Is it surprising for you to read that all it takes to make your relationship much happier is to give it an extra five hours per week? This was discovered by analysing the research data on satisfied couples. John Gottman and his team followed up couples who attended his workshops and found that those whose relationships continued to improve adapted the principles they’d learnt in his workshops to create their own ways of spending this extra five hours together. The patterns in the data were so consistent and clear that Gottman called these the “Magic Five Hours” (Gottman & Silver, 1999). Can you spare five hours to create a happy relationship?
If you’re curious, this is what you can do to adapt these five hours to enhance your relationship:
Before each of you separate in the morning to go to work, school or wherever, make sure you establish what Stan Tatkin (2011) calls a “launching ritual”. This can be a snuggle in bed before getting up, or finding out something about what your partner will be doing that day, like having a meeting with a client, lunch with a friend, going for a dental appointment or taking a child to an extra class. How you launch or part from the relationship world into the world outside the relationship can influence the quality and amount of support, confidence and energy you feel while engaging in your day.
Time: 2 minutes a day over 5 working days
Total: 10 minutes
Engage in a “check-in” with each other when you return home or at the end of each day. This ideally is a stress-reducing exercise using verbal and non-verbal actions signalling friendliness and warmth through vocal tones, direct eye contact and touch. These all engage the right hemisphere of the brain which keeps us connected to others. Things you can do here include a hug, a welcome kiss, and simple questions about how the day went. Find out about the meeting with the client, the lunch or the dental appointment. Tatkin calls these “landing rituals” and successful couples find a way to let their partner know when it’s more convenient to do this check-in. Some like to do it as soon as they arrive home, others when the evening meal is over and the kids in bed, and some when they’re going to bed or lying together in bed.
Time: 20 minutes a day over 5 days
Total: 1 hour forty minutes
Admiration and appreciation:
Every day find some way to let your partner know how important and special they are to you. This communicates your sincere appreciation in a way that will be meaningful for them. Make it your business to discover whether your partner feels appreciated by words, actions, small gifts, touch or spending time with them and give it to them daily. Tatkin (2011) says that “the most powerful sustenance available to us is another person who’s interested and who cares” and who shows that to us in small but constant ways.
Time: 5 minutes a day over 7 days
Total: 35 minutes
Gottman’s research showed couples touching each other when they were together. You can do this by respectfully touching, holding, kissing or hugging your partner. Tatkin also talks about the power of making eye contact in rekindling love, as it helps the right hemisphere of your brains to tune in to each other via the social networking system evolution has helped develop. Touching via kissing and/or hugging each other on partings and reunions, and especially before going to sleep has a powerful impact on reducing the stresses we’ve built up over the day. These kisses and hugs express affection, not necessarily passion.
Time: 5 minutes a day over 7 days
Total: 35 minutes
This can be anything the two of you decide you like, whether it’s a relaxing, low-pressure way to connect like going out to dinner, going for a walk or exercising together. Or it could be scheduling time for sensual or sexual time, like giving each other shoulder rubs, massages or erotic dates. It’s important to know that spontaneity in relationship is a myth. Even when you were dating, you had to schedule time to be together and the anticipation was part of the reason those meetings were so charged.
There are two separate aspects to happy relationships, the companionable and the erotic. Couples who maintain the erotic side of their relationship over the long haul are those who prioritise this aspect, making sure it is addressed in ways that meet both partner’s desires. These successful couples know that both companionship and eroticism have cycles which wax and wane. They’re not unduly distressed if eroticism takes a back seat during times of increased work or life stresses because they focus on connecting via their weekly dates to keep tuned in to each other.
At other times they focus on scheduling erotic dates when the busyness interrupts their companionship times. Learn to talk to your partner about their desires and learn what their inner fantasy life is like. This is different than sharing yours – be curious about their inner erotic life. You can help them spark their interest in sex again by asking them what turns them on (Nelson, 2009).
Time: 2 hours once a week
Total: 2 hours
Five hours per week to create and maintain a happy relationship.
Gottman’s research discovered that good relationships keep you healthier by directly improving your immune system, thereby increasing the body’s defences against illness. Blood tests on emotionally intelligent couples showed higher levels of white blood cells which helped them more successfully resist foreign invaders than the couples who were stressed.
Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Nelson, T. (2009). Stages of a sexual relationship. Accessed 28.8.13.
Tatkin, S. (2011). Wired for love. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications,Inc .
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