The Science of Love: John Gottman (Full Transcript)

Full text of world-renowned relationship expert John Gottman’s talk titled “The Science of Love” at TEDxVeniceBeach conference.

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John Gottman – Relationship expert

So this has been what I’ve dedicated my life to. There are 900,000 divorces in the United States of America every year. Fewer than 10% of them ever talked to anybody about their relationship.

So why would you need a science?

Well, we need a science to develop effective treatment and understanding of how to make love work. Why?

Why should we care about having great relationships?

Well, it turns out that in the past 50 years, a field called social epidemiology has emerged, and it shows that great friendships, great love relationships between lovers and parents and children lead to greater health – mental health as well as physical health – greater wealth, greater resilience, faster recovery from illness, greater longevity – if you want to live 10 to 15 years longer, work on your relationships, not just your exercise – and more successful children as well.

So love has a kind of magic; it’s able to do amazing things. And one of my favorite films is Sleepless in Seattle, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. And I just want to share with you a quote, where Tom Hanks is on the radio with the talk show host Marcia, and she says to him, “Sam, tell me what was so special about your wife?”

And Tom Hanks says, Sam says, “Well, how long is your program? Oh well, it was a million tiny little things. We were supposed to be together and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I’d ever known. It was just taking her hand to help her out of the car, and, you know, it was like magic.”

And Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan say the word “magic” at the same time. So what about this magic?

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Can science really help find the magic of love?

Well, the first step is that we needed a lot of data. We needed to basically understand relationships better, and that’s not something I did alone. In fact, 45 years ago, we built a “love lab,” and this lab was built, in part, by a bromance. My best friend, Bob Levenson, and I created this lab.

And Bob and I became good friends. And we realized that our relationships with women were not going very well; it went from one disaster to another. So basically, two clueless guys got together to build this laboratory.

And then over 30 years ago, a romance with my wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. And we decided to work together to see whether we could make a difference.

So basic research was followed by applied research. And we use validated questionnaires, online questionnaires that allow us to assess the strengths of the relationship in the areas that need improvement. And we validated these questionnaires to make sure that we knew what we were measuring and we could measure things reliably and accurately.

So we created this checkup — and over 40,000 couples have taken these questionnaires — and we get a green circle for a strength, a red box for an area that needs improvement.

But we get their story of their relationship. We ask them about how they met. We find out the quality of their friendship and intimacy from this interview. And we collect physiological measures from them as they’re talking to one another: we’re measuring heart rate, blood velocity, skin conductance, respiration, a variety of things like that.

And we score their emotion second by second in this kind of split-screen arrangement, where even though they’re facing each other, we can really code facial expressions, voice tone, nonverbal behavior, and verbal behavior very accurately and reliably.

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