Your Relationship Is Their Life's Work: Drs. John and Julie Gottman's New 7-Day "Love Prescription"
Love. It’s a big word—hard to define and pin down. For centuries, the poets have been trying.
It’s like a red, red rose (Burns). Or it is an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken (Shakespeare). It’s a many-splendored thing (says one classic romantic movie); it’s never having to say you’re sorry (according to another). Can something so huge, so essential, so mysterious, so individual—have a formula? Is there a “prescription” for love?
In a word: Yes.
And the most important thing to know about “the love prescription” is that it’s a small one. Tiny little doses, every day, are what it takes to make a healthy relationship. Why? Because that’s exactly what a relationship is—not one big thing, but a million tiny things, every day, for a lifetime.
In the seven-day action plan we present in our new book, The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy, we take you through our most foundational findings—the first steps toward building a love that lasts. And here’s the preview: love is a practice. More than a feeling, it’s an action. It’s something you do, not something that just happens to you. And you need to give—and get— a daily dose to maintain a healthy, thriving relationship.
This week, we’d like to inspire you to introduce one new, relationship-building habit into your day, every day. Seven days, seven new habits. They’ll be easy. They’ll be quick. They’ll be fun. There will be no grand gestures and no big, hard conversations. There are no requirements for when and where you do these exercises with your person. These can be done at any time of on the busiest of days; they can be done while you put away dishes, while driving in the car. There’s nothing to buy or prepare. You can start immediately.
Day 1: Make Contact
Here’s a massive misconception that a lot of us have: For connection to be meaningful, you must give hours of time to it. However, we have opportunities for meaningful connection constantly—but we miss them.
Your assignment: Have a 10-minute check-in. This is great to do at the beginning of the day, but you can do this at any time that works for you. The rules are simple: pick a time to check in with your partner when you have ten minutes to listen and not rush off anywhere. Ask them this simple question: Is there anything you need from me today?
It’s just one sentence. But it does a lot. It’s an invitation. It says I love you and I want to be there for you. It’s a great trust builder. Trust, in a relationship, is a biggie. It’s a complicated thing—but the foundations of it are basic. The principle behind trust is, “I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine.”
Day 2: Ask a big question
Think back to when you first met your partner. Remember what it was like to have that fresh spark with them? To wait all day to see them, to feel like you were bursting with questions you wanted to ask?
If we stop asking the big questions, while expecting our partner’s answers to be identical to those we heard the last time we checked in, we might be in for quite a surprise.
Your assignment: Ask your partner one big question and see where it goes. A big question is an open-ended question; there’s no dead end of a yes/no answer available. There is no one right answer—there are many—and your job is to follow your partner in whatever direction they go. Consider these:
• What are some unfulfilled things in your life?
• How have you changed in the past year?
• What are some of your life dreams right now?
Day 3: Say Thank You
We all want to be appreciated. To be acknowledged for our efforts. We all want to be seen. A thriving relationship requires a thriving culture of appreciation between partners, where we’re as good at noticing all the things our partners are doing right as we are at noticing what they’re doing wrong.
Your assignment: Say thank you for something routine, even if it’s small, even if they do it every day—in fact, especially if it’s small and they do it every day! But don’t just say “Hey, thanks.” Tell them why this small thing is a big deal to you. “Thank you for making the coffee every morning. I love waking up to the smell of coffee and the sounds of you puttering away in the kitchen. It just makes me start the day off right.”
Day 4: Give a Real Compliment
There will always be conflict in any relationship, no matter how solid the partnership is, no matter how deep the intimacy is. We now know that the majority of problems couples face are perpetual problems—they are not solvable. But couples who take the time day to notice and hold in mind what they admire about the person they’ve chosen to weather the slings and arrows of life with are the ones who succeed long term.
Your assignment: Give your partner a genuine compliment. Why did you fall in love with your partner? Reflecting on this question can be an amazing way to reset and regain some perspective. Reaching into your shared past and pulling up fun memories, adventurous memories, memories of connection,
sexy memories—this can regenerate your innate capacity to visualize all the good in your relationship, instead of letting the good remain invisible or buried under the minutiae of daily life.
Day 5: Ask for What You Need
Your partner isn’t a mind reader. We all know this. And yet, what we see from so many couples is that we behave as if they were. We want our partners to pick up on little hints and signals about what we need and desire—or to just know. You have to tell your partner what you need and want. But asking for what you need isn’t always easy.
Your assignment: First, remember not to ask for what you need by telling your partner what they’re doing wrong. Don’t even start by talking about your partner at all! This is about you, not them. Then, state your positive need. What can your partner do for you to make you feel better? Be specific. Be clear. And keep it positive!
Day 6: Reach Out and Touch
We thrive on touch—and it doesn’t have to be sexual. Sex is an important part of a relationship, but complicated for some. Many people think that the only way to experience touch is through sex or activities that lead to sex—not true. Research shows that people of all genders who cuddle have more satisfying long-term relationships. Even little bits of time add up. They aggregate and build exponentially, strengthening your emotional and physical connection.
Your assignment: Create as many moments of physical connection as possible. This doesn’t have to be about sex—just sitting together on the couch, holding hands, or stopping for a hug will all establish and nourish your physical connection and emotional closeness. What you do is up to you, and any amount is good. The more the better! But do talk about it with your partner and make sure you’re both on board. This should be natural, comfortable, and fun.
Day 7: Declare a Date Night
Many couples make a plan to start doing a regular date night, and then struggle to make it happen. When the business of life ramps up, it’s the first thing on the chopping block. So let us make it easy for you: This is a requirement. Picture us writing you a doctor’s note, a prescription signed and dated, which must be urgently filled for your health. Get used to saying no to others who try to make demands on the small amount (relatively speaking!) of time you’ve reserved for your sweetheart.
Your assignment: Invite your partner on a spur of the moment mini-date. A “date” doesn’t have to mean a fancy dinner and a babysitter. It can happen in the backyard in the rain. It can happen on your porch.
Excerpted from The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy (September 27, 2022, Penguin Life).
Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman are cofounders of the Gottman Institute. Dr. John Gottman previously served as executive director of the Relationship Research Institute and is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, where he founded the Love Lab. He is the author of numerous bestselling books, including The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, What Makes Love Last, Eight Dates, and more.
Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman is president of the Gottman Institute and cofounder of Affective Software, Inc. A highly respected clinical psychologist, she was named Washington State Psychologist of the Year and received the 2021 Psychotherapy Networker Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author and coauthor of many bestselling books, including Eight Dates, Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, The Man’s Guide to Women, and And Baby Makes Three.