asking each other questions to get a true understanding, like “How has stress been affecting your emotions?” and “What have you been doing that helps you cope?” Then probe deeper: Ask “How do you think your way of coping has impacted our relationship?” Maybe the answer is “I’ve withdrawn from you” or “I’m always angry.” And then ask what more positive ways they could cope with their stress going forward. Whatever the answer, be sure to actively listen so they know they’re being heard.
And then together and individually, figure out ways to strengthen your resilience to stress. First and foremost: work on the connection with each other. Turn towards your partner instead of away. Share fondness and admiration to help restore your emotional closeness. And don’t forget to look outward, too. Stay connected to those people who you care for outside of your relationship who bring you a sense of joy and comfort. And if you and your partner are experiencing the same stressor, maybe join an online support group.
Here’s another idea: Rediscover your gifts and passions. Do you love to paint? Listen to music? Garden? Whether you pursue these activities together or separately, they can give you a sense of meaning and purpose and help alleviate stress.
And don’t forget to take care of your body as well as your mind. Stress can impact you physically as well as mentally, so exercise regularly, eat well, and get enough sleep.
And finally, set goals with your partner — both individually and together — on how you’ll manage your stress going forward. Work out a plan for each goal — and check in with each other often to make sure you’re both on track and making progress. And while you’re at it, practice gratitude. It’ll help remind you how much you have — and to appreciate each other.
Today’s small thing: Identify your current stressors, and ask yourself if they’ve been affecting your relationship. If the answer is yes, sit down with your partner and open up about it.
Managing Physiological Flooding
Have you ever been in the middle of an argument with your partner, and suddenly you feel as if your mind and body have been caught in a riptide? That’s physiological flooding. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to manage these overwhelming feelings — and get back on track. Visit gottman.com/afterafight for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Doctors John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about managing physiological flooding.
Ever been in the middle of an argument with your partner, and suddenly you feel as if you’ve been caught in the eye of a hurricane? This is what we mean…
Say you and your partner are having a disagreement about finances. Maybe they don’t think your pricey massage every month is necessary — and no matter how many times you try to tell them that it helps with your back pain, they still think it’s too expensive. It’s a discussion you have every single month when the bill comes in, and now you’re exasperated, and the disagreement has turned into an argument —and before too long, it’s escalated to a fight. Adrenaline kicks in, voices are raised, harsh words are exchanged — and, suddenly, as you stand in a rage in the middle of your kitchen, you realize that your heart is beating out of your chest, your body is tense, you’re sweating and shaking, and you can’t hear a word of what your partner is saying.
What’s happening to you? You’re in the midst of physiological flooding. The magnitude of your emotions has taken over. The “thinking” part of your brain has shut down. Your nervous system is in overdrive — and you respond with the ancient “fight or flight” response — which will cause you to either furiously lash out even more — or shut down completely and leave the room in a rage. Either choice will result in making the situation even worse. So what to do? Stop. Hit the pause button — tell your partner you need to take a break and will come back to the conversation when you are calmer— and then turn inward to take care of yourself. How?
You may be surprised, but it starts with a simple action you do every day. Breathing. Because when you are flooded, your breathing becomes shallow, which increases blood pressure and heart rate. So stop and take a deep breath. Inhale slowly through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this for several minutes to help your nervous system calm down.
While you’re focusing on your breath, use positive self-talk to communicate with your inner self — assuring yourself that this moment will pass and you will be okay. And then, listen to music, read a magazine, whatever will help calm you down. But don’t dwell on the argument with your partner. Don’t think of what you might say next, how you feel mistreated, or how angry you are. Let it all go, and stay in the moment. Realize that your perception of your argument is unreliable during flooding. Don’t move into the blame game or catastrophize the episode.
After at least 20 minutes of self-soothing, you can then return to the conversation with your partner. Why this amount of time? Studies show that it takes 20 minutes, minimum, for your body to return to its normal state — when the flooding has finally dissipated — and then, hopefully, you can both discuss the issue calmly and quietly, with a productive outcome.
It’s scary, we know. But once you are aware of what flooding can do to your mind and body, you’ll be able to recognize it when it begins — and then take steps to quickly deal with it whenever it occurs.
Today’s small thing: Have a conversation with your partner about flooding — tell them how it affects you, and what you need in order to feel safe during an argument. You may find out that they have had the same experience. If so, share what you have learned.
How to Practice Self-Soothing
Do you know how to self-soothe when you find yourself in the middle of a heated discussion with your partner? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re guiding you through a meditative technique so you can find peace and work through conflicts as a team. Don’t forget to visit gottman.com/afterafight for all-new research-based exercises, conversations, and videos.
Today’s tip is about how to practice self-soothing.
The ability to self-soothe is one of the most important skills you can learn. Practicing it not only can help you in romantic relationships, but it can help you in other areas of your life too.
Let’s say you and your partner are in the middle of a heated discussion. They just accused you of ignoring them all day. But in fact, you’ve been slammed with work and you’re minutes away from exploding. They don’t seem to care that you’re drowning at work and now you feel like you’re drowning in this conversation. But instead of actually exploding or stonewalling, tell your partner that you’re feeling flooded and need a break. That time-out is what you need so you can self-soothe.
Many people find that the best approach to self-soothing is to focus on calming your body through a meditative technique. Once you’ve moved away from your partner to take your break, start by imagining a place that makes you feel calm and safe. A sacred space. It could be anywhere — like a warm sunny beach where your toes are in the sand or your childhood bedroom at your parent’s house. As you imagine yourself in this sanctuary, lose yourself in the peace of mind that it brings you.
While you’re there, focus on your breathing. It should be deep, regular, and even. Usually when you get flooded, you either hold your breath a lot or breathe shallowly. So intentionally inhale and exhale naturally.
Release any tension that you’re feeling and relax parts of your body that feel tight or uncomfortable. And then feel the warmth and heaviness flow out of your limbs.
Think of this exercise as your starting point when you need to find peace. Soothing yourself will make your relationship stronger with your partner — or friends and family — because you’ll be able to work on conflicts as a team rather than as adversaries… when you’re calm, cool, and collected.
So here’s today’s small thing: Think of a neutral sign that you and your partner can use in a conversation to let each other know when one of you feels flooded. It can be a word, like “time-out”, or a physical motion like raising both hands. You could even make it funny and have your code word be “banana.” You may find that using it can help diffuse tension and then your self-soothing can begin.
How to Cope with Overwhelm During Stressful Times
Whether you’re dealing with the pandemic — or another crisis — overwhelming emotions can impact both you and your relationship. On this episode of Small Things Often, we give you some simple tips to deal with difficult times in your life to help you cope and give you a bit of peace. Visit gottman.com/LOL for a new collection of exercises, conversations, and videos led by Doctors John and Julie Gottman.
Today’s tip is about how to cope with overwhelm during stressful times.
So how’s your relationship going as we enter the second year of the pandemic? It hasn’t been easy, we know. With worry over health issues, financial pressures or job loss — not to mention watching your regular routines disappear — many of us are feeling major stress. Add to that the fact that you’re spending wayyy more time with your partner, and even the happiest couples may feel the crush of it all.
With these worries always lurking in the background, perhaps little things that never bothered you are setting you off. Maybe you got irritated with your partner because they expected you to walk the dog in a rainstorm. Or maybe you exchanged harsh words about something as mundane as to whether to order-in pizza or sushi for dinner. We totally get it. The day-to-day stresses of the pandemic can cause you to feel all sorts of difficult emotions — like anxiety, anger, fear, and irritability — which can completely overwhelm you — and then, by default, impact your relationship.
So what to do? First realize you are not alone. And then follow these simple tips, suggested by Dr. Ali Mattu, to help you cope with the overwhelming feelings caused by the pandemic — or any crisis you’re experiencing — and, hopefully, bring a bit of peace back into your daily life.
First, be compassionate towards yourself AND your partner. Did you meet a work deadline today? Congratulate yourself. Did your partner make a wonderful dinner? Thank them. And if your day has been a little wacky, remember that sometimes just getting through the last 24-hours is an accomplishment in itself. In difficult times, it’s okay not to be okay.
Next, develop a routine instead of wandering aimlessly through your day. Have certain goals you want to reach in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. Your pre-pandemic routine is a thing of the past — but by creating a new routine now, you’ll be able to get through the day without being overwhelmed or exhausted.
Here’s a great one: Take a break from whatever is overwhelming you. Is it the news? Turn off the TV! Is it a financial worry? Take a mini-vacation from your head! Maybe watch a movie or read a book about something that takes you away from reality for an hour or two so you can clear your mind.
Also: Are there some small problems that are bothering you in your day-to-day life? Fix them. Do you dislike the way your work-desk is crammed into the corner of the room? Move it to another space. Maybe you feel you can’t keep up with the laundry. Schedule one day a week to do it, and stick to the plan.
Very importantly, be grateful. Gratitude is powerful stuff. It can lift your spirits in a millisecond! And if you like to write, maybe start a gratitude journal to jot down your thoughts each day.
And finally, share your feelings with your partner. If you’re struggling, let them know. And if they’re struggling, too — listen. It will help you both release pent-up emotions, and bring you closer together.
Today’s small thing: Pick one tip from our list of six, and start today to combat your overwhelming feelings. Share it with your partner so they’re aware of how you’re working to help yourself.
Bonus Episode: Dr. Julie Gottman’s Guided Relaxation Exercise
Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Or need a break from an argument with your partner? Self-soothe by listening to Dr. Julie Gottman’s guided relaxation exercise to calm your mind so you can find inner peace and repair your relationships.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute.
Today’s bonus episode will help you self-soothe with a guided relaxation exercise.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, need to take a break or calm your mind after an argument with your partner, listen to this relaxation exercise guided by Dr. Julie Gottman. Research shows that taking effective breaks has been proven to lower the “temperature” of an argument significantly — so this meditation is not only good for you — but your relationship as well!
And if you’d like to learn more about flooding, self-soothing, and how to process an argument with your partner, check out “What to Do After a Fight,” from the new Gottman Relationship Coach series. Drs. John and Julie Gottman will walk you through what happens physiologically when you experience conflict. You’ll also learn how to notice and receive your partner’s repairs, and how to work through even the most challenging arguments to come out with a better understanding and respect for one another.
And now, find a comfortable place, close your eyes, and try to quiet your thoughts. All you have to do is listen to the voice of Dr. Julie Gottman.
Let’s begin the relaxation exercise. First, find a nice, comfortable place to sit with your feet resting flat on the floor and your back supported by a back-rest, either on a couch or chair. Turn off any noise or distractions in the room, such as a television, radio, or cell phone. Close your eyes, if it is comfortable for you. Now, the first thing you do is to focus on your breathing. Put your hand on your belly, and as you take a nice deep breath in, push your hand out with your belly as if your belly was a balloon, filling up with air. Then as you exhale, push your hand back down against your belly and feel your belly deflating. That’s it. Take another nice deep breath in and push your belly out against your hand.
Then as you exhale, push your hand back down against your belly. Every time you take a nice deep breath in, just feel your hand going out as your stomach expands. And then as you exhale, gently push against your stomach as the breath leaves your body. Take another nice deep breath in, that’s it, and exhale. Another breath in and exhale. Good, one more. Breathe in and exhale, that’s it. Now, as you continue to breathe normally, lift your left leg up straight in front of you, pull your toe up towards your knee, and tense all of the muscles in your left leg. Feel your thigh muscles get tense, your calf muscles tighten, that’s it. Now, hold it and release your leg and drop your leg back down. Good, take another nice deep breath in. That’s it, good.
Now do the same thing with your right leg. Raise your right leg straight ahead of you, pull your toe up towards your knee, flexing your foot, and tighten all the muscles in your right leg. Feel them being really tight in your thighs, in your calf muscles, hold it, and then release your leg back down. Good. Relax both legs and take another nice deep breath in. Notice how your legs may feel a little heavier now, a little warmer. Let’s move up the body. Move to your lower back. Arch your lower back by pushing your belly out towards the opposite wall and pulling your shoulders back. Create a nice arch in your back and feel the tension in your lower back, feel it tighten.
That’s it. Hold it, now release that tension and allow your back to rest comfortably against the back of your chair or sofa. That’s it, just let that furniture support you. The next step is to raise both arms straight ahead of you, straight ahead, and tense all the muscles in your arms by first clenching your fists really tightly, both fists. That’s it. Then, stretch your fingers out towards the opposite wall, reaching for that opposite wall with all your strength. That’s it, reach and good. Now, drop your arms back down to your lap. Take another nice deep breath in and slowly exhale. Now, raise your shoulders up, shrugging your shoulders way up towards your ears. Higher, higher, that’s it.
This is where you’re holding lots and lots of pressure and stress. Feel those shoulders lifting even one more step higher. Good, and now drop your shoulders and circle them first in one direction, good, and then circle them in the opposite direction. Good, and now relax them, letting all the stress out of your shoulders as you take another nice deep breath in. Good. Now, let’s move to the neck. Take your right hand, place it over your head, and on the left side of your head. That’s it. Now, gently pull your right ear down towards your right shoulder, that’s it, giving a nice stretch to the left side of your neck. Feels good. That’s it.
Now, put your hand on top of your head, the crown of your head and pull your chin down towards you chest. Good, that’s it. Now, switch hands. Take your left hand, place it on the right side of your head, over your head, that’s it. And pull your left ear down towards your left shoulder, giving a stretch to the right side of your neck now. Nice gentle stretch, not too hard. Good. And now, tip your head slowly back, letting your arm drop. That’s it. And now, return to your normal natural pose. Good. Take a nice deep breath in and release it. Let’s move to the lower jaw. Clench your teeth tightly together, very tight, that’s it. That’s where we all hold lots of frustration. Tight and now release your jaw, circling your lower jaw first one direction and then the other direction.
Good, now relax your jaw, very good, and take a nice deep breath in and release. Now, close your eyes this time, squeezing them tightly shut as if you’re shutting out the world and saying “No.” That’s it, tighter, tighter. Very good. Now, simply relax your eyes, but keep your eyes lightly closed. Good. Take another nice deep breath in and exhale. Now, as you continue to keep your eyes closed, breathe naturally. Imagine yourself under a warm waterfall. The water is pouring gently down over your head, over your shoulders, down your back, and rinsing away any remaining stress in any part of your body. The water is even going inside the trunk of your body, looking in every nook and cranny for stress, for tension, and releasing it. Rinsing it away, rinsing it down through your arms, your shoulders, down through the trunk of your body and your back, down through your legs, all the way down through your feet and down into the earth. The water is rinsing away any remaining tightness, stress, or tension, leaving you feeling very relaxed and comfortable, very pure, very deeply relaxed. And now, try imagining with your eyes closed, a place you could go, a place you could take yourself that feels very comforting to you, very relaxing. It could be a place outside like a beach or a forest, or perhaps a special room or sanctuary inside.
Look for that place, where is it? That’s it. Now, look at the colors in this place. Look at the shapes, look at the forms, and the textures of this place. Notice every nuance of what you see. What is it like? Listen for any sounds in this place. Do you hear anything special? What does it sound like? Good. Is there a fragrance to this place? See if you can smell anything in particular there that smells really lovely to you, really good. Feel the air on your skin. Is it warm or is it cool? What does the air feel like on your skin?
Use all of your senses to really immerse yourself in the beauty of this place, because this place is your refuge. It’s your own private sanctuary, a place where you’re completely safe, you’re at peace, you’re being nourished by everything around you. Let yourself really savor being in this place. Breathe in the air of this place, enjoy it. This is where you can always take yourself. If you need to calm down, it will always be there for you, inside. All you’ll have to do is take nice deep breaths in and exhale, bringing it into your mind, into your heart, there, just for you to help you feel at peace and to nourish you.
Find more ways to calm your mind by checking out the new Gottman Relationship Coach series “What to Do After a Fight” at Gottman.com/afterafight.
Do You Know When Your Partner is Feeling Flooded?
Can you recognize your partner’s signs of flooding? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain why it’s important to know when they’re overwhelmed and how you can reverse course. Don’t forget to visit gottman.com/LOL for all-new research-based exercises, conversations, and videos.
Today’s tip is about recognizing your partner’s signs of flooding.
Maybe you know what you typically do when you’ve reached your max in an argument. Do you raise your voice? Do you completely shut down? While it’s important to know when you’re physiologically flooded during conflict, it’s equally important to know when your partner is too.
Their tell-tale sign might not be as obvious as yours. It could be a “blink and you’ll miss it” characteristic. Let’s say you and your partner are having an argument over their family. You don’t feel like their mom respects you as their partner. It’s a sensitive topic between the two of you and your partner tends to get defensive. But you bring it up because again, their mom made a condescending comment about how clean your house is. When you say that your feelings are hurt, your partner says, “You just don’t like my mom.” As you defend your position, your partner’s heart speeds up and their adrenaline starts pumping. There’s a slight twitch in their eye and they can’t focus on what the argument was originally about.
While you might not be able to tell that their heart is racing and their adrenaline is pumping, you might recognize the slight twitch or the suddenly disorganized argument as a sign that your partner is feeling flooded. You can help bring a fight back from the brink by acknowledging that they might be overwhelmed and initiating a time-out. You can literally say, “Okay, time-out. Things are getting heated and I can see it. Can we go cool off?” Or maybe, “Hey, honey, it seems like you’re getting upset. Let’s take a breather.”
If you don’t know your partner’s signs of flooding, ask them. Or really, ask them anyway. Even if you think you know, you could be missing other signs. Your partner can give you insight into the little things they do while feeling flooded that you can pick up on. Once you know the signs — for both you and your partner — you’re more likely to change course and head for calmer seas when the conversation gets to be too much for either one of you.
So here’s today’s small thing: Think back to your last argument with your partner. Make a list of physical traits, gestures, or movements that your partner did that might signal flooding. Ask your partner to make one for you too. Compare notes and then fill in the gaps for each other!
Questions Happy Couples Ask Each Other
Feeling a bit disconnected from your partner lately? On this episode of Small Things Often, we offer meaningful questions to get you both back on track — and deepen and transform your relationship. Don’t forget to visit gottman.com/LOL for all-new research-based exercises, conversations, and videos.
Today’s tip is about staying connected to your partner by asking the right questions.
And we’re not talking about questions like “What’s for dinner?” or “Could you clean the lint trap in the dryer?” Nope. We’re talking meaningful questions that can deepen your relationship. Because here’s the thing: Sure, you can show your love to your partner through large romantic gestures, like giving them a beautiful gift for their birthday, or maybe taking them on a great vacation — pre-pandemic, of course. But the happiest couples stay emotionally connected through the small moments in their lives. And one of those ways is to ask your partner open-ended questions, and then actively listen to how they respond.
Don’t know where to start? Try this. Put aside 20 minutes when you and your partner can be alone. Turn off the TV and cell phones. Then sit down together with a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, however you prefer to relax, and really spend time learning about each other. Remember to let yourself be vulnerable and be fully present to each other’s answers.
Here’s five questions to ask each other that will help you connect:
First: “What are your three biggest needs, and how I can fulfill them?” It’s a great question. Do they need you to be a better listener? Maybe they need to be told more often that they are loved. Or maybe they need some time alone every once in a while. You might be surprised by what you learn — and how you can be there for them.
Ask about their years as a kid. For instance: “What is your best and worst memory of your childhood?” Learning about your partner’s childhood experiences can really give you lots of insight into what shaped them into the adults they are today —and also help you to be sensitive to situations that may have impacted them — either positively or negatively — that still affect them today.
Here’s one that might bruise your ego for the moment — but is important to know. Ask: “What kinds of things do I do that annoy you — and what can I do to improve it?” Even if you’re momentarily hurt by the answer, know that every person in a relationship annoys their partner somehow. No one is exempt! The good news is that once you know, you can then modify your behavior to minimize any future issues that may cause frustration or resentment between the two of you.
Here’s another great question: “Does anything keep you awake at night that you haven’t shared with me?” Maybe your partner has been keeping something inside — like a financial or health issue — that they don’t want to burden you with. Or maybe, for some reason, they’ve been afraid to share it. Once they open up, you can then be by their side to love and support them.
And finally, ask: “How can we make our sex life better?” I know, I know. It’s a hard question. But it’s an important one that can open up a dialogue between you both, and improve your intimate life enormously. Focus on the things you need and want — but be gentle, positive, and caring as you ask or answer this sensitive question.
Today’s small thing: Schedule a time with your partner this week to ask each other some of these meaningful questions. Also, make a list of your own to ask in the future. Focus on the things that ARE going well and those things that can be changed for the better — and watch your relationship soar.
Ways to Fall in Love With Your Partner All Over Again
Feeling a disconnect in your relationship? Has the sizzle now fizzled? On today’s episode of Small Things Often, discover some simple but powerful tips to revive your connection — and fall in love all over again. Don’t forget to visit gottman.com/LOL for all-new research-based exercises, conversations, and videos.
Today’s tip is about falling in love with your partner all over again.
So close your eyes, and let’s take a trip down memory lane — back to those first, lovely days of your relationship. Do you remember? You wanted to be with your partner every minute. The anticipation of seeing them at the end of the day was overwhelming. You melted when you heard their voice — or they looked into your eyes, or touched your hand. And the passion between you both was so great, you could barely keep your hands off each other. Can you feel it? Is your heart beating a little faster?
And now, open your eyes and come back to the present moment. It’s years later, and the sizzle seems to have fizzled. Maybe your everyday life has become so hectic, between kids and work and life in general, you’ve drifted apart. Perhaps your relationship has become monotonous — as you follow the same routines every day, having the same conversations, and the same disagreements. Or maybe, to tell the truth, you’re sometimes just too tired or annoyed or irritated to make the effort to connect.
So how do you get back to the early days? How do you ignite the spark to bring passion back to your life? How do you fall in love with your partner again? The answer is: By turning towards each other. The happiest couples make a consistent effort to positively connect. Not just sometimes. All the time. Even when they don’t feel like it. Here’s some simple but powerful ways to do just that…
Let’s start with this: Put down your phone! Turn off the TV, and step away from the computer! Make your partner a priority!
Next: Send flirty messages to each other. Whether your partner is sitting in the next room or on the other side of the couch, text something like: “Meet you in the bedroom in a half hour?”
Here’s another good one: Start a daily habit of a 60-second blessing. Spend one-minute affirming positive qualities you love about each other. Like “I love how you support me when I’ve had a difficult day.” Or “I love your infectious laugh.” You can start every day on the right foot by loving out loud!
And what about hobbies? What are some interests you both have in common? If you both love to read, start a book club for just the two of you! Or if art is your thing, buy a couple of easels and some art supplies, and try your hand at expressing yourselves on canvas.
Or maybe, take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood together holding hands. While you walk, reminisce about your life together, your first date, prior vacations, anything that makes you both fondly remember happy times in your relationship.
And here’s one you can start tonight! Remember your “make out” sessions of years gone by? Revive them! Make foreplay a priority before sex.
And don’t forget to show appreciation throughout the day. If your partner brings you coffee, say “Thank you”. If they take out the trash, say “I appreciate it.” These small moments add up.
And finally: Listen to Small Things Often! Learn from our relationship tips…as a couple!
Today’s small thing: Choose at least one of our simple ideas — and begin to reignite that small spark between you — revive your connection, your friendship, your passion…and fall in love all over again.
How You Can Pursue Your Partner at Every Stage
Never stop dating your partner! On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll show you how to pursue each other at every stage of your relationship and keep your connection strong.
Today’s tip is about pursuing your partner at every stage.
There’s no final destination when it comes to your relationship. It’s a journey that will continually unfold. You are both active participants… shaping and molding your shared reality. Your work is never done. So whether you’ve been together for 2 months, 2 years, or 2 decades… you should never stop dating each other.
Dating isn’t just for the honeymoon phase of your relationship… when it’s filled with so much passion, excitement, and butterflies. We all want to feel loved and desired, regardless of what relationship stage we’re in, right? Otherwise, what has your relationship become? Your partner doesn’t have to become your roommate.
So find ways to court and pursue them every day… and love them out loud! Take time to remember how your partner likes to feel loved. Do fresh flowers make them smile? Surprise them with a bouquet! Or maybe it’s a hot cup of coffee on their nightstand before their feet touch the floor in the morning. It could even be a note on the bathroom mirror that says, “I can’t wait to see you later!” Take time to experiment and explore new ways you can flirt with them. Be creative and get out of your comfort zone!
And remember to schedule regular date nights… and make sure that time is sacred. It could be takeout from your favorite restaurant or a long walk at your favorite spot. The logistics are irrelevant — as long as you’re taking time to cherish each other. It’s in these small moments of connection that relationships flourish.
So don’t stop! It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been together. It always feels good to have your partner pursue you… just make sure to reciprocate!
Here’s today’s small thing: Think about the ways you can pursue your partner on a daily basis. What would put a smile on their face? What would make them feel loved? Do your best to make it happen!
Learn the 2 Biases That May Be Hurting Your Relationship
Are you biased when it comes to your partner? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how 2 biases could be hurting your relationship and talk you through effective antidotes.
Today’s tip is about two biases that may be hurting your relationship.
Both of these biases affect your ability to love your partner out loud because they could cause you to jump to conclusions. You could be judging situations or your partner in ways that negatively affect your relationship.
Let’s start with the first… confirmation bias is our tendency to pursue and believe facts that “prove” what we already suspect or believe to be true. Look at this example. You and your partner have arguments about spending. So when your partner takes you to a new fancy restaurant for your birthday… you think, “Did they not look at the menu? We can’t afford this!” You’re fuming. There’s not an ounce of you that feels like thanking your partner for a beautiful dinner. But your partner isn’t oblivious either. They say, “You seem upset. I thought you’d be happy to be here.” With rage in your eyes, you say, “You never look at how much things cost!”
Confirmation bias can be destructive, especially when paired with negativity bias… which is a tendency to give greater attention and weight to negative information. Maybe you’ve noticed that your partner has been different lately. Your partner just came back from a trip where they didn’t answer your texts right away. They also didn’t answer the phone one night when you called at the time you both agreed on. Since they’ve been home, they seem quiet and even went to bed early a few nights. You now believe that your partner is being distant.
After mulling it over, you confront your partner and say, “If you don’t love me anymore, why can’t you just tell me instead of shutting me out?” Your partner says, “What are you talking about?” As you explain, they respond with valid reasons. Their phone battery died a few times and they couldn’t get to their charger immediately. And the nights they went to bed early, they had to get up early the next day for work. It all totally checks out.
So how can you keep these biases out of your relationship? Here are some antidotes.
For starters… battle bias with fondness and admiration… which grows when couples intentionally put a positive spin on their relationship and on each other’s character. Instead of letting a confirmation bias consume you at a fancy birthday dinner that you think isn’t affordable, consider what your partner possibly had to go through to take you there and show your appreciation.
Also strengthen your Love Maps! Confirmation bias and negativity bias can make partners experts at pointing out each other’s failures and flaws. But that’s undermining the foundation for a happy relationship. Happy couples build their relationship on an ever-growing catalog of knowing each other’s likes, dislikes, desires, and dreams. If you know the path to your partner’s heart… their “Love Map”… use it to point out the good, not the bad.
You know what else will keep biases at bay? A spirit of we-ness. You and your partner… we… ness. It’s when you share a common purpose with similar beliefs, values, and goals. When biases invade your relationship, the focus often narrows to who’s right and who’s wrong. Remember what’s important to both of you… because you’re in this together.
So here’s today’s small thing: Recognize confirmation bias and negativity bias when you see it and use one of our antidotes so that you and your partner can stand together during hard times. Make an effort to turn towards them and to always see the good.
Are You Surrounded by Healthy Couples?
You are the company you keep, right? So surround yourself with couples that are in healthy relationships! We’ll explain how healthy couples could influence your relationship on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about surrounding yourself with healthy couples.
You are the company you keep, right? Surrounding yourself with people who are in positive, successful relationships could be a positive influence on yours. Let’s face it. Repairing and maintaining a relationship doesn’t just come naturally… but you can gain so much wisdom by observing great examples.
Let’s say you and your partner are friends with a couple that excels at expressing their opinions and navigating disagreements. Maybe it’s a disagreement over directions to a restaurant. With friendly voices, they both say what they think and their reasons for wanting to take different routes to the restaurant. After a few minutes of discussion, one of them agrees to the opposing route and a decision is made with no hurt feelings. There’s a lot to learn from seeing them accept each other’s influence and witnessing a disagreement being handled respectfully without criticism or defensiveness.
Or maybe you know another couple that still gets all lovey-dovey when they look at each other. They’ve been together for what feels like forever, but if you didn’t know any better… you’d think they’re newlyweds. Their eyes light up at the sight of their partner. They warmly greet each other. That kind of enduring fondness takes intentional effort… every day! It could be a great reminder of the power of expressing fondness and admiration for each other. That means being more proactive about complimenting each other, and expressing gratitude and love… out loud!
And remember that even a healthy relationship isn’t perfect (because a perfect relationship doesn’t exist) and we all have ups and downs. But there’s value in seeing how other couples navigate their struggles successfully by being intentional. Maybe you and your partner are friends with a couple that no matter what issues they face… they’ve remained committed to their relationship and each other. They read about relationships. They go to workshops to gather more tools to strengthen their relationship. They listen to Small Things Often together. They don’t go into cruise control. They know their relationship requires regular maintenance. Maybe by witnessing their work… you and your partner will realize that intentionality is key and sometimes it’s necessary to work for your relationship.
So surround yourself with healthy couples and learn from their success. But also keep an eye out for the opposite — couples who struggle… and then struggle to recover — so you can learn what not to do. The better you get at spotting and naming… contempt, defensiveness, and criticism… the better you’ll get at learning what to avoid or using an antidote to repair the situation.
Here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about a healthy couple that you both could learn from. What is it about their relationship that sets such a good example? How could you implement their behavior into your relationship?
Simple Tips to Reconnect and Nurture Your Relationship
Keeping your relationship on track, especially during stressful times, can be difficult. On today’s episode of “Small Things Often,” check out our simple but impactful tips to let your partner know that they’re valued, loved and respected.
Today’s tip is about reconnecting and nurturing your relationship.
We know. It’s been an incredibly challenging time. Your stress level has been soaring, as you’ve done your best to make life for you and your family as normal as possible. But with a never-ending list of things to do — whether it be balancing work with kids, keeping up with the bills, or checking on relatives — something’s got to give. And, unfortunately, very often it’s the relationship with your partner.
Maybe you’re finding you’re arguing more over small things of no consequence, finding conflict where there really is none. Or perhaps, because your stress is at an all-time high, you’re blurting out things you don’t even mean. These small moments can add up, and over time can have a lasting impact on our closest relationships.
So what can you do? How do you maintain a loving relationship through really stressful times? The answer is: by sharing your fondness and admiration with your partner— showing and telling them how much you value them. So grab a pen, and jot down these simple tips that will help you get back on track — and let your partner know that they’re respected and loved. Ready? Here we go.
First, remember what your parents told you and mind your manners! Especially when you’re frustrated or overwhelmed. Don’t forget to use words like “please” and “thank you” and “have a good day”. Simple acts of kindness can help you reconnect.
Unlock your memory bank, and share a story or memory with your partner that illustrates a special quality or trait you love about them. Maybe it’s their quirky sense of humor, or their honesty, or their humility. Tell them in person — or surprise them with the story by text or email.
Here’s another one they’ll love: Jot down a short love note on a post-it, and leave it on their bathroom mirror, their laptop, their coffee cup — wherever you think they’ll be surprised and delighted. Maybe say, “I’ve been thinking about you all day” or “Did you know you’re the love of my life”? Be creative. The possibilities are endless.
Here’s something you can do as a couple: Take a few minutes to reminisce about your history together: Maybe talk about your first date, or a wonderful past vacation, or that joke they once told you that made you laugh till you couldn’t breathe.
And here’s a tip you can do for yourself: Each time you have a critical thought about your partner, counteract it with a positive thought. So if you’re feeling annoyed and think, “Why do they never unload the dishwasher?” follow it up in your mind with a positive thought like, “I love the way they support me in my work.”
And finally: Share a gratitude journal. You and your partner can take a moment to write something in the journal that you appreciated — like, “I’m grateful that you went grocery shopping and bought my favorite dessert” or “I’m grateful that you listened to me rant about my difficult day.” Then you can pick a time to read the journal together. Or take a quick look at it on your own whenever you need a pick-me-up.
As you value your partner in these small moments — honoring each other, and sharing the fondness you feel for them — your appreciation for each other will grow — and help you to reconnect, no matter how stressful life becomes.
Today’s small thing: Take one or two of our suggested tips, and incorporate it into your day. Next week, add another. And then another — and learn how to treasure each other again.
Why It’s Important to Be “In Like” With Your Partner
You might be “in love” with your partner, but are you “in like” with them, too? On this episode of “Small Things Often” find out why this is so important — and discover ways to let your partner know that you “like” them.
Today’s tip is about being “in like” with your partner.
“In like”!? Sound a bit strange? Here’s what we mean…
Let’s say you met your partner years ago, and immediately felt a connection to them. Maybe it was the way they were so kind to the waitress in the restaurant after she screwed up your order, or perhaps it was how they listened so closely to a story about your childhood, or maybe it was their wry sense of humor and their huge, warm laugh. Or maybe it’s something you can’t even put your finger on. But whatever drew you to them, you said to yourself, “I really, really like this person.” And from there, your attraction grew — and somewhere along the line, came the first “I love you.”
And now, years later, even with your ups and downs, and stresses, and arguments, you make it a point to say “I love you” frequently. That’s great. But when was the last time you told your partner that you “liked” them? Can’t remember? If so, it’s time to grab the very underrated “like” word out of your past — and bring it roaring back into the present. Because “loving” your partner is important, yes. But “liking” them…well, that’s at the very heart of your relationship — and should never be taken for granted. Falling “in like” is what drew you together. And that’s what will keep you together. Mutual respect. Sharing. Trust. Friendship.
Case in point: Ever see a couple that’s been together for many years, and they still love talking to each other, laughing with each other, and even enjoying the silences between them? That’s because they “like” each other. And they know it.
Need some suggestions on how to get there? Here’s a few:
First: Build Love Maps! Be aware and learn about your partner and their world. Pay attention! What do they like or dislike? Do they love old horror movies, and hate peanut butter? Know that. Listen to their stories about their high school years, no matter how many times they’ve told you about shooting the winning basket. Ask questions! Find out what they dream, what they fear. Dig deep. It can feel a little overwhelming to know where to start so we have some example questions to help you get started on Gottman.com, just search “love maps”.
Next: Share your fondness and admiration: Are you proud of your partner? Tell them! Do they look particularly fabulous one morning? Let them know! Say it out loud. And often. Whenever there is an opportunity, tell them in no uncertain terms how much you admire, respect, and appreciate them.
And finally: Turn toward your partner instead of away from them: Ask their opinion. Look into their eyes when they speak to you. Hold their hand at expected — and unexpected— moments. And don’t forget to laugh at their jokes.
Falling “in like” is powerful stuff. Let your partner know that they are your most favorite person to be around — and watch what happens.
Today’s small thing: The next time you say, “I love you” to your partner, follow it up with “and I like you.” Those three small words can mean so much — and transform your relationship.
Love Out Loud
Don’t assume that your partner knows all the ways that you love them. Sometimes, they need to hear it! On the season premiere of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how loving out loud can build a healthy relationship.
Today’s tip is about loving out loud.
As in, vocalizing your love for your partner to your partner. Verbalizing it strengthens your relationship… plus, it can also end up organically creating more moments of affection and respect…which are key in building a healthy, secure relationship.
It makes sense, right? Think of how good it feels to hear words of affirmation. Or just to hear someone say something nice about you. Something as simple as, “You are so good at that” can mean even more when it comes from your partner. That’s why it’s important to share fondness and admiration…in all your relationships — it’s a skill and an antidote for when contempt creeps in.
But don’t just stop at saying “I’m fond of you.” Tell your partner why. You could say something like, “I’m proud of the way you handled yourself when the basement flooded the other day.” Or, “I like how you make me laugh so hard my stomach hurts!” Tap into what made you fall in love with them in the first place and celebrate it!
Oh, and another piece of loving out loud… express your appreciation and gratitude. It’s not just about saying “thank you.” Your gratitude should extend beyond “what you do for me” and into “who they are.” Verbalize your appreciation for one of their characteristics and get specific about when you noticed it. Try saying something like,“I appreciate that you are patient. I noticed it yesterday when you were helping my mom.” Sharing the characteristics that you appreciate will help you articulate the big and little reasons you love your partner.
Maybe you think that your partner already knows all the ways that you love them… and maybe they do… but we promise it’ll mean more when you say it out loud. Say these things regularly — and try to make it a part of how you communicate every day! Your partner will likely pick up on this pattern and fall into the flow of loving out loud. Then both of you will continue to do the acts you received praise and admiration for… which can be a rewarding cycle to be in.
So here’s today’s small thing: Look for ways that you can express fondness and admiration to your partner. Do you admire their sense of humor? Do you love the way they’re always willing to help someone? Don’t just think it — say it and love them out loud!
How To Use Small Things Often Together
Do you share what you’ve learned from Small Things Often with your partner? If so, how do you approach them about sensitive topics? In this episode, learn the best way to speak to your partner about the insights and information you’ve learned without being accusatory or critical.
Today’s tip is about how to listen to Small Things Often with your partner.
Has this happened to you? You listen to an episode of Small Things Often, and totally recognize your partner in the tip. Maybe it was the episode about being a good listener — and you realized that your partner always interrupts and offers their own opinion instead of really listening to you, your thoughts, or your pain. Or perhaps it was the episode about handling difficult emotions— and you discover that your partner is a bottler who locks their emotions inside — until they explode.
If this is the case, how do you share what you’ve learned? Do you send them an email with the link to the episode and the email subject, in all caps: “THIS IS YOU! LISTEN AND LEARN!”…or maybe you just keep playing your favorite episode as loud as possible every time they come in the same room hoping something will sink in. Well, we have some other approaches to try. Because the point of Small Things Often is to improve your relationship together by asking for what you need and coming from a place of love – not judgment. If it comes across as a critique both of you could end up on the defense — and most likely lead to a fight that will not lead to positive growth in your life together.
So how should you share the information you’ve learned with your partner? Be gentle and loving. Use words like “we” and “us” instead of “you.” Maybe say, “Take a look at this. Do you think it’s something we can work on together?” Or, “Let’s talk about this tonight.” Then set aside some time to share and discuss what you’ve discovered.
And, yes, it’s wonderful to share topics you find that you and your partner need to work on — but don’t forget to also share the ones you find that you’re already doing right. Maybe it was the episode on finding joy — and you suddenly realize that your partner is always discovering ways to bring fun and humor and excitement into your relationship. Tell them. Say: “You’re wonderful at this.” Or “Thank you so much for already doing this.” Let them know that their actions are appreciated and valued.
Today’s small thing: Set up time to listen to the Small Things Often episode that has resonated with you the most. Then take some time to discuss it with your partner — and share what you’ve learned — with love.
Thanks for listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships. Please let us know what you think of this series in reviews on Spotify and iTunes. Tell us what resonated with you, what topics you’d like for us to cover, and what you want more of!
How Do You View Your Relationship?
How you view your relationship can say everything about whether your relationship will succeed. So what do you say when you share the story of your relationship? We’ll help get your relationship on a positive path on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about how you view your relationship.
When you talk about your relationship, what do you say? Do you glorify the struggle by being proud of the good times and making light of the bad? Or do you focus on the disagreements and look back on them with resentment?
Not to freak you out… but when couples view their relationship’s history in a negative light, it’s one of our largest predictors of divorce. It’s a big factor in how happy and successful your relationship might be in the future.
So take a step in a positive direction and be proud when you share “The Story of Us” with other people. The story of your relationship is exactly what it sounds like. Did you meet your partner on a dating app and swiped right to your happily ever after? Did you stumble into each other at some place utterly ridiculous? Or were you high school sweethearts? Every couple has a story to tell — and where you met is just the icebreaker… kind of like that first date!
What are your favorite memories together? What are the difficulties that you’ve been through as a couple and how have you come out on top? How has your relationship changed over time? The answers tell the history and philosophy of your relationship!
Couples who have a positive “Story of Us” — even if you went through some hard times and even if you still have issues to sort out — are likely to succeed.
Here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about the things that make you proud to be a couple! Reminisce about something positive that has happened in your relationship or something that you’ve conquered together.
How to Express Feelings Instead of Judgements
When you express your feelings to your partner, how does it come across? With judgment and contempt — or compassion and understanding? In this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to express yourself fully — without hurting your partner — or your future happiness together.
Today’s tip is about how to express feelings instead of judgements.
Yep. We’re talking about something that can be so subtle, so insidious, so very destructive to your relationship —and, yet, you might have no idea at all that you’re expressing it. What is it? Contempt. And if it’s been seeping into your conversations with your partner, they may be hearing judgements instead of your feelings.
What does contempt sound like? Here’s a couple of examples: “You went to the store and didn’t ask me if I needed anything? Don’t you ever think of anyone else but yourself?” OR “I can’t believe you’re late AGAIN! What’s the matter with you? I’m never late!”
Can you hear those negative judgements oozing into the conversation? THAT’s contempt. And although you may feel you’re just expressing your genuine feelings, this kind of lashing out with judgement can really hurt your partner and cause major lingering resentment.
But contempt doesn’t just come out in words. It can be your facial expressions, too — like rolling your eyes, sneering, shaking your head in disgust, or suddenly going totally silent and stonewalling. But whichever way you express it, contempt says to your partner “I don’t respect you, I’m superior to you — and I want you to know it.” The repercussions of that can be completely destructive to your relationship.
So what’s the antidote to contempt? Expressing your feelings and longings — and doing it with compassion. And here’s 3 steps to do just that: First, make a clear statement of what you’re feeling. Next, state a request or longing of what you would like to happen — and then, offer an invitation to open a discussion.
So rather than saying: “You forgot to walk the dog again? What is wrong with you? I always remember!” Instead say: “I get nervous when the dog doesn’t get to go out for a long period of time because I’m afraid she’ll have an accident in the house. Is there a way we can figure this out together? What do you think?”
So first you’re giving a clear statement of what you’re feeling — which, in this example, is nervous and afraid. Then you’ve communicated a request or longing: such as “Since we use our calendars for who is cooking dinner that night, can we use it for reminders of when and who is walking the dog?” And finally, you’ve offered an invitation to open a discussion with the question “What do you think?”
So rid your conversations of contempt with your partner, shift your thinking, let go of the judgement — and show genuine compassion and empathy when airing your feelings. It’s one of the best things you can do for your relationship and your future happiness together.
Today’s small thing: The next time you have a grievance to air with your partner, think before you speak, get rid of any judgement, and use the 3 steps to a compassionate conversation.
Why Resting is Good for Your Relationship
You probably know that resting is good for you, but did you know that it’s also good for your relationship? We’ll explain on this episode of Small Things Often how taking time to relax could give your relationship a boost.
Today’s tip is about the importance of rest.
You probably realize that “recharging your batteries” is good for you, but did you know it’s good for your relationship? We’re not talking about just taking a nap. Resting can mean whatever refreshes your mind, body, and spirit!
Is it getting lost in a good book? Talking to your best friend for an hour? Working in the garden? Going online and adding things to your shopping cart, just to delete them later? While it’s not important what it is that you find relaxing, what’s important is that you take time to rest. If you don’t, you’ll limit your own capacity for empathy, positivity, creativity, and rationality — among other things! You can’t show up as your best self for your partner without first checking in and showing up for yourself.
So give yourself permission to rest. Don’t feel bad about it. Is your house a mess? Is your to-do list overflowing? We’re here to tell you — it can wait! Take the time and space you need to recharge. It’s okay if it means being less “productive” in that moment.
On the flipside, don’t expect your partner to be able to do it all either! Rest is an essential human need and you can support one another in making sure you both stop to rest, even if it’s just for a few moments.
So go take that nap if that’s what makes you feel better! Or take a bubble bath and blare your favorite music. Stop feeling guilty and start singing — we bet you and your relationship will be a whole lot better for it.
Here’s today’s small thing: Create a rest ritual together with your partner! Make it a dedicated time once a day — or even once a week — to drop everything and rest. You can even call it DEAR time. Get it? Drop everything and rest?
How to Embrace Ambiguity
How do you cope with uncertainty? On today’s Small Things Often, we share tips on how to deal with ambiguity — and those scary, fearful, stressful feelings and thoughts of the future.
Today’s tip is about how to embrace ambiguity.
How much do you worry about tomorrow? In these unprecedented times, so many people are feeling stress and anxiety about the future. We know. It’s overwhelming. But the fact is, even before the pandemic swept the world, no one could be sure of the future with 100% certainty. It just isn’t possible.
So what do you do with this scary kind of limbo of “not knowing” what’s around the corner—this ambiguity about your life, your relationship — or your future? Do you consult an astrologer? A tarot card reader? Your friend’s cousin’s boyfriends’ psychic mom who your friend just swears will give you peace of mind? Nope. Save your money.
The key to dealing with the fear — the “scariness” of the future — is to embrace the feeling. Yep. Embrace ambiguity. What does that mean? Simply this: Don’t run from it — but instead lean into it. Don’t turn away from it — but instead turn towards it. Don’t keep those scary feelings inside — but instead share them.
Here’s some specific tips:
First: Realize and understand that what you’re feeling is uncertainty. Name it. Once it has a name, it’s easier to deal with. And then accept it — and begin to move forward.
Next: Realize that it’s totally okay to have these feelings. Everyone has them to some degree or another.
Now: Talk about it. Open up. Share your perspective with your partner. Take these thoughts and feelings out of the deep recesses of your mind — and air them out into the open.
Then: Reframe your fears. If you see change coming down the road — try seeing it as an opportunity for the future. Don’t hold tightly onto life, trying to keep it the way it’s always been. Instead, let go of what is no longer serving you or your partner.
And finally: Whatever the change in your life, find meaning in the outcome. Realize that you are not alone. Look around. Most of us are right there with you — feeling the same way, dealing with the same emotions — trying to make our way in an uncertain world. We’re all in this together.
Today’s small thing: If you’re holding in feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity, talk to your partner, openly and honestly. By sharing your deepest thoughts, you can transform your fear, become even closer — and gain love and support when you need it most.
Are You a Good Teammate?
What team are YOU on? We hope it’s the same one as your partner! On this episode of Small Things Often, learn what exactly it means to be on the same team — and how it can draw you even closer to your partner as you go through life together.
Today’s tip is about being a good teammate.
So what team are you on?
We’re not talking about your work-team on the job — or your weekend game with your pals on the Good-Volley-Ms-Molly Volleyball team. Nope. We’re talking about your relationship. Think about it. Are you on the same team as your partner? When you have a disagreement, or even just a discussion, who’s side are you really on? Are you adversaries, facing off across the kitchen table, both keeping score on what each of you said and how you said it? Do you constantly point out your partner’s mistakes, or what you perceive as their “wrong” perspectives, thinking you have all the answers?
Or…are you and your partner committed to always being there for each other, no matter what the issue or problem, supporting each other, gentle with each other’s thoughts and feelings, and working together, side by side, towards the same goal when the going gets tough. Well, if that’s the case, bravo. You’re probably playing on the same team.
But let’s get specific. What does being on the same team look like in a relationship?
First of all, it means you show up. All of you — with an open heart and a listening ear — no matter what the challenge or issue.
It means respecting and supporting your partner’s decisions and perspectives, even if you have a different point-of-view. You let them know you’ll be there for them, standing by their side, no matter the outcome — positive or negative.
It means cheering them on when things go right — and never ever saying those four destructive words, “I told you so” if things go wrong, but instead working together to find a way to the other side of disappointment.
It means giving them, day by day, one of the greatest gifts of all — knowing they are never alone with you by their side.
So make a decision today — an actual conscious decision — that you and your partner will always be on the same team. In your mind, imagine wearing the same jersey — signifying your commitment to the “home” team! Just the thought of it, knowing that you walk hand-in-hand through this world together, with its unpredictable ups and downs and inside outs, will give you a sense of peace, and belonging — and draw you even closer together.
Today’s small thing: Think back on the last discussion you had with your partner when either of you had to make a big decision. Did you respect each other’s perspectives? Did either of you keep score? Did one partner think they had all the answers? If so, talk to your partner, and work together to come up with a plan to become better teammates.
How to Listen Out Loud
Truly listening to someone doesn’t require dead silence. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re sharing the do’s and don’ts of listening out loud.
Today’s tip is about listening out loud.
That might sound strange, but really listening to someone doesn’t require dead silence. You need to engage. And we’re not talking about saying “mmhm” a few times or “uh huh.” That kind of listening could mean you actually have that person on speaker so you can read directions for homemade pizza.
Instead, practice engaged listening. Listening out loud — and doing so mindfully. It’s a skill built over time, so cut yourself some slack if this is a challenge especially in conflict or a tense conversation.
Here’s what you should do. Tune in to what the other person is saying. Stay curious and make understanding a goal. Confirm what you heard to see if you have it right! Repeat it back by saying something like, “So what you’re saying is…”. Ask clarifying questions! Also keep in mind that these are their thoughts. You’re the passenger on their train of thought. Follow their journey — at their pace.
The conversation might trigger some emotions for you personally… excitement, boredom, anger, confusion… and there’s a chance that you’ll unintentionally interrupt, get distracted, become defensive, or misunderstand. No one is perfect! But make sure you repair the situation. You could say something like, “I’m so sorry for interrupting. Please continue with what you were saying before I cut you off!” Remember though that your feelings and reactions are valid. It’s good to pay attention to what comes up for you.
Now that you’ve heard the “do’s” — here are some “don’ts.” While listening, don’t zone out to spend time planning what you’re going to say next or while you’re waiting for your turn to speak. And don’t try to finish their sentences! Let them talk without trying to finish or anticipate what they’re saying. Be careful not to try to “fix” things either or offer unsolicited advice.
All of these things are easier to do… and not do… the more you practice engaged listening. While you should be aware of how much time you spend talking in the conversation, listening out loud and asking questions can help you intentionally be a better listener!
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you have a conversation with a loved one, think about how much time you spend talking and sharing — and how much time you spend listening. What could you do to balance that better?
How to Make Time for Date Night
Are you making time for date night? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re sharing how you can intentionally make time for your partner and spend quality time together — no matter the circumstances!
Today’s tip is about making time for date night.
Dates probably look a little different right now. 2020 has been a weird year and that means many of your routines, plans, and even your concept of time may have gone out the window. But it’s still important for you and your partner to make time for each other. To spend quality time together.
You have to be intentional about it — even if a “date” doesn’t look the way it used to. A date could be anything that helps you take a moment to connect: maybe you have a reading date on the couch, or spend an extra 20 minutes in bed together in the morning, or just go for a walk around the block and hold hands. With many of us working from home, it could be a breath of fresh air — literally for your relationship — to get outside, away from stressful distractions. So what if none of these are options? What if you’re in a long distance relationship and can’t get together frequently? Have a FaceTime or Zoom date! Make the most of it! Open a bottle of wine together or each order your favorite takeout — and pretend like you’re sitting across a table from each other… while you know, propping up a phone, tablet, or computer, so you can see their face.
Still set boundaries though — regardless of what you’re doing and wherever you are for date night. Make some agreements! For example, maybe you can agree to put your phones away — unless of course, you need your phone to see your date. Or establish ahead of time what conversations should be off limits — like work, the pandemic, or finances.
Set the intention to invest your time in turning towards each other and enjoying each other’s presence! Plan for what that means to you, even if you can’t physically be together or go out to your favorite date spots right now. Because let’s face it, if you’re too busy for date night, you’re too busy. Date nights should be sacred times to honor your relationship!
So here’s today’s small thing: Schedule a weekly date with your partner. But not just any date night. This is a must-not-cancel, no excuses, scheduled on a calendar with a permanent marker date night. No matter how crazy life gets — make it happen! It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate. It just has to be meaningful. Prioritize each other.
What is Trust?
What does it mean to trust your partner? And what happens when that trust gets broken? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re sharing how you can build and improve trust in your relationship.
Today’s tip is about trust.
It’s no secret that trust is important in a relationship — it’s part of what forms stable relationships. But what does it mean to truly trust your partner? And what happens when that trust is broken?
To quote trust and technology expert Rachel Botsman, Trust is having a confident relationship to the unknown. It’s the bridge between the known and the unknown, over a river of uncertainty. And when it comes to your relationship… the known is how your partner shows up for you — their presence, the way they interact with you, the things they do and say. The unknown is the meaning or intention behind that — what they’re thinking, how they perceive things, their core feelings.
Trust is believing or being confident that your partner has your best interests at heart. It’s acting in good faith, giving them the benefit of the doubt, or holding the belief that they are doing their best.
Trust, like a bridge, is built. When you first enter into a relationship, you might think, “Of course I trust my partner!” But what’s the basis of that trust? Do you trust your partner because they haven’t let you down? Because trust hasn’t been tested yet? Or are you just a trusting person? Trust building happens as you move through life together. That doesn’t mean that initial trust isn’t real — there’s just room for that trust to grow even stronger. Trust is built as you express compassion and empathy for one another’s feelings. This foundation is essential when you face betrayal.
Don’t let this freak you out, but yes, betrayal happens in some form in every relationship. Like conflict, it’s inevitable. Betrayal isn’t always a full dramatic scene from a soap opera. It could be small, like your partner telling your mom something that you asked them specifically not to share. Or it could be something much bigger — like infidelity. While it can be difficult to work through, some of the strongest and most trusting relationships are based on repair after a betrayal.
Talk to your partner about how you will navigate breaches of trust that may enter the relationship. How will you respond to things like misunderstandings, unmet expectations, and poor choices in ways that increase your trust metric?
Here’s today’s small thing: Build habits of turning towards your loved one. A little bit goes a long way when it comes to building trust! Do something kind for them or do something together! You can improve your belief in your partner, and your partner’s belief in you, over time through small, intentional acts… like listening to this podcast together!
Improve your relationship in 30 days with our 30 Days to a Better Relationship email challenge. Increase fondness and admiration for your partner gradually, with one email a day over a month. Learn more at gottman.com/30days
Sharing to Heal
Are you keeping a damaging thought deep inside? Is it causing you stress and emotional pain? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn why it’s so important to open up and share your difficult thoughts with your partner in order to heal.
Today’s tip is about sharing to heal.
Are you keeping a thought or a feeling that’s bothering you deep inside? It could be something your partner said or did that’s been upsetting you for days.
Like maybe you spent the whole day cleaning the house, and when your partner came home, they made an offhand remark that there was still dust on the baseboards. Over the next few days, that one remark has bothered you so much that it’s built up in your mind to extreme levels — and you now feel totally unappreciated by your partner in every way. Or maybe it’s a shameful thought about yourself that you’ve kept buried deep inside, but never spoken about —and you’re reluctant or scared to share it with your partner for fear of being rejected or judged.
But the truth is, if you take that thought out of the darkness— place it out in the open — too shine a light on it, you might see that all the power you’ve given it will totally dissipate.
Another bonus: By sharing your thoughts, you’ll actually be giving your partner a gift — the opportunity to listen and understand —and deepen your relationship.
But remember — the feeling of safety is paramount! You both need to feel secure when sharing your thoughts and feelings. So sit down and talk about it and make a shared goal of truly being open to listening with understanding — with no judgement, no defensiveness, no reactivity — and no need to be “right.” Instead, just be focused on being there for each other, open, supportive and loving.
So share what’s on your mind with your partner — examine the thought, eliminate the power you’ve been giving it — and, finally, with the help of your partner’s open and loving heart, begin to heal.
Today’s small thing: If you’ve been holding onto some difficult thoughts lately, identify them and then think about how they’re affecting your life or your relationship. Then take a deep breath, make a time to sit down with your partner — open up, and share.
How to Get Friendly
Being friends with your partner is one of the greatest secrets to making love last. How are you doing on that front? On today’s episode of Small Things Often, learn some simple ways to strengthen your friendship — and make your relationship truly great!
Today’s tip is about friendship.
No, not friendship with your pals, which of course is important — but friendship with your partner. What’s the difference? Think about it. Say you have a best friend who’s fun, and smart and unpredictable. Every time you’ve planned a lunch —pre-pandemic— they were invariably late. But you always let it go, because that’s just one of their quirks. It’s never affected your friendship. You love your friend and accept them just the way they are — a loveable, quirky, imperfect person.
Now rewind that scenario, and replace your friend with your partner. If they were late for a dinner out, would you be so kind? Or would you be upset? Judgmental? Irritated? If so, you’re holding your partner to a whole different standard when it comes to friendship—and it’s something you need to explore. Why? Because friendship is truly the basis for every long-lasting relationship — and the key to what makes it work well. Being friends with your partner is the one of the greatest secrets to making love last.
If you feel like you could use some direction on how to create a stronger friendship with your partner — take a listen to these simple tips.
First, make your friendship with your partner unconditional — and accept the differences as you would with your friends. Remember that even though you may disagree, you still love each other —and so treat them with the same understanding and support that you would hope they would give to you.
Connect in the small moments! They’re so important! For instance, say your partner realizes the lightbulb is out in the hallway— and asks if there’s still some extra ones in the closet. You shrug and say, “I have no clue”. A better way of responding would be to say, “Let me check, and if we’re out of them, I’ll pick some up this afternoon.” Even though it’s a small, mundane exchange, your partner will feel they’ve been heard and acknowledged.
Open yourself up and express interest in the activities your partner loves! You may not enjoy tennis as much as they do, but maybe spending time watching the US Open on TV together can open up genuine moments of closeness and enjoyment.
And don’t forget to connect through everyday activities! Folding the laundry, doing the dishes, making the bed, cooking dinner are all opportunities to deepen your connection and check in on how your partner is feeling. Talk to each other! Share about your day, your thoughts, your hopes, and goals.
And finally: Always take your partner’s side. Stand up for them, help them when they doubt themselves, and never do anything that might make them feel unheard. In other words, be their friend.
Today’s small thing: How strong is your friendship with your partner? Assess it, and if you feel you both are coming up short, commit to daily actions that will put you on the path to make your relationship truly great!
Are You a Differentiated Partner?
Differentiating yourself is an important part of a healthy relationship. Learn how defining yourself to your partner can positively change how you respond to them on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about differentiation.
The more differentiated you are, the less likely you are to take things as personally when you’re in a conflict with a loved one. But what is differentiation?
It’s an active process in which partners define themselves to each other. It’s acknowledging that you and your partner are two separate individuals with completely different identities. No matter how similar you and your partner may seem… you’re still different! And that’s a good thing! But it means you should expect different opinions from each other at times. Differentiation requires the risk of being open to growth and being honest!
Let’s say you’re in a conflict with your partner because you claim one of your partner’s friends isn’t a very good friend to them. Maybe this friend has been dropping the ball… totally leaving your partner in the dust… and yet your partner still sticks up for them. You think your partner should drop this friend like a bad habit, but they feel the need to keep this friend around. If you and your partner are differentiated… you can empathize with why your partner is willing to give this friend the benefit of the doubt. Maybe their friend is going through a hard time! And while you don’t agree, you don’t feel the burden of identifying with your partner’s feelings and can separate how you feel. You also don’t expect your partner to take ownership of your individual feelings.
In conflict, being a differentiated partner means you can give your loved one space while also remaining close enough to be caring and supportive, but not so close that you identify your partner’s feelings as your own and get lost in them. Instead of taking on your partner’s emotional state, you can express curiosity about it. You could ask things like, “Can you tell me more about what’s going on? Can you tell me about these feelings?”
Differentiation also allows you to soothe yourself or reach out to be soothed by your partner in a helpful way. Instead of saying, “You’re a complete jerk. You don’t care about me,” a differentiated partner would say, “I’m feeling really overwhelmed. Can I have a hug?” A differentiated partner doesn’t expect their loved one to feel their feelings. To differentiate is to develop a secure way of relating to your partner, but you have to be authentic with your feelings and needs.
So here’s today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about the ways that you both differentiate yourselves as individuals. How do you relate and support each other?
How to React to a Partner in Pain
When you see your partner in pain, don’t stay neutral! On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll share how taking a side (your partner’s) can positively impact your relationship.
Today’s tip is about how to react to a partner in pain.
You know how growing up you were told, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? Well when it comes to your partner, staying neutral can be invalidating. It can also break trust. We talked about how neutrality is invalidation in a previous episode and today, we’re taking a closer look at the real benefit to acknowledging where you stand!
Let’s say your partner comes to you one day and says they just had this huge blowout argument with their mom. They’re so upset that when they start talking about it, their voice cracks and shakes, and tears start rolling down their face. The worst thing you can say in this situation is nothing. Neutrality, in response to a loved one expressing pain, is a form of turning away and can be even more devastating to the relationship than turning against your partner.
Turning against is at the very least being clear and offering an opportunity for continued engagement and repair. Turning away is silence.
Neutrality in the face of conflict sends the message that your comfort or your need to be right or “polite” is more important than an acknowledgement of the feelings being expressed. And that can be a betrayal.
So here’s what you can do instead of staying neutral. Try saying something like, “I am on your side.” Or, “I understand why you feel that way!” Show your support! Let them know that you’re there for them, fully present, and are supporting their expression of how they are feeling.
Here’s today’s small thing: The next time a loved one expresses pain to you, make an effort to turn towards them. Take a stance that isn’t neutral so that you can truly engage in the conversation.
Improve your relationship in 30 days with our 30 Days to a Better Relationship email challenge. Increase fondness and admiration for your partner gradually, with one email a day over a month. Learn more at gottman.com/30days
What Are the Seasons of Love?
There are many seasons of love that come and go in relationships. On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can have an open conversation with your partner about the different phases and what you can learn from them!
Today’s tip is about seasons of love.
Before you start singing that song from Rent, sorry if we made you start, it’s important to recognize that relationships have seasons. When hard times are hard, remember that it’ll pass. And when it’s good, hold onto it! Cherish it! Because that’ll pass too. But ultimately, there’s something to appreciate about each season. Lean into that appreciation. Hard days will return, but so will the good ones!
Think back to when you first entered your relationship with your partner. There was likely tons of passion, romance, a certain excitement where you couldn’t wait to see or talk to each other. You couldn’t get enough! And those butterflies were big enough to actually make you nauseous. This is called “limerence,” or, the honeymoon phase. And it’s called a phase for a reason. While some of those early feelings stick around in some relationships, the new-ness will wear off. It’s a season of love! So what happens when you and your partner go from hot and heavy to… early bird specials and ratty pajamas? It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Shifts in the relationship’s dynamic can be unsettling at first, especially when they feel like they happen unexpectedly. But you’re growing and becoming comfortable with each other, and your relationship is getting stronger with each passing season!
Everyone has a season they like best, or are most comfortable in, and it’s a good idea to talk about it! Be open with your partner! Ask them, “What season do you think our relationship is in right now?” “How does that make you feel?” Talk about what you can learn from the season that you’re currently in.
Here’s today’s small thing: Embrace the seasonal shifts in your relationship! Discuss the ways that you can support and connect with each other in the droughts of “winter” — when you feel like your relationship is just “meeh”… just okay — and when your relationship heats back up in the “summer.”
Here’s One Simple Question to Learn More About Your Partner
How much do you REALLY know about your partner? On this episode of Small Things Often, discover how one simple question can open up new levels of understanding, trust and friendship.
Today’s tip is about asking the question “Tell me something I don’t know about you.”
Has something like this ever happened to you? You’re having dinner with your partner and another couple. Suddenly the conversation turns to your childhoods, and one of your friends asks your partner what they wanted to be when they grew up. Your partner’s eyes suddenly light up and they talk about their dream to be in the space program. How they plastered their bedroom walls with pictures of moons and stars and famous astronauts. How they read every book on the subject. You turn to your partner and say, “I never knew that!” And your partner shrugs and says with a smile, “You never asked me.”
Think about it. You may believe you know everything there is to know about your partner, that you’ve heard all their stories so well, that you could probably recite them by heart. But here’s the thing: You don’t know what you don’t know. And if you want to find out…you need to ask. So where do you begin?
Start out by asking “What’s something I don’t know about you?” This may open up a part of your partner’s life they’ve never shared, hopes or goals they’ve hidden away and kept deep within themselves, or emotional parts of themselves that will give you a better understanding about why they react the way they do to certain situations.
And don’t forget that sharing your inner selves with each other isn’t a one-time thing — it’s a lifelong process. If you ask your partner which country they most want to visit in the world, it might not be the same as it was a few years ago. The point is to keep asking each other questions throughout your relationship, remember the answers — and then ask some more.
The rewards of this one simple question, “Tell me something I don’t know about you,” can open up new levels of emotional connection and trust. Because the healthiest, happiest relationships are built not only on love — but on deep friendship and understanding.
Today’s small thing: Go on a date night with your partner, and ask them to tell you a story about themselves they’ve never told you before. Never stop asking questions — and learning about each other.
Bottling or Brooding: How do you process your difficult emotions?
How do you deal with difficult emotions like anger or fear or frustration towards your partner? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out if you’re a “bottler” or a “brooder” and, if you are, discover ways to combat it.
Today’s tip is about how to process difficult emotions.
It’s not easy. Every relationship has moments that may irritate, anger, or frustrate us. Most people automatically default to one of two ways of dealing with these feelings: Bottling or brooding. Don’t know which you do? Take a listen to this scenario and think about how you would react.
Every week for the last month, you’ve asked your partner to sit down and go over the household finances. And they always say, “Sure, of course!” But then, at the designated time, they always have an excuse. The lawn needs to be mowed. Their dad needs their help. A work project needs to be finished. And, week after week, you’re stuck with figuring out all the bills yourself, and you’re completely frustrated and angry and hurt.
So how do you handle these emotions?
Maybe you bottle them up and push everything down, keeping your feelings “locked inside.” If this is the case, you may rationalize to yourself, “I’m upset they keep avoiding this discussion, but really, in the scheme of things it’s no big deal. So I’ll just keep doing the bills myself till they have time to help. I’m fine.” But, really, you don’t feel fine at all.
Or maybe you go to the other extreme and brood about the situation. You become so consumed with anger and frustration, that it’s difficult to do or think about anything else but your partner’s disregard of your needs. You can’t let go of the anger. You obsess on your hurt. You dwell on their insensitivity.
Some people even go back and forth between the two. They bottle up the emotions till they can’t take it anymore, then start brooding about them — then feel bad about brooding — and start bottling again. And then — they explode. Not a good scenario for any relationship!
But don’t beat yourself up! Your instinct to bottle or brood comes with some very good intentions — feeling that somehow, you’re handling your emotions effectively. But that’s actually not the case. Both bottling and brooding can have an enormous impact on your physical and emotional health, anxiety, levels of depression — and the quality of your relationship. Because even if you don’t say anything to your partner, on some level they sense something is going on with you.
So how do you stop the cycle?
First, Become more mindful and notice the difficult emotions as they come up-Awareness is huge.
Next: Try not to judge yourself for the emotions you’re feeling. Show yourself some compassion and kindness. Talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend.
Then, realize that bottling and brooding are signs that the situation is something you really care about. So be a detective: treat these difficult emotions as important information — and find the hidden meanings behind them. Why is this situation so important to you? Is it something you feel like you’re not getting enough of in your relationship?
And finally: Broaden your perspective. You know what you’re feeling. Now find out what your partner is feeling. Even in conflict, talk to your partner — explore, discuss and learn!
Today’s small thing: The next time you’re filled with difficult emotions, stop, think, and become aware of how you’re processing your feelings. Then take steps to figure out the hidden meanings behind your emotions — and explore those feelings with your partner.
Improve your relationship in 30 days with our 30 Days to a Better Relationship email challenge. Increase fondness and admiration for your partner gradually, with one email a day over a month. Learn more at gottman.com/30days
Why You Should Schedule Your Next Conflict
Are you finding yourself having issues with your partner, but don’t know how to approach the subject, or express your feelings? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how and why scheduling a regular check in for conflicts can keep your relationship healthy and on track!
Today’s tip is about scheduling a fight with your partner. Whoa, what? Yep. you heard us right. And here’s the reason:
Maybe you’ve had some issues come up this week that are causing you to feel difficult emotions towards your partner. Like maybe you made dinner almost every night, and your partner never offered —not even once —to help or clean up afterwards, and you’ve been seething about it. Or maybe the credit card bill arrived, and your partner discovered that you blew most of the household budget on a new overpriced down comforter, and they’re feeling frustrated and angry. And you’ve both been holding those emotions and thoughts inside, ruminating about them, and watching them pop up at inappropriate moments, at the slightest provocation, even when there’s no reason for it. What to do?
Schedule a regular conflict meeting! And actually, we have a name for it: The State of the Union Meeting. But you can call it anything you like. Maybe “The Constructive Conflict Hour” or “Our Weekly Kitchen Check In.”
Whatever you name it, the point is to set aside a regularly scheduled time to talk about how the relationship is going in general, plus issues that have been bugging each of you, so those feelings don’t simmer and fester and explode into something larger. It’s a time to really discuss what’s going on in your head and your heart — and then problem solve together.
So how do you approach the check in?
First: Warm-up! Set a loving tone! Talk positively with your partner at the beginning of the conversation. Express your appreciation for each other. Talk about the things that are going well in your relationship and things you love about each other. This will remind you both that you’re fighting FOR each other, not against each other.
Secondly: Focus on understanding each other’s perspectives. Take turns as speaker and listener. This is so important because you need to identify the problem and understand each other’s point of view before you can even begin to think about solving it. A word of wisdom: Don’t try to persuade your partner to feel differently. Allow them to express themselves fully and feel understood.
And then: Compromise! Work on solving the problem together. If it’s an ongoing problem that feels unsolvable at the moment, find a temporary compromise and revisit it later.
And remember, if either one of you feels overwhelmed with the discussion, take a break! You can come back later and continue the discussion.
Your regular check-ins can be a powerful force in healing hurt feelings, misunderstandings, anger and any difficult emotions you may be holding inside. Think of it as preventative medicine to keep your relationship healthy and on track!
Today’s small thing: Schedule some time this week to talk to your partner about any issues that have been causing friction between you two. If this is your first check-in, don’t start with your most difficult issue. Instead, discuss a problem that is solvable for you both. After a while, you can build up to issues that are more complicated.
How to Respond Non-Defensively
It takes practice to respond non-defensively. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re sharing the questions you need to ask yourself before jumping to your own defense.
Today’s tip is about practicing non-defensiveness.
It takes actual practice to respond and listen without getting defensive. It’s difficult! For a lot of people, it’s an automatic reaction. Maybe you respond that way because you feel a need to stick up for yourself. But you may not always need to! It’s important to practice taking a step back and making sure you understand the situation before jumping to your own defense.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your partner asks you, “Did you remember to confirm our reservations for this weekend?” Before you respond with one of the 3 forms of defensiveness… which are counterattack, righteous indignation, and innocent victimhood… take a minute to assess the situation.
You can say to yourself, “I feel defensive because I did not remember to confirm our reservations. Am I being criticized or am I perceiving this as an attack? My partner isn’t criticizing me, but I perceived this to be an attack because I’m sensitive to the implication that I’m forgetful or careless. Can I overlook that to keep this conversation on track?”
If you can’t overlook it, that’s fine. You could say to your partner, “I’m feeling defensive. I feel like you’re implying that I’m careless.” Then your partner can help clarify and together, you can get the conversation back on track and look forward to your weekend reservations.
Give yourself some grace and be patient as you practice non-defensiveness. If you slip up and get defensive, it’s okay! It’s catching yourself doing it that matters. If you realize it quickly, you could even ask your partner for a do-over.
Let’s use our earlier example. Your partner says, “Did you remember to confirm our reservations for this weekend?” You instantly snap back by saying, “Get off my back. Who are you, my mom? Actually, wait. Can I try that again? I’m sorry.” If your partner agrees, rewind your response! Say, “I forgot. But let me call right now!” Acknowledging and correcting yourself when you’ve responded defensively can go a long way!
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you feel yourself getting defensive, assume positive intent! Take a step back to assess the conversation with your loved one and make an effort to respond non-defensively.
Identifying the 3 Forms of Defensiveness
Do you know when you’re being defensive? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re identifying the 3 forms of defensiveness so you can recognize them in conversations with your loved ones.
Today’s tip is about identifying the forms of defensiveness.
Did you know there’s 3 different kinds? You’ve probably experienced them all in some shape or form… whether it was the way you responded to someone… or if you’ve been on the receiving end. The 3 kinds are: counterattack, righteous indignation, and innocent victimhood. These labels may not sound familiar, but we’re willing to bet you’ll be able to relate when we explain what each of them are. Identifying these 3 forms can help you realize how you may be responding defensively… totally unknowingly!
Let’s say you went grocery shopping and when you got home, your partner said, “Did you remember to get toilet paper?” A counterattack response would be something like, “No, but you didn’t remember to take the garbage out last night so I guess we’re even.” A counterattack response is an escalation of conflict through scorekeeping. Tit for tat. It’s saying, “well you did this so it’s fine that I did that.”
There’s also righteous indignation — an impulsive, offended response to a perceived attack. It’s saying, “I don’t see why I always have to be the one getting toilet paper. You use the bathroom just as much as I do.” It’s becoming instantly defensive while responding to what you believe is an attack.
And then there’s innocent victimhood — a 3rd form of defensiveness. It’s often disguised as whining, but it’s a rush to shame oneself and make the other person feel bad for the perceived attack. An example would be, “I have so much going on right now and going to the store stresses me out! How can you expect me to remember?”
The key to catching your own defensiveness is to pay attention to when you are potentially misinterpreting a statement or question as an attack. When you’re feeling defensive, it could be helpful to think about the intent of the conversation that’s making you feel defensive.
What does a non-defensive response sound like? It can express acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault, and understanding of your partner’s perspective… something like, “Oops, I forgot the toilet paper! I should have asked you to go to the store today because I knew my day would be packed. That’s my fault. So sorry!” We’ll explore practicing non-defensiveness even further in our next episode!
Here’s today’s small thing: When faced with a conflict with a loved one, try to accept responsibility for your role in the issue instead of automatically becoming defensive.
How Conflict Can Improve Your Relationship
Do you avoid dealing with any conflict with your partner because you think it will hurt your relationship? Think again! On this episode of Small Things Often, find out ways to deal with conflict and friction that can actually transform your relationship — and help make you and your partner even closer!
Today’s tip is about using the power of conflict to improve your relationship.
Yeah, we get it. Conflict is uncomfortable. And we usually avoid it at all costs. But, the fact is, conflict is inevitable. When you put two people together in a relationship, no matter how compatible they are, over a period of time, there will be problems, issues — and, oh yeah, friction.
But think about it this way: flint needs friction to start a fire! Becoming vulnerable and sharing your feelings is an act of intimacy, and if you manage it correctly, these conflicts can make you even closer. Yes, conflict has the power to transform your relationship — and help form an even stronger bond between you and your partner! Truly. We’re not kidding.
So was that “flint” just struck? If so, here’s some tips to navigate a conflict you might be currently going through.
If you found the courage to talk to your partner, but now see the discussion is becoming too intense, take a 20-minute break. During that time, calm down by doing something that soothes or distracts you. When you come back to the discussion, let one person speak at a time, while the other listens. Do not interrupt your partner. You’ll also have the chance to say what’s on your mind when it’s your turn.
When you begin to speak, be gentle and use “I” statements to reflect your feelings, such as, “I felt so lonely this week when you worked late every night.” Don’t use the word “you” as in “You worked late every night this week and it upset me.” Hear the difference? Using the word “you” points the finger at your partner and may cause them to become guarded and defensive.
Next, create a safe space for your partner. Don’t judge or argue or give advice. Just listen and ask questions. Put yourself in their shoes, listen to what they need to say, and respond with empathy and understanding.
Make repairs while you discuss the conflict. While your partner is expressing their feelings, say “I understand,” or “I hear you,” or “I get it.” Also don’t forget that your body speaks as loud as your words! Make eye contact, nod your head, and if it feels right, reach out and offer a physical gesture of affection.
And finally, ask your partner what they need from you to resolve the conflict — and then find ways to create small compromises that you can both agree upon.
Forged in fire, you and your partner can emerge from the other end of a conflict even closer and more attuned to each than ever before. So don’t avoid conflict! Embrace it, confront it, and see how your relationship will grow and thrive because of it!
Today’s small thing: Next time a conflict appears with your partner, remember that confronting it and talking about it can create an even closer bond! So don’t avoid it or ignore it! Dive in and try to solve it!
How to Recognize Gridlock and Ways to Overcome It
Are you and your partner totally stuck in perpetual conflict over a specific issue? Have you reached the point where neither of you are willing to open your mind to the other’s thoughts and opinions? Then you might be in gridlock. In this episode, learn how to recognize it — and ways to overcome it!
Today’s tip is about how to recognize gridlock and ways to overcome it.
So think about it. Do you have a perpetual problem that keeps coming up in your relationship? And have those conversations become totally stuck in conflict — like a traffic jam at rush hour, where no one is moving in any direction? Then you may be in total gridlock. Check out these 5 phases a conversation goes through before total gridlock occurs.
First: Your dreams are in opposition. For example, maybe one of you loves to socialize and wants the other to go to parties, travel, and get out more, while the other is a homebody — whose idea of a good time is reading a book, watching a movie on the couch, and eating in every night. Opposing dreams, such as these, can create perpetual conflict.
Secondly, you both become entrenched in your positions. Neither one of you is willing to budge from your opinion.
In the third phase: You’re both fearful of accepting influence from the other. Neither one of you is willing to open your mind and really listen and care for the other’s thoughts and feelings.
Because you and your partner are so staunchly stuck in your own positions, in the 4th phase, bitterness and anger may cause you to vilify each other whenever the conflict arises — which works against the goal of compromise.
And the fifth phase? Sadly and painfully, the two of you become totally emotionally disengaged from each other — which can impact every single part of your relationship.
But here’s the good news! There are ways out of gridlock! And if you’re already deep within it, here are some ideas to break out of it!
Become a “dream detective”: Uncover and share the personal dreams you each have for your life with each other. Research has shown that “unrequited dreams are at the core of gridlocked conflict”! So dig deep, and understand where those dreams come from and what they mean to you personally. You may find that they’re profoundly different from your partner’s dreams, and need to be discussed.
But be sure that when you explain your feelings, you do it without criticism, blame or judgement! Then dig even deeper with questions like, “What do the two of us need or want in the area of the conflict?” Or, “What are our thoughts and feelings BENEATH the problem we’re discussing?” But remember, don’t attempt to solve the problem immediately! Give each other the time and space to digest and think about all you’ve discussed.
Also, don’t forget to soothe each other! If you or your partner are stressed by the discussion, take a break. Because if you’re flooded with emotion, you’re probably not ready for a productive conversation at that moment.
And finally: Accept that some problems are unsolvable — and will never completely go away. In this case, the goal is not to solve the problem, but instead to “declaw the issue” by removing the hurt. Try talking to your partner to define the core issues you cannot agree upon. Then define your areas of flexibility and, together, figure out a temporary compromise that works for you both — and honors both your dreams.
Today’s small thing: If you’re in a gridlock conflict with your partner, don’t despair! Identify the signs of gridlock, and with that awareness, know you have the tools to move forward.
How to Become Aware of Your Emotions
Are you aware of your emotions? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll help you identify your feelings so you can help your loved ones when they experience difficult emotions.
Today’s tip is about being aware of your own emotions.
What are you feeling right now? Right at this very second, what emotion are you experiencing? If you’re wondering why we’re asking… it’s because the more you can name your own emotions, the less likely you are to become overwhelmed by them. How does that translate to your relationship? Your awareness can help your loved ones when they experience difficult emotions.
It’ll help you relate! You know that feeling of disappointment that you felt when your friend left you high and dry? Completely ditched you for something or someone else. If you recognize and acknowledge that disappointment, you’ll have compassion for your partner when they experience that same feeling. You’ll be able to see where they’re coming from and can provide words of encouragement for how to work through it.
So when you’re feeling a certain emotion, name or identify it whenever possible! Say exactly what you’re feeling. Or maybe what it feels similar to. Where in your body do you feel it? What response is it causing? Can you examine the feeling without judging it? That’s important too. Don’t judge your emotions. No emotion is inherently negative, sometimes it’s just difficult or uncomfortable. Be easy on yourself and be curious about your emotions — not critical.
If you can’t pin down how you’re feeling, make up a name for it or assign it a color. It may sound a little strange, but hear us out! Talking yourself through it even when the emotion is unclear can help provide some clarity. You can say, “I’m feeling gray, which is when I feel some combination of dread, sadness, and guilt in the pit of my stomach. Gray makes me want to procrastinate or dull myself down. While it’s unpleasant, I have every right to feel gray and gray is not inherently bad.”
So here’s today’s small thing: Try to expand your emotional vocabulary! When you realize you’re feeling a certain way, identify and express that feeling.
Why You Don’t Always Have to Agree
You don’t always have to agree with your loved one! On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can change the goal from agreement to understanding during disagreements.
Today’s tip is about disagreements.
It can be hard to “agree to disagree” with your partner sometimes, right? Maybe you truly think that you have to agree on everything in order to have a good relationship. And when disagreements happen, you wonder if you have any shared values at all. But when you’re feeling this way, remember… this is your partner, not your clone. Wouldn’t it be a little strange… and maybe a little boring… if you agreed on everything?!
You’re both bound to see the world differently from time to time. And maybe you can learn from each other’s perspectives! What’s important here is that you’re able to separate your self from your views.
Here’s what we mean. Even if you don’t agree with their views… can you still see, value, understand, and accept your partner as a human being? What do you know about your partner that might inform these views?
Let’s say you’re cleaning up after dinner. You offer to do the dishes while your partner wipes down the counter. You start to load the bowls in the dishwasher when your partner says “wait…what are you doing with those?” and suddenly you find yourself in an intense debate about what does and does not belong in the top rack. Just because you believe bowls go up there and they think bottom rack or bust — doesn’t mean one of you is “wrong” or that you need to agree.
Take a step back and look for ways to understand their perspective and why it’s important to them. Maybe they wanted to move the bowls to the bottom rack so they can fit all the dishes in this load so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
You could say, “Oh, I see where you’re coming from. Thanks. I was worried about the bowls breaking so I usually put them in the top rack, but I get it.”
No matter how you end up loading the dishes, talking it through with the desire of understanding each other makes room for different perspectives in the relationship — which happens all the time! Since you are your own people with your own thoughts and styles!
So, change the goal from agreement to understanding!
Here’s today’s small thing: The next time you’re in a disagreement with a loved one, focus on understanding their point of view. You don’t have to agree with it, but try to see where they’re coming from and then express that understanding!
Embracing Relationship Changes
In relationships, the only constant is change. On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can embrace the changes to evolve individually and together with your partner.
Today’s tip is about embracing change in your relationship.
In relationships, the only constant is change. Don’t let it freak you out, but it is a fact that things won’t always stay the same. People evolve! We learn and grow from our experiences. Sometimes we change for the better… and sometimes we change for the worse. Or maybe it’s somewhere in between. But does your relationship have space to accommodate change? Be open to the ways that you’re both evolving — together and individually.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how long you’ve been in a relationship, from the time you started dating your partner up until today… whether it’s your feelings, your environment, the connection you have with your partner… things may have changed your relationship. Let’s say personally, you watched a family member’s destructive relationship unfold. Hearing them communicate makes you cringe because of their lack of respect for each other. It’s BRUTAL. It lit a fire in you, to never talk that way to your partner. And now you’re extra conscious of how hurtful words can be. It’s led to a big positive change in your relationship where respect for each other is of utmost importance.
Sometimes partners change together. Maybe when you first started dating, you loved the thrill of an exciting Saturday night out on the town. Dinner, drinks, dancing, neon bright lights, and a cab ride home. But now… years later? You both love and crave a relaxing night at home… talking and catching up… even before the pandemic. You’ve become homebodies and connect differently with each other. You’ve changed as a couple — and that’s totally okay!
You can embrace the change by being open about it. In what ways has your partner changed that you’re grateful for, beyond maybe a questionable hairstyle or two? Ask your partner how you’ve changed too! What changes have surprised you in your relationship? Talk about the ways that you’d like to change in the future! Make room in your relationship to evolve.
So here’s today’s small thing: Go back in time and talk to your partner about who you were 5 years ago. And even 10 years ago! How have you changed? How have they changed?
What Are Love Maps?
You probably think you know your partner, but do you have an active and up-to-date understanding of their interior world? We’re digging deep on this episode of Small Things Often so you can learn the importance of building Love Maps with your partner.
Today’s tip is about building Love Maps.
You think you know your partner, but do you really? You probably know their basic likes and dislikes… what they want in a partner… what makes them happy… but do you know who your partner’s best friend was when they were 12? What about their first crush? How did your partner learn to ride a bike? Were they a natural or did they struggle with the whole “balance” part and have the battle scars to prove it?
Having these conversations and getting answers to these questions is a part of building Love Maps. Think of it this way. When you choose to spend your life with someone, you’re handing them a map to your inner world! Your inner world is, of course, complex. You have memories of your past, details of your present, and hopes for the future. It includes your deepest fears and your grandest dreams. All of these things are part of your Love Map. But remember, it’s a pencil sketch.
It’s your job to intentionally add details to it with your partner! The map needs scale, direction, landmarks, texture, color, and everything in between. A detailed Love Map brings perspective to the twists and turns that inevitably come up in a partnership.
A fun way to do this is to dig into your partner’s archives — to figure out who they were growing up and how it shaped them into the person they are today… and influenced what they want in the future! But don’t just stop there. It’s also equally important to keep your Love Maps active and up-to-date. Relationships and people evolve… and what you think you want, your likes and dislikes, your fears… may change!
Make adding new bits and pieces to your Love Maps a priority over the lifetime of your relationship. Rome wasn’t built in a day! But don’t be intimidated by this task. Have fun with it and remember that you can always get to know your partner better. Don’t ever stop asking questions — no matter how silly it may seem.
So here’s today’s small thing: Try picking an age and invite your partner to share a story about themselves at that age. For example, say, “Tell me a story from when you were 10,” or, “What were you like at 17?” Approach it like a journalist. Get details, ask follow up questions, and be curious! Take turns picking the age and telling stories. You might be surprised by what you learn about your partner.
Are You Taking Responsibility in Your Relationship?
It’s easy to get defensive instead of taking responsibility in times of conflict, but what is that doing to your relationship? On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re sharing the importance of taking ownership of our actions and how they affect our loved ones.
Today’s tip is about taking responsibility instead of becoming defensive.
When you’re dealing with a conflict in your relationship, it’s easy to get defensive — it’s easy to say things like, I’m acting this way because of what you’ve done. But what is that doing to your relationship?
The antidote to defensiveness is taking responsibility. Let’s say you’ve had a bad day. And maybe your partner just said something that made you nearly implode. They didn’t even say anything that would normally upset you, but today, it really rubbed you the wrong way. You’ve had a hard day at home with the kids, while trying to work remotely, and your partner walks in and says, “what’s for dinner?” It feels like they are totally disregarding the fact that you have a crying kid in your arms while ALSO trying to video chat with your boss. Your partner didn’t necessarily mean anything by the question of what’s for dinner, but that question basically made your eyeballs pop out of your head. All you can say is, “Are you kidding me right now?” followed by the nastiest look that you can muster.
So what happens when your partner confronts you later? They think that you blew up out of nowhere. It may be hard in this moment, but take a deep breath and choose to see where they’re coming from. Try to shake off the need to defend yourself at all costs and focus on the full situation! When you take a minute to consider the full picture you could avoid saying, “I responded that way because you were oblivious to the situation” — and instead say, “I’m sorry for how I reacted. I was feeling overwhelmed in that moment.”
When we take responsibility for words or actions that have caused distress, we’re opening the door to changes we need to make in order to have a healthy relationship. Defensiveness can keep the door slammed shut. So it’s important to acknowledge the pain that you may have caused! Remember that you love your partner and channel that love to form your response.
Taking responsibility can be a difficult skill to master, but the conversation that follows will be your reward.
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you’re in a conflict with a loved one and you start to feel defensive, recognize it and call it out! Say to them, “I’m feeling defensive.” It’s a great place to start to take responsibility for your words or actions.
Why Being Neutral Can Be Invalidating to Your Partner
Do you walk the road of “neutrality” when your partner comes to you with an emotional issue? If so, your relationship may be suffering because of it. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn why validation is so important — and how it can make or break a relationship.
Today’s tip is about how being neutral can be invalidating to your partner.
What does that mean? Here’s an example…
Say your partner comes home from work, so upset, they can barely speak. You ask what’s wrong, and they tell you: Their boss took the credit for their legal brief. And all day long, their boss has been getting accolades for your partner’s 6 weeks of hard work! Your partner is inconsolable. So you say “Ah, don’t worry, you’re still getting a paycheck every week” or “They’re your boss. That’s what happens in business!” — or maybe even, “Why does this bother you so much? Just forget it. You’re overreacting! Let’s have dinner.”
And then, when your partner asks you why you’re not being supportive, and always taking the other person’s side, you say, “I’m not siding with anyone! I’m just neutral!”
Well, we’re here to tell you that “being neutral” to your partner at a time when they are hurting and desperately need you to hear them can be incredibly destructive. Your “neutrality” can cause them to feel invalidated — unheard, not respected, and not valued. And over time, that can cause a deep wound that can irrevocably erode the trust and relationship between the two of you. But a word of caution: Validation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with your partner or their stance! It simply means that you recognize their feelings as real and valid for them.
If you’re consistently staying “neutral” when your partner comes to you with an emotional issue, it’s important to look inside yourself and figure out why you react that way. Are you uncomfortable when your partner expresses strong emotions? Do you feel you’re actually helping by making the event smaller than it is — or are trying to “fix” things by telling them they shouldn’t feel “that way”? Finding out why you respond the way you do can be the start of a powerful change.
But take heart! If this has been a pattern between you and your partner, there are steps to healing.
First, atone: Really take an action to right your past wrongs. And don’t just do it once. Stop the harmful behavior and continually work to repair it.
Then attune: Go to your partner and really listen to them — maybe for the very first time. Hear their story and their perspective — and help them heal.
And finally, attach: Commit to your partner that this is now the “new normal”. You will be there consistently, on an on-going basis, to really hear them, validate their feelings — and, hopefully, trust will follow.
And these steps don’t just apply to personal relationships. On a broader level, the events of the past few months in our country and the world have weighed heavily on all our minds. What we’ve learned is that our own thoughts and actions do matter — because stepping back and becoming “neutral” in today’s environment is, in fact, a form of invalidation. So take these steps and use them in your personal life — as well as in the community at large.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner expresses strong feelings, stop, listen — and remember that your focus and validation and understanding will go a long way to repairing and strengthening your relationship.
Building Relationships Brick by Brick
Relationships aren’t magically unveiled in a single romantic moment. On this episode of Small Things Often, how you can build a relationship brick by brick and create a deeper emotional connection with your partner.
Today’s tip is about building relationships brick by brick.
Relationships aren’t magically unveiled in a single romantic moment. Would you really want it to be? Building something can be the satisfying part!
Think of it this way. Imagine buying an awesome, but intense Lego set for a 7-year-old. And as a grand gesture, you give them the Lego set fully assembled. You spend hours building it. You’re so excited to show them! And then when it’s time for the big reveal, you see a disappointed 7-year-old who is not excited. By creating this one-time grand gesture, you deprived them of the little moments that make Legos fun — building it brick by brick and making memories! This concept applies to your relationship.
Small, intentional moments hold more weight than isolated, extravagant gestures when it comes to building emotional longevity in your relationship. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your partner out for a hot date or surprise them with a romantic weekend getaway. The big things matter too. But it’s important to appreciate the little things. The little things you do every day to connect with your partner. It’s the whole idea around Small Things Often!
You can help build your relationship… brick by brick… by creating moments of connection with emotional bids. A bid can be as simple as asking, “How are you doing today?” Or be more vulnerable by asking things like, “How can I make you feel loved today?” Check-in with each other on a daily basis and have these conversations. Bids are the building blocks of relationships — so remember to pay attention to your partner’s bids too! Accepting bids builds connection. Missing bids results in disconnection.
So here’s today’s small thing: Create a daily ritual of connection in whatever way works for you and your partner — just make a habit out of taking a little time every day to be present for each other. It could be a kiss before leaving the house, talking about your day over a glass of wine, or taking a walk together!
There’s No Such Thing as All Good or All Bad
No one is all good or all bad. If you’ve fallen into that kind of thinking, tune into this episode of Small Things Often, and learn how to rethink your reactions — and improve your relationship.
Today’s tip is about good and evil.
Think we’re going to review an Avengers or Star Wars movie? Not a chance. Relationships aren’t like the movies where the hero battles against the villain. Movie characters like these are one dimensional and depicted as totally good or totally evil. In real life people have nuance — no one is “all good” or “all bad.” Here’s a news flash that we all have to keep in mind: The “perfect” person doesn’t exist.
So take a look at your own relationship. Have you been casting your partner in the role of hero or villain? Either way, you’re doing your relationship a great disservice. Take this example…
Say you’ve texted your partner in the middle of the day with some great news you want to share. You’ve sent the text and waited one minute….five minutes….ten minutes….and have gotten no response. Your anxiety starts to soar, and you begin to create stories in your head about why they’re not responding. You think, “Are they ignoring me?” or “Are they mad at me?” or maybe “Did they turn their phone off JUST so I couldn’t get through?” And then, your mind begins to race to all kinds of scenarios, and you become angry, fearful, and defensive, drawing all kinds of conclusions as to why your text wasn’t answered. And then, when they finally do respond, you’re so angry, you can barely speak. And they have absolutely no idea why. They are completely baffled and bewildered by your anger. And here comes the argument.
If you relate, this may be due to something called NSO — or Negative Sentiment Override. What does that mean? Very simply, it means that over time, for some reason, trust has been broken, and you find it very difficult to give your partner the benefit of the doubt — which leads to perceiving every action, even the neutral ones, as negative —which can drive the two of you apart. What’s the antidote? Embrace ambiguity! That’s right! Be open to another interpretation of your partner’s actions! Keep your eyes open to the grey areas! Otherwise, you may be labeling your partner’s actions and intentions before you get the full story.
Remember that seeing each other as good or evil, hero or villain, is not realistic. Because nobody in the universe is just one thing. So work to be open to seeing your partner in a positive light — and try to assume the best rather than the worst. Because really, when you think about it, we’re all flawed — but we are all, every single one of us, still worthy of love.
Today’s small thing: When interacting with your partner, be aware of your thoughts. Don’t let them take root and swirl into rigid black and white thinking! Catch them as soon as they enter your mind! Rethink your interpretation of your partner’s actions — and think about the grey area.
Having Difficult Conversations with Loved Ones
It’s no secret that difficult conversations with loved ones aren’t easy. So how can you make sure it goes as well as possible? We’ll share the questions that you need to ask yourself before the conversation begins, on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about preparing yourself for difficult conversations with your loved ones.
That doesn’t sound fun, does it? Difficult conversations aren’t fun to have with anyone, let alone someone that you love. But sometimes it’s necessary to have those conversations that begin with a pit in your stomach and sweaty palms. Preparation is the best way to make sure it goes as well as possible.
Why do you need to prepare? If it’s a difficult conversation, that means the conversation could carry some big and strong feelings for you, your loved one, or for both of you. Your words — and theirs — could come with some serious weight. You need to be mentally and physically prepared to talk about it and for the outcome — this could go good, bad, or somewhere in between. There are some questions that you can ask yourself… to make sure you’re ready… before the conversation begins.
Flat out ask yourself, “Am I ready to have this conversation?” You need to be able to talk about the specific conflict or incident without getting mired in the emotionality of it again.
Also ask yourself, “Am I calm enough to have this conversation?” Are you able to differentiate between your own emotions and the events that occurred? You might not be there yet! And that’s okay, but it’s important to recognize that before the difficult conversation begins because you might not be ready to talk about it.
Are you willing to seek to understand the experiences of this event outside of your own? You’ll need to be able to consider the other person’s viewpoint so if you’re still solely engrossed in your own, you may want to rethink the timing of this conversation.
Are you willing to speak from your experience without trying to persuade? Are you willing to attune to the feelings of others and what the event that you’re upset about meant to them? And are you in a position where you can be fully present for this conversation? Make sure you aren’t distracted and that your loved one has your full, undivided attention.
A majority of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end. Remember that as you mindfully begin the conversation once you’re ready. Set the tone! Be intentional with your words and be prepared for how both you and your loved one might feel during and after the conversation.
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you want to have a difficult conversation with a loved one, take a few minutes and pause. Run through some questions to make sure you’re prepared and in the right frame of mind to clearly communicate with understanding and compassion.
Acknowledge Subjective Realities
The existence of two different viewpoints doesn’t necessarily mean one person is wrong and one person is right. On this episode of Small Things Often, we explore how you can acknowledge subjective realities by sharing your feelings in a way that doesn’t make your partner feel defensive.
Today’s tip is about subjective realities.
Some things are just that — subjective. And when you’re in a conflict, it’s possible that two different viewpoints are both valid, even if it feels like “the right side” is obvious. We do want to be clear though that there are certain situations where this may not apply. The civil unrest that’s been happening in our country is an example. The existence of two different viewpoints doesn’t give anyone permission to be racist or violent.
But there are times when there’s two valid sides to a conflict. That means no one is necessarily right or wrong — because we all see things a little differently sometimes. It’s important to acknowledge both sides in these situations so you don’t deny your partner’s experience.
It’s also important to separate facts from feelings. Because feelings aren’t facts, but they do matter.
Let’s say both you and your partner are working from home right now. And today, your partner woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And you already have it in your head that they clearly have some major ‘tude as they go to close the door to your shared office. In fact, the sound of the door closing makes you jump. To you, that sound was loud and totally unexpected.
It might be natural to just blurt out, “Why did you slam the door?!” But instead of going back and forth with your partner about whether or not they really slammed the door, try acknowledging your feelings. Try saying, “I felt afraid when the door closed — it was so loud it made me jump.” Instead of, “You scared me when you slammed the door.” Do you hear the difference?
When you use an “I” statement about your feelings instead of a “you” statement, it’s more likely to make your partner feel less defensive and give them an opportunity to address your feelings. Maybe they don’t think that they slammed the door, but you think they did. No one is necessarily wrong. What’s important is that feelings on both sides exist, so they need to be heard and acknowledged.
Your partner has a right to feel however they do, even if it’s different from how you feel. And that goes both ways!
So here’s today’s small thing: The next time you find yourself in a conflict, ask yourself, “Is the reality of this situation subjective?” Instead of arguing over perceived facts, acknowledge your feelings and be open to theirs.
How to Be a Better Listener
How are your listening skills? If your partner is in pain, the most loving thing you can do is to listen with empathy and understanding. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to improve your ability to listen with compassion.
Today’s tip is about listening to your partner.
Are you a good listener? I mean, have you ever really thought about it? You should. Because it’s an incredibly important skill, especially these days when anxiety and stress are at an all-time high. Being able to really listen to your partner with a caring heart, no matter what’s on their mind, can have a huge impact on the health of your relationship.
So here’s the thing: Whether your partner needs to vent or explain or just talk — your job is to listen to their pain. And that doesn’t mean just “hearing it.” It means being totally focused on what your partner is saying, and listening with empathy and understanding. It means not being defensive or interrupting, even when your buttons are pushed. It means listening to your partner until they’re finished before you respond, or try to fix the issue, or give advice. We know. It’s not easy. It takes practice. Here’s an example.
Say your partner says they need to talk. You immediately tense up, knowing it will probably be about the small argument you had last night that escalated into a larger argument about finances. You’re already feeling defensive or hurt or angry before they even start speaking, but you can see they’re in a great amount of pain. So how do you handle it? Here’s some skills that will help you through.
First, self-soothe. While your partner is speaking to you, be sure to keep in the back of your mind how much you love and respect them. Think about the joy they bring you, the love you’ve both shared — and know that working through this issue will bring you even closer.
If you feel defensive, or the need to immediately respond, breathe deeply and relax your body. Postpone your reaction — just focus on your partner’s pain. A bit of ambiguity or discomfort on your part is to be expected. Allow for it.
Stay interested. Listen closely to the details of what your partner is saying and respond to their thoughts and feelings. Ask short, specific questions to probe deeper and show them that you’ve really heard what they’ve said. Nod and say “yes” to their thoughts to let them know that you understand. Or maybe paraphrase what they’re saying, so they know you’re listening closely.
Remember: Your listening ear is what your partner needs when hurting or struggling. Your support, your empathy, your presence will be healing. Listen fully. And then, let them know that you hear their pain — and then talk about ways to help alleviate it.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner expresses the need to talk about their pain, listen with empathy, kindness, and understanding.
How to Take Care of Each Other By Taking Care of Ourselves
How’s your relationship going? Not the one with your partner…the one with yourself. On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why creating time and space for yourself can keep the relationship with your partner strong and healthy.
Today’s tip is about taking care of each other by taking care of ourselves.
Does this sound like you?
You love sharing your life with your partner. You’ve dreamed about a relationship like this your whole life, and feel like it’s going really well! But, lately, you’ve realized that you’ve totally forgotten about one of the most important relationships of all — the one with yourself! Creating space and time for yourself is vital to having a strong, solid relationship with your partner. In fact, the healthiest relationships involve both of you keeping your own individuality alive and well!
Because here’s the thing: Spending too much time together, being “fused at the hip” can be unhealthy, and sometimes happens when one partner feels uncomfortable about expressing their own uniqueness, and so they try to merge with their partner in everything they do. At the other extreme are couples who keep each other at arm’s length, fearing that they’ll lose their sense of self in the relationship. The key, as is with everything in life — is balance.
The happiest couples we know allow each other to have a sense of autonomy — to explore and experience the things in life that are important to them, even if it means “doing their own thing.” They encourage each other to follow their dreams. They strive not to be independent or dependent — but, rather, interdependent!
So reclaim your individual identity and recharge your batteries! And encourage your partner to do the same! If your partner says, “I’m feeling stressed. It’s a beautiful day. I think I’ll go down to the driving range and hit a few balls.” Say, “Sure! I’ll watch the kids!” Or maybe your partner excitedly tells you, “There’s auditions for the community choir tomorrow. I’d like to audition for it.” Say, “Go ahead! You have a beautiful voice.”
For yourself, choose an activity that might help you grow personally. Take a French class, join a book club, or art class. You’ll find it will help you grow personally — and make you appreciate your relationship even more. And when you come back together, you’ll be stronger for it! Think of the amazing conversations you can have sharing the wonderful personal experiences you’ve had with your partner over dinner!
Bottom line? No matter how compatible you are, no one can provide their partner with everything they need. You each sometimes need to go outside the relationship to find it. So trust each other, support each other, and celebrate the time each of you take to feed your soul.
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner expresses the desire to do something for themselves outside of the relationship, encourage them, support them, and be a cheerleader for their success.
Connecting in Crisis
While in crisis mode, it can be easy to turn away from your loved ones. On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how you can stay connected and support each other in times of uncertainty.
Today’s tip is about connecting in the midst of uncertainty.
Everyone has gone through a crisis at some point in their life. Maybe you’re even going through one right now. Everything feels untethered in a crisis. You’re overwhelmed with swells of fear, panic, anxiety, sadness, anger, or even numbness.
And that uncertainty that comes from a crisis can also test your relationship. Maybe you and your partner are spending way more time at home right now because of COVID-19, alongside your kids, all while trying to work from home. It can be a lot… so the pre-existing conflicts can be magnified.
On top of that, some couples might also be navigating a difference in emotional needs. Maybe your level of worry and anxiety isn’t matching your partner’s. Or maybe one of you needs more space and the other needs more togetherness. So you don’t drift apart, both partners need to be conscious about the decisions and choices they make in their daily interactions — and the key is understanding.
Here’s how you can find that understanding in the midst of the chaos. Have some open and honest conversations to connect with your partner. You could start with, “How are you feeling today?” But you also don’t necessarily have to start with a question. Lay your feelings out there first! You can say, “I feel this way about this thing. What about you? How do you feel about it?” If you’ve already picked up on an emotion that your partner may be feeling — let them know in a loving way! Say, “I’ve noticed you’re feeling a little this way lately. What’s going on?” Another good question to ask your partner — no matter how they’re feeling — is, “How can I make you feel loved today?”
So here’s today’s small thing: When faced with a crisis or uncertainty, lean into your relationships with your loved ones. Make an effort to connect by asking questions about how they’re feeling. Remember to share your feelings too!
Practicing Positive Needs
How are you expressing those difficult emotions that creep up from time to time? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to transform criticisms into “positive needs” that will help you avoid conflict and arguments — and, ultimately, bring you even closer to your partner.
Today’s tip is about practicing positive needs.
Picture this: You just finished a very exhausting day at work. On the way home, there was an accident that backed up the interstate for over an hour. Then you had to pick up clothes from the cleaners, milk from the grocery, and Bitsy the Bulldog from the groomer. And, finally, you’re home! You walk through the door, and find more chaos. Your partner is going through the finances, and has questions about the cable bill, your daughter wants you to help with her complicated math homework, and your son is banging on the piano, begging to show you what he learned in music class. You try to hold back your emotions, but instead, they explode all over the room, as you shout: “Please! I need everyone to stop bothering me for JUST ONE MINUTE!! Let me breathe!” Suddenly, everyone in the room goes silent. Your partner looks stunned and your kids look hurt. And now, your day has become much worse. You feel awful.
We know, we get it, you were totally overwhelmed — and your response came out of a moment of total frustration. But was there a better way to express your desire for some down time? You betcha. By expressing your “positive need.” What does that mean? Simply this: A “positive need” is something you would like to happen — as opposed to a “negative need” which is what you would like to stop.
So what could you have said differently after walking into your house? Instead of negatively saying “I need everyone to stop bothering me.” You could have said positively, “I would like some quiet time to myself.” Hear the difference? We can pretty much guarantee that your partner would have understood and, hopefully, given you the space you needed.
Another great thing about expressing positive needs is that it informs your partner exactly how they can shine for you! Here’s another example…
Your partner has been distracted with work issues for the last couple of days, and even though you know why they’re a bit distant, you’re feeling insecure and lonely. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, when their attention seemed to drift, you blurt out, “Stop ignoring me!” Not only have you negatively stated this as something you want to stop — but it could also be the start of an argument if your partner gets defensive or perceives it as criticism. So instead, dig deep down and figure out what it is you really want to happen. Is it reassurance and affection? If so, say “I want a hug.” Then get your hug. And feel better.
But remember! Just because you express a need or want doesn’t necessarily mean that you should expect to receive it. The point is to get more comfortable and acquainted with what you want — and to feel safe expressing it.
But if telling your partner what you want is a challenge to you, practice expressing positive needs or wants on your own — like “I want a glass of water” or “I want to wear pajamas all day.” Say them out loud to yourself. Pretty soon, it will become second nature — and you’ll be more easily able to express your feelings positively when they come up.
Today’s small thing: Next time you feel as if you’re about to burst, stop, think, and then transform your negative thought into a “positive need.” Your positivity will help build a relationship of love and trust — and get your needs met, to boot!
Good Enough Relationship
What is a “good enough” relationship? It’s likely not what you think. In this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain how a good enough relationship can help you set healthy expectations.
Today’s tip is about building a “good enough” relationship.
When you picture the perfect relationship in your head, you probably think it’s just that. Perfect. But, that’s not realistic. That’s not life! Every couple has problems. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows.
That’s why we encourage couples to strive for the “good enough” relationship. Before we go any further, we need to clarify. It might sound like that’s another way of saying “settle for less than what you deserve”, or “take what you can get,” but that’s not it AT ALL. It doesn’t mean you should settle for being treated without respect. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to continually grow in your relationship.
So what does it mean to be in a good enough relationship? It’s a healthy and respectful relationship, not a perfect one — since those don’t really exist. So don’t expect perfection, but you and your partner should have high expectations for how you’re treated. You both expect to be treated with kindness, love, affection, and respect. You don’t and should not tolerate emotional or physical abuse. You expect each other to be loyal.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t argue with your partner. Even happily married couples argue. Conflict is healthy because it leads to greater understanding.
Couples in good enough relationships aren’t afraid of conflict and they can manage it constructively. They know things can and will get tough. They have the tools to not only handle it, but even grow from it. That means arriving at a mutual understanding and getting to compromises that work. And they can repair effectively when they hurt one another. They’re also good friends. They have a satisfying sex life. They trust one another and are fully committed to one another.
They honor each other’s dreams, even if they’re different. They create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals. They can compromise about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise their children.
You should expect all of this because you deserve it! Know that it’s not unreasonable and that a good enough relationship is achievable.
So here’s today’s small thing: Don’t strive for perfection in your relationship! Look for ways to build a good enough relationship and set healthy expectations.
How much fun have you had with your partner today? Yesterday? Last month? If playful moments are lacking in your relationship, listen to this episode of Small Things Often, and hear why moments of joy are so important — and learn how to consciously create some in your life!
Today’s tip is about finding joy.
So, congratulations! You and your partner have both been working hard on your relationship! You’ve managed most conflicts that have come up, expressed empathy when needed, and dealt with difficult emotions. You’ve realized the best relationships require you to be intentional, mindful, thoughtful and respectful. But here’s another important ingredient every good relationship needs. JOY. Hmmm. How’s that going?
Think about it. When was the last time you and your partner had fun with each other? Were playful? Silly? Lovingly teased each other, or laughed so hard, you could hardly breathe? If you’ve had one of these moments lately, you know that having fun together is a wonderful way to connect, and give a bit of relief from life’s more serious issues — especially these days. But if you’re finding that these moments don’t come easily or often, it’s time to consciously create some yourself. How?
Start by thinking with a child’s mind! Find excitement and fun in everyday moments. Is it a beautiful evening? Get a blanket, go in the backyard, lie on your backs, and gaze at the stars. Or on a hot afternoon, spray each other with a garden hose until you’re both soaking wet. Or have a two-person dance party in your living room. Or maybe have breakfast in bed — and then stay there for the rest of the day, watching movies, or just enjoying each other’s company.
And while you’re at it, create some activities outside of the house to enjoy together, too. Maybe go on a long meandering road trip on small country roads, have lunch at a local café, and strike up conversations with total strangers. Or take turns surprising each other with special date nights, leaving clues during the week to create some excitement and suspense. Or maybe even learn something new from YouTube! Cooking? Pottery? Sign Language? Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless.
The point is, if you embrace playfulness and fun, you’ll be creating memories and positive experiences that will bind you even more closely together — and will last a lifetime.
Today’s small thing: Ask your partner “what brought you joy today?” If they have to think about it, it’s time to create some joyful moments together.
Redefining Individuality and Togetherness
Are you and your partner spending so much time together that you’re beginning to think you’re losing your individuality and sense of self? On this episode of Small Things Often learn how to balance your relationship between togetherness and separateness.
Today’s tip is about grieving your old routines.
Ah, remember the good old days…just a few short months ago? COVID-19 has certainly turned our world upside down. Where once you were spending much of your day out in the world as an “individual,” now, you are part of a 24/7 “couple”. And wasn’t it sort of comforting at first —working in your sweats at home, always having your partner right there in the next room if you had a question, something funny to share, or just needed to chat? But, if you’re like most couples, after a while, the novelty began to wear off, and all that togetherness suddenly became overwhelming. And you realize that 24/7 was not only putting a strain on your relationship, but that you began to lose your individuality as well — missing your old routines — and your former self.
But here’s the thing: There doesn’t need to be a pandemic to feel these feelings or have these issues. Couples in long-term committed relationships face similar challenges. So how do you navigate your desires for individuality versus togetherness? How do you deal with longings of security and family, while also yearning for individuality? Well, grab a pencil and jot this down, because we’re going to give you some strategies to help you do just that!
Our first suggestion: Talk to your partner and set specific boundaries around time spent with one another. If you’re both working at home, you may prefer to be alone all day during working hours, while your partner likes to check in every hour or so. So discuss what you each need, and then create compromises. Perhaps take a break together during the day, and share a list of items you want to talk about.
Also: Have a stress-reducing conversation! Give your partner 15 minutes to complain about their day, then switch! But you need to follow the rules: The stresses must be about issues outside your relationship. Also, don’t judge your partner’s issues. When listening, validate and empathize — but do not try to problem solve. You’re there to listen. Want more detailed info about the stress-reducing conversation? Listen to our last episode of Small Things Often, which is all about this subject!
Another strategy: Strengthen your relationship with yourself. Find time to meditate and ask yourself important questions like: Who am I as an individual? Who do I want to be? What are my personal dreams? Then listen to your heart. Because the answers to those questions will guide you to projects or interests that will make you happy and fulfilled as an individual — and feed your soul.
Next: Use your imagination to create some fun at home: Dress up each morning to go to work, even if you’re going to your computer down the hall. Plan a candlelight dinner for two, cooking your partner’s favorite meal. Or maybe write a love letter to your partner telling them all the reasons you fell in love with them. Be creative! The possibilities are endless.
And finally: Carve out some time with your partner to discuss both your individual and shared goals and dreams —and then support one another in making each of those a reality. Ask each other “big” life questions, and spend some time discussing how you want to grow as individuals AND as a couple.
Today’s small thing: Ask your partner how they’re feeling about the time you spend together versus apart. Then figure out a plan to balance your relationship between togetherness and separateness. Be part of a loving couple, but keep your individuality, too!
Are you really listening to your partner? On this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to engage in a stress-reducing conversation that can positively impact your relationship by strengthening your mutual love and trust.
Today’s tip is about stress-reducing conversations.
“How was your day, hon?” I’m sure you’ve said that to your partner, or they’ve said it to you a million times as you’ve walked through the door at the end of the day. But, do you really mean it? Do you really want to know? And when your partner responds, do you really hear them? Or is their voice just white noise in the background as you scroll through the messages on your phone, or start to make dinner, or scan your kid’s homework assignment?
If this is you, take heart. It’s the typical scenario in lots of homes. But you can connect at the end of a long day with what we call a stress-reducing conversation — where you “actively listen” to your partner about their day by giving them your absolute undivided attention. And this means not just “hearing,” them, but truly listening with empathy and non-judgment. But remember, this conversation is only about stress outside of your relationship. It’s not the time to talk about any lingering conflict between the two of you. The goal is to show support for each other in other areas of your lives, so the stress doesn’t spill over into your personal relationship. Here are some quick tips:
Take turns complaining, with one of you as the “speaker” and the other one as the “listener.” Give your partner 15 minutes to complain about anything that happened during their day —as long as it’s not about your relationship or each other — and then switch. But do NOT give advice. Understanding must come first. Advice can follow later.
Stay focused! Don’t let your eyes wander over to the kids, or your mind drift to that crossword puzzle clue you still can’t get. Stay laser-focused on your partner — and show genuine interest.
Be supportive and understanding even if you think their perspective on something that happened during the day might be a bit unreasonable or not what you would have done in the same situation. Always be on their side and empathize with what they’re saying. Reinforce that you are in this together, and are a united team!
Also, don’t forget to express physical affection by putting your hand on their arm, giving them a hug, or saying “I love you.”
And finally, and very importantly — validate their emotions. Tell them, in no uncertain terms, that their feelings make sense to you.
And here’s a bonus! By having a stress-reducing conversation, not only will your emotional attraction become stronger — but it will impact your physical attraction as well.
Today’s small thing: Take the time tonight to ask your partner how their day went and really pay attention to what they have to say. Listen, respect, and validate your partner’s perspective.
Small Repairs That Have Big Impact
Every couple argues. But the ones who survive and thrive have learned how to repair quickly and often. What does that mean? Tune into this episode of Small Things Often and find out why it’s so important to repair conflicts as they occur.
Today’s tip is about small repairs.
Have you ever gotten a little paper cut? At first, you think it’s so minor, so you ignore it. Yes, it’s a little bit of an annoyance but not big enough of a deal to do anything special. But then, after a few days, it gets worse and worse, and it becomes so painful that it’s interfering in your everyday life and it’s all you can think about — so you finally treat it — and it actually heals.
It’s the very same with relationships. Small disagreements and minor arguments left unaddressed can linger with you or your partner for days, weeks, months – maybe even years. And just like that tiny cut on your hand, unless you resolve it and get the wound treated, it will fester and grow, and negatively impact your relationship. So how do you heal it? How can you calm and dissipate hurt feelings? The answer? Through repair.
Research shows that the happiest couples repair unresolved conflicts as they occur — and make a point of doing it early and often. They never let arguments — whether large or small — go too long without sitting down, listening to each other’s point of view — and repairing any emotional injuries. Because no matter how wonderful your relationship is, you will at one time or another have arguments where you get critical and defensive, say mean things to each other, or stonewall, by storming out of the room and becoming withdrawn or silent.
Say your partner has a habit of always leaving the towel on the floor after they shower. It’s a little thing, you realize, but it bugs the hell out of you. You’ve tried mentioning it, but they still do it over and over — and now every time you see their towel on the floor, you become so exasperated, you can barely speak to them. And by the time you do say something, it sounds so silly, angrily complaining about a towel… that your partner becomes irritated and defensive and lashes right back at you.
So how do you begin to repair and heal this disagreement that’s blown totally out of proportion? First, talk about it as soon as you can. You need to be calm before you repair. Then, admit responsibility for your part in the conflict. Don’t make excuses or explanations for your behavior, but instead reassure your partner of your love for them and that you understand their feelings. Open up. Be vulnerable. Express yourself, discuss what you’re feeling, and listen to your partner’s response and point of view. The whole goal is to openly talk and listen to each other — and then, together, try to understand what led to the argument in the first place.
And here’s the good news: Every single conflict, no matter how large or small, offers an opportunity for a deeper understanding of each other. It’s not easy. It requires a commitment from both partners. But if you repair often, the rewards are huge.
Today’s small thing: The next time you have a misunderstanding or argument with your partner, don’t let it slide until it becomes a painful memory that negatively impacts your relationship. Instead, stop and repair. Do this early and often and watch your relationship deepen and flourish.
You Don’t Need to Cheer Up Your Partner
When your partner feels down, is your first instinct to cheer them up? If so, take a step back, because there’s a better choice. On this episode of Small Things Often, we offer advice on the best ways to respond to your partner when they’re dealing with negative emotions.
Today’s tip is about NOT cheering your partner up.
Yes, you heard us correctly. We know that if your partner is upset for any reason, your first impulse is to fix, to care for, to make it better — To get rid of any negative emotions they may be feeling. BUT before you do…STOP. Because sometimes that’s not what they need at all. Really? Yes. Here’s an example.
Say your partner just told you that the promotion that they were positive they were going to receive went to someone else. They’re filled with emotions: from anger to hurt to disappointment to sadness. They begin telling you everything about it, and immediately you chime in to say “Don’t be sad, they’re a bunch of idiots!” It’s a natural response, we know, to try to neutralize or fix your partner’s feelings when you see them in such emotional pain. But it’s probably not what they need from you at this moment. What they do need is empathy. And that’s tricky. Because empathy isn’t about lifting your partner’s spirits or “fixing” their problem, it’s about validating their emotions.
So how do you do this? First: LISTEN to them. REALLY listen. Offer words of understanding and support instead of offering advice. Don’t try to cheer them up or problem-solve. It’s not your responsibility to alleviate their pain, even though sometimes it may feel like it. Instead, allow them to feel what they need to feel and validate those emotions. For instance, if they say they are incredibly angry, you might reply, “I understand. I would be so angry, too!” Or if your partner expresses hurt over losing the promotion, you might say, “I can totally see why you’re feeling that way.” Then, ask questions, like, “Is there more to this?” If there’s more emotion buried underneath the surface, this question may open up more feelings and thoughts they need to express. And remember, there isn’t a law against eventually giving advice or helping to problem-solve, but wait until you’ve allowed your partner to fully express themselves and process their feelings before you do. And only offer advice if it’s solicited! It’s even okay to ask your partner “are you looking for advice on this?”
Today’s small thing: The next time your partner is feeling a strong emotion such as sadness, anger or fear, don’t try to cheer them up. Instead, listen to them, care for them, validate their feelings, and love them.
Do your feelings get hurt easily in your relationship — even in small, trivial matters? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why this happens — and how to manage and repair these hurtful moments with your partner.
Today’s tip is about hurt feelings.
Here’s what you need to know: They happen to everyone — but for totally different reasons. And here’s another revelation: Hurt feelings do not mean you OR your partner did something wrong. No one needs to be “blamed” because it’s not anyone’s fault. What a relief, right? See if you relate to this scenario….
It’s the middle of the afternoon, and you realize you’re hungry. You start rummaging through the kitchen for something that will satisfy you. Ice cream, nope. Fruit, nope. Ah, but there’s some cheese and tortillas, and a quesadilla sounds perfect! You take them out, and suddenly your partner comes in and says, “Hey, what are you doing? Please don’t eat that! I need those for dinner!” You suddenly feel hurt, put the stuff back in the fridge, and say angrily to your partner, “Sorry!” then leave the room. Was there anything wrong with your partner’s request? Of course not. Is there anything wrong with your reaction? Nope. The reason you reacted this way might be that it triggered a sensitivity you have. A feeling from the past that sticks with you. A memory of a feeling— perhaps being scolded by your strict parents as a small child, and feeling embarrassment and shame — as if you’ve done something terribly wrong.
But here’s the thing. We ALL have triggers. Think of them as vulnerabilities from your past that seep into your present. It’s normal to have them. But when they occur, and you get hurt and lash out, your partner, who has no idea why you’re upset, may get hurt also.
So what do you do to get back on track? REPAIR. Sit down with your partner and have a recovery conversation. Open up and tell them about your trigger — that you got embarrassed by their offhanded remark, and suddenly felt you had done something horribly wrong by wanting to eat the quesadilla. Hopefully, your partner will respond positively and understand why you reacted the way you did and why you were hurt. And most importantly, they will remember your triggers, respect them, and be sensitive to them in the future.
Some of your triggers may seem trivial. But they’re not. Your feelings matter. And it’s the way couples manage their individual feelings together that makes all the difference.
Today’s small thing: Think of moments in your own relationship with your partner that have spurred hurt feelings. Recognize where they come from — and commit to sharing those feelings with your partner when conflict occurs.
Attunement Through Awareness
One of our deepest needs is for our partner to “know” us — to be truly attuned to us. On this episode of Small Things Often, discover how awareness will help you open up during a conflict —let your partner know what is going on inside — and become more emotionally connected.
Today’s tip is about attunement through awareness.
Remember when you were a little kid and played “Hide and Seek”? Hiding in the closet or under the bed was fun, right? But the best part of the game was being FOUND. Now that you’re an adult, has that changed? Think about it. Because the thing is, one of our deepest needs is for our partners to “find” us — to understand us — to “know” us— to be truly attuned to us and be responsive and aware of who we are and what we are feeling. But sometimes it’s not so easy. Because to get to that place, you need to gather up the courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable — to open up and let your partner know what’s going on inside. And this all begins by speaking with awareness. Here’s an example:
Say you’re in the middle of an argument, when suddenly, your partner shuts down, and leaves the room. And there you are, standing alone in the bedroom, angry and scared and about to burst. Your first impulse is to blame, attack and scream, “You are so mean! I can’t believe you walked out on me!” But there is another way. And it involves revealing yourself and your true authentic feelings in the moment of conflict. So instead of attacking, you take a deep breath, open yourself up, and gently say, “I feel afraid when you turn your back on me in the middle of an argument. My fear is that you’ll leave me. How can I bring up a conflict so we can work it out together?”
Mhhhm, see? That personal revelation now opens the door for attunement— and hopefully you both begin to feel more emotionally connected. You’ve chosen your words carefully — and not attacked or blamed your partner. And when your partner senses that, they’re not only more willing to understand your feelings and needs, but they may be encouraged to open up about their own.
Speaking with awareness is a skill you can develop to help you attune during conflict. Here’s 3 things to keep in mind:
First, when speaking to your partner, use “I” statements. This will convey how YOU feel, as in, “I feel sad.” “I feel fearful”. “I feel lonely.” Using the word “you” may come off as an attack to your partner such as, “You always do this!” or “You never put me first.” Using the softer “I” approach will allow your partner to listen instead of reacting defensively.
Also, during an argument or discussion, only focus on ONE issue. If you bring in all your relationship problems at the same time, you’ll probably solve none of them.
And finally, know your partner’s triggers, and protect them. Your partner has “raw spots” or baggage from their past, just like you do. So be careful. During a conflict, use compassion, and work around them. Build your relationship on trust.
Today’s small thing: The next time you are in an argument with your partner, don’t attack, but instead open up, show your vulnerability — and attune with the skill of awareness.
What Is a Bid for Connection?
Knowing when your loved one is trying to connect with you isn’t always intuitive. On this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll explain why you need to know your bids for connection and take you through the different types of bids so you can create healthy interactions in your relationship.
Today’s tip is about knowing what bids for connection look like.
A bid is an attempt that a person makes to connect with someone. Bids may be feelings, observations, opinions, or invitations. It could be verbal or nonverbal, physical, sexual, intellectual, humorous, serious… or in the form of a question or statement. These ALL qualify as a “bid” for connection. But some bids aren’t obvious… so it’s important to know your bids. If you’re able to recognize them, you’ll be able to respond to your partner’s bids in healthy ways and create a healthy pattern of interactions in your relationship!
So let’s go through the different kinds of bids. Some verbal bids might be a little more recognizable. It could sound like, “Hey! Do you want to go get drinks sometime this week?” Or something like, “Could you ask your friends if they know a good auto-mechanic?” It could even be a statement like, “That dog is cute.”
Now these next bids can also be subtle — because they’re nonverbal. It could be affectionate touching — even a high five counts… or something a little more intimate, like a hug or a kiss! Sure, these things are kind and sweet. But it could mean more than that. It could be an attempt to connect! Another nonverbal bid could be a facial expression like a smile or blowing a kiss… or more playful like sticking out your tongue. There’s also playful touching such as tickling or dancing — and affiliating gestures like opening a door, offering a place to sit, or handing over a utensil. Yep. Even passing a fork. And then there’s vocalizing bids… without actually being verbal… that means laughing, sighing, or a well-timed “mmhmm”— in a way that invites interaction or interest.
No matter what the bid looks like, it’s important to recognize that an attempt to connect is being made. It may not be glaringly obvious — so be tuned into the ways in which your partner or loved one may be bidding for connection.
So here’s today’s small thing: Lean into the interactions with your loved ones. Is a hug, just a hug? Or is your partner really trying to connect? Be open to receiving their bid for connection.
You’re smart — of course — but are you emotionally intelligent? In this episode of Small Things Often, how you can use emotion coaching in your relationship to connect with your partner by becoming more emotionally intelligent.
Today’s tip is about emotion coaching.
Emotion coaching probably isn’t what you’re envisioning in your head though. Do you picture someone on the sidelines telling you how to feel? That’s not it! It’s about understanding and regulating emotions. Emotion coaching is typically for parents to do with their kids, but the concepts explored in emotion coaching are really beneficial to adults as well.
By being mindful of each other’s feelings, you can use emotion coaching in your relationship to become more emotionally intelligent. What does that mean? Emotional intelligence is emotional self-control and mindfulness of others. Which may mean that, if you have a higher degree of emotional intelligence, you’ll be more able to keep your temper under control if you’re faced with a frustrating or angering situation.
So where do you begin? There are 5 essential steps of emotion coaching. Let’s start with the first. Be aware of your partner’s emotion. Recognize that they’re feeling a certain way — whether it’s good or bad.
Then, recognize your partner’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy. Lean into it. Did you just notice that your partner is really mad? Don’t back out of the driveway and run away from it. Look at it as an opportunity to connect.
This next step is big! Listen with empathy and validate your partner’s feelings. When your partner is upset, whether at you or at someone else, empathizing with them and validating what they say will help you successfully navigate conflict. But, it’s easier said than done — we know!
Now… if you notice that your partner is struggling with how they’re feeling, help them label their emotions with words. Ask, “What are you feeling?” Let them express their emotions — and be present in that moment! Sometimes all you need to do is just listen.
And for the final step, set limits when you are helping your partner solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately. Consider setting a time limit on these conversations, which could sometimes last for hours. A time limit could keep you both engaged — and keep either of you from becoming preoccupied over when the conversation will end.
Taking these steps can help you become aware of your partner’s feelings — and of your own — and help unpack those sometimes difficult emotions.
So here’s today’s small thing: Show your loved one respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Talk through their feelings with them and try to understand their source.
Under Stress, We All Regress
Do you communicate differently when you’re stressed? You’re not alone! In this episode of Small Things Often, we’ll show you why under stress, we all regress, and what you can do to keep your relationship strong.
Today’s tip is about keeping your relationship strong while dealing with stress.
Life can be stressful. We ALL can feel a little on edge sometimes and that can have an effect on your relationships!
Let’s say you’ve been working through some issues with your partner. You’ve both made a big effort to repair past issues, to be more self-aware, to connect with each other, and to communicate. You’re seeing big, positive changes! But then in life, things start hitting the fan — things that don’t have anything to do with your relationship… until they do. Why? Because under stress, we all regress. Stressful conditions can activate trauma triggers — sometimes causing us to fall back into our old coping mechanisms.
All that time you spent, working on not snapping at your partner might seem like it was just flushed down the toilet. And suddenly, your sharp tongue is back and you’re quickly triggered… over things that you’ve learned to talk calmly about, but when you’re stressed out “calm” can be difficult. Or maybe you don’t use harsh words, but once again you started giving your partner the silent treatment instead of letting them in. Maybe you’ve battled years of curling up into your shell as a way to cope — and when you find yourself in a really stressful situation, curling up once again can be an automatic reaction. Because maybe it’s what you learned to do… until you learned a healthier way to cope.
So how do you get back to that healthy place — for both you and your relationship? First of all, don’t feel like your hard work was wasted. It’s not! Setbacks don’t mean failure! Once you’re able to attune to yourself and self-soothe, your stronger, wiser self will likely return. And when you get back to a good place, intentionally turn toward your partner with warm kindness, instead of anxiety and contempt.
Life can feel uncertain. At some point, we’ll all be triggered in some ways — shutting down, fleeing, getting angry and reactive. But remember to also lean into the opportunities for growth individually and together.
Today’s small thing: When you notice that your partner is stressed, check-in with them to see how you can help. Try asking, “What do you feel?” Or, “What do you need?” Let them know that you’re there for support — even if that means just giving them some space.
Understanding Your Feelings
Difficult emotions can be difficult to truly understand! On this episode of Small Things Often, we’re putting those emotions through the Feeling Wheel — and you can too by printing your own here.
Today’s tip is about understanding difficult emotions.
We’ve all experienced hardships. Things that make us angry, confused, fearful, lonely, or sad. Most of us can’t just snap our fingers and snap out of it — even though at times we may want to run away from these feelings and “fix it” instead of understanding it. Sometimes these emotions feel so big and overwhelming and blunt. I’m sad. Period. I am sad. But there’s so many layers to your feelings!
You can deal with these feelings by practicing mindfulness. What’s the benefit? It enables you to calm down and soothe yourself. When you’re calm, you have space to reflect and thoughtfully respond, rather than react.
In Season 1 of Small Things Often, we talked you through the 6 steps that can help you understand and deal with your difficult emotions in a mindful way. So today, we’re taking it a step further because the more you lean into these emotions, the more you understand what is fueling them and how to address them.
That brings us to the Feeling Wheel. It’s a tool developed by Gloria Wilcox that can help investigate feelings related to what you’re feeling — and maybe you’ll connect with a different emotion that could be the root cause.
The Feeling Wheel has different rings. So say you’re feeling sad. Some of the emotions on the outer rings of “sad” are guilty, ashamed, depressed, lonely, and bored. Are any of those resonating with you when you’re feeling sad?
This tool is also a great visual so you can see the opposite of what you’re feeling — to see how you could turn it around! Across from “sad” on the Feeling Wheel, is “joyful” — and maybe for you, that means being playful, energetic, or excited! How can you transform your feelings of sadness to become joyful?
The Feeling Wheel can help increase your emotional intelligence and awareness. You can actually download and print out your own Feeling Wheel! Just go to gottman.com/blog/printable-feeling-wheel.
So here’s today’s small thing: When you find yourself feeling a difficult emotion, turn to the Feeling Wheel! Practice identifying and acknowledging the emotion to mindfully work through it in a healthy way.
Mindfulness and Awareness
How can mindfulness transform your relationship? On this episode of Small Things Often” learn why staying in the present moment — being aware of your thoughts and emotions, without going on auto-pilot — can increase your sense of happiness, love, and trust.
Today’s tip is about strengthening relationships through mindfulness.
“Wait a minute” you’re probably thinking “Isn’t the practice of mindfulness mainly for MY benefit? How does it impact my relationship?” The answer? Enormously. And here’s why: Mindfulness is about compassion, and non-judgmental awareness — all qualities that are essential in an intimate, loving partnership. Not only will mindfulness improve your relationship in times of happiness, but also when times are tough. Because by being aware of what you’re feeling in highly emotional times, you can break habitual negative thoughts and behaviors you might have hanging around. Here’s an example…
Say you’re in the middle of an argument with your partner. Emotions are running high. Words are exchanged, the tension escalates, and suddenly you find yourself on auto-pilot, blurting out things that are so hurtful, or maybe things that you don’t even mean. This is where mindfulness comes in. Instead of reacting and arguing and blurting….STOP! Take a few deep breaths — and bring yourself back to the present moment. Ahhhh. Then turn towards your partner instead of away. What’s the difference? Turning away involves anger, criticism or defensiveness — while turning towards can create increased levels of positivity and warmth between the two of you. Now that you’ve shifted your awareness, you can express yourself in a new and loving way. This doesn’t mean you deny your feelings — you just express them in a softer way — and then open a thoughtful discussion of what is REALLY going on in the present moment.
Another way of practicing mindfulness during a tense situation is to create space between yourself and your strong emotion. This means removing the “I” word from your thoughts such as “I am furious” and simply realizing, instead, that you’re experiencing “anger.” If your partner is the one who is feeling anger, don’t react negatively. Instead, encourage them to come back to the present moment with you, become aware of what they’re feeling, and express what is there.
If both you and your partner practice mindfulness and present moment awareness, it can transform your relationship. Not only will it increase your sense of appreciation for each other, but it will lower stress levels as well. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to break old habits. So be compassionate and supportive of each other as you navigate your way to a whole new way of thinking. You won’t regret it.
Today’s small thing: Aim to be mindful in all your interactions with your partner. If emotions run high, take yourself off auto-pilot, and back to the present moment.
Flooding and Overwhelm
Have you had an argument with your partner lately, where you totally lost it because you were overwhelmed with feelings of anger, fear, or hurt? If so, this episode of Small Things Often is for you! Discover why this happens — and how to calm yourself when these feelings arise.
Today’s tip is about flooding and feeling overwhelmed.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re in the middle of a discussion with your partner. Things become a bit heated, but still calm. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, they say something that triggers you — and suddenly you’re having an out-of-body experience. Your breath gets short, and you start to tremble. Or maybe your heart feels like it’s pounding out of your chest, and tears start rolling down your cheeks. You try to focus, but oh, my God, how can you? Your mind is overwhelmed with rage or hurt or panic or fear —and now you’re saying things to your partner that are hurtful and maybe even have nothing to do with the subject you were discussing! You’re wildly lashing out — defending yourself and attacking them — and you don’t know why — or how to stop it.
What’s happening to you? Well, actually it’s a response that’s as old as existence itself. When human beings face conflict or danger, an alarm goes off in the body called the “fight-or-flight or freeze” response, and a physiological reaction takes place. Adrenaline levels begin to soar and flood the body until it’s in a heightened state — enabling you to quickly react to life-threatening situations. In primitive times, this action could have occurred because a bear was chasing you. In today’s world, it could be because your partner criticized your house-cleaning abilities. But whatever the reason, your body still responds to stressors as though that bear is chasing you!
By this time you may have stormed out of the room, shut down the conversation, and started giving your partner the silent treatment. Or maybe you’re still standing in the middle of the kitchen, lashing out. Either way, this is not productive, and only prolongs the conflict. So how do you get back on track? Here are a few suggestions…
Make a commitment to yourself that the next time you feel flooded or overwhelmed, you’ll try to self-soothe on the spot. Calm your body by focusing on your breath, relaxing tense muscles, or imagining a place that makes you feel calm and safe. Any one of these can help stop you from spiraling out of control.
Or maybe picture your partner in a moment of love, kindness, and generosity. This will help you remember the good part of your relationship — and you’ll be less likely to blindly react to the situation.
You can also hit the “pause” button! Let the storm pass! Reassure yourself that you will be fine if you wait for the adrenaline levels and flooding to decrease.
Another suggestion? Use imagery — like a spinning wheel becoming slower and slower, till it finally comes to a stop. As your thoughts slow, your nervous system will, too.
And if you’ve been in this situation with your partner before, make a plan that if either of you become flooded during a conflict again, that you’ll take a time out — at least 20 minutes. Then use the time to self-soothe. When you’re both calm, continue the conversation. If “I’m sorry” is appropriate, say it! But don’t wait too long to solve the conflict! 24 hours tops!
Today’s small thing: Now that you know the cause of the physiological sensations of flooding and overwhelm, take the time to plan how you’ll deal with these feelings the next time they arise. Awareness is the first step! You can do it!
Say What You Need
Cut the criticism and say what you need! This episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute shares tips about how to communicate positive needs in your relationship instead of playing the blame game.
Today’s tip is about saying what you need.
Sounds simple, right? But communicating what you need to a loved one, doesn’t always come out the way you intended it to. Let’s say you just got into a heated argument with your partner. They accused you of working too much and not making them enough of a priority. And as they’re talking, all you can think about is everything that they’re doing wrong in this situation. Maybe their approach was horrible and the timing is awful, and their whole way about it made you just feel bad. But this is where you need to shift perspectives. Instead of saying what your partner is doing wrong, talk about what you need — to make things better.
That means avoiding criticism and blame. You can do that by talking about your feelings using “I” statements. Like, “I feel this emotion.” And express a positive need, by saying “I need this from you.”
By using that language, you’re expressing what you need — and not what you don’t need. It’s saying “I need you to support me” instead of “I don’t need you to tell me what to do.” Hear the difference? The latter is much more negative.
Here’s the silver lining! Within every negative feeling, there’s a longing, a wish, or a need. So communicate what that is! It’s your recipe for success so your loved ones can fulfill your needs in the relationship. We’re willing to bet, you’ll want to return the favor.
It’s a small thing that you can do often to make a big difference. Small Things Often isn’t just the name of this series. It’s our mantra! Always make time to do Small Things Often to deepen and enhance your relationships. Not just with your partner, but with anyone you love! Tools like the ones we’ve given you in this series can help navigate a course of action that can encourage healthy, positive communication.
We’re leaving you with today’s small thing: What is one thing that you need right now in one of your relationships? Express it to them in a positive way!
Thanks for listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute — helping you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships. Please let us know what you think of this series in reviews on Spotify and iTunes. Tell us what resonated with you, what topics you’d like for us to cover, and what you want more of!
What Does Compatibility Really Mean?
Do you think in order to be compatible with your partner you have to share certain interests, values or goals? Think again. On this Episode of Small Things Often, we explore what it truly means to be compatible.
Today’s tip is about compatibility.
Oh, my God. You are over the moon! You think you’ve found the love of your life. You met them through a dating site that asked you a million questions about your likes and dislikes, your interests, values, and goals —and after a bunch of horrible first dates, you’ve finally found your perfect match! They take hot yoga three times a week – just like you do – they love long meandering road trips to nowhere – just like you do – and they’re even into extreme couponing! I mean, come on! How many people are into that? I mean, you’re so compatible?! Right?
Okay, whoa whoa…
Sure! It’s important to get a sense of common interests, values, and goals in relationships…but it’s not the only thing that determines if you click with someone. Research shows that the true indicators of compatibility are related to emotional intelligence —our ability to control and express our emotions, as well as to handle our relationships with empathy.
So rather than finding someone who is “just like you,” look for someone with “relationship aptitude.” Someone who shows respect for you both in the way they communicate – and in their actions. And at the same time, they’re able to let you know what their own needs are – but they deeply care about yours, too. And, very importantly, they’re able to sustain intimacy and trust.
So enjoy your long rides, your hot yoga classes, and extreme couponing together. But don’t forget to treat each other with respect, validation, and kindness. That’s what leads to true compatibility.
Today’s small thing: Take a look at your own life and find ways you can improve your relationship aptitude — and really appreciate the good things you share in your relationship.
The Grass is Greener Where You Water it
We’re getting the negativity out of your relationship! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’re shifting perspectives to prove the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Today’s tip is about perspective.
You know that saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side”? Well, spoiler alert. It’s not true. At. All. At least, when it comes to your relationships.
When your relationship is in a bad place, it can be easy to dream or fantasize about what life would be like… being in another relationship with someone else…and how different your life could be with this new partner. Maybe their parents would like spending time with you… Or maybe you would be able to travel more… It’s easy to get carried away with how things could be better or different or perfect with a new person because we realize real relationships aren’t perfect.
But instead of wondering what could be better, take a deep breath, and do the opposite! View your relationship with rose-colored glasses. Pour as much positivity into your relationship as you can. It helps to form what we call, the positive perspective. Does your spouse make you laugh until your face hurts? Does your friend give the best advice? Remember these moments! Cherish your loved one and what you both have together. When you have that mindset, it’s much easier to deal with any negativity in your relationship.
With that said, just because you have rose-colored glasses on… it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be roses, rainbows, and butterflies, or whatever. Obviously, there will still be bumps in the road. But if you remind yourself about the good things in your relationship, you won’t be as hung up on the tough stuff.
Remember, the grass isn’t greener somewhere else. The grass is greener where you water it.
Here’s today’s small thing: Make a list of the positive things — all of the things that you love — about your relationship with a loved one. And then share it with them!
Change the Metric
How do you measure success in your relationship? If your goal is perfection, you’re setting yourself up for heartache. In this episode of Small Things Often, find out how the happiest relationships measure their success.
Today’s tip is about changing your relationship’s success metric. What does that mean?
Simply this: How do you measure success in your relationship? Are you and your partner the type of people that expect perfection – no arguments, no conflict, no problems, no mistakes, just living a perfectly serene life, stress-free day after stress-free day? Well, then you might as well be a robot. No, I take that back. Even Siri and Alexa make mistakes sometimes. I mean, ever punch in a location on your smartphone for that new French restaurant you’ve been dying to try— and ended up at a weird karaoke bar on the other side of town? It happens. But I digress.
Point is – if you expect perfection of your partner and your relationship, you’re bound to be disappointed. Because nobody – and no relationship — can live up to that ideal. Not to say that you shouldn’t maintain high expectations for how you’re treated — but, otherwise, you may want to change the metric for your relationship’s success. How? Instead of striving for it to be perfect and conflict-free – measure your success by asking yourself these questions:
Was I kind to my partner today?
Did we treat each other with respect?
Can we trust each other?
Are we friends?
Were we able to repair any conflict that arose?
Answering “yes” to these simple, but really, really important questions are the best indicators of your relationship’s success. So every day, be mindful to show your partner kindness, love, affection and respect – and let go of the perfection thing. Leave that goal to the robots.
Today’s small thing: Take a good look at how you measure the success of your relationship—and let go of impossible goals of perfection. Remember that conflict is healthy because it leads to greater understanding.
Facts Over Myths
There are some “facts” about relationships, that maybe you’ve always believed, that just aren’t true. On this episode of Small Things Often, we use decades of research to bust 5 of the most common relationship myths.
Today’s tip is about some common relationship myths.
Because, hey, I bet you’ve gotten a bunch of advice about relationships your whole life – words of wisdom or clichés that maybe were passed down to you from your parents —or given to you from well-meaning friends when you were going through a relationship crisis. I mean, they were just trying to be helpful, right? Well, after decades of researching couples, the Gottman Institute put some of these so-called relationship “facts” under the microscope — and here’s what we found: a bunch of them are myths. And here’s five of them – busted!
Let’s start with the first myth: Common interests keep you together. Sorry but nope. Not true. I mean, almost every dating site matches couples based on shared activities. And, okay, it’s a start, for sure. But the important thing is not what you do together – but how you interact while doing it! If you both love horseback riding, but one of you constantly criticizes or belittles the other on how they sit in the saddle, well, that’s a clue that your relationship might be in trouble.
Oh, and I’m sure you’ve heard the advice “Never go to bed angry.” We disagree. This advice pushes couples to solve their problems right away, no matter how they’re feeling. If you’re flooded with emotion during a discussion with your partner — then it’s a good idea to sleep on it – and then talk about it in the morning.
What about this one? Couples Therapy is for fixing a broken relationship. Again, not true. Of course, therapy can help resolve certain serious issues that come up – but couples therapy is more effective as a preventative measure— giving you the tools you need to maintain a close, loving relationship.
Another relationship myth thrown around is Affairs are the main cause of divorce. This is absolutely false. While it’s true that an affair can destroy the trust between two people, the cause of the divorce is not the affair – but what occurred before the affair even happened. And that’s probably because you grew apart. In fact, a study found that 80% of divorced men and women said that growing apart was the main reason their relationship ended in divorce.
And finally, our last myth: “Relationships need to be fair.” Ah, no. Keeping score of what each of you do or don’t do can lead to resentment, criticism, and contempt. Instead, act in kind loving ways, and appreciate each other. Deal making and contracts have no place in strong, loving relationships.
Today’s small thing: Question all the advice you’ve ever received regarding relationships. Be a myth-buster! Learn the facts—and transform your relationships for the better.
Intimacy through Self-Disclosure
Do you keep a lot about yourself to yourself? Self-disclosure to your partner — revealing your most authentic self about how you think and how you feel — can have an enormously positive impact on your relationship. On today’s Small Things Often, we tell you why.
Today’s tip is about self-disclosure.
It’s really important to open up to your partner and reveal your most authentic self. But there are some things that are just really difficult to talk about, aren’t there? Deep things. Private things. Things you may have kept held tightly inside your whole life — about what you think, how you feel or, maybe even, who you are. Maybe it involves something from your childhood that you have never told anyone but is now impacting your life as an adult and your relationship with your partner. Or perhaps, it’s something you passionately like or dislike that you’ve never thought to share with them — but if you do, that might help your partner have a better understanding about your reactions to certain situations.
The point is that self-disclosure — really opening up about yourself to the person you love — creates intimacy. In fact, self-disclosure of emotions, rather than just facts or information, is a pretty important predictor of the best kind of intimacy in relationships. Because the more you know about how your partner feels emotionally, the more connected you may feel, and the more capable you are of being there for them — no matter what the circumstances.
So open up. Encourage your partner to do the same. Reveal your hopes, your fears, your dreams, your feelings. Show them the wonderful, unique, weird, complicated person you are, and watch trust flourish and your relationship deepen. Sure, you may be a little nervous, but you won’t be sorry.
Today’s small thing: Carve out some quiet time to talk to your partner and intentionally self-disclose. Ask questions that encourage you both to open up – and reveal feelings and thoughts you’ve never talked about.
We all have things that trigger us emotionally, but what can you do about it? And how do emotional triggers affect your relationships? We’ll share what to be mindful of, in this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute.
Today’s tip is about triggers.
Emotional triggers that can instantly make you feel a certain way and sometimes take you to a dark place, mentally. We’ve all had experiences that can make us sensitive to certain places, events, people, sounds, words — you name it. It can be any sort of physical or psychological stimuli that “triggers” us. Some situations are unavoidable, but it’s important to understand and be mindful of what triggers you and what triggers your loved ones.
Triggers can come from your childhood, traumatic experiences, or previous relationships. A common one in relationships is cheating. If you’ve been cheated on before, it usually takes serious work to move past it. And in the aftermath, maybe you’re always on the lookout for shadiness. Are they really texting their mom? If you sense that your partner is being sketchy, it could bring back all of those old feelings. Or how about feeling abandoned by a friend? Did your friend disappear, when you needed them the most? It could take you back to when someone in your family abandoned you as a child. And now if you feel it in your relationships, it instantly takes you back to your childhood and those feelings of abandonment.
When you get triggered, maybe you get angry or upset. You could sometimes even experience anxiety attacks or the fight-or-flight response, depending on how intense the trigger is.
So what can you do about it? Talk about your emotional triggers and really be open about it with your loved ones. By doing that, you’re protecting yourself and them — and it forms a deeper, emotional understanding between you both. Because if you’re aware of each other’s triggers, you have better odds of avoiding them.
Here’s today’s small thing: Ask a loved one about their emotional triggers. What are the deep-rooted experiences that affect them today? Be mindful of their answer. And of course, share your triggers too!
We’re calling a time out! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’re practicing self-soothing skills so you can take care of yourself and talk to your loved one with less tension.
Today’s tip is about self-soothing.
We touched on this a little bit in our last episode because it can be a way to calm down when you need to pause and take a step back from a heated conversation that leads to stonewalling.
But what does it mean to self soothe? It’s all about taking care of yourself. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your partner! You know how flight attendants say in the event of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help someone else? It’s a metaphor you’ve heard a million times, you know why? Because it’s so true. If you’re not okay, then how can you help someone else? And in this case, how can your relationship be okay if you’re not okay? The first step to being okay might be some “me” time to take care of yourself. When emotions are flooding during a tense conversation, this might be a time to signal to your partner that you need to hit pause so you can walk away and practice some self-soothing skills. A good time to practice these skills is when you’re calm and less distressed — so how about now?
It’s easy! Just take a deep breath and listen. Focus on the air going in and out.
Do a body scan. Pay attention to where you feel tense in your body and breathe into those places to relax them. Start with your brow, jaw, and shoulders. You’re feeling relaxed already, right?
Okay, great, so let’s keep going. Imagine your favorite place, your happy place, wherever you feel at ease. Yep. Jamaica — floating in the ocean with an ice cold whatever. Float far, far away from your troubles. Or maybe stay local. Maybe your home is your sanctuary. If that’s you, listen to music or watch tv in your favorite spot. Or go for a walk and get some fresh air.
There are two things that we don’t want you to do. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of thinking about what led to you being overwhelmed in the first place while you’re self-soothing and don’t rush the process. Give yourself some time to relax. There’s a scientific reason for this! It’s been proven that, physically, it takes a full 20 minutes for your body to calm down. So if your partner, friend, boss, or whoever is really anxious to continue a super tense conversation right this minute, we give you full permission to tell them that you need 20 minutes.
And it’ll be worth it because when you can talk to your partner with less tension and stress weighing you down, you can have better and more productive conversations.
For today’s small thing: The next time you feel overwhelmed in a conversation, ask for some time to yourself to self-soothe — and practice your new skills!
Two Sides of Stonewalling
The walls are coming down in this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute. We’re sharing the two sides of stonewalling and a solution for either side.
Today’s tip is about breaking down walls in your relationships. A stone wall, to be exact.
Have you heard of stonewalling? It’s when you get into an argument and get so overwhelmed that you shut down completely and withdraw from the interaction. Sound familiar? There’s a good chance you’ve been in this situation. And when this happens, there are two sides that you need to consider.
Let’s say you and your partner got into a really heated, emotional argument. It started small — your partner complained that you spent way too much money at the grocery store. Did you really have to buy organic? It led to a whole conversation about money and how you can’t agree on how to spend it or save it for the things that matter. And now the argument isn’t so small and your emotions are flooding. You can’t even get the words out. You panic, close up like a hermit, and shut down. Your wall is up. Maybe this is your way of protecting yourself.
On the other hand, your partner may not see it that way. They could take it as you ignoring them. On purpose. These are the two sides to stonewalling. And if you’re in this situation often, it can be easy to get engrossed in these feelings, no matter what side you’re on.
So how do you break down that wall? Ask for a break. It’s easier said than done, we know. It can be hard to come up with the right words to ask for a break when you’re flooded with emotions in the middle of an argument.
We have a solution. You and your partner should agree — ahead of time, when you’re calm, cool, and collected — on how to take a break when one of you gets overwhelmed in an argument. Like a “timeout” signal, but that could be anything. Some kind of signal, word, or phrase that both of you can use. That way, in a heated moment, you and your partner will be able to respect the need for a break. Once you take a break, take 20-30 minutes alone to calm down and self-soothe. And actually, we’ll be diving deeper into self-soothing in our next episode so stay tuned. It’s helpful because when you feel calm, you’ll be able to resume the discussion from a rational state of mind.
So this is today’s small thing: Talk to your partner about a “timeout” signal that both of you can use to pause the conversation, step away, and regroup.
How do you deal with emotions like anger, confusion, fear, or sadness? In this episode of Small Things Often, learn how to practice mindfulness to find calm and peace when difficult emotions arise.
Today’s tip is about dealing with difficult emotions.
Okay, say you’ve had a horrible day. This morning, your partner was so distant, so of course, you were silently panicking and trying to figure out if it was because of something you did or said. Then, this afternoon, your boss questioned a work-related decision you made, and you were so angry, you thought you might explode. And then later that night, you found out your dad was very ill, and you’re so scared that you might lose him.
So how do you deal with these difficult emotions like fear, anger, confusion, and sadness—as they swirl around and around in your mind and your body till they almost consume you? How do you get your peace back?
The answer is mindfulness. Maybe you’ve heard the term before—and you get the idea of it, but don’t really know how to apply it to your life, or know the signs that it’s working. Well, when you practice mindfulness in tough situations, it will not only help you calm down and soothe yourself, but it will also give you the space to reflect—and then calmly respond to the people or events around you—rather than react.
So how do you get there? Try these six steps to deal with your emotions in a mindful way:
First: Become aware of the emotion— and identify where you sense it in your body. Is your neck tense? Is your stomach churning?
The second step is: Name the emotion. Say to yourself “This is anger” or “This is fear.”
Step 3: Accept the emotion. Don’t try to push it away — don’t deny it.
The fourth step: Realize that this emotion won’t last forever. Even if it feels overwhelming, remember that it will pass.
Step 5: Be a detective and figure out what triggered you to feel this way. Was it your boss’s comment? Your partner’s distance? Your dad’s illness?
And finally, step six: Totally let go of the need to control the emotion. Instead, be open to the outcome and what unfolds. If it’s an issue with your partner that triggered you, now that you’ve stepped outside of yourself, you can really talk to them, listen to their feelings, and what they have to say from a place of calmness.
Mindfulness is not easy. It takes time. So, be patient with yourself. You won’t get there overnight. But if you practice these steps, you’ll be on your way to finding peace when difficult emotions arise.
Today’s small thing: Next time you feel overwhelmed, take a breath — and deal with your difficult emotions in a mindful way.
We’ve got some relationship magic for you — it’s called the 5 to 1 ratio. It’s based on extensive research and it can transform the bond between you and your partner. Find out what it is and how it works in today’s episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about the magic relationship ratio. Okay it’s not like magic magic. It’s what we discovered in a few decades of research with thousands of real couples. There’s a very specific ratio that makes relationships last – and flourish. Like magic. And that ratio is 5 to 1.
So here’s the magic: Lasting relationships have a ratio of 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction during a conflict conversation. So basically, during a fight with your partner there are at least 5 nice things for every 1 not-so-nice. And how you handle this ratio can mean whether you are in what we call a “master” or “disaster” relationship. Disasters fall below 5 to 1 – but masters keep the ratio 5 to 1 or greater. Fascinating, right? This is how it works…
Say you’re having a conversation with your partner about your neighbor who always parks way, way too close to your driveway. It annoys the hell out of your partner– but for whatever reason, it doesn’t bother you at all. And they’re telling you all about it, for the hundredth time, how much this angers them, how inconsiderate it is, and you reply that you don’t know what the big deal is. And they respond that it IS a big deal to them — and you roll your eyes. It’s such a tiny, subtle reaction, but it comes with a huge emotional punch.
So that eye roll is the 1 negative interaction. So now what? What’s the antidote to the eye roll? Do 5 positive things during the conversation that make your partner feel appreciated. It can be as small as making eye contact and saying “uh-huh” to show you’re really listening. Or maybe it’s a nod, a gentle reassuring touch, or perhaps even finding some moments of gentle teasing, or silliness, so you can laugh together and ease the tension. There are a million small ways to show you care, even in conflict. Pick 5. Or better yet – pick more. Go nuts.
And this magic ratio doesn’t just apply to your partner – it can be during a conflict with a co-worker, a friend, your mom, your child – anyone who’s important in your life.
So walk through your days — and nights — with the 5 to 1 ratio in your pocket. Use it generously and often—infuse your conflicts with positivity— and watch all your relationships thrive.
Today’s small thing is: Be aware of your interactions today, and note if you’re hitting the 5 to 1 ratio. If not, think of ways to inject moments of appreciation and love into those conversations.
Celebrate Your Partner
When was the last time you celebrated one of your partner’s successes? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out why small moments of celebration contribute to the happiness of your relationship.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based techniques to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about celebrating your partner’s successes.
Picture this. You’re sitting in your favorite comfy chair, cup of tea by your side, reading a fantastic new spy thriller on your Kindle. You’ve just gotten to a huge plot twist in the story where the real killer might be revealed, and your heart is thumping out of your chest, and you can’t scroll through the pages fast enough. Suddenly, the front door opens and your partner bursts in, looking really excited. They just had their 6-month evaluation from their supervisor at work – and got a glowing review!
You’re happy for them – give them a quick smile and say, “That’s really great, hon!” Then turn back to your Kindle.
Sorry to say this, but you just blew a huge opportunity.
I mean, what you said wasn’t unkind or hurtful – but this news was obviously a really big deal for your partner – and your response didn’t come close to what they needed in this moment to validate their feelings on their success. Because the truth is that when one partner succeeds at something that’s important to them – a happy couple will take the time to really celebrate that success together.
So put down your Kindle. Get out of your chair. Give them a big kiss and a warm hug. Be enthusiastic! Get into it! Ask questions! Be a cheerleader! Show them that their big victory is your big victory – and that their happiness is your happiness. That you believe in them and support them. You don’t have to wait for a difficult or challenging time in your partner’s life to be there for them and show that you’re supportive. Be there for the victories, too. Show that you care.
Today’s small thing is: The next time your partner succeeds at anything large or small—they got to work on time, they made a great dinner, they saw a cute dog –celebrate the good news. It will bring you closer and strengthen your bond.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute for another small way to help you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships every day.
Complaints vs Criticism
Does your partner sometimes do things that annoy or upset you? Do you tell them? On this episode of Small Things Often, find out the difference between complaining and criticizing and how each could impact your relationship in a big way.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based techniques to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about the difference between complaints and criticism. Bet you thought they were the same thing. Well, we’re here to tell you, they’re totally not. And knowing the difference can make or break a relationship.
I mean, face it, no matter how much you love and adore someone, they’re going to upset or annoy you sometimes. But how you express those feelings to your partner makes all the difference in the world. And here’s the key: Complain. Don’t criticize. Complaints are about specific issues that can lead to understanding. Criticism attacks your partner’s entire character – and leads to resentments and defensiveness. Hard concept to wrap your head around?
Say that tonight you were so looking forward to having a quiet dinner with your partner, just the two of you. But for the third night this week, they walked through the door with the phone attached to their ear – and kept taking calls during dinner, all the way through to your delicious dessert of lemon meringue pie and freshly brewed pumpkin spice coffee —which you basically ate and drank alone. And you felt the tension in your body building and building and building inside you, until you suddenly jumped out of your chair and blurted out, “You’re always on the phone! You never care about anyone but yourself!”
That, folks, is criticism. Not only did you blame your partner – but you judged them. And here’s a red flag warning: If you’re using the words “you always” or “you never,” you can bet that you’re criticizing. Criticism usually leads to an argument that you don’t even need to have.
The positive way to handle it? Focus on one specific issue and Complain without blame. Start with what we call a “soft startup” –where you first tell your partner exactly what emotion you were feeling during dinner. Hurt and anger, am I right? Then describe the situation that caused that feeling: that your partner was on the phone through your entire delicious dinner. And then, ask for what you need to help resolve the issue. Hopefully, they’ll understand where you’re coming from, and agree to turn off the phone at dinner time. But whatever happens, you’ve opened a conversation. And that can only be good and healthy for you both.
So today’s small thing is: The next time your partner annoys you – take a breath – step back – and remember the difference between criticism and complaining. It could help save your relationship.
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute for another small way to help you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships every day.
Intentional Choices to Connect with Your Family
Is the current coronavirus pandemic causing you to feel out-of-control, anxious, and a bit removed from family life? On this episode of Small Things Often, we show you ways to reconnect with your family in times of great stress — by being intentional in your choices and making the best out of the “new normal.”
Today’s tip is about making intentional choices in times of stress.
Face it. We’re living in a time of great anxiety and great uncertainty. The coronavirus pandemic has created changes in the way we live, the way we work — and in the way we connect with each other. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. We can make the best out of this “new normal” — that feels nothing like normal — by making intentional choices to connect with our loved ones. Right now, we have to choose to stay indoors to do our part by hunkering down until the crisis is over —both for the protection of ourselves and others. So it’s important to choose to do the things we are able to still do, and want to do, with intention – like spending quality time with our partners, roommates, kids – and those we love.
So where do you start? First, really think about the ways you and your loved ones will move through your days — rather than just trying to barrel through them unconsciously. Actually sit down and have a conversation about it. Maybe your partner hasn’t usually been home in time to help with dinner, but now they are! Is it their turn to cook? Or maybe, if boiling water is a struggle, their time is best spent helping the kids with their new home-school studies.
But being intentional isn’t just about tasks. Talk to your loved ones about what would bring you both joy today! Or maybe it’s time to make a new tradition. Maybe make breakfast an event! Let the kids help and embrace the mess. Do they want to dance and sing while they whisk the eggs? Bring it on. Plan the coming day together! Take a family walk after dinner every evening. Or schedule a weekly family meeting where everyone can safely voice their thoughts or concerns. Be creative! Find ways to connect, understand, and appreciate each other.
Because, of all times, now is the time to lean on each other. You don’t have to pretend like staying in your house, basically 24/7, with your family is normal. But that doesn’t mean life has to stop. It just means, you may have to modify some things. Okay, so your kid can’t go to the park right now. Bring the park to them! Bust out all of the pillows, blankets, whatever, for the ultimate fort! Use this time to really be in the moment and spend some quality time together that you might not normally get.
We know that focusing on the fun things might be hard right now while you’re concerned about what’s happening in the world, but that’s why it’s also important to take care of yourself and remember that your needs are important, too. I mean, really, how can you be there for your family if your anxiety is making you feel like a hot mess? So maybe take an hour a day to shut yourself into your bedroom, and take that online Zumba or meditation class that you’ve heard so much about. Or perhaps there’s a special podcast that you’ve been dying to listen to. Hopefully it’s this one! Whatever it is — carve out time that is just for you — and bask in the glow of doing something you love. Put it on your calendar. Make it a routine. That quiet, focused time will help you tune into yourself, relax, and gain perspective.
Here’s today’s small thing: Ask a loved one, “How are you coping? How are you doing?” Right now, a question that simple might go a long way. Maybe you’ll discover a need that you can meet! Be intentional with your time and watch your family become stronger than ever.
Are you around your loved ones a lot more than you’re used to right now? As the world deals with a health emergency, Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute is here to make adjusting to all this a little easier! We’ll guide you through the conversation that you can have to redefine your daily rituals.
Today’s tip is about redefining rituals.
Is your world a little upside down? We can relate. It’s safe to say everyone can right now. There’s a good chance that you’re homebound… quarantined… waiting for this worldwide health emergency to pass… all while practicing social distancing.
Before this all started, maybe the idea of being stuck in your house with your partner, family, roommates, or whoever — 24/7 — sounded fun! And maybe it still is — you know, between trying to find toilet paper and holding onto hand sanitizer like it’s a pot of gold. Or maybe if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s able to work from home, that excitement came to an end, when your child threw an overstuffed peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the floor, screamed “No more sandwiches!!!”, and stomped on it, a foot away from you while you were on an important video conference with your boss.
No matter where you stand, and no matter how much you love your loved ones, being around them ALL. THE. TIME. — and being in the same confined area, can be a little rough. But you know what can help? Taking a good hard look at the rituals of your day-to-day life and being intentional about what everyone in your house, including you, needs right now.
Have a conversation with them about it! It can help to establish some boundaries so that you can all happily coexist and get whatever you need, done. Here are some questions that you can ask each other:
What can we expect from our day? How should we begin and end our workday? How can we let each other know if we’re ready to talk — or need to be alone? How can we rely on each other to connect? What does it look like to get your needs for space and privacy met? What does our time together look like? When do you plan on throwing sandwiches? Do you always stomp on them post throw? You know, questions like that to get the dialogue going around how best to be mindful of each other’s needs.
Having these conversations proactively means you won’t need to have them reactively after an unknown boundary was violated. And remember, just because we’re all practicing social distancing, that doesn’t mean you have to be isolated! Use this time to connect with your loved ones — whether they’re under your roof or not. Just, you know, keep your distance.
Here’s today’s small thing: Ask your loved ones about their needs and express your own while you figure out your new daily rituals in close quarters. What are some things you can do to make each other’s lives easier?
Staying Connected Through Times of Great Stress
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis? Tune in to this episode of Small Things Often to learn ways to stay connected to your partner during these times of great stress and uncertainty.
Today’s tip is about staying connected, even in times of great stress.
Feeling a lot of anxiety lately? Yea, [sigh], you are not alone. The fact that life has become complicated and stressful in the last few weeks is a huge understatement. With the coronavirus crisis now in our midst, our lives have changed drastically — and quickly —impacting each of us in different ways. Maybe you’re feeling stir-crazy from self-isolating and working from home. Maybe you’ve taken on the task of home-schooling your kids – a responsibility that you feel is totally out of your wheel-house. Or perhaps you’re beside yourself worried about the health of your family, your elderly relatives — and yourself. We understand. The stress and anxiety caused by this new reality is overwhelming.
So how do you navigate through it all? How do you stay connected to your partner when your mind is so preoccupied with uncertainty? The key is this: Be intentional about meeting each other’s needs —and create space for affection and intimacy. Here are a few tips that will help you get there.
First, schedule “couple time”: A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic has totally disrupted our lives and daily routines. To counter this, schedule some time together with your partner. Even if you’re spending every minute of the day together in quarantine, it’s important to make space for intentional time together. It can be anything that helps you relax and connect. Make a “date” to watch your favorite movie, cook your favorite dinner together, or find a time to make love. Even mundane chores — like doing the dishes, cleaning the house, or making the bed together every morning —can be opportunities to connect.
Next: Take turns giving and receiving love. Sometimes it feels difficult to stay present for the other person because you’re both going through so much stress at the same time. So it’s really important that you make an effort to really stop and listen when your partner wants to share their thoughts and emotions— and vice versa.
Another thing you can do is create some rituals for your “new normal” to help you feel connected. Maybe give each other a kiss every morning as a quick dose of intimacy. Or leave sweet or funny notes of encouragement for each other during the day. Whatever it is, find a ritual you love that helps you stay connected.
And finally: Be willing to forgive quickly. In stressful times, many of us are on edge – more irritable than usual, maybe snapping at our partners for no particular reason. If this happens, use the “rewind rule” — allow your partner to apologize and take back something that was said out of anger, frustration or fatigue. Forgive quickly and avoid the small, petty conflicts that might fester over time — and cause distance between you both. You won’t regret it.
Today’s small thing: During this unprecedented time, intentionally find small ways to meet your partner’s needs —and create the space for loving connections. Remember! Small things often can reap huge rewards!
It’s time to get in sync! On this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’re putting attunement into action to help create harmony in your relationships.
Today’s tip is about attunement.
Okay, what does that even mean? So attunement means becoming receptive, aware, or accustomed to something. But it also means “to make harmonious.” Harmony is the operative word here. That’s exactly what we’re aiming for to improve your relationships — sweet, sweet harmony.
You know there’s been a time in one of your relationships, where you feel totally disconnected. It could feel like something’s off. Maybe you’re in a rut with your partner and you don’t feel at all like a team. Neither of you is trying to engage or talk about what’s going on and how you’re feeling. Or maybe you’re upset with a friend who’s been AWOL, but you’re not reaching out either.
Getting on the same page and finding harmony could be what’s missing. Hello, attunement! It can help build trust in a relationship, but it’s not always intuitive. So that’s where we step in. We’ve created an acronym out of the word “attune” to help guide you through the steps it takes to attune to your loved one’s emotions. Ready? This will help you remember!
The “A” in attune stands for awareness of the situation at hand. How is your partner feeling and how are you feeling?
The “T” stands for tolerance of two different viewpoints. Even if it’s different from your experience, what your partner is going through is very real for them.
The second “T” is for turning toward. You might ask them “hey, what’s going on for you?”.
The “U” is for understanding your partner. Don’t assume you get it right away, this may require asking clarifying questions.
The “N” is for non-defensive listening. This is hard to do but is crucial to having a constructive conversation.
And finally, “E.” Respond with empathy! Get it? Attune!
So let’s put that into practice with today’s small thing: Make an effort to attune to your loved one! Something as simple as validating different perspectives can help create emotional harmony.
Destress with your Partner
Do you need to de-stress after a long day? In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’ll tell you the do’s and don’ts of a stress-reducing conversation that you need to have daily with your loved one!
Today’s tip is about de-stressing.
Say your partner had a horrible day and now that they’re home, all their stress about how they couldn’t fix anything that went wrong today is making them want to talk about your relationship and any problem they noticed in the past 24 hours. But as luck would have it, you also had a horrible day and unlike your partner, diving deep into your relationship is the last thing you feel like doing. Before you run for the hills or your partner reads their very specific, bulleted list of everything they want to fix in your relationship — you both need to de-stress. And you can do it together! It’s an important conversation to have with your loved one.
Why? Because you know when you’re so stressed that you take your frustrations out on other people — who have nothing to do with the reason why you’re stressed? Talking about your day can help!
We call it a stress-reducing conversation — a form of dialogue where you listen to each other’s venting with empathy and — this is a big one — without judgment or advice. So when we say listening, we really mean it — so keep your advice or “maybe you could try this!” to yourself because when you actually feel heard, venting can be just what you need! Yeah — your boss can be a jerk. And that arrogant coworker? The WORST. How many times can they talk about their gaudy new house in one day? Sometimes it feels good to just say it aloud to someone who really hears you. Say how ugly that house is! The point is, this conversation helps you and your loved one manage your external stress — not caused by your relationship — so that you’re not taking it out on each other or feeling like you need to fix each other’s problems.
So make this a ritual! When you reunite at the end of the day, open up about what happened! Support each other emotionally about other areas of your lives.
There’s a big asterisk on this conversation though. You ready? This is not the time to tell your partner, friend, family member, or whoever, about the issues you have within the relationship. You know why? If you’re still in stress-mode, that’s probably going to affect how you respond. Even though it’s always good to regularly open up about what you need and how you feel within your relationship, when you are both trying to de-stress and connect, this is NOT the right time to tell your spouse that you think their mom doesn’t like you. It’s time for you to listen about how this person cut them off in traffic and turned back to smile — who does that?
But you know what? If you want to talk about your relationship in this moment because you want to strengthen it — just listening, empathizing, and validating your loved one’s feelings at the end of the day can do wonders. Think of it this way — instead of saying you love them, show it by giving them the time and space to be heard.
So here’s today’s small thing: Practice listening to your loved one when you can tell they need to vent! Help them feel supported and heard — and watch the stress start to melt.
Disconnect to connect
It’s time to unplug! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we explain why disconnecting — and putting down your phone — could help form a stronger connection with your partner.
We’re willing to bet that right now, you’re listening to this on your phone. And if it’s in your hand, please put it down and just listen — because today’s tip is about disconnecting. Sometimes you need to disconnect to connect with your partner.
It’s easier than ever to stay connected through email, texting, and social media. It’s the world we live in — and it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s great that you can keep up with friends and family. But it also can become a time-suck. You might not even realize how long you’ve been scrolling through selfies of friends you probably haven’t talked to in decades, pictures of plates of food, and Baby Yoda memes. That’s the danger here! Some people are checking their devices so often that they’re missing their partner’s attempts to connect.
For a lot of us, it’s a habit. You plop down on the couch with your phone. Open up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever and start scrolling. Your partner starts talking. You hear the words, but you’re not really hearing them. It’s going in one ear and out the other. Because did you see Kelly just posted that she’s pregnant? Again! With twins!
While your social media feed could have important information, your relationship is much more important. If your partner is complaining that you seem more focused on your screen than your relationship, that’s something you need to take seriously — even if you disagree! Here’s an idea. You turn off your phone during a movie or at church, right? Extend that same respect and courtesy to your partner.
And even better — establish rules for technology usage in your relationship. At the very least, this could mean a “no phone policy” at the dinner table or in bed. While your fans may be disappointed that you didn’t live stream how you cooked your carrots, they’ll live.
So here’s today’s small thing: Discuss a “no phone policy” with your partner. What time spent together do you want to make “device-free”? What parts of the house are no-phone zones?
Listen to understand
Before you interrupt your partner’s story, listen up! In this episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, we’ll explain how fully listening before responding can strengthen your relationship.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based techniques to help improve your relationships in 5 minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about listening.
And yes, we know our last episode was about listening, but guess what? There are different ways to listen so it’s really all quite nuanced. Last episode, we talked about listening to understand your partner and how they are feeling before immediately giving advice. So today we are focusing on how hard it can be to REALLY just listen to them.
Let’s start with what happens in conversations all the time. Your partner is telling you a story. They’re still talking, but you totally check out because you already formed a response in your mind. They’re telling you all about the new restaurant down the street. They won’t stop talking about the queso. BUT, they have no idea that you’ve already been there. And guess what? That “great” queso? There was a hair in yours. Not so great. They need to know… they need to know NOW, but they won’t. Stop. Talking. They are on to the texture and consistency of the queso. You’re nodding your head. Smiling when appropriate. But you can’t wait for them to take a 1 second breath so you can unleash queso-gate because you’ve been holding onto this information for what feels like an eternity. Oh sorry! Did you just interrupt their story?
Conversations like this — where you so badly want to jump in — can happen in any situation with co-workers, friends, and family. We’re all guilty of it so why is it problematic? Because you aren’t fully attentive and mindful of what they’re saying if you’re forming your response mid-conversation. You might have missed an important detail about your loved one’s thoughts or feelings.
So don’t listen to reply. Listen to understand.
That brings us to today’s small thing: Slow down and really listen. Wait to think about your response until your partner has finished talking. Not only will you have better conversations, but you’ll also understand your partner, or anyone else, a lot more.
Understanding must precede advice
There’s a battle that you don’t necessarily have to fight. Why understanding your partner before you even think about spewing advice could be just what your loved one needs!
Today’s tip is about listening.
When we say listening you probably think, “I know how to listen. It’s not that hard.” But we’re talking about listening and really understanding your partner before you even think about giving advice. And we mean, really listening. Not that “I’m only half listening because I’m dying to respond” kind of listening.
Let’s say your partner just came home from work, filled with RAGE. They are making that weird face that they make when — They. Are. Ticked. Off. Furrowed brow? Check! Pacing the hallway? Oh yeah. Talking under their breath? Absolutely. Not good. Their boss was a total jerk today and they are so upset. Your first reaction? To fix it! It almost feels like you’re running out of time because there is a completely made up deadline to fix everything that’s making them upset. It hurts to see your partner hurting. But take a deep breath and — zip it.
When someone you love is upset, it’s natural to want to fix it. But usually, your partner isn’t asking for you to come up with a solution — especially not immediately. So don’t just tell them to storm into their boss’ office — or at least not right away because there’s a good chance that they just want you to be there and listen!
Unsolicited advice is common among couples and honestly, all relationships. But unless your partner or friend has specifically asked for help — resist! Don’t try to fix the problem, change how they feel, or rescue them. Offering unsolicited advice gives your partner the impression that you think they haven’t thought of that solution yet, which they almost certainly have. The mindset to remember is understanding must precede advice.
We’re not saying that it’s never appropriate to problem-solve when your partner is upset. You just have to first let them know that you fully understand and empathize with them. That way they will be receptive to suggestions and you can problem-solve together. To communicate that you understand, try saying things like “I can see why you feel that way.” “No wonder you’re upset.” “That sounds frustrating.” Or, “I would have been disappointed, too.”
Here’s today’s small thing: Think about what your partner and friends need from you when they’re upset? Do you need the same things? If you don’t know, ask.
You don’t have to solve your problems
There are some issues between you and your partner that are unsolvable. But that doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Find out how to deal with “perpetual problems” on this episode of Small Things Often.
Today’s tip is about problems.
Everyone’s got them. And there are some you just won’t be able to solve. Some issues between you and your partner are just going to stick around, no matter how many years you’re together.
For example, maybe you’re an extrovert who’s the center of attention at every social gathering, and loves meeting new people—as opposed to your partner who hates parties, avoids them at all costs—and is drained of every ounce of energy in their body when they finally walk out the door? Or maybe you would just absolutely love to have sex twice a week—and your partner would just absolutely love to have sex twice a month. Or, perhaps, you’re neat as a pin, very orderly, and, just for fun, you love to arrange your books in alphabetical order by author while your partner throws their clothes on the floor every night, forgets to open the mail for weeks at a time, and never puts away the milk. And so maybe you start to think, can this relationship even survive?
Well, in a word. Yes—it can. Because the fact is: research shows that almost two-thirds of marital issues are unsolvable! Two-thirds, can you believe it?! We call these “perpetual problems.” But it’s okay, because the great news is—despite what many therapists—or friends who like to play therapist—might tell you, you don’t have to solve these “perpetual problems” in order for your relationship to thrive.
But you can’t just let the problems do their thing, and just be “whatever” about them being in your relationship. Here’s the key: You’ve got to talk about these issues, a lot—and use these conversations to better understand each other. You’ll never change your partner, nor should you try to. But a good healthy dialogue, sprinkled with a little affection, some acceptance, and a bit of humor, will allow for the space that each of you needs to come to an understanding of who you are as individuals—while being together. Because without this understanding, your conflict will become gridlocked. And gridlock leads to resentment. And resentment leads to emotional disconnect. And that’s bad news for any relationship.
So give it a try. Talk about your differences, as well as your similarities—and maybe even grow old together—even if one of you still loathes going to parties.
So today’s small thing is: Take a moment, and think of one perpetual problem in your relationship. How have you handled it? How might you change that going forward? How can you accept that this is just a way you’re basically different, without it reflecting negatively on the relationship overall?
Tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute for another small way to help you maintain and strengthen all of your relationships every day.
Trust is built in very small moments
Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It’s built over time. Learn how paying attention to small everyday moments can add up to a deeply trusting relationship.
Today’s tip is about trust.
Are you under the impression that since you’ve fallen madly in love, that trust will automatically follow? Ah, wouldn’t that be so incredibly easy and perfect and wonderful… yeah it would be — if it were true. But the fact is, trust just doesn’t happen.
Trust doesn’t just appear all at once in one big swoop, as in “I love you so much, so, of course, I trust you so much.” Nope. Trust builds over time. And it happens in small moments. Everyday moments. Some so tiny and “blah” or “whatever”, you might just miss them if you’re not paying attention. We call them “sliding door” moments. And every day, you have a chance to seize the moment to connect – or not.
So okay, I know this whole “sliding door” idea might be hard to understand at first, so basically, picture this:
It’s Friday night. And you’ve made it to the end of an incredibly long, frustrating, and exhausting week at work. And all day long, you’ve been waiting to get home and go on a run. And, ahhhh, you’re finally there. You’re lacing up your shoes, picking your playlist, doing a little bit of stretching to hype yourself up before you go and you’re about to leave and you see your partner sitting lost in thought, looking a bit sad.
“Oh,noo nooo noo,” you think. “I don’t really want to deal with this now! I just want to run and not think about anything!” Ding, ding, ding, ding!! You’ve just arrived at a “sliding door” moment! You now have a choice. Put your plans aside, and ask your partner what’s wrong? Or pretend you didn’t see it, and sneak out the door and run…After a moment, you take out your earbuds, sit down next to your partner and say, “You seem sad. What’s going on? Can I help?”
Congratulations. With that one small choice, in that one tiny moment, you’ve begun to build trust. You paid attention, noticed there was something up, and made the choice to connect instead of focusing on yourself. Keep it up. Those small moments add up. And soon, a deep trusting relationship will follow.
So today’s small thing is: Pay attention to all your interactions today, and watch for “sliding door” moments. This can be with your partner, your child, a friend — or anyone you love.
Move from me to we
Are you and your partner on a unified front? If you feel like you have been out of sync maybe you need to start adding in more “We” and less “Me.”
Today’s tip is about unity.
When you ask a happy couple about their relationship, they usually tell you about it with a sense of WE-ness… you know, we, you and me…ness…We-ness. Even the words they use to talk about their relationship often show similar beliefs, values, and goals — like they’re in this together! So, what does that say? That it’s important to move from “me” to “we” in your relationships.
One of the many reasons we-ness is important is because it can play a big role in the conflicts that pop up in any relationship. We’ve all been there. All relationships have conflicts that are tough to navigate. A common source of friction is money. Or how you label the relationship. Or maybe your conflicts aren’t that deep. Thermostat wars are real. Basically, we can get stuck when the focus is always on me, not we — so maybe bring your A/C up from below freezing and warm up to the idea of compromising.
Here’s something that can help. Start throwing “we” into the mix when you find yourself focusing on your own desires: Think, “What do we need? What do we want? What do we like?” It helps you get into the headspace to consider both you and your partner’s wants and needs.
That brings us to today’s small thing: It’s time to ask yourself, “How are you building we-ness in your relationships?”
Self-care isn’t selfish
Think self-care is selfish? Think again. It could save your relationship. Listen to this important science-based tip on Small Things Often from the Gottman Institute—and discover why you need to carve out some me-time.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in five minutes or less.
Today’s tip is about taking care of someone you know pretty well. Someone who’s very important in your life and your relationships. YOU. That’s right we said it, YOU, yourself!
There are times in your life where you may feel like you lose yourself a little. Maybe you’ve just been promoted—but your job is so demanding, you feel like you’ve lost all concept of time and space. Or maybe your dad is really sick, and you’re on call 24/7. Or perhaps you just became a parent to a beautiful baby girl, and although you are over the moon with her arrival, she has colic and you haven’t slept in what feels like a hundred years.
It happens. There are always going to be moments that require us to make sacrifices of our time and energy. It’s admirable—and in many cases essential. But if you’re feeling any kind of resentment creeping into your psyche, or any emotional distance, or a loss of intimacy in your relationship because of it, then whoa, listen up, because this tip is for you. And it all revolves around self-care.
First off, what do you feel when you hear that word? Does it make you feel incredibly selfish? Guilty? Self-indulgent? Cringey? You’re not alone. So many people feel the same way.
But the simple fact is: Self-care isn’t selfish at all. Taking the time for yourself—to do something just for you—is actually one of the best things you can do for your health and your relationships. Maybe belt out your favorite Adele song at the top of your lungs. Or go plant some flowers, and feel the fresh dirt between your fingers. Or maybe take a couple of hours to play a round of golf with your friends, an activity you love so much, but haven’t done since your life turned upside down. The point is that anything that brings you joy—not only benefits YOU–but all of your relationships.
So here’s today’s small thing: Go nurture yourself. Pick one activity today that you love—and carve out a time to do it. Because bottom line—the best thing you can do for your relationships is take care of yourself!
Catch your partner doing something right
Can small moments of appreciation transform your relationship in a big way? You bet they can. In today’s episode of Small Things Often by The Gottman Institute, find out why it’s important to catch your partner doing something “right!”
Today’s tip is about appreciation.
Okay. So before we do anything else… you have to admit it. Admit that recently your partner might have done something that drove you absolutely up a wall. It could have been something super small, like maybe they were having the loudest conversation in the world with their mom about the guestlist for your 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party, as you were finally sitting down to watch The Great British Bake Off and just relax for once. Or maybe they forgot to walk the dog (AGAIN), even though they promised they would (TWICE), and of course, almost like he planned it, the dog saved his biggest accident in the history of his tiny, furry life for your bathroom floor.
The fact is that many people will catch themselves focusing on their partner’s shortcomings, which makes it much easier to take all the good parts for granted. But here’s the thing: The happiest couples — and, yes, real people with real flaws are in happy couples, too — are aware of things their partners do that they are not so fond of — but they realize that this person they chose to be with is still worthy of honor and respect. And they show it. How?
By catching them doing something right – and saying thank you.
So take a moment to close your eyes and think about your partner. Did they make the coffee early this morning so it would be ready when you got out of bed? Did they remember your dad’s birthday? Maybe they offered to pick up the kids without being asked. Or maybe they cleaned up that mess on the bathroom floor… Whatever it was that they did “right”, notice it. Appreciate it. And say thank you.
The truth is that fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in creating a rewarding and long-lasting romance. So always be on the lookout for things you can appreciate about each other. We promise it won’t be that hard. You’ll even find that the tough moments that come up in your relationship will be less difficult – because you’ve built a partnership based on respect and appreciation.
So here’s today’s small thing: Search for small, everyday moments, and catch your partner doing something right. Say thank you. Rinse. Repeat.
What can you do in five minutes?
Got five minutes? That could be all you need to make a meaningful connection with your partner. Find out how in Episode 2 of Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute – and watch your relationship flourish.
Today’s tip is about time.
So time is relative. For example, you’re being rushed out the door, and you yell to your partner “5 more minutes!” — but it’s not really going to be just five minutes…and you both know that it’s never going to be just five minutes because five minutes is nothing, what can you even do in five minutes? Well, actually… five minutes is plenty of time in relationships.
In fact, five minutes is the perfect amount of time for you and your partner to connect on a daily basis, and in a number of ways: You can express physical affection, like kissing, hugging, holding hands, or cuddling — or you can share specific things you appreciate about each other! Or tell your partner one thing you admire about them, and why! You can even just take the time to say thanks for the little things you’ve done that day to support each other….also just so you know listening to this tip absolutely qualifies as taking time for your relationship!! The point is, whatever you end up doing, we know you have busy lives with hectic schedules, but those tiny bits of free time, five minutes here or there, are huge opportunities to connect with your partner, even if it’s in small ways.
We’ll leave you with today’s small thing: Tell your partner one thing you admire about them (maybe even a few more if you have more than 5 minutes!)
Who are we? What are we going to do?
Sometimes it feels like we should just know how to be a good partner even when things get tough and overwhelming. But we’re here to tell you a good relationship comes from the small things—the day-to-day moments that can make a big difference over time.
Hi! You’re listening to Small Things Often from The Gottman Institute, a new podcast where we talk you through research-based tips to help improve your relationships in five minutes or less.
So, there’s a common misconception about relationships that often makes us feel bad. It’s this whole idea that relationships should be….easy. Because we are told it’s so easy to fall in love. But no one opens up about what it takes to stay there. Because there’s this idea that since we’re wired for connection, it should be easy for us to just naturally know how to love each other in the best ways. And it can feel really overwhelming and big to “figure out” your relationship.
But what really makes a relationship great is the small things. The everyday moments we sometimes don’t even notice. When your partner asked about your day and really listened. Or when they sent you a funny meme. It’s these small, meaningful things that make a big difference. They make you feel connected. And understood. Whether it’s your partner, co-worker, relative, or friend—they all benefit from small things often.
It can be hard to wrap your mind around how relationships really work. Since everyone seems to have their own advice on how it should be. So we want to give you a place where you know you can find trusted and proven ways to improve your relationships. We’ll talk you through how to express your needs assertively, but in a way where it doesn’t come out sounding like criticism or blame. And how to manage conflict in a productive, healthy, and non-hurtful way. And how those things lead to greater understanding. And how to really listen to your partner.
So twice a week we are going to share tips that are based on the methods and approaches from extensive scientific research. Small Things Often is only 5 minutes of your day to learn a little more about how to make your relationships positive, healthy, and long-lasting. And we mean all of your relationships. Honestly, that’s not bad at all for five minutes. Trust us, everyone should have simple ways to invest in their relationships. Because taking time to work on yourself and how you connect will benefit you and the people you love.
So tune in to the next episode of Small Things Often for a quick tip from The Gottman Institute—helping you have better relationships.