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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Zemlok, PsyD


The famous marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, says that the foundation of a happy marriage is friendship! By that he means a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other's company. To be more precise, his decades of research on thousands of couples revealed that “The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship.”¹

Life happens and kids come along and all too often a majority of conversation turns into “errand talk.” This is especially true for first responder couples who often have more logistical stressors to manage with rotating schedules, long hours, unexpected overtime, missed events etc. Falling into a habit of only “errand talk” can be a fast track to feeling like you’re living with a roommate. Have you continued to make time to grow your connection and knowledge of one another? Friendships exist when we know and understand our partner, their world, daily stressors and triumphs. When we do this we find a sense of comfort in one another and feel emotionally safe and connected which leads to greater physical intimacy in couples. It turns out we have to actually invest time into this throughout our marriage, doing it at the beginning and feeling like “we’ve already done that” doesn’t cut it. This is a “use it or lose it” situation. No one married with kids is the exact same person they were while they were dating. Experiences and time change us so we have to stay curious about our partner, continue asking questions, and continue discussions if we want to hold on to the passion.

Dr. Gottman has an exercise that can help you get back to that with your partner. It’s a fun way to invest in your marriage. He actually has a deck of cards that will assist you if you and your partner are willing to set aside the time. It goes like this. You pull a card and it says something like, “What’s your partner’s favorite gateway place?” Then you answer what you believe to be how your partner would answer. Then your partner responds by confirming or denying and then explaining what their true answer is if it’s something else. Caution here! Please remember this activity is to CONNECT with your spouse and invest in your friendship. So NO keeping score, DON’T get competitive, and DON’T use any facial expressions or comments that are meant to criticize your spouse such as “I can’t believe you don’t know that” or “That shows how much you don’t pay attention.” The spirit is to connect and listen and help each other understand better.

Where can you find these cards? Well you can order the deck from, but you can also just download the free app “Gottman Card Decks.” I’m referring to the “Love Maps” exercise, but you’ll see many other decks that you can explore ( Try the open ended questions as well). These are great for date nights to keep the conversation off “Errand Talk.” You two deserve it! Have fun and take time each week to invest in your precious marriage to keep it resilient to the many impacts of the first responder family life. If you live in California and you'd like more help improving your marriage or making it resilient reach out!

1. Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press. (pp. 19).

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