What is No. 1 phrase used in successful relationships, say psychologists who studied 40,000 couples?

Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman are the co-founders of The Gottman Institute and Love Lab. Married for over 35 years, the two psychologists are world-renowned for their work on relationship stability and divorce prediction. They are also the co-authors of The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy” and 10 Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy. 

I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t wish they had just a little bit more intel on their side sometimes when it comes to getting along with their significant other.

The No. 1 phrase used in successful relationships, say psychologists who studied 40,000 couples?


Whether you are single after a string of failed relationships, or in a relationship now with it’s own unique set of challenges; it could be helpful to know there’s one thing that all couples have in common.

We want to be appreciated, we want to be acknowledged for our efforts and we want to be seen.

Hold on a minute, that sounds pretty reasonable, why don’t we go around appreciating each other, then?

Well, because the stories we’ve been telling ourselves get in the way:

We develop a narrative where we’re the one putting in all the effort, and we start to believe it’s true. We choose not to see what contributions the other party are making because we trap ourselves in our own narrative; perhaps we get all sulky and withdrawn or we take on the role of martyr.

We think our partners will read the cue to note all the hard work we’ve been putting in and come towards us with praise but instead, they are left bewildered thinking why are they giving me the sulky cold shoulder?

Getting rid of this toxic mindset requires building a new one: scanning for the positives and then, directly asking for what it is you need from the other person if you are not getting it. Because whether you like it or not, complaining and not asking for what you need leads to all kinds of assumptions. And to assume anything, ever, is fertile ground for a monumental cluster fuck. As my Dad used to say, you know what they say about assumption: assume makes an ass out of u and me, get it?


According to the founders of the Love Lab; a thriving relationship requires we’re as good at noticing the things our partners are doing right as we are at noticing what they’re doing wrong

How to get into the appreciation mindset

You probably say “thank you” all day long, almost without thinking, to your colleagues, to the bagger at the supermarket, or to the stranger who holds the door for you at the squash club, right?

But in our most intimate relationships, we can forget how important saying “thank you” “what do you need from me” “you are doing a really good job” “or I’m working my nuts off here and going backwards, I need more support from you i.e. money, a listening ear, more of your time, whatevs”.

I know for me, I don’t appreciate myself for a job well done. I’m busy working on the next thing before I’ve registered I’ve reached a milestone getting to the end of the first job! So it stands to reason that I’m not very good at appreciating my partner for a job well done for either, or all the hours they’re putting in. That’s something I need to work on.

If you’re one of my readers having trouble getting out of the negative perspective you hold about you partner at present…

Ask yourself: “Have I had these negative feelings before this relationship ever began? Who with? What set off those feelings?”

Identifying, naming and sourcing these types of negative thoughts and feelings can help you see if you’ve always felt misunderstood in relationships and whether or not you’ve been clear in the past about asking for what you need and want, in order to feel seen and heard.

If it feels like you’re seeing the positives, but your partner is not…

Remember, you’re trying to change your own mental habits. You’re not changing your partner but a little effort to see their point of view might go a long way.

Because if they don’t feel understood by you, you need to press on to show them you are fully invested in understanding where they are coming from. Put yourself in their shoes, sometimes that’s easier when you are on your own versus at the time they are shoving their opinion down your throat, not caring at all if you choke on it.  And if all else fails?

Become an anthropologist.

Keep a close eye on your partner, and whenever you can follow them around. Write down what they do, especially the positive stuff! It’s best I you don’t write down the negatives, such as ignoring a pile of papers you asked them to pick up.

Note that they washed the breakfast dishes, fielded a thousand phone calls before their phone ran out of charge, mowed the lawns, and then made you coffee when they went to make one for themselves.

You don’t have to hide the fact that you’re spying on them. You can tell your partner you’re observing them to get a better sense of their day, and everything they do.

Their behavior isn’t going to change much just by knowing you’re watching but it may help you to understand where any beef they are holding onto is coming from.

Ultimately, remember that how they think and feel is not within your control. Ultimately, changing your own way of looking at them and their world is powerful. You’re disrupting the cycle of negativity by trying to understand their POV and that alone can make a significant difference.

If you are pressed for time and can’t follow your partner around for the whole day, fair enough.

Why don’t you make a quick list of everything you each do, then pick a couple of things to flip-flop on. If you’re always the one who gets the kids off to school, have your partner do it tomorrow instead. If your partner is always the one to make dinner, you do it tonight.

See what it feels like to put yourself in each other’s shoes. 

As always, I’d love to hear how you got on!