Since publishing “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, our culture has changed dramatically. These changes led Dr. John Gottman to re-examine his 5 Magic Hours to relationship happiness and to add one more hour of time each week to make your relationship a happy one. It’s now known that if every week you devote time in this way, these 6 hours lead to a better relationship. The sixth hour is given over to a State of the Union meeting.
State of the Union meetings are opportunities for couples to sit down together each week and communicate specifically on issues that affect their relationship. These meetings are a way to keep your relationship on track.
Set a time limit of 60 minutes. This keeps it manageable. Aim to meet when you’re not too tired or hungry. Find a quiet place and minimise interruptions. It’s better to sit facing each other and make direct eye contact. Good times are when the kids are in bed or during a weekend afternoon. Keep your calendars and notebooks handy.
Meetings should ideally contain four parts: Appreciation, Planning for the Good Times, Chores, and Problems/Challenges. These four parts combined together will renew your romance, solidify your friendship, stop potential conflicts before they begin, and help you smoothly run your household.
All relationship meetings should begin with exchanges of gratitude. Start by talking about what has gone well in your relationship since the last meeting. Spending a few minutes expressing gratitude for each other brings closeness and opens up your hearts so you can love and listen to each other. You remind yourselves that you are fighting for each other, not against each other.
Give each other five appreciations. Focus on specific actions. Making this a habit also means your mind focuses throughout the week on what you are grateful for. Look for what your partner is doing right. What you focus on grows.
Planning for the Good Times:
This is where you discuss upcoming events, dates and vacations. You make plans for when these things will happen and you make decisions about how to make these happen.
This is the time to plan upcoming date nights. Discuss restaurants you’d like to try or activities you might enjoy. Put these ideas in a shared “fun” folder or jar. Add activities to your shared calendar. When you take time to plan you show each other and yourself that your relationship is important.
This time is the “business of the meeting.” Here is when each of you talk about things that need to be completed, share calendar items, and discuss assignments.
Arrange the list by priority. Take the time to assign who will do each task and by when. This is standard procedure in work meetings, so bring your work skills home. Brainstorm the best possible solutions. If you go by the shops on your way to work, perhaps it’s easier for you to pick up some items. It’s also good to assign tasks your kids. They need to feel part of the household and benefit greatly from being shown from an early age how to contribute to the family.
Remember that chores are not meant to be split 50-50. A study in Norway found that couples who split housework evenly were more likely to divorce. If you’re keeping score on such things, you’ve already lost the battle. Happy couples work together as a team. There’s no my work or your work. It’s your home, so it’s our work. Think of this as a time to serve each other and the family. If you both give 100%, what needs to be done will get done.
You need to feel connected and invested in your relationship before beginning this part. If it helps, set a timer to make sure problems are not harped on until one or both of you shut down or become defensive.
Keep in mind that 69% of relationship problems are never solved – that’s true in every relationship! You need to keep talking about issues to avoid gridlocking or stalemating on them. When there is “good enough” communication and a real desire to work together, couples usually see that the positive qualities in their relationship outweigh the negative qualities.
Each partner is now given a chance to bring up a concern they’re having. Do this by complaining about the issue, not by blaming your partner. This is not a time for dumping on each other. Bring up only one grievance at each meeting.
Work together to decide who will start as the speaker and who will start as the listener. The speaker will share their perspective of the event for a few minutes, without interruption, as the listener takes notes about what the speaker is saying.
There are six mindset shifts that Dr. Gottman recommends for the speaker and the listener to promote effective conflict resolution. Based on analyzing happy couples in his Love Lab, he developed an acronym, ATTUNE, to encapsulate these mindset shifts.
When you both put the ATTUNE skills into practice, it’s not going to sound like a “normal” conversation. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but if how you’ve been dealing with conflict hasn’t been working, maybe it’s time to discover a new “normal” for engaging in conflict with each other.
Having a weekly State of the Union meeting can have a huge impact. Couples who conduct regular meetings report a big increase in happiness with their relationship, because these meetings foster a loving connection, a sense of teamwork, and a respectful resolution of conflicts. Make sure your couples counsellor has good post-graduate training in couples work so you get your money’s worth in therapy.
Dr. Gottman’s research revealed that spending just one hour per week discussing areas of concern within the relationship transforms the way partners manage conflict. This dedicated space to discuss conflict gives couples the freedom to express their fears and concerns in a way that makes them feel heard and loved instead of feeling neglected.
Clearly, Dr. Gottman knew what he was doing when he added the State of the Union Meetings to his list of 5 Magic Hours. And by applying these 6 hours to your relationship every week, you will benefit from that change for many years to come.
Download a free pdf of the 6 hours to a better relationship here.
For help in conducting successful State of the Union meetings, and making sure your get your money’s worth in couples therapy, Call 0421 961 687 or email us to schedule an appointment. International callers should call +61 2 8005 1742.
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