­Gottman: Date 5

Written by Katie Mitchell, M.A.

Certified Sex Therapist

            If you are just tuning into this new blog series, I highly suggest going back to read/complete the first date topic, trust and commitment; the second date topic, conflict; the third date topic, sex; and the fourth date topic, work and sex.  As a recap, Eight Dates is a date guide about 8 different beneficial conversations that help couples to connect and gain a better understanding of one another.  Over the next couple of months, I will be completing overviews of each date conversation.  If you finding this resonating with you, I highly suggest purchasing the book here and completing each of the date conversations with your significant other.  If you’ve been following along each week, this week’s topic does not include an outside exercise or worksheet to complete prior to the date (like others have). 

This week we are on to date number five: family and children(?).  This chapter hones in on the importance of talking about family desires within your relationship.  “What’s most important is that you talk about what family means and what you both want your family to look like and be like.”  This conversation also includes not wanting children for yourself – “If you get married thinking that you can get your partner to change their mind on this issue somewhere down the line, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.”  During this date, it is important for each of you to discuss what your ideal family would look like and who does “family” include.  If you desire to have children, discuss how many children you would like to have; how did your parents display closeness/intimacy after having children; what problems might arise with keeping intimacy alive in your own relationship after children; what would you love about parenting together; and what characteristics of your partner would you like potential children to have?  If you and your partner are not planning on having children, the following topics are important to discuss: how will we create a sense of family for ourselves; who do we each consider family; and how do we deepen the family relationships that we have.

The Gottmans’ and Abrams’ do such an amazing job on discussing how “family” has changed over the past few decades!  “Today’s family is ethnically, politically, sexually, and religiously diverse… Families can consist of biological children, stepchildren, adopted children, foster children, no children, or your partner’s best friend who still acts like a child.”  The Gottmans’ and Abrams’ are also very upfront about the cost of children in this chapter.  In 2015, the average cost of raising a child from birth to 17 was $233,610 for a family that makes between 60K to 100K a year.  If a family made over 150K together, this cost increased to $407,820!! Again, this is per child and does not include college or higher education costs.  Although many might not think the two go hand-in-hand, finances should definitely be an aspect discussed when talking about family and children.  In addition to discussing the diversity of family and finances, the Gottmans’ and Abrams’ also hone in on intimacy and satisfaction levels in a relationship after having children.  This chapter is very blunt in regards to discussing the research on children and marital satisfaction.  Research shows that marital satisfaction plummets when the first child arrives, and then takes more nose dives with each subsequent child.  If the couple makes it through this down turn in marital satisfaction without divorcing, satisfaction begins to increase again when the youngest child leaves home.  This does not mean that every couple has to experience this same decrease in satisfaction.  The Gottmans’ found in a longitudinal study that there are couples who are more likely not to experience a drop in marital satisfaction after the birth of children.  In these couples, “men were more respectful to their wives and more accepting of their wife’s influence or opinions.”  The Gottmans’ also found in this study, that these same men were dramatically different than other men (in the study) while their partner’s were pregnant; “they were involved, they talk to the baby, and they compliment their partner.”  You can read more about the findings of this research in the Gottmans’ book, And Baby Makes Three, which can be found here.  Essentially what the Gottmans’ have found in their research is that having both partners involved during the pregnancy and after the birth of children, plus maintaining intimacy and connection helps to mitigate the plummet of martial satisfaction that is often experienced after having children.

As a reminder, this book gives lots of amazing recommendations for those who have the ability to go somewhere for a date, but also for those who need to complete this date at home!  If going out for this date, try to go somewhere that is family friendly, but will still allow for enough privacy to have this conversation; like the park or a family friendly restaurant.  If needing to do this date at home, the Gottmans’ and Abrams’ recommend that you try making your favorite dishes from childhood (macaronic and cheese, chicken fingers, etc.) and each bring to dinner a photo of yourself from childhood.  The date summary at the end of this chapter provides more helpful information on troubleshooting this date and other open-ended questions to consider discussing.

As always, if you and your partner struggle to communicate in an open manner, the first few chapters of Eight Dates also include helpful information on putting your feelings into words; asking open-ended questions; making exploratory statements; and expressing tolerance, empathy, and understanding.  I highly recommend reading through this material as a refresher for even those who consider themselves the best communicators!

            I hope reading this motivates you and your partner to carve out a date night to discuss what family means for each of you and what you hope the future holds for family (children).  We, at Heights Family Counseling, understand that this conversation can be difficult, especially if you and your partner hold different views of what family means.  Reach out to our office today, and we will get you set up with a counselor who can help the two of you have this tough conversation.