Eps 11: State of the Union – a relationship saving tool

July 19, 2023


Imagine if you could invest just 1 hour per week in the one conversation you must have every for a healthy relationship. Well it’s possible and it’s called the State of the Union Meeting.

Created by the Gottmans, this State of the Union is a time to reflect on the relationship and share both things that are working well and things that need to be addressed. It creates more connection, understanding, tolerance and ultimately leads to a relationship you both will love and respect.

Tune in to find out the four steps involved and what Josh and I found worked and didn’t work from doing this for ourselves.

Read the full transcript below or listen to the podcast on YouTube.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What a State of the Union Meeting is
  • How this powerful tool could transform your relationship in 60 minutes
  • What Josh and I learned from using this tool

Experience a better relationship with the help of LifePilot


 Let’s talk about relationships, shall we? And more importantly, how you can use the State of the Union Meeting to make yours a better, stronger, more thriving relationship.

Because, let’s face it, all of us in a relationship are going to have times where we don’t feel like our partner is paying enough attention to us, or they spend more money than you do, or you have arguments about who’s taking care of the household duties and chores.

And all of these hurt feelings can act like a snowball, just rolling down a hill, getting out of control, growing exponentially in size, and before you know it, just like… Absolutely devastating your relationship and what initially seems like little minor niggles then can actually turn into much bigger things.

And then you start to look at your negative aspects and your feelings towards your partner, which eventually leads to more conflict and more disconnection. So yeah.

What we’re going to dive into today is some of the amazing tools that the Gottmans have that have really helped Josh and I and also some of our experiences with what worked and what didn’t. So before we begin, I would just love to say that you are listening to the LifePilot podcast.

And my intention here is to help you create the life that you truly want and be able to live it today, not tomorrow. So this is all about the tools and the skills that you need to really focus on what matters to you most and to prioritize that.

And if you would love to use our LifePilot methodology to set intentions and goals for yourself to take charge of your weeks, your months, your quarters, and your big juicy dreams and actually turn them into reality one day at a time, then head to lifepilot.co to learn how that could potentially help you live your dream life.

So let’s go onto the State of the Union. This is a tool that my dear friend, Julia Capon shared with me last year when, to be fair, in the midst of having a kid and being in business together and running a household and, about to be married, there were just all these things going on that were definitely adding up for me in terms of relationship niggles and tensions.

I feel like right before you get married, you often have those last minutes vibes of like, is this the right thing? You know, is this the person I want to be with? Are they the best person for me? Do we bring out the best in each other? Like all those questions.

And then when you add into that having a child, or maybe several kids, depending on who you are, that adds just a whole new level of, well, learning, challenge, stress, pressure for both yourself and your partner.

Then if you add in like we have starting a business together, and particularly a business that we didn’t have much experience in at all, and then, you know, has massive implications for our cash flow and our financials, it’s kind of a perfect storm of taking on a lot.

And so I’ve found over the years that I am no relationship expert. I have a lot of tools in my capacity. I’ve done a lot of personal growth and development. I understand what it is to be coached and how to coach. I can look for All the things that I can do to make things better, but when you’re in a partnership, it takes two, right?

Like you can’t just, you can’t just force something to be better. You can’t hold space for you and your partner alone and expect that things are going to work or do really well.

Fortunately for us, Josh and I are really, really good at communicating and talking things through when they matter, but it becomes infinitely harder when you’ve got all these things in your environment that are kind of creating a pressure cooker.

And all these things that are really asking you to step up and do even more. And suddenly you’re getting not necessarily the best of your partner. You’re often getting the worst of them or the stressed out version of them or the less than kind of the less than wonderful person. And that in itself is room for growth and opportunity, right?

If you can come through that together stronger, if you can deeply understand each other and your visions and your values and what matters to you, then it’s only going to be a positive thing.

But when you’re in the thick of it, not so much fun. So you know, Julia was just saying, you know, one thing that they’d done as a couple That was really working for them was the state of the union.

What the heck is a State of the Union meeting?

The State of the Union meeting was designed by the Gottmans, who are actually a couple who essentially focus on healthy relationships. They’ve written a myriad of books and they have decades of experience of helping people out in their relationships. And interestingly, in their research, they found that couples who would eventually divorce were more alike than different, which is really interesting, right?

So it seems like rather than getting to that point, it would be really good to understand conflict as an opportunity, because when everything’s fine in your relationship, you don’t seem to need to pull on any of these tools or to have to think about it. But the minute there’s some conflict, It gets really important for you to be able to understand how to view that as a tool for growth.

And so the State of the Union is essentially a weekly meeting where you gift yourself or you invest about an hour together to ensure that both of you are heard and that you feel understood before problem solving together.

It’s been proven with research that when you actually give yourself that hour together, it drastically improves your relationship because it gives you a relationship space to have constructive conflict and an opportunity for you to get on the same team as your partner, husband, wife, whatever it may be.

And essentially, I love this, I’m just paraphrasing off their website, in Dr. Gottman’s research he discovered that

Partners cannot compromise or solve the problem until each of you say yes, you understand me, that’s exactly how I’m feeling, and in doing so it opens both of you up to understanding each other’s perspective and to working together to create a win win.

I am not always the best at seeing Josh’s perspective, other times I am amazingly empathetic. I think it, at always being able to see every person’s perspective, just depends on the frame of mind that I’m in often, but usually I can kind of see why somebody may be acting where they are and also why I am maybe being triggered or reacting in that way, which is a beautiful thing.

But what I found with the state of the union. Is that it really, really helped us when we were practicing it, to understand each other better actually, and just try and come from a place of curiosity rather than that place of, and you might hear me, you know what I’m talking about when you’re like your partner starts to speak and you already know what you think they’re going to say.

And you’re already like, “this again” kind of thing. I don’t know. I realize I’m speaking into a microphone here, but I’d love to see some people’s reactions I think you know what I mean when you start reacting the same way to something

What I liked about the State of the Union is it got me to just stop for a minute And not think that I knew already what was coming and to listen actively and neutrally and also with much curiosity so that maybe just maybe I could pick up something different here.

I could have a different response, develop more empathy, see it more from his perspective, see it from a totally different perspective, understand at least the underlying patterns, behaviours, and things that were causing any conflict.

So if that sounds good to you, if you’re in a beautiful relationship right now, you should still listen in because there’s going to be a time where shit gets real and, get stressful and you’re going to need this. So think of this as the one conversation that you must have every week for a healthy relationship.

So first of all, I’m going to take you through it and then I’m going to share how it worked for us. Also, why we’re not currently doing it or we weren’t as consistent with it as we have been with LifePilot, which we do every single Sunday.

So it is, the State of the Union is basically a time to reflect on your relationship and share what’s working well and things that need to be addressed.

And it goes like this. It is four parts to it. So the first one is really fun and I think, you know, should actually be, should be done with yourself, with your friends, with your family all the time. So the first part of the meeting, if you:

Step 1: Take turns to share five things that your partner did in the past week that you appreciated.

These can be super small, but you know, I really appreciate that you bought me coffee in bed. Or, I really appreciate how considerate you were when you took time out with Leo when I was just a bit tired and you let me have the night off. Or, I really appreciate how you went a little bit extra and above board in cooking that beautiful dinner.

Or that you picked me up my favourite herbal tea. Whatever it may be. It also could be just like, I really appreciated how much love and affection you shared with me this week. I love the compliment that you gave me the other day. It came at a really great time.

Or I just really loved, you know, how you hugged me in the morning each day and you say goodbye, whatever it may be, and you each do that for each other because it instantly puts you in this place of feeling appreciated, which is very important and grateful for each other.

And it’s, it’s picking out a positive trait in your partner that you want to highlight. So. It puts both of you in a good mood and a more open mood.

Then you want to talk about step two, what went right in the relationship. So you just want to look at some things that happened over the week.

Step 2: What was working well?

What did you, notice that was going really well or that you improved upon, or that you enjoyed. So you know, maybe you face some stress in that week and you worked really well as a team or maybe there was something that came up and it threw you both, but you navigated through it. Or maybe you had a really cool conversation when you’re out on a walk and talk with your dogs and it was surprising and really lovely.

And so you point out what’s been going right in the relationship. This step two is essentially acknowledging what you and your partner have been doing and the work that you’ve been putting into the relationship and that in itself helps you stay motivated to continue in the state of the union.

Step three, this is where it gets juicy. So this is where you get to …

Step 3: Take turns sharing any concerns you may have had from the past week

Let’s face it, conflict is inevitable and it’s necessary. And Otherwise you can’t really grow. And as with anything, like a constructive criticism, constructive conflict can actually leave you feeling more connected if you can handle it well.

So you really have to start tuning into each other and he’s developed, the Gottmans have developed an acronym to easily remember what to do during these conversations. And the acronym is ATTUNE.

  1. The first one is awareness, being aware of your partner’s feelings and experience.
  2. The second one is tolerance. You have to be tolerant that there are two different valid viewpoints for these negative emotions.
  3. The third is turning toward. So recognizing your partner’s need and turning toward it, not dismissing it like we sometimes do.
  4. The fourth is understanding, attempting to understand your partner’s experience and their perspective.You don’t necessarily have to agree on it, but you’re at least trying to understand it. This one I find challenging for sure.
  5. Non defensive listening. I think both of us find that challenging and I would suspect that you might too. It’s pretty human nature. Listening to your partner’s perspective without concentrating on or victimizing yourself or reversing the blame. And as I said before, not just taking that instant, Oh, we’ve been here before, I know what you’re going to say.
  6. And then empathy. Responding to your partner with understanding awareness and sensitivity to their experience and needs.

I’m actually laughing as I read this out because Literally a couple of hours ago my partner and I had a pretty serious conversation about that’s something that’s come up It’s not necessarily a relationship based, but it’s definitely affecting all areas of our life and we did bits of this but I can also see how We failed miserably on some of these fronts.

We, we did listen. We were empathetic. We did try and understand each other’s perspective. We did try and speak from a real place of like, this is how I feel versus here’s what you’re doing that’s frustrating me. But then it, it didn’t necessarily create the trust or the alignment that it should have, if I’m really honest.

So always work to do. And that’s the beauty of relationships. So a tune. So you go through those steps and really the, the interesting thing is that you take turns. So when that person’s speaking you don’t interrupt and go, oh yeah, but. You can take notes, but really you’re sitting there and you’re listening and you are just hearing them out.

You don’t get to interrupt, as I said and if you’re the person expressing your emotions, you have to do that in a way without blame or criticism. It’s very much about just being really honest. So you get to say, I feel so when X happens, I feel, share your emotions.

And like today I talked about words of feeling isolated, of feeling vulnerable. Uh, of feeling frustrated, of feeling angry, right? But most of that fear came from the vulnerability. And then you say, about what? So it’s not about your partner. It’s about the thing, the situation, right? It’s never really about your partner.

It’s usually about something that’s not in alignment between you. And then you share I need. So I feel X way about the situation and I need, and this is where you get to really express what you need in positive terms.

Versus how maybe it’s currently happening because if you think about it if you’re like I just really want you to like pay me more attention and give me more physical affection if you’re going to state it in a way like you never touch me anymore. You don’t give me kisses and I feel it’s not exactly gonna inspire them to want to go.

Yeah, I just feel like doing that right now versus I need you to be more loving and caring. It would make me feel amazing if you, you know, hugged me more often or gave me a kiss, whatever it may be. Right.

Just giving examples. And so as the listener, you’re listening “Hmm. Tell me more” or “okay”. “Can you, can you clarify or can you explain” or you just sit silently and then each of you have both shared.

You know, there might be some rawness there, but hopefully you’ve come to it at a place of like, okay I better understand where you’re at and your needs and your feelings.

Then you focus on what can I do next week to make you feel more loved and I just adore this It’s even when you’re saying it to each other.

It’s so beautiful. So, you know Joshua What can I do next week to make you feel more loved and this is the last thing. So you’ve come through that addressing the concerns, right? Any of the niggles the big the big and the little things and then you ask that.

And it’s so beautiful because the person would say, well, I would really feel more loved this week if you supported me in my calls, that I’ve got in my busy schedule during the day.

And you just like, you know, checked in with me to see how I’m going, made sure maybe that I was moving, drinking water, hydrating, feeding myself. I just really appreciate if you kind of cared for me during this week, during this busy work period, for example.

So, it’s a really lovely way to end and, I think it’s really important that you actually note that down. You don’t just hear them out and go, Oh yeah, yeah, sure, and then forget about it. And if you do this every week, it really helps you to check in for a start because let’s face it when you’ve got work, family, friends, events, business, jobs, everything, it’s not like you really just carve out an hour for some really beautiful solid discussion and connection.

Okay, and it makes you feel heard and understood and appreciated and then it prevents all these issues from building up.

Like if you sit on something and stew on it for months or weeks even. It’s, it can be really dangerous. It can be very toxic. It can be very hurtful for both parties. So instead you’re giving yourself space and time to practice solving problems together.

And that is the State of the Union. So I’d love to know what you think about this. If you’ve come across it before, how it’s landed for you as I’m explaining it and sharing it, I’ll put a link in the podcast post.

Source: How to have a State of the Union Meeting.

Now next step I said is that I would share how it’s worked for us as a process. So, we have done this probably about 10 times. As I said, my friend brought it to my attention end of last year and we immediately started using it.

We’d often do it when we’re on a car trip, like if Leo had fallen asleep in the car and we were heading into town, we’d take about 30 to 40 minutes.

What I quite like about car trips and or walk and talks is that you’re not looking in the person’s eyes. You’re just kind of focused on really much hearing. Hearing them out. You’re not distracted by their facial reactions or anything. You’re not reading into it .

You’re just really listening in and you can focus on the environment outside, but it allows you to listen more actively now I would probably say that you know, maybe the Gottman’s suggests that you’re staring each other in the face and you’re in a you’re in a place with no cell phones And you’re comfortable and you’re relaxed and you can look at each other.

So maybe the walk and talk is better because you can sometimes stop and you can connect and hold hands or you can pause and you can, really look into each other’s eyes and connect on a deep level. But I like walk and talks and I like when you’re driving, you know, whatever time you have, so long as it’s kind of uninterrupted, it’s really powerful.

And. I loved the first time we did it, especially that, you know, what can I do next week to make you feel more loved?

In fact, I would probably say the first two or three times were really powerful and made us feel a lot more connected I think our communication improved during the week, and we just felt like a team.

Then what happened is, I feel like one of us would always come with an issue or a concern that they wanted to discuss, and the other person wouldn’t bring anything.

Because that issue would, take up space and we wanted to pay proper attention to it. And reading the guidelines again, it’s kind of like, actually you both should be sharing something.

And then what happened is we worked through those and it really helped and then we, then we do the State of the Union and neither of us had anything that we wanted to bring up that week because we were going just fine, it was hunky dory, so who even says hunky dory anymore?

Me, apparently. That’s what my dad used to say. So I found that we, because we didn’t have anything important to bring to it or neither of us could pick up on one thing in particular. It tended to have less significance or meaning to us.

And now I can see that, you know, just because something’s going well in your relationship doesn’t mean you should stop having the conversations and the appreciations and the connection and the understanding and the perspective because there’s definitely been moments throughout this year where we could have really used this better.

So I love coaching myself on my own podcast and hopefully you as well, you know, As I said at the very beginning, you need this tool when things are going well, just as much as you need it when they’re not.

Because when things are going great, you don’t have too much to discuss. It’s still a tool that you can then use to help you in those times when maybe you’ve got less capacity for empathy or love or understanding their perspective.

So I did find it really, really helpful. And often what we would do would be to tack it on to the end of our life pilot reflection. And… We do a pretty good job of the Life Pilot Reflection.

It can take anywhere from sort of 20 to 30 minutes up to an hour depending on how much at length we would discuss what came up that week and our goals.

So it was kind of a natural extension of that or I would suggest that you could probably choose another day for it or do one in the morning and one in the evening or you could do it over date night. Would actually be a really cool place to do it. So have a beautiful date night, set the intention and then take You know, 45 to 60 minutes to really do the State of the Union and see how it goes for you.

Like any tool or exercise or I guess initiative that I share with you on this podcast. Or as a life coach, you know, you need to adapt it to what works for you. And this may sit really well with where you’re at right now. And for others of you listening, you might be like, Oh God, I could never imagine my partner agreeing to this.

So maybe that in itself says volumes about, well, could you start with something a little bit more small?

Could you start with just the five appreciations for each other and a simple, what can I do to make you feel more loved?

Because I found that the state of the union, we did it a couple of times when we were having like, you know, it was, we were frustrated or one of us was a bit like, and it was really powerful because it allowed you to be heard and allowed you to speak your truth.

And do it in a way that wasn’t with malice or frustration or criticism, but just to really allow it because the other person was listening and not interrupting and really trying to understand from your perspective.

So it was incredibly powerful during those times as well as when things are going well. So we’d love for you to check it out. As I said, I’ll share the link over at lifepilot.co forward slash 11 and I hope you’ve enjoyed this relationship. edition of the LifePilot podcast.

Ayou may well have heard, we have six areas that we focus on in life pilot, which have been essentially proven over the years to be the most important to most people.

And these are what we have summarized into our methodology and tool. And these are lifestyle. So those are your hobbies, things that you enjoy doing travel, all the things around what makes it a great lifestyle events, retreats. There is growth, which can be around learning, personal development, et cetera.

There is relationships with yourself, with your loved ones, with your family, with your friends, even with your colleagues, et cetera. There is wealth. So that’s around your finances, your budget, your abundance. There is wellbeing. So that is around your both mental health, your physical health, spiritual health, even.

And there is work and work is around the work that you do for income and also impact. So that can also include volunteering. And this is the relationship section that we touched on today. And I hope that you enjoy mixing up and switching context between those areas and life pilot and me offering up tools or exercises or points of view or experiences that will help you.

To live your very best life and turn your dreams into reality. Thank you so much for listening, and if you’re listening to this on Apple or Stitcher or Spotify, please do if you’re enjoying it leave a little review for me Just let people know what you enjoy about this podcast. I would so appreciate that and value it so much


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About the Author

Natalie Sisson

I'm a serial entrepreneur, besotted Mum, best-selling author, speaker, podcaster and lifestyle design enthusiast. I'm all about showing you how to live life to the full, on your own terms and by design.

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