#035 Rekindling Romance

#035 Rekindling Romance

Episode Transcript

Hi everyone - Happy Valentine’s Day. Welcome to how to live, a podcast that explores ways to live a good life. I am your host Sharad Lal.This is episode 35.

Today on valentine’s day  - why not add some spark to your marriage or relationship?

Are you thinking

An Exclusive fancy dinner

An Expensive gift 

Or maybe whisking your partner to Maldives

Surely these grand gestures will blow your partner away.

But you know what

It’s not grand gestures that create a happy marriage

Instead it’s the small things we do daily 

That’s the conclusion-  the best in the world - Julie & John Gottman - came to this after studying thousands of couples in multiple settings across 40 years. 

For those how don’t know 

The Gottman’s are the leading, most respected, and probably the best recognized therapists in the world. 

They changed the game in relationship therapy by bringing in data

They put camera in couples houses,

Set up facilities like the Love Lab in Seattle

And coded hours and hours of couples interactions to figure out

What makes couples tick? 

What’s the difference between happy and unhappy couples? 

With all this data - they’ve written multiple books, set up an institute and put out content on practical ways to deepen a relationship 

One cool thing they do - which freaks people out 

is predict in a 15 mins interaction whether a couple will divorce or not. 

They’re right 90% of the time. 

Clearly not the guys you want over for dinner. 

Their latest book brings together 4 decades of learnings and distils it into 7 simple principles that can bring romance back into a relationship. 

In today’s episode we’ll dive into these 7 learnings  

Think of this episode as cliff notes to their latest book.

At the end as a bonus we will throw in the 4 tell signs of a marriage headed for divorce. 

Before you get ready to get your relationship back on track

Before getting into the episode

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Back to the episode

Bids for Connection

You’re hanging with your partner in the living room

He’s on his kindle, you’re reading a magazine

Kids are asleep. 

It’s a lovely time in the day where you guys get to unwind. 

Your partner suddenly lights up - looks at you - and reads aloud this interesting quote you might like

You’re in the middle of your magazine article. 

You think - why’s he bothering me? We just finished with the kids and work 

Why can’t he give me 10 mins of peace?

You ignore him.

He seems a little upset but carries on. 

Later you both go to bed and carry on with life.

What just happened. 

Nothing major right? 

But the Gottman’s vehemently disagree.


Based on their research - this is the single biggest predictor of happiness among couples. 

But what is “this”?

They call “this” - bid for connection.

One partner reaching out to the other to connect. 

When this happens - You can do one of three things 

Turn towards your partner - Oh wow - what a great quote. 

Turn away - simply ignore - that’s what happened earlier

Or turn against - don’t irritate me.  

Let me repeat - this simple act of turning towards your partner is the biggest predictor of happiness in marriage. 

Divorced couples turned towards their partners 33% of the time

Married couples turn towards their partners 86% of the time

Things like

These noodles are tasty

 It’s quite cold today

All these bids are not really about the weather or the food

It’s about connecting with one’s partner. Having a shared moment.

Building a friendship because the starting point of any relationship is friendship. 

Now some of you might be thinking 

Sometimes I don’t have energy to interact. 

That’s a fair concern - the reality of busy lives. 

In those circumstances - here’s how we can turn towards and not engage too much.  

We can say - I’d love to know darling. But I’m in the middle of this exciting book. Can you tell me later please. 

That’s a +1 on turning towards and adds up to a happy relationship. 

So that’s the first prescription

Turn towards bids of connection daily as often as you can. 

And to highlight the importance if I haven’t enough - if there’s only one thing you do - do this. Turn towards. 


Ask a big question (Love Maps)

<knowledge of each other’s inner worlds>

If the first principle is about connecting- the second is about depth

At the start of romance - many of us have deep meaningful conversations with our partners

We talk our dreams, our worldviews, what’s important to us

If you’re a coach you might discuss your values, life purpose, patterns

Most  of us start with a deep bond. 

But with time - these conversations die out and we talk transactional stuff

Will you pick up the kids? 

Can you add this to the grocery order?

Do we have wine to take to this one’s house tonight?

Why does this happen?

Of course we live busy lives-  there’s a lot to be done.

But there’s another reason

We think 

We know all the deep stuff.

So there’s no point in talking this again. 

Why ask these deep questions - when we already know the answers? 

But here’s the interesting insight

Everyone’s constantly changing. 

Our partner today is very different to who we met many years ago

Maybe now they've got a new secret longing. 

What drives them could have changed     

Everyone’s inner world keeps evolving

Gottmans refer to the knowledge of each other’s inner worlds as the love map. 

Being curious about our partner’s love map helps us understand who they are today and deepens our bond

So how do we figure out our partner’s love map?

It’s by asking big questions. 

Big open ended questions like

What’s your life dream right now?

What are some unfulfilled things in your life?

What legacy do you want the kids to take from your family?

Even if we’re caught up in too many things

We can break the transactional flow by simple big questions like

What’s in your mind today?

What’s in your heart today?

The biggest conflicts are not mundane things. Instead it’s the big stuff. 

These big questions help understand our partner’s love maps - which strengthen our relationship. 

Being nice to each other

As we move to the third prescription, here’s one question for you

The first thing to die in a relationship is dash

What is “dash”?

The answer is politeness

According to Gottman’s 

We all start off with thank yous, sorrys and please

But its the first to fall off  

Along with that -  we even stop being nice to our partner

This is when the relationship turns sour. 

In researching the difference between happy and unhappy couples, the Gottman’s found something interesting. 

They thought happy couples would be nicer and kinder to each other.

But that wasn’t the case. 

They found that even unhappy couples were nice to each other

But there was a big difference

Unhappy couples didn’t notice their partner being nice to them.

They didn’t notice that their partner 

Left the best piece of the meat for them

Cleaned the room after them

Stocked the fridge with their favourite ice cream

Whereas the happy couples noticed and appreciated the small things their partners did. 

Isn’t that amazing - almost all couples are nice to each other. 

But the one’s that notice are happy and the ones that don’t are unhappy.

There’s a reason we don’t notice the good stuff. 

Our brains are wired to look for the negative.

That’s how we’ve evolved as a species to stay away from danger and keep safe. 

In modern times, this primitive brain has the natural tendency to focus on 

Oh you left a mess

You always leave the aircon on

You’re always shopping too much   

The good news is that brains are neuroplastic

That means the brain is malleable and can change 

So if we need to make a deliberate conscious concerted effort to scan for positive things instead.

Once we start looking for them - we will notice them everywhere 

Through this we will truly appreciate what our partner is doing for us

And say heartfelt thank yous

So that’s the third prescription - Notice the nice things and say thank you.

Give a real compliment - admire your partner

The fourth prescription is to admire your partner

The Gottman’s ran a 2 day workshop 

On day 1 they got couples to focus on friendship and intimacy. 

On day 2 they get couples to focus on conflict - talking through the difficult issues.

As one would think - the couples that attend both the days fare the best.

Surprisingly though - The ones that attend only day one - friendship - actually fare almost as well as the couples who do both days.

And the couples that only do the conflict workshop fare the worst. 

Every relationship has conflict

Majority of problems are perpetual problems

They are not solvable 

So instead of focussing on these - 

Couples who take time to admire their partners do better. 

Appreciating them not for what they do but who they are.

Admiration isn’t something that just happens. 

We need to actively do it. Say those things to our partner. 

If you find it difficult to admire your partner

A good exercise is to think back on why you fell in love

Immerse yourself in that time - what did you see in your partner?

As you might  imagine, the Gottman’s have data on this

In happy relationships the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions is 5 to 1. 

For every negative interactions, we need 5 positive interactions

And this is during conflict. 

If this sounds high - wait till you hear the ratio during normal times. 

20 to 1.

So to keep a relationship happy - during normal times - we need 20 positive interactions for every negative interaction.  

That sounds like a lot. 

But positive things can be small

Smiling at our partner

Complimenting them

Sharing a joke

This builds fondness and friendship which is the key to happiness. 

So that’s the fourth prescription - Pay genuine compliments. 

Ask for what you need

In movies 

The romantic protagonist knows exactly what the partner needs 

without being asked 

And seamlessly does these surprising acts to perfection

Maybe because of this - asking for what one needs seems so unromantic.

But imagine the pressure this puts on our partners 

We’re changing - our needs are changing. 

We barely know our needs - so what chance do our partners have 

When we don’t ask for what we need

We get resentful when are needs are not met 

And blame our partner

Or even worse we ask for our needs in the unhealthiest of ways. 

We frame them by criticising our partner

We might say 

You’re always watching your shows at night and don’t let me watch what I want 

Instead if we focus on our needs - we could say 

Darling, I’ve had a very tough day. I need to unwind.

Can I watch reruns of Big Bang Theory today?

Sometimes asking what we need feels selfish

But our partner will be happier to give up TV rights for the night vs taking our moaning/ groaning or silent anger or whatever our version of taking out anger is. 

At a deeper level - not asking for what one needs is to do with self worth

We feel we’re not worthy of our needs

For more on asking for our needs, you can listen to episode 17 on intimate relationships with Dr Oberdan Marianetti. 

Reach out and touch

The sixth prescription is touch

We all know instinctively touching our partner feels good

Whether its

Holding hands



There’s science to back this up as well. 

When we touch someone, it releases oxytocin

The molecule that gives us the warm fuzzy feeling.

Touching signals trust and safety.

The added benefit of touch is that it’s directly correlated to sex life. 

Going up and hugging your partner for no reason, holding hands, maybe giving a massage - all this leads to a happier relationship. 

The Gottman’s suggest hugging your partner for at least 20 seconds everyday

And kissing for 6 seconds.

Declare a date night

How much time do you spend with your partner?

If you’re like the average couple - it’s only 35 mins a week. 

And most talking logistics. 

So how much quality time should we be spending with our partner?

As you would imagine - the Gottman’s have a number for this.

The golden number is 5 hours a week. 

5 hours a week of quality time with your partner leads to happiness 

This could be taking a walk together

Playing a game

Or what the Gottman’s recommend all of us do

Declare a date night

Put it in our calendar, prioritise it above everything else.  

The advantages of this are huge!!

When we set up a date night

Sometimes we don’t know what to talk about

So we either end up on our phones

Or maybe talking logistics again

A great way to think about date nights is an opportunity to expand your love maps. 

Ask your partner deep open ended questions

What’s on your mind?

What are you happy about nowadays?

What are you longing for?

A good date night can be half the weekly 5 hours of quality time

So those are all the seven prescriptions. 

Marriages don’t just become healthy. They need effort

As the Gottman’s like saying 

Love is a verb

More than a feeling. It’s action. 

Before we go to the action steps, 

As promised, here are the 4 sure signs that marriage is headed to divorce. 

Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

Of them Contempt is the number 1 predictor of divorce.

You can read about them if you like. 

Action steps

As an action step, you could consider taking one prescription a day for 7 days. 

I think that’s how it was envisioned

If not - you could pick up a few of these and start using them in your relationship.

Here’s summarising them

One - turn towards bids of connection

Two - Ask a big question

Three -  Notice nice things and say thank you

Four - Appreciation over conflict

Five - Ask for what you need

Six - Touch as often as possible

Seven - Declare a date night


Best of luck as you rekindle your relationship. 

Enjoy Valentine’s Day. 

The next episode will be out two weeks from now on February 28th.

We will be talking about the Japanese way of living Wabi Sabi with japanologist and best selling author Beth Kempton. 

Do join us for that. 

Till next time. 

Bye bye