Contra Costa Men’s Center

            Tips for Improving Your Intimate Relationships

                               5 Winning and 5 Losing Strategies

The 5 Winning Strategies

1. The Five Love Languages

2. Gottman’s “Magic 5 Hours”

3. Building Positive Emotion

4. Clean Your Own House 

5. Intimacy is Getting and Not Getting Needs Met

Winning Strategy #1 The Five Love Languages

According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, there is not

one right way to show love; in fact, there are many different ways that we

express and receive love. These include: 

Verbal appreciation

Quality time together 

Receiving gifts (jewelry, cards, flowers)

Doing things for your partner (chores, cooking meals, etc.)

Physical Touch (holding hands, hugging, making love)

Knowing the primary languages of your partner and knowing your own provide

the possibility of learning to speak each other’s languages without one

person’s language being wrong (see separate handout).

Winning Strategy #2  Gottman’s “Magic 5 Hours”

John Gottman, PhD, has found that couples whose relationships stay good

over time devote an extra five hours per week to their relationship.

*See below.

If you’re in a current relationship, share this with your partner. Talk about

what is already in place and what you need to add.

Winning Strategy #3  Building Positive Emotion

Building positive emotion can be more powerful than correcting flaws: 

a. Gottman found there is at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative

interactions in relationships that last. That includes appreciation, shared

humor, gestures of affection and positive actions, small and large.

b. More specifically, respond positively and with interest when your partner

shares joy about an experience or an idea. Don’t be a wet blanket! Research

shows that an active positive response to a partner’s joy can boost the

goodwill in the relationship. Put the newspaper down! Make an affirming

statement and ask 3 questions about it.

c. Every day jot down and share with your partner 3 things you appreciate.

(what has gone well that day; what your partner has done for you, etc.).

d. Reminisce about positive moments in the past. At times like anniversaries

and birthdays, savoring the past is a great opportunity to enrich the present.

e. When your partner does nice things for you, including making changes that

you request, let them know you see that and appreciate it (resist the pull to

let them know the ways they fell short!) 

Winning Strategy #4  Clean Your Own House

The more we have hurt, anger or disappointment from our past or from

other parts of our lives, the more likely we are to take those feelings out on

the people closest to us.

Taking care of that baggage can include:

a. Not leading with anger. Understand the emotions underneath the

anger – disappointment, rejection, sadness, fear - and express them.

b. Finding satisfaction and balance in our lives. If we are unhappy in our

jobs, or if we have no hobbies that provide us joy, or if we few no

friends, we’ll look to our partners to fill those needs. That’s impossible

for them to fulfill, or for them to expect us to fulfill.

c. Be the first to make a repair attempt or be willing to receive one

offered by your partner.


Winning Strategy #5   Intimacy is Getting and Not Getting Needs Met

Intimacy is about getting our needs met and accepting sometimes not

getting what we want. The success of the relationship depends on how the

two partners manage both aspects of love – the getting and the not getting.

One key piece of this is understanding the three modes of negotiation:

a. Invitation: Would you like to go to the movies with me?

b. Request: Would you be willing to pick up the kids at school today?

c. Expressed Need: I need you to bathe the kids while I finish my report.

Be aware: Men often hear a, b and c as demands and feel controlled. Try

instead to see this as teamwork and collaboration rather than as control.

The 5 Losing Strategies

1. Life is about Winning and Losing

2. “Unbridled Self-Expression”

3. Attack/Blame or Withdrawal

4. Complaints/Retaliation

5. Controlling Your Partner


Losing Strategy #1  Life is about Winning and Losing

Men often learn as boys that life is just about winning. If we don’t win, we

feel we are a failure. Winning may make you a “success” in business and

sports, but it’s a recipe for failure in romantic relationships. If the only

possible outcome is one person wins and the other loses, this makes partners

into opponents and feeds a power struggle.

For many men, the prospect of going with a partner’s wish if it doesn’t agree

with ours means we are being subservient and have lost. Losing may feel so

shameful and unmanly, we’ll do anything to control and be right even if it

means never having a happy relationship.

Losing Strategy #2:  “Unbridled Self-Expression”

We hold out honesty as important in building trust. But when that honesty

takes the form of uncensored criticism, that is what relationship expert

Terry Real, calls “unbridled self-expression.”  Frequently reminding your

partner all the ways they are not a perfect mate is a good example of this.

Real says you can either vent negative feelings or you can find constructive

ways to actually work through issues with a partner, but you can’t do both. 

Losing Strategy #3  Attack/Blame or Withdrawal

“Fight, flight or freeze” is our brain’s most primitive response to perceived

threats to our survival. When these same reactions show up in our everyday

interactions as attacks, withdrawal and stonewalling, they create distance.

When we blame and attack our partners, we turn them into enemies; when we

withdraw from them, we turn them into strangers. Neither strategy leads to

closeness; instead, says Bay Area psychologist Dan Wile, we can connect

through what he calls “confiding” comments, which involve expressing

feelings and needs while staying open to our partners. 

“I know you didn’t intend this, but I felt kind of hurt when ….”

“I know you have a lot on your plate, but I really need you to do ….”

This approach allows us to voice our feelings but in a way that considers the

other, and also assumes goodwill on both of your parts. 

Losing Strategy #4  Complaints/Retaliation

Complaints and criticism create negative emotion for us all by calling

attention to past failures. What’s the alternative? Focus on what you want

from your partner now and in the future, rather than what you didn’t get in

the past.  

When you feel hurt, express that to your partner rather than hurting in

return. Retaliation is giving the other person a dose of what you feel they

have given you in the hopes they’ll feel the same hurt or anger you felt –

either to punish them or to get them to feel remorseful. These are, as Terry

Real says, twisted attempts at repair and they add hurt and distance rather

than bringing us closer.

Losing Strategy #5  Controlling Your Partner

Trying to get our partners to do what we’d like them to do or be how we’d

like them to be is controlling. Terry Real says it takes two forms:

1. Direct control: “You do it or I will punish you.”

2. Manipulation: “You do it or you will wish you had.”

Sometimes our attempts to control are ways to avoid the more painful and

frightening feeling that you are truly helpless.


Daily Living Rituals for Couples

John Gottman studied couples whose marriages stay good over time. 

He found that these couples consistently spend a few minutes with

each other daily and two hours weekly. You may need to adjust these

rituals to fit your own schedules. 


·       Partings: Before these couples say good-bye every morning,

they find out one thing that each is going to do that day, showing

interest and support to the other. (2 min X 5 days/week = 10 min) 

·       Reunions: At the end of each workday these couples have a

20min. low-stress reunion conversation about the highs and lows of

their day. They look forward to this time and don’t allow other

diversions to interfere with it. (20 min X 5 days/week = 1 hr 40 min) 

·       Admiration and appreciation: Every day genuine verbal

appreciation given to each other at least once. (5 min X 7 days=35 min) 

·       Affection: A few moments of touching, holding, kissing, hugging

or cuddling—all laced with tenderness, reconnection and, if needed,

forgiveness.  (5 min X 7 days = 35 min) 

·       One Weekly Date:  In a relaxed atmosphere, these couples

have a date, just the two of them, renewing their connection, good will

and  playfulness. A fun shared experience. . .  a suspension in the

daily grind to appreciate, laugh, play and explore new and old

activities with each other.  (2 hours once a week). 

note: This is not a time to discuss areas of conflict - that should be

planned at another time during the week to problem-solve.  

This adds up to 5 hours a week.  These simple rituals can make a

huge difference in the climate of your ongoing relationship by giving

you daily positive connection that helps you better weather the

stressful moments in life and recover more quickly following conflict.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Gottman and Silver, 1995

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail . . . and How You Can Make Yours Last

John Gottman, 1994



                    Steven Freemire, MFT and Catherine Freemire, LCSW


                                   510.869.2505  •   925.939.4554

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