Eight Dates(3)

By: John Gottman

This isn’t new information. All the algorithms for matching people are mostly worthless. Why is that the case? Well, one explanation is offered by the classic German study by Claus Wedekind, called the T-shirt study. Women smelled T-shirts worn by various men for two days and picked the ones they thought smelled the best. Wedekind discovered that women preferred T-shirts of men who were the most genetically diverse from themselves on the major histocompatibility complex of the immune system. So, we’re definitely not looking for our clone. We are, in fact, attracted to many kinds of people who are very different from ourselves. In a 2006 study conducted at the University of New Mexico of 48 couples, women in couples more genetically diverse from one another reported having a higher degree of sexual satisfaction, while those women with similar genes reported having more fantasies about other men and were also more likely to cheat. So, it turns out that all those algorithms for dating websites are no better than just pairing two strangers at random.

What’s the alternative? The answer is that we discovered that once two people interact together we can actually predict if that relationship is destined to work out, or if it’ll be a source of continual misery. So now we can offer you a set of eight guided conversations to have with a potential partner, and, based on your feelings about these conversations, we can suggest if this relationship will be fulfilling or not, and—if you’re committed to this person—what work the two of you need to do to make your love last. As usual, we started with data. Couples volunteered to go on these dates and agreed to record their most intimate conversations and upload the recordings to a secure site. For the couples whose stories and conversations we share in this book, we have changed their identifying details and kept them anonymous. The conversations in this book are brave and vulnerable conversations, and we’re grateful for those couples who agreed to record and share their most intimate discussions. The participants ranged in age from 21 to 67. Twenty-five percent of the couples were dating, 11 percent were in a committed relationship but not planning to marry, 32 percent were engaged or planning to marry, and 32 percent were married. We collected hundreds of hours of recordings from heterosexual and same-sex couples while they were on their dates, and we discussed the dates with many of them in follow-up webinar sessions.

We all want to have a relationship that’s healthy and happy, intimate and passionate, and that lets us thrive as individuals, as a couple and, for many, eventually as a family. We want a partnership and a collaboration—to know that this other person will be there at our side for all that life brings—the good and the bad. It’s never too early or too late to have these conversations. These conversations will deepen your understanding of one another, and the history and cultures you bring to your relationship.

The conversations we’re going to be guiding you through aren’t all going to be easy. Staying in love takes a level of vulnerability that isn’t always comfortable. Some people have trouble talking about sex and intimacy. Others struggle to discuss growth and spirituality. Some find it difficult to discuss money matters. You might worry: Will the conversations lead to a fight? What if we don’t understand each other’s point of view? What if we have doubts about our differences? All of this is okay. We’re going to teach you how to ask open-ended questions and really listen to each other’s answers. We’ll give you clear guidelines about how to make the conversations creative and not combative.

For newly committed couples, we want to emphasize that conflict will happen in any relationship, but if you avoid conflict now, you’re guaranteed to have a lot more conflict later. The early part of a relationship, besides the fun and infatuation, is about establishing trust and a shared future. Inevitably there will be bumps in the road as you try to navigate two different lives, two different childhoods, two different family histories. Listen and learn, share and invite. If you have an open heart and mind, your dates will go much better, and your life together will, too. As couples that have been married a long time, we know what it’s like to face issues that are difficult to discuss, to fail to understand each other, even to question our marriages. This is all normal, and by bravely tackling these conversations head-on, you will enter into a marriage or relationship that’s strong and resilient.