Last week I had the opportunity to be trained as a leader for presenting the material from the book, “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by Drs. John and Julie Gottman. It was a blessing to be immersed in the material from the research John Gottman has done on happily married couples in his “love lab” at the University of Washington. In his lab, Gottman observed couples spend a normal day together. Each couple brought their usual weekend activities and reading with them, and cooked dinner together in the lab apartment. Gottman and his researchers observed them from 9 AM to 9 PM. Through these observations and physiological data (heart rate, stress hormone levels, etc.) collected at that time, they learned what differentiates the “masters” from the “disasters.” He was then able to predict with over 90% accuracy the couples who would divorce within three years. I attended the workshop to reconnect with the material and to consider how best to support the relationships of the couples in our congregation, whether they are contemplating marriage, newly married, entering a new phase of marriage (e.g. new parents, empty nesters, newly retired) or have been married many years. Gottman’s work has also recently been applied to singles—so there’s something in this for each one of us.
One of the lessons Gottman learned (and there are many) is that friendship is one of the keys to a long lasting marriage, to be a “master” instead of a “disaster.” Each of us probably remembers the early days of a friendship and the questions we asked each other. It was important at that stage to learn everything we could about the other person – his likes and dislikes, where she was from, his favorite food, her favorite place to vacation. Early in a relationship friendship-building comes easily. But the “masters” continue to update these mental love-maps of their spouse with new information. They continue to ask questions, and to listen without distractions to their loved-one’s answers.
Over the summer, I’d encourage you to spend time with those you love and with whom you want to deepen a friendship. Ask good questions. Check to see – do you know who their best friend is? Who is their favorite relative? Which restaurant do they like the best? Is there a big project looming at work? What is the biggest joy in their life? What is the biggest source of stress? What is one hope they have for the coming year? Ask a question, listen carefully to the answer. Then have your friend ask you a different question.
You may have noticed that the congregation is doing something similar as we survey our neighborhood and the leaders of our community. We are learning as a congregation what has changed since we first fell in love with this area of Edmonds. We are re-building our understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor, and what our neighborhood would most appreciate from us in the future. If you have not done so, please complete the online survey about our neighborhood. The next survey will be directed towards those who are experts about Edmonds and the Westgate neighborhood. Do you know an expert? We’d love for you to take them out to coffee and ask them a few questions from our next survey. This summer, join me in strengthening friendships!