I went on 8 therapist-designed dates with my boyfriend and we had the best conversations of our relationship

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERMe and my boyfriend, Mike.
  • As someone who has dated the same person for the past eight years, I can safely say that open communication has been the top factor in keeping the relationship strong.
  • Communication is also the theme of “Eight Dates,” a new book from psychologists John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman.
  • The book outlines eight topics they believe all long-term couples should have candid conversations about.
  • My boyfriend Mike and I went on the eight dates the Gottmans organised around these topics, which included trust, sex, and money.
  • Even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye on every topic, I felt more connected to Mike after each date.

As a person who has been with the same person for the past eight years, I feel like I have a decent amount of relationship experience. With that experience, I’ve learned the importance of open and honest communication, which I truly believe has kept my relationship strong.

So when a copy of “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love,” crossed my desk, I was immediately interested. The authors, psychologists John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, have researched relationships for over 40 years and created “Eight Dates” to help couples navigate difficult conversations with eight seemingly simple dates.

My boyfriend Mike and I decided to go on the dates and discuss topics like trust, sex, and money with the Gottmans’ advice. Here’s how it went and how you can do it, too.


My boyfriend Mike and I started dating our junior year of high school and have been together ever since.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERWe’ve been dating for eight years.

Mike and I have stayed together despite attending different colleges and doing long distance for four years. Now we live in New York City together and just celebrated our eight-year anniversary in February.

Whenever someone asks me the key to our relationship, my first instinct is to say “communication.” Whether it’s a minor disagreement, big life decision, or anything in between, talking about our thoughts openly and with as little judgment as possible has allowed Mike and me to keep our relationship strong and satisfying.


Since every relationship can always get better, I was intrigued when the relationship book “Eight Dates” crossed my desk. It asks couples to talk about eight serious topics during eight different dates.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERThe book is written by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman.

The premise of “Eight Dates” is for couples to talk about eight serious topics across eight different dates, outlined in each chapter. For each date topic, the authors outlined specific discussion questions, a proposed location for the date, and a troubleshooting section in case couples run into roadblocks.

Even though Mike and I are very happy, there have been times when some conversations about work, money, or family have ended in a less-than-ideal way.

As an experiment, I wanted to see how we could communicate using the book’s approach.


The book was written by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, marriage researchers and clinicians who study relationships.

The Gottman InstituteJohn Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman.

The Gottmans are a married couple who have been studying relationships for decades. They founded The Gottman Institute, an organisation that uses research to better inform families and couples on how to build the best, most satisfying relationships they can.

They use each chapter in “Eight Dates” to explain an important topic that, based on their research, they believe all couples should discuss and continue to discuss throughout their relationship. They believe these topics are “crucial to a joyful relationship.”


Over the course of eight dates, Mike and I would discuss trust, conflict, intimacy, money, family, adventure, spirituality, and our dreams for the future.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDEREach date included a suggested location, like at home or during a walk around the neighbourhood.

The date topics were things Mike and I had briefly discussed before: Trust and commitment; conflict and the way we fight; intimacy and sex; work and money; our relationships with our families; what fun and adventure mean to us; religion and spirituality; and our hopes and dreams.

According to the authors, the book is just as helpful for long-married couples as it is for couples who are only starting out. Mike and I fall somewhere in between, and I was excited to try the structured format to see how it worked for us.


On the first date, we defined what trust and commitment mean to us, which involved writing and then sharing lists about what we cherish about each other.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERWe headed to the nearby park and sat on our special rock.

Before meeting for our first date, Mike and I had to individually read through a list of potential reasons we cherish each other and circle the ones we agreed with. For Mike, I chose things like “You have supported my own personal goals” and “You understand my sense of humour.” Then, when we convened at our local park, we shared our lists out loud.

“Thinking about ways to cherish your partner will give power to your connection,” the authors wrote of this exercise, and it definitely did.

At first, I felt nervous about having these candid conversations in such a structured, formal way, but once we shared our lists, I was more comfortable. We took turns answering trust-related questions like “How do you define trust?” and “Can you tell me about a time you didn’t trust me and how I could have resolved that situation?”


Read more:
10 signs your partner is emotionally unavailable

Even though some of the questions were difficult to answer, I felt really grounded in our relationship and like we were on the same page.


The second date was all about addressing conflict in our relationship and we discussed how our upbringings inform how we fight now as adults.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERI was especially excited for this date because I know how much Mike dislikes conflict.

When I saw the topic for date two was “addressing conflict,” I instantly assumed I’d be more open, since Mike tries to avoid conflicts of any kind at all costs.

But to my surprise, Mike kept offering to answer questions first like “How are the ways we manage conflict similar and different?” I found his answers extremely insightful and they helped me look at our relationship more in terms of our personal histories (like how our parents’ fighting styles may have affected us).

We walked around at the same park where we had our first date. Doing so made talking about a serious topic a little easier.


For date three, we discussed intimacy and sex.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERReading books on the couch is sexy, right?

If I’m being honest, we ignored the Gottman’s date three location suggestion – naked in bed – and instead lounged on the couch. Nonetheless, I thought the date went really well, and Mike and I ended the conversation feeling on the same page.

We asked each other questions about our sex life and at the end of the questions, we had to “affirm our future together,” as the Gottmans call it. In the book, each of the eight dates concludes with a small, pre-written paragraph that sums up the goals of the chapter and how the couple can commit to being better together.


Read more:
8 reasons why your sex life can change once you get into a relationship

“I commit to having a 6-second kiss every time we say goodbye or hello to each other for the next week,” Mike read to me. I rolled my eyes but gave it my best shot for 24 hours.


We discussed work and money on the fourth date while we ate a three-course meal, since the Gottmans suggested holding this date in a location that made us feel “rich.”

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERIn addition to discussing our daily spending habits, we talked about our fears regarding money.

The Gottmans recommended having the fourth date in a location that made us “feel wealthy or rich in some way.” Luckily, it was restaurant week in New York, so we were able to book a table at an upscale restaurant and eat a three-course meal for a discounted price.

For this date, we talked about more obvious money-related topics, like our spending habits and our fears regarding money. But what really stood out to me was how the book defined work and money in regards to emotional work, too. One question asked: “How do we bring value to the relationship?”

Although Mike and I have never seen completely eye-to-eye on spending (I’m a bit more of a spender, while he’s a saver) I felt like learning the reasoning behind his more frugal point of view made me appreciate his conservative spending habits more.


On the fifth date, we talked about what family means to us and although we’ve discussed this topic in depth before, it was nice to re-confirm our views with each other and keep the dialogue open.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERWe joined lots of kids at the aquarium for date five.

When we first moved in together, Mike and I thoroughly discussed our dreams for the future, so I had a pretty good idea of how the family conversation would go.

We headed to the aquarium for the date, since the Gottmans said to go somewhere with kids or families nearby. The idea was to get inspiration for the family you aspire to have, or in my case, remind me why kids are not for me.


Read more:
9 signs someone is using you in a relationship

This date confirmed Mike and I are still on the same page family-wise, and it’s always good to have reinforcement, even if you’ve discussed a certain topic in the past. According to the Gottmans, “Eight Dates” is a book that couples should refer back to as the years progress and check in with their partner on the relationship.


Date six, which involved talking about how we view fun and adventure, helped me come to terms with the fact that Mike and I don’t have all of the same hobbies.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERWe did some hardcore people watching during our adventure-themed date.

Date six was all about defining what fun and adventure meant to us and how important those things are for our personal fulfillment. We started by each sharing a list of three activities we have fun doing with the other person.

This exercise reminded me that Mike truly is my best friend and that we can do the most simple things, like people watching in the park, and still have spontaneity and adventure. At the same time, we came to the understanding that we don’t consider all of the same things fun, and in those cases, it’s best to not force the other person to join.


On date seven, we explained our views on growth and spirituality, which helped me realise how I can better support Mike in the future with his career goals.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERWe skipped the suggested date location and got a beer instead.

The seventh date focused on religious beliefs, but we answered questions on spirituality and growth, too. Mike and I have always been on the same page regarding religion and have talked openly and often about how we were raised.

We also chatted about what we define as growth and the periods in our lives we felt most proud of ourselves. Listening to Mike describe these moments helped me realise ways I can better support his goals and growth going forward.


For date eight, we asked each other questions about our dreams. Afterwards, I felt excited for the future of our relationship and more connected to Mike than before we started the book.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDERThe entire experience gave us both the opportunity to fully express our thoughts and better understand what makes the other person who they are.

Date eight, the final date, was all about dreams. We asked each other about our childhood dreams and how they have changed. We also talked about what we would do if particular dreams don’t come true.

We affirmed our future together one more time, the portion of the dates Mike said he enjoyed the most, and closed the book.


At the end of the eight dates, I felt more connected to Mike, even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye on every topic we discussed.

Julia Naftulin/INSIDER

The entire experience of reading “Eight Dates” together gave both Mike and me the opportunity to fully express our thoughts and better understand what makes the other person who they are.

I came out of the entire experience not only feeling more understood, but also feeling excited about the future we can build together.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.