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Is Your Relationship in Trouble? Here's an app to help you.


Some of us have a complicated relationship with our phones and how we choose to use them. BUT, some phone apps have great potential to be useful. One that I recommend frequently for strengthening & improving relationships is the Gottman Card Deck.


Created by the Gottman Institute, the Gottman Card Deck is based on over 40 years of research into what helps relationships to thrive and survive. And also what keeps them from withering. The app offers 14 decks of “cards” with over 1000 total flashcards of helpful questions, statements, and ideas for improving your relationship. The Gottman institute does sell tangible card decks that you can use, but this mobile app is free.


Each “deck” in the app covers a different topic for a different purpose. I recommend that you use these cards when you AND your partner are both in the mood for it. If either of you is too tired or too stressed, or too irritable, it will be unlikely to go well. Below is an overview of what you will find inside the app and those 14 “decks.”


I am including the “About this deck” descriptions and “How to use this deck” instructions verbatim as written inside the app. Those appear below in italics and quotation marks and are followed by additional commentary and recommendations of my own.


Love maps

About this deck: “An important factor in relationship success is “knowing” about your partner’s inner world; we call this idea Love Maps.”


How to use this deck: “Swipe through the deck and see if you can answer the question as it relates to you partner. Then switch roles. Have your partner swipe through the deck and try to answer as it pertains to your world. Don’t keep score. The goal is meaningful conversation and connection.”


These questions go from surface level “What is your partner’s favorite movie?” to deeper “What is one of your partner’s worst fears?” to factual “Where was your partner born?” The idea is to get to know each other on a deeper level and to find out the stories behind the answers.


This is a nice deck to use on a car ride or a date night. Test yourself to see how well you know your partner and then use the questions to start conversations that can go beyond the basic answer to the question. Go slowly and only use a chunk of these questions in one sitting.

Open Ended questions

About this deck: “Open-ended questions can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” They have stories for answers. Uncover your hopes and dreams to deepen your understanding.”


How to use this deck: “Take turns asking each other questions. If your partner doesn’t want to answer the question, pick another card. Do not be judgmental or critical as you listen to your partner’s answers. Instead be a “dream detective.” Alternate roles as speaker and listener.”


The questions in this deck go a bit deeper than the Love Maps deck. They are intended to start a discussion as well as deepen your understanding of each other. Some examples: “What are some unfulfilled things in your life?””What were the highlights and low-lights of your adolescence?” “Tell me the story of your proudest moment this year.”


Remember that your goal in using this deck is to further know what is important to your partner and what has impacted them in their life.


Rituals of Connection

About this deck: “Rituals of Connection is a method of turning towards your partner that can be counted on. Use this deck to decide which rituals to include in your lives together.”


How to use this deck:"Select a card and discuss whether you would like to incorporate the ritual in your relationship, and if so, exactly how it should go, who should do what and when, and how it should end. Be sure to talk about if and why this is important to you, and how this ritual was handled (or mishandled) in your family or previous relationships.


Many of us grew up with families or friends that had traditions or rituals. Maybe you went to a certain ice cream place to celebrate a success, maybe you played rock-paper-scissors to see who had to sit in the middle seat in the family car, maybe you watched a particular movie on big holidays…these types of rituals create closeness through shared experiences.


Your adult relationships can benefit in just the same way. This deck will walk you through some ideas of rituals or traditions you can bring to your relationship. Ideas include little daily rituals as well as more significant and larger traditions. Even if you don’t like any of the ideas, this deck can get you thinking together about the concept of rituals for shared connection and how to create some patterns of closeness with your partner.


Opportunity

About this deck: "It’s the little things that build trust, friendship, and closeness. This deck will help you recognize and act on the small, everyday moments that build intimacy in meaningful ways."


How to use this deck: "It’s important to have fun together as a couple! When you are at a loss for ideas, use these activity suggestions to plan your next date night or outing. Swipe through until you find something you both want to do."


This deck can be useful if you want to be intentional about doing some activities together but it's hard to get out of your Netflix-watching or game-playing rut or if it seems too difficult to have a big chunk of time for something new. It also has fun ideas for showing thoughtfulness if these types of ideas don't come easy for you.


Some examples from this deck: "Watch a TED talk or other inspiring video together to learn a new concept together," "Wake up early and watch the sunrise together," "Find out your partner's favorite novel and read it," "Bring home your partner's favorite dessert," "Leave little notes all over the house with small endearments."


*** Brief Disclaimer***


Some of the cards in this app and specifically the following sex card decks take a traditional heterosexual and gender binary (male/female) perspective in exploring sexual needs and desires. This does not fit everyone in our population and therefore may be upsetting to some users. However, if you choose to read through them anyway, the questions within these decks can serve as a helpful starting point for re-wording questions in a way that best fits your unique situation.

Sex Questions to ask a man

About this deck: "The more you know about your partner sexually, the better lover you’ll be and the better sex you’ll have."


How to use this deck: "This deck builds trust and intimacy both inside and outside the bedroom. Swipe through the deck and pick one or two questions to ask your man. The answers will create an erotic Love Map that you and your partner will want to update again and again as you learn about each other’s fantasies, turn ons, and turn offs."


These questions are very direct and explicit. Some are about the body and some are about preferences with the experience of sex and some are about internalized messages & belief systems about sex. Not all of them will be a good fit for you, so just keep swiping to see what helps.


Sex Questions to ask a woman

About this deck: "The more you know about your partner sexually, the better lover you’ll be and the better sex you’ll have."


How to use this deck: "What do women want out of sex? The key is in the answers to these bold, explicit questions, designed to help you create the best possible sexual encounters for both of you. Swipe through the deck and pick one or two questions to ask your woman. The answers will create an erotic Love Map that you and your partner will want to update again and again as you learn about each other’s fantasies, turn ons, and turn offs."


As with the deck for men, these questions are direct and explicit. They address aspects of the physical body, preferences with sexual experiences and intimacy, and the internal messages & belief systems about sex. Not all of them will be a good fit for you, so just keep swiping to see what is helpful.


Give Appreciation

About this deck: "The more couples look for positive “little things” in their relationship and acknowledge them, the more they admire and trust each other."


How to use this deck: "Build fondness and admiration by using these simple phrases as examples of things to thank your partner for. Or just scroll through and show your partner the screen if it’s hard for you to express yourself out loud!"


One of the most common complaints I hear when working with clients on relationships is "I don't feel appreciated for what I do." Everyone wants to feel like their contributions and efforts are noticed and valued and that they matter. If you want to see immediate results from your efforts to improve your relationship, start with acknowledging what your partner is doing. Catch them doing something well and say it out loud. Every day. If you need tips on simple things to start noticing, this deck is a helpful place to begin.


Sample cards: "Thanks for making dinner, it was delicious," "The way you treat my family means a lot to me," "I really enjoyed our conversation at dinner," "Thanks for supporting me when I talked about [fill in the blank]," "Thank you for comforting me."

I Feel

About this deck: "One way to know each other better is to be honest and open about your feelings – both pleasant and not so pleasant ones."


How to use this deck: "Swipe through the many feelings in this deck and find several that describe how you are feeling right now. Show or tell them to your partner. If the feelings are difficult, be gentle when you express them. Your partner should just listen and not try to fix anything. Then reverse roles as speaker and listener. You can try to solve the problem later, Right now, this exercise is just for understanding each other better."

I have found this deck to be especially helpful for people who are not used to identifying their feelings or used to talking about them. It's a helpful way to start understanding emotions you may be feeling. Most of us know mad & sad & glad, but this deck offers a more robust range of options. If we better know our feelings, we can better communicate them to our partners. And if our partners know what's going on inside us, they can more easily support us.


Sample cards in this deck: "I feel bitter," "I feel confused," "I feel shocked," "I feel tense," "I feel abandoned," "I feel distant from you," "I feel inspired."


Salsa (Mild)

About this deck: "Looking to spice up your sex life? This Mild (1 pepper) deck is for couples who prefer romantic, but non-sexual suggestions."


How to use this deck: "Swipe through the deck and select a suggestion you’d lie to share with your partner, If you both like the suggestion, plan how you can integrate it into your relationship. If one of you doesn’t like the suggestion, pick another card. No judgment, blame, or harshness."


This deck offers some nice and easy ideas for connection and fun together. It’s so easy for us to take partners and relationships for granted. We can easily fall away from dedicating time to build the connection and fondness between each other that seemed so easy during the passionate phase of courtship. If you make regular efforts to build the relationship, it has much more strength to manage the difficulties that will come.


Some card examples: “Send your partner a love letter or poem,” “Sit at the back of the theater and make out as if you were teenagers again,” “Give each other a foot massage,” “When parting at the beginning of the day, learn one interesting thing that your partner will do today and part with a kiss that lasts at least 6 seconds.”


If there has been some distance in your relationship for a while or a dry spell with sex and intimacy, this deck offers some easy ideas to lean back in towards closeness.

Salsa (Medium)

About this deck: "Looking to spice up your sex life? This Medium (2 pepper) deck is for couples who are comfortable with sexual intimacy."


How to use this deck: "Swipe through the deck and select a suggestion you’d lie to share with your partner, If you both like the suggestion, plan how you can integrate it into your relationship. If one of you doesn’t like the suggestion, pick another card. No judgment, blame, or harshness."


This deck has cards that focus squarely on sex (“Undress each other slowly, then make love,” “Kiss passionately with one partner positioned up against the wall”) and physical intimacy (“Next time you take a shower together, soap each other’s bodies” “Read erotica to your partner in bed”). Some couples that I work with have bonded over just reading through this card deck together and laughing at some of the ideas. Even doing that will meet a goal… increase your connection and intimacy!

Salsa (Hot)

About this deck: "Looking to spice up your sex life? This Hot (3 pepper) deck is for couples who want to explore more wild sexual fantasies."

How to use this deck: "Swipe through the deck and select a suggestion you’d lie to share with your partner, If you both like the suggestion, plan how you can integrate it into your relationship. If one of you doesn’t like the suggestion, pick another card. No judgment, blame, or harshness."


The Salsa (Hot) deck has more ideas for creative sex activities (“Role-play a fairy tale but make it have a sexual ending”) and also some more ideas to poke fun at together (“Chase each other around the house naked”). It’s possible you won’t like any of the ideas, but it might spark some imaginative options for you!


Expressing Needs

About this deck: "Express your needs in a way that your partner will respond to and understand."


How to use this deck: "The better you are at expressing what you need in positive, non-demanding ways, the more your partner can “be there” for you and help you get what you want. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to tell your partner lately but didn’t know how, swipe through and find what you think you need in this moment, then show it to your partner, Or better yet, tell them in a gentle, soft way."


It's common for me to see a relationship dynamic where at least one of the parties has some needs or wants they are not saying out loud. This leads to frustration, feeling unseen, feeling disappointment, feeling hurt or even unloved. We often want our partners to read our minds. We believe things like “…if she loved me, she would know what I want” or “…but it’s so obvious that I need help with the kids.”


Except no one can read minds.


Our partners will always lose (and so will we) if we keep wanting them to “just know” exactly what we need. The thing is: if we get really good at expressing our needs, we give our partners an easy win. They know *just* how to make us happy.


Some example cards in this deck: “I need you to answer my texts,” “I need some time alone for myself,” “ I need you to show interest in how my day went,” “I need to know that you think I’m sexy”. This deck is a good primer in how to state your needs, which will increase your chances of getting them met!


Expressing Empathy

About this deck: "Each card in this deck contains a phrase designed to help you empathize with your partner."


How to use this deck: "Sometimes it can be difficult to find the words to express empathy for what your partner is feeling. Select and read aloud cards that express understanding and support for your partner’s experience."


When someone empathizes with us or with something we share about, we feel seen and supported. This is not a skill we were all taught to do! If you struggle to know how to express empathy, or what even to say, this is a helpful deck.


Many times we default to problem solving when people share about something upsetting. We want to help and make them feel better. But anyone can give solutions and ideas for fixing things. In partnerships, a more important and deep need is to feel seen and validated and understood by the person we love.


Some example cards in this deck: “I wish you did not have to go through this,” “You are making total sense to me,” “That would make me mad too,” and “I understand why you’re sad about this.”


Great Listening

About this deck: "Each card in this deck contains a question designed to help you deepen your understanding of your partner’s experience."


How to use this deck: "Feeling heard and understood can dramatically increase intimacy in your relationship. Swipe through the card deck and select questions that would best help you understand your partner’s thoughts and feelings about the topic."

In addition to responding with empathy, we can support our partners and deepen our connection by listening well. Again, it’s not something we were all taught!


Good listening often looks like:

  • asking thoughtful follow-up questions to better understand the situation

  • reflecting back what you have heard or understood from what they have shared

  • helping them process through the situation while considering their values and what matters to them


It’s high level stuff! And super powerful to build closeness and trust. Some examples from the deck: “How did all this evolve?” “How might this situation impact you?” “Do you have any mixed feelings? What are they?” “What are your choices as you see them?” “Does this remind you of anything else in your past?”


Depending on your relationship and your needs, some or all of the card decks in this app could be useful to you. Check it out if you like what you've learned here!


The Gottmans also have several powerful books that I highly recommend:

Note that the above book links are affiliate links and if you make a purchase I may receive a small commission.

© 2017 Heather M. McKenzie, Therapist LCMHC PLLC

(919) 744-8335

heather@mckenziecounseling.org

all areas of North Carolina, United States​