FINDING ‘8-COW MOMENTS’
‘Johnny Lingo’ Lesson Correlates with Studies on Love
Do Your Memories Make You Feel Cherished?
By Caralee Frederic, LCSW | Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter
My neighbor “Alexander” was smitten by his wife “Valeria” the first time they met. She had walked into his workplace in the U.S. with mutual friends while visiting from Argentina. For the next year, they corresponded via instant messaging several times a week. The catch: He was French and did not speak Spanish; she only spoke Spanish.
Not wanting to lose her interest, Alexander downplayed his lack of Spanish fluency. During their IM chats, he hurriedly and painstakingly translated her live chats into French by cutting-and-pasting her text into the Google translator webpage. Then, he did the reverse to send his response to her. Cut-and-paste. Cut-and-paste. It was tedious work.
When Alexander tells the story, he smiles and shakes his head as he relives the giddiness he felt during their IM chats. He had also worried she would misread his delayed responses, due to the cutting-and-pasting, as aloofness or disinterest. They have a good laugh about it now, and I get the feeling that the re-telling of their story by Alexander is a source of joy for both of them.
The story of their international courtship is part of the fabric of memories binding them together. Scientists who study love say the telling of your stories, or your shared history, is a critical element of the relationship.
SHARED HISTORIES HAVE POWER
At my church, members place high value on shared histories. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints participate in fast-and-testimony Sacrament meetings, Sharing Time in Primary, sharing-oriented teaching methods, family history networks, Family Home Evenings, date nights, and husband-wife councils. These are opportunities for us to tell our stories and add to our shared histories.
Science supports the human need for connection through shared histories. Researchers at The Gottman Institute, world renown for their studies on love, discovered that couples in healthy, long-lasting relationships had several things in common. Happy couples knew and told stories of their lives together, including times of struggle. And, while telling their stories, they focused on the connection, perseverance and joy of their experiences. They recalled the fun, silly, happy parts of their shared histories. Gottman therapists call this “glorifying the struggle.”
In the same studies, couples in broken relationships had difficulty recalling the details or positives of their shared history or family traditions, or their stories tended to focus on the negative details of the struggle itself.
Through shared histories — and the telling and reminiscing of them — we develop and sustain deep friendships. We are reminded that we are linked and united, and the memories stir within us feelings of happiness, trust, and commitment. Indeed, shared histories have the power to provide comfort and motivation to resolve conflicts.
I KNOW YOU
The sacred and relationship-sustaining nature of shared histories are evident in my work as a couples therapist. In times of conflict or dramatic change in a marriage, shared histories provide stability for the relationship. Furthermore, the telling of our shared histories teaches important relationship skills: the art of actively listening, empathizing and understanding.
A shared history is powerful because it provides context for our relationship. It says: “I know you and love you, and we are connected no matter what is happening around us.”
One exercise I do with clients in private counseling or couples at workshops is to guide them through the process of identifying and understanding their shared history. This involves developing “Love Maps,” which Gottman Institute founder Dr. John Gottman describes as part of your brain where you “keep all the relevant information” about your partner’s life, as well as your own life, and your relationship.”
According to the 2016 white paper, “Love Maps,” from The Gottman Institute, researchers studied couples after the birth of the first baby and found:
- 67% of couples experiences a decline in marital satisfaction, and
- Of the other 33%, half reported an improvement in their marriage.
The report says: “What caused the difference in satisfaction between these two groups? Love Maps. The couples whose marriages thrived after the birth had a deep understanding of each other’s worlds. The couples who didn’t start off with a deep knowledge about each other were thrown off course when they faced a dramatic shift in their lives.”
THE RELATIONSHIP’S LOVE MAP: 8-COW MOMENTS
There are two parts to building Love Maps. First, partners must add to the Love Map of their relationship. This simply means spending time together, creating fond memories, and being interested in one another. However, to really deepen the Love Map, the couple must then be able to identify, recall and re-tell cherished moments – similar to the way Valeria and Alexandria recall and re-tell the story of their overseas IM-chat. Remembering the story is just as important as creating it.
Valeria and Alexandria’s IM-chat story is what I call “8-Cow Moments” — the stories of when your partner made you feel valued and loved.
“8 Cows” is a term referencing the short film “Johnny Lingo,” produced by the LDS Church in 1969. It is a simple tale with a mighty message. In the movie, Johnny Lingo is a respected and successful Polynesian trader who returns to his home island to bargain for a wife. The woman he desires is Mahana, a timid and unkempt woman who is mocked by neighbors, and even her own father.
According to island tradition, a suitor and the woman’s father come to an agreement on the number of cows to be exchanged for her hand in marriage. Mahana’s father, Moki, says she is not even worth a single “three-legged cow” and that he would gladly pay Lingo a cow to take the girl off his hands.
On bargaining day, the married women in the village compare and brag about the number of cows their husbands had exchanged for them. Meanwhile, Moki’s plan is to ask for three cows with the hope that Lingo will at least give him one cow.
When Moki asks for three cows at the bargaining table, the onlookers erupt in laughter because, they say, she is not even worth one cow with sour milk.
But the dashing Johnny Lingo says: “Three cows. It is many. But not enough for Mahana. I will pay eight cows.” He then delivers eight cows to Moki. Johnny and Mahana wed, and immediately leave the island for a honeymoon and trading trip.
Upon their return several months later, the islanders are shocked by Mahana’s transformation into a beautiful, confident and gracious woman. Lingo explains to a friend that Mahana was his childhood sweetheart, and he wanted her to always and forever know that she was worth eight cows.
Couples should tell “8-cow” stories – those stories that make your spouse feel cherished – to each other, your children and friends. Can’t think of any? Ask your spouse. Better yet, engage in activities that create such nurturing memories, and identify them as such.
INDIVIDUAL LOVE MAPS: AHA MOMENTS
The second part of building a Love Map is the process of mapping out each partner – the key experiences that make you who you are, effect the way you will react to situations, and inspire you. Couples spend time asking and answering open ended questions to learn about one another.
You can start off with simple questions, such as “Name two of my closest friends,” “What was I wearing the first time we met?” and “What do I like to do on weekends?” Then, progress to asking things like “What stresses am I facing right now?” “Do I have a secret ambition? What is it?” “What is my life’s dream?” Take your Love Map even deeper by empathizing with your partner and honoring your partner’s responses, particularly his or her dreams.
Remember to make time to have these conversations often and regularly.
Countless times, couples report incredible “aha” moments after telling each other stories about themselves. Stories reveal their insecurities and dreams, explain quirky or harmful behaviors, and can make the listener see their partner in an even better light. Even a nonchalant comment about yourself can be especially meaningful.
Recently, a client revealed how he had overheard his wife of 22 years telling a friend how her father had put himself through college by working summers on migrant farms. He had lived in barracks with Mexican laborers and, at the end of the summer, his fellow workers would “pass around the hat” for him before he returned to school. They would ceremoniously give him the money and urge him to “stay in school” no matter what. This had surprised the husband because his wife’s family is not Mexican, while he is a third-generation American with roots in Mexico.
“This made me feel even more proud of my heritage and of her father’s determination to give her a better life,” the husband told me. “I just felt more connected to her. I can’t believe I had never heard that story before. That’s an important part of her history.”
Sometimes, startling discoveries during the Love Map-building process are key to overcoming serious conflicts. One couple, “Karen” and “Ike” told me that their first few Christmases together were tenuous. The husband would blow their meager income on expensive presents for his wife, friends and even strangers. He got downright obsessive over the details of wrapping paper and the Christmas tree. They were struggling students and the arrival of January’s credit card bills meant a fiery argument between them.
After attending a Gottman couples workshop, they learned about Love Maps, and decided to schedule time each month to simply sit and talk. During one of these long talks, the husband eventually shared the details of his mother’s death when he was a young boy. The mother had died in an accident a few weeks before Christmas. After the funeral, Ike’s family returned home and found a nearly floor-to-ceiling mountain of beautifully wrapped gifts from anonymous friends. “I loved seeing the presents. Our tears of sorrow turned to tears of hope, and even joy. We knew we had not been abandoned,” he explained. Christmas time, he said, still brought him memories of loss but also gratitude and so he wanted to make sure the holidays were special, especially for anyone who ached.
Said Karen: “He had never talked about that before. Now his Christmas frenzy made sense. I wanted to join him in his personal crusade to spread happiness and cheer during the Christmas holiday, and I decided to figure out a way to work it into our budget. For him, talking about the experience helped release some of the deep sorrow he still harbored. He was able to see reality more clearly, and even decided on his own that we could be giving without going overboard.”
BECOMING INTIMATELY FAMILIAR
Enhancing your Love Map involves becoming intimately familiar with each other’s worlds. Here are a few concepts to keep in mind while creating these maps and, thereby, a more intricate shared history:
- Ask Open-Ended Questions. Start by asking open-ended questions that prompt your partner to answer by telling a story about himself or herself. What kinds of friends did you have when you were a child? What is one of your favorite ways to be soothed? When have you felt the presence of God in your life? These kinds of conversations are an excellent way to spend Friday date nights!
- Repair When Necessary. Often, talk may turn toward more serious matters, such as experiences that have caused pain and mistrust. If your spouse shares a difficult story, listen without judgement and with empathy. If the relationship is in distress, working with a capable professional may be necessary so healing, rather than further harm, can take place.
- Develop True Intimacy. Enjoy the process of intimately getting to know one another on every possible level: mentally, emotionally and physically. Understand that these types of intimacies are intertwined. Gottman researchers confirmed what many have theorized: physical intimacy is “very much interrelated with intimate trust, friendship, and conversations that create emotional connection.”
CUTTING-AND-PASTING ONE STORY AT A TIME
For my neighbor Valeria, the story of her courtship is her “8-Cow Moment,” a reminder that Alexander truly desired her. For Alexander, the story transports him back to a time when all he wanted was to win over the beautiful woman who had walked into his life by chance.
The story tells the world: Valeria was worth Alexander’s year-long cut-and-paste and Google-translate work.
What do your stories tell each other? the world? What do they say about your relationship? Do you have 8-Cow Moments to stabilize your relationship during difficult times? Do you know each other well enough understand each other’s needs and desires?
My neighbors have been married for 15 years now and have three beautiful children. She is a supportive wife and doting mother. He hurries home from work each day to spend time with his children and Valeria. How to they communicate now? In their own hodgepodge Spanish-French-English dialect.
I call it the language of love – a language grounded in their Love Map and the shared history of their 8-Cow Moment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caralee Frederic, LCSW, has practiced as a private couples and individual therapist in Colorado, specializing in marriage and family counseling, for almost 20 years. Founder of Principle Skills Relationship Center, Caralee is also a Certified Gottman Therapist, presenter of ‘The Art and Science of Love‘ couples workshop, and a Certified Sexual Addiction Recovery Therapist.