After following thousands of couples across decades, world-renowned researchers and clinical psychologists Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman discovered a weekly routine that resulted in couples reporting higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of damaging, unproductive conflict within the relationship: the routine of conducting a State of the Union conversation (Panganiban, 2021).

What is the State of the Union?

It’s a one-hour, weekly check-in meeting during which couples take turns sharing their answers to the same four questions regarding the “state” (or status) of their “union” (or relationship).

Why was the State of the Union created?

To break couples’ tendency to focus more on what their partners were doing “wrong” than “right,” the State of the Union starts by asking couples to recount at least five positives they observed in their partner the prior week. 

Additionally, the State of the Union includes a question prompting couples to raise up an issue still in need of resolving so they can practice addressing conflict in smaller bits rather than risk letting it fester into something Godzilla-sized. 

How do I conduct the State of the Union?

  • Schedule a time (ideally a recurring time) to meet each week that allows for up to an hour of conversation.
  • Decide on your own whom you’d like to go first for answering questions.
  • When answering the questions, reference the past week only. It is important not to discuss further back than one week, as the intent is to get you to observe and respond to new experiences coming up in your relationship.
  • Try your best to remain fully present during the meeting (e.g. not distracted by background TV noise or activity on your phone).
  • Never skip a week! Even if a conflict arises or one of you winds up out of town, pick an alternative time to come together, even if the conversation winds up brief and/or over the phone or video chat. Consistency is key.

What are the four State of the Union questions?

1) What’s going well in the relationship? 

  • For example, what’s something you noticed your partner improved on within the relationship? Or something you think you both resolved well together as a team?

2) What are five appreciations of your partner that you haven’t already given this past week? 

  • Gottman research found that it takes a 5:1 ratio of giving five compliments for every one criticism given to a partner to overcome the negative impact that one criticism had on that partner (Panganiban, 2021).

3) What’s one unresolved issue involving your partner that came up this past week? 

  • It’s important to never skip this question.
  • This is an opportunity to share how you negatively experienced something involving your partner.
  • To help defuse defensiveness, consider starting by reassuring your partner that you always assume their intentions are good.
  • It’s also best practice to avoid finger-pointing “you” statements. So rather than assert “When you did X, you made me feel Y,” consider something like “When X happened, I felt Y.”

4) What’s one thing your partner can do more of this next week to help you feel more loved?

  • Requests for “more” of something (rather than “less of” or “to stop” or “don’t do”) are more likely to be fulfilled since the phrasing is positively reinforcing.
  • Rather than make a general request like “I’d like you to do more of the five love languages next week,” consider something more specific, like “I’d appreciate more quality time with you in the form of you initiating coordinating one day next week for us to take a walk together after work where we’re both off of our phones.”

What if it’s hard to get in the routine of the State of the Union routine? 

If the State of the Union feels awkward or anxiety-provoking at first, hang in there! Couples reported it took them an average of five go-arounds before they started feeling more relaxed and even looking forward to it (Panganiban, 2021).

References: Panganiban, K. (2021, March 25). How to have a state of the Union meeting. The Gottman Institute.

Article by Chelsea Mann, LPC 

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