John Gottman is a well-known researcher of intimate relationships , and he developed a method of couple therapy based on many of his findings. One piece of his theory that recently received media attention is the significance of couple time in improving your relationship.
Given that this is a concept I almost always bring up in my sessions with couples, I naturally took an interest in what Gottman identified as the ways you can use six hours a week (give or take) to dramatically enhance your relationship. For most modern couples, six hours a week dedicated solely to the relationship can seem like a lot. And it is. But to make it more manageable, it is helpful to see the breakdown of how this time should be used.
From interviews with happy couples, Gottman identified six ways partners devote time to each other that add up to the "magic six hours" that can improve your relationship.
- Partings (10 minutes per week)
Gottman suggests that partners make sure they do not leave in the morning until they know at least one thing going on in the other's life that day. This can be a two-minute check-in and include things like what a partner plans to have for lunch, a meeting that the significant other has planned, or a coffee date with an old friend.
- Reunions (1 hour and 40 minutes per week)
According to Gottman, a reunion should include physical affection, such as a hug or a kiss, and stress-reducing conversation that lasts at least 20 minutes. The conversation should not include stressors for the relationship (like discussing a conflict from the night before) or even revolve exclusively around external work or life stresses. It is meant as a period of reconnection before getting lost in the rest of the day's activities -- from dog walking to cooking dinner, to continued hours of work from home.
As for the physical affection, reunions in happy relationships tend to consist of more than a peck on the cheek and a half-hug. Gottman recommends at least a six-second embrace. I know that the breakdown of timing for intimate greetings seems a bit unnatural and even unromantic, but it really pays to be mindful. You owe it to your partner to remove yourself from current stressors and be in the moment after being apart for most of the day.
- Admiration and Appreciation (35 minutes per week)
Gottman encourages couples to spend at least five minutes a day communicating genuine appreciation to a spouse. Try to be creative and avoid resorting to, “thanks for doing the dishes” every time. Expressions of appreciation and admiration need not be restricted to something that happened from that day but can encompass the entire relationship and dreams about the future.
We all long to feel appreciated by our partners, yet most of us fall too easily into a pattern of silence where appreciation is less often communicated as the relationship grows. It is important to directly convey admiration for your partner and not assume that he or she already knows it. Your partner may know it, but he or she needs to feel it.
- Affection (35 minutes per week)
Another five minutes per day, says Gottman, should be devoted to physical affection towards your partner, including an embrace at the end of the night. Beyond feeling good in the moment, physical touch and affection encourages release of the hormone oxytocin, which fosters feelings of attachment and connection. The effects of oxytocin last longer than the moment of physical affection.
Physical affection also aids in expressing your desire for your partner -- another important feeling that often goes missing from direct communication in long-term relationships.
- Weekly Date (2 hours per week)
This is the big one, and beyond getting out of the house, Gottman encourages couples to use this time to ask open-ended questions about each other and the relationship. Like expressions of appreciation, a weekly date should not become so routine that you are doing the same thing week after week. It is important to aspire to novelty in all aspects of a long-term relationship.
- State of the Union Meeting (1 hour per week)
Gottman recommends that couples spend about an hour per week doing a relationship check-in. Topics to discuss include what went right during the week, what went wrong, and plans for the short-term and long-term future. It is an opportunity to assess any deficits in relational fulfillment, such as physical intimacy or emotional connection, as well as relay more detailed appreciation for your partner.
Together, these six weekly goals add up to six hours of couple-focused time, Gottman's "magic six hours". It is not a surefire recipe for success or relational fulfillment but a helpful guideline for partners who may struggle to come up with their own solutions to perceived distance and lack of sufficient time for each other. The main takeaway: a little goes a long way, and there is plenty you can control to achieve a happier relationship.
AUTHOR: Meghan Emerson, MSMFT