This One Weekly Habit Will Strengthen Your Relationship

When couples do this once a week for an hour, their relationships blossom.

happy couple being silly  Geber86 / Getty Images Signature via Canva

By Kyle Benson

Leo Tolstoy’s book Anna Karenina begins, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Dr. Gottman’s four decades of research tell a different story.

Following thousands of couples (some for multiple decades), Gottman found that the couples who would eventually divorce were more alike than different. They used the Four Horsemen, ignored bids for connection, and failed to accept influence.


Maybe you get upset because your partner spends more money than you do. Or you feel your partner doesn’t pay enough attention to you or expects you to take care of household duties and chores.

These hurt feelings can act like a snowball rolling down a hill: out of control, exponentially growing in size, and eventually smashing into and breaking down the walls of your sound relationship house.

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If you don’t repair the seemingly minor (and sometimes super big) things, then your "Story of Us" is bound to focus on the negative events in your memory. This promotes negative feelings towards your partner and eventually leads to more conflict and disconnection.

In my work with couples, I’ve found that when each partner is willing to focus on the underlying feelings of the conflict, the problem stops functioning as a barrier to connection. Instead, conflict becomes a catalyst for closeness and understanding.

Conflict as an opportunity

One moment everything is fine in your relationship; the next, a fight breaks out. That’s why it’s important to set aside consistent, dedicated time to talk about what’s on your heart. It gives both partners the assurance that a problem will get the air time it needs and that hurt feelings to be healed.

To help couples facilitate this, Dr. Gottman created what he calls the “State of the Union” meeting.


The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that both partners feel heard and understood before problem-solving together.

When couples meet once a week for an hour, it drastically improves their relationship because it gives the relationship space to have constructive conflict and the partners an opportunity to get on the same team.

In Dr. Gottman’s research, he discovered that partners cannot compromise or solve the problem until each of you says, “Yes! You understand me. That’s exactly how I’m feeling.”

Doing so opens up both of you to understanding each other’s perspective and to working together to create a win-win solution.

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To best prepare before you embark on this State of the Union journey, it’s important to warm up.

The pre-conflict warm-up

Going to the gym and starting with my maximum weight on the bench press is bound to injure my body. Instead, if I start with a lesser weight to allow my muscles to warm up and gradually increase the weight, I’m much more likely to have an effective workout and achieve healthy success.

Just like in the gym, couples need a pre-conflict warm-up before diving right into a discussion.

  • Before you start, grab two notebooks and some pens so you can take notes about your partner’s feelings and your own thoughts.
  • Next, sit down in a quiet place where you both can be available to each other without distractions. (Remember: no cell phones!)
  • Before starting, name five things your partner did for you over the past week that you appreciate.

Why five things? Research from Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab discovered that even during conflict, happy couples maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in their relationship.

@responseableparenting 5:1 is the magic ratio. According to The Gottmans 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction is the magic number for a successful marriage.John and Julie Gottman are relationship experts and can predict divorce with 93% accuracy based off their observations of a couple. They found that 5:1 is one key factor for relationship success. I love turning marriage stuff around and thinking about kids.How many positive to negative interactions do we have with them. Or how do THEY interpret our interactions?“Whats wrong with you?” “Why would you do that?” “If you don’t get here by the time I get to 1 you’ll be in big trouble.” “You’re not allowed to talk to me like that.” “If you don’t turn off your iPad you’re losing screen time for a week.”“If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about.”Imagine how many negative interactions our kids feel on a daily basis. As a community lets spend the next week tracking our ratios. And if we find we’re the opposite 5 negative for 1 positive, lets work together to turn the ship around. I wonder how different our household would look! . . . . .#parenting #parentingtips #emotionalintelligence #emotionalregulation #parentcoach #parentsupport #responseableparenting #modelingbehavior #momlife #defaultparent #parentingfail #parentwin #parentingpodcast #podcastforparents #parenthack #momslife #momsofinstagram #momhack #consciousparenting #parentingishard #connectionovercorrection #wecandohardthings#connectedkids #cyclebreaking #disrespectfulkids #respectfulkids #gentleparenting ♬ original sound - Becky @ ResponseAble Parenting

It may sound counterintuitive, but expressing gratitude for the minor things will make the conversation go smoother as both partners start from a place of feeling appreciated. Noticing the positive defuses some of the tension and makes it easier for both of you to work together.

For example: Christina wants to tell her fiance how hurt she is that he stayed out later than he said he would. Instead of focusing on this, she starts this meeting by thanking him for cooking dinner the night before.

By focusing on the positive first, Christina creates a foundation of goodwill and fondness to begin their State of the Union meeting. This was a wise move because research shows that how you start a conflict conversation impacts the way it ends.


If Christina were to have started with a harsher tone or begin with criticism, it’s unlikely that her fiance would want to work through the problem with her.

When you are receiving an appreciation from your partner, acknowledge your partner by expressing gratitude for each appreciation. This may sound obvious, but partners often forget this courtesy because they are anticipating the approaching conflict part of the discussion.

Without a thank you, your partner may feel like you took their appreciation for granted.


Now that you know how to warm up by creating a foundation of fondness and admiration, next week you will learn how to constructively talk about problems with your partner in your State of the Union.

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Kyle Benson is a relationship coach who writes to help others understand the science of love and relationships.

Co-founded by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, The Gottman Institute’s approach to relationship health has been developed from 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples.