The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy

The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy

The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy

The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy


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“This book feels so hopeful because it’s direct, it’s really honest, and it’s so actionable.” —Brene Brown

From New York Times–bestselling authors Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, a simple yet powerful plan to transform your relationship in seven days

What makes love last? Why does one couple stay together forever, while another falls apart? And most importantly, is there a scientific formula for love?
Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman are the world’s leading relationship scientists. For the past forty years, they have been studying love. They’ve gathered data on over three thousand couples, looking at everything from their body language to the way they converse to their stress hormone levels. Their goal: to identify the building blocks of love.
The Love Prescription distills their life’s work into a bite-size, seven-day action plan with easy, immediately actionable steps. There will be no grand gestures and no big, hard conversations. There’s nothing to buy or do to prepare. Anyone can do this, from any starting point.

The seven-day prescription will lead you through these exercises:

Day 1: Make Contact
Day 2: Ask a Big Question
Day 3: Say Thank You
Day 4: Give a Real Compliment 
Day 5: Ask for What You Need
Day 6: Reach Out and Touch
Day 7: Declare a Date Night

There is a formula for a good relationship, and this book will show you how a few small changes can fundamentally transform your relationship for the better.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143136637
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/27/2022
Series: The Seven Days Series , #1
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 23,547
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

World-renowned researchers and clinical psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman have dedicated their careers to the research and fostering of healthy, long-lasting relationships. They have published multiple books together, including The Love Prescription, Eight Dates, and the forethcoming Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection. Dr. John Gottman is professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Washington, where he founded the Love Lab, and was named one of the top ten most influential therapists of the past quarter century. Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, co-creator of the immensely popular The Art and Science of Love workshop, was named Washington State Psychologist of the Year and received the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from Psychotherapy Networker.

Read an Excerpt

Day 1

Make Contact

Alison and Jeremy showed up for one of our weekend couples retreats looking tired. It wasn't surprising: we already knew from their intake forms that they had young kids and had been working from home, while supervising remote learning, for months. Of course they looked exhausted.

It was nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and like everything, the retreat was on Zoom. Not being in the same physical space with our participants, we had to work especially hard to observe their emotional states and body language. But even through the slightly grainy, brightly pixelated Zoom window, we could see Alison and Jeremy's disconnect. They sat side by side so that we could see them both through our screen, but they could have been in their own separate Zoom squares, sitting in different rooms, miles apart.

Alison and Jeremy explained why they'd enrolled: They felt constantly at odds with each other. They always seemed to disagree on how to handle stuff-everything from how to deal with a kid not wanting to finish his vegetables to how much risk they were comfortable taking on during the pandemic. Should they see friends outside, or not gather at all? Should they require the kids to wear masks if they went for a bike ride in the neighborhood? Everything turned into a fight; then life intervened before they could resolve it-the kids burst in, or an urgent work issue came up (work had seemingly become a twenty-four-hour activity, now that everything was remote)-and they would end up ruminating on the fight and just getting more upset. They were having thoughts they never used to have about the other: He never really considers my opinion; he just thinks of reasons why I'm wrong. She always pushes her agenda; she always has to win.

"We used to be more in sync," Alison said. "I mean, with little kids, there's always been a lot of logistics and dropped balls. But now we're just never on the same page."

We asked them to describe a typical day. When did they have opportunities to connect? Not to problem solve or work through life logistics-but to talk and listen.

They blinked at us.

"We don't have any," Jeremy replied. They hit the ground running in the morning, one of them taking work calls in a bedroom while the other got the kids fed and ready for remote school; one or both of them usually ended up skipping lunch in lieu of squeezing in some work time. Dinner was chaos; then one of them was cleaning up while the other did bedtime. Jeremy said, "By the time I finish doing the dishes and come upstairs, she's already asleep."

We don't need to be mid-pandemic for this to sound familiar. And you don't need to have kids underfoot to feel like it's hard to make time to connect.

Here's a massive misconception that a lot of us have: For connection to be meaningful, you must give hours of time to it. Therefore, in a busy day, we just don't have time for it. True?


We have opportunities for meaningful connection constantly-but we miss them. We don't know exactly what we're looking for, and we don't know how important these seemingly small, fleeting, insignificant moments can be. In the language of the science of love, what we are doing in these quick moments is making what we call "bids for connection."

What's a bid for connection? Well, it can look like a casual remark. It can be as simple as one person sitting down next to the other one. It can be as subtle as a sigh. It's an invitation to connect. And how we respond to these tiny bids for connection can actually make or break a relationship! This was one of our first and most foundational discoveries in the Love Lab.

Bids for Connection:
The Biggest Predictor of Happiness

We built our first Love Lab in an apartment on the shores of Montlake, near the University of Washington's red brick, cherry tree-lined campus. For a lab, it was unusually comfortable. When people walked into it, we didn't want them to feel like they were in a science lab. We wanted them to feel at home.

Julie designed the lab with that in mind-there were paintings on the walls, comfy furniture and cozy throws, a fully stocked kitchen. There was music to listen to and television to watch. The large picture windows framed the lake, smooth and shimmering in the sun (it doesn't actually rain here as much as people think it does-don't tell anybody; it's Seattle's little secret!). At night, the skyline of Downtown glittered, punctuated by the Space Needle's famous silhouette. If you didn't know any better, you'd think you were walking into any thoughtfully appointed Airbnb. You'd drop your bags and head out for a night on the town. But if you were coming to the Love Lab, you weren't going out. You were there so we could watch you. You might have noticed three cameras mounted to the walls throughout the apartment-we'd figured out that was how many we needed in order to visually monitor the entire space with no blind spots.

Our first big study had 130 newlywed couples visit the Love Lab, one couple at a time. These were couples who were truly in the "honeymoon" period-the months immediately following their wedding. We gave them absolutely no instructions. We just settled them there for the weekend and let them do whatever they would normally do. People watched their favorite shows, they read newspapers, they cooked meals, they cleaned up, they talked, they fought. We watched and recorded everything. We tracked even the smallest behavioral patterns. Everything was coded.

We weren't sure exactly what we were looking for-at that point, we didn't know which specific behaviors might turn out to be significant or predictive of future happiness or distress. We just knew that we had to watch closely and code it all so we could find out.

Pretty quickly, a pattern emerged surrounding what we started calling bids for connection. One person would make a bid, initiating a moment of connection-it could be physical or verbal, overt or subtle-and the researcher controlling the camera would zoom in close on their partner's faces. Partners responded to bids for connection in one of three ways:

1. By turning toward: They gave a positive or affirmative response, acknowledging the other person and engaging with their attempt to connect. (Even a "hmm?" can count as turning toward.)

2. By turning away: They gave no response, either actively ignoring or just not noticing their partner's attempt to connect.

 3. By turning against: They responded irritably or angrily to actively shut down their partner's attempt to connect.

What do each of these look like in practice?

Let's use this example:

Your partner, scrolling on their phone, remarks, "Oh, this is an interesting article."  bid for connection

Here are your possible responses:

a. You look up and say, "Oh yeah? What's it about?"  turning toward

b. You keep typing the email you're working on while staring at your screen.  turning away

 c. You say, "Be quiet! Can't you see I'm trying to work?!"  turning against

Sometimes, our bids for connection can look negative or hard to read, and we fail to interpret them as an attempt to connect. Let's look at another, perhaps less obvious, example:

You're sitting quietly at dinner. You give a deep audible sigh. (That's the bid.) Here's how your partner might respond:

a. Your partner says, "Hey, honey, is something the matter? You sound tired."  turning toward

b. Your partner is reading the paper; they turn the page and say nothing.  turning away

c. Your partner says, "What's the matter now?!  turning against

In the lab (and in real life!), no couples "turn toward" 100 percent of the time. But whether you turn toward a lot or a little really matters . . . a lot. We followed our 130 newlyweds for years-through their honeymoon months, first pregnancies, births of their babies, and beyond. We saw happiness for some couples, unhappiness for others, and for still others, divorce. Six years later, when we looked back on the data to see what coded behavior had been significant, we found something huge. The couples who got divorced had only turned toward their partner's bids 33 percent of the time. The couples who stayed together had turned toward 86 percent of the time. It was an enormous difference-a statistical gap you rarely see in scientific studies.

We'd found a major point of intervention. If we could help couples understand the importance of these little moments that might seem like nothing, just slipping by under the radar, we could really help people turn things around. How people reacted to their partner's bids for connection was in fact the biggest predictor of happiness and relationship stability. These fleeting little moments, it turned out, spelled the difference between happiness and unhappiness, between lasting love and divorce.

Turning Toward:

The Number One Relationship Hack

We run a two-day workshop for couples where Day 1 is focused on friendship and intimacy, and Day 2 is focused on conflict. Of course, the point of the workshop is that couples tackle both of these essential topics. But we wondered: Which was more urgent? If couples wanted to start with the most impactful interventions, what would help them the most?

So, we did an experimental study: One group of participants just did Day 1, another group only did Day 2, and the final group did both days. One year later, we recontacted the couples. How was everybody doing?

It's probably no big shocker that the group that did both days of the workshop had retained the most lasting changes after a year. But interestingly, the group that only did Day 1 was also doing pretty well! On the other hand, the group that only did Day 2-conflict only-fared the worst. The message was clear: Focusing only on conflict was the wrong way to go about things. First, we have to work on friendship.

That's hard to do, because if you are in conflict, you may have a strong desire to "fix" it. But when we gravitate back to our conflicts first, we can make things worse. Why? Because as tensions rise, our bodies can respond physiologically; we can get overwhelmed and default to our old habitual ways of coping. For example, even after all these years in a loving and rewarding marriage, John has to fight against being immediately defensive. And Julie's first instinct when things get heated is to run out the door and into the nearest forest.

It's extremely hard to change the way people act during conflict. But with turning toward, you're changing how people act in the little moments that happen every day. That's much easier to do. And it will eventually help with conflict. We discovered that the more turning toward there is in a relationship, the better couples are at managing their conflicts. Even when conflict goes south, a couple's capacity to course correct and repair their interaction is based on how much they've turned toward each other in the past. With more turning toward, there's more shared humor, even during conflict. More lightness. More capacity to pause in the middle of a fight and make a peace offering, and more likelihood that that repair attempt will be received and reciprocated. Successful couples don't fight less than other couples-they fight better. And turning toward is the single biggest predictor of this.

What turning toward really does is put money in a couple's emotional bank account. Think of every act of turning toward your partner's bid for connection-even one as simple and fleeting as responding to a smile with a smile-as dropping a coin in your love piggy bank.

When we were first married-thirty-four years ago now!-there was something we were better at then than we are now: building a grudge.

Maybe you know what we mean. A conversation gets a bit heated, your partner hurts your feelings, and you withdraw and start building a grudge against them-a litany of all the other ways they have wronged you recently, or since the beginning of time. John thinks back to the early years of their marriage and recalls how actively he would build a grudge-like building a chair, you have to cut the rough materials of your life down to fit it, bang it together, shape it, and sit on it. He and Julie would have a fight or a tiff and, feeling wounded, he'd disappear to do his grudge building. But in a relationship with a lot of turning toward, you hit a point where you go off to build your grudge, but then, you just . . . can't. John would be sitting there, trying his darndest to put together a durable, sturdy grudge, and there would be this annoying voice in his head. Remember last week when you were sick and she came up to check on you and brought you tea? Remember this morning when she laughed at your joke? Remember earlier today when she went to the trouble to make you lunch, even though she was so busy? When she asked you later how your day was going? Those moments were all pretty nice. He just couldn't build that grudge anymore.

As you accumulate all these moments of positivity and connection, they offset the negative ones. A grudge just can't grow. Every single moment is emotional money in the bank. So when you hit a moment of conflict or tension, you have a lot in your "emotional bank account" to draw on. Even in a thorny moment that could be fertile ground for miscommunication and hurt feelings, you have all this positivity and connection banked, so you're more able to meet your partner with empathy and even humor. And the way you make positive deposits into your bank account is through turning toward.

This is what the masters know: that a kiss on the cheek as you pass in the hallway is potent medicine. That looking up from that urgent work email to listen to a minor anecdote about what the baby did with his lunchtime sweet potatoes, in the end, matters more. That taking five minutes at the beginning of your day to connect over coffee far outweighs starting work five minutes earlier.

And so, this was our prescription for Alison and Jeremy. Their days were filled with back-to-back tasks: work, parenting . . . then more work and parenting. They were caught in the relentless cycle of life during a pandemic, with little relief and no real chunks of time to spend focused on each other. And the truth is, pandemic or no pandemic, life can get this way. Busy. Overwhelming. Nonstop. But as we told Alison and Jeremy: You don't need to magically make more time when there is none. No matter how frantic a day, there are always opportunities to turn toward. It costs very little in terms of time, and the payout is huge . . . and exponential. The more you do it, the more it works.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Small Things Often xi

How to Use This Book xxi

Day 1 Make Contact 1

Day 2 Ask a Big Question 19

Day 3 Say Thank You 41

Day 4 Give a Real Compliment 63

Day 5 Ask for What You Need 83

Day 6 Reach Out and Touch 103

Day 7 Declare a Date Night 127

Conclusion: Renewing Your Prescription 145

The Small Things Journal 159

Acknowledgments 171

Notes 173

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