Maybe it was the lockdown during the pandemic...but interest in Gottman card decks, couple games, and relationship games for couples, in general, has skyrocketed.
I am a huge fan of relationship games and card decks for couples.
I firmly believe they are the perfect wedding or anniversary present because they are fun, affordable, and can effectively build intimacy.
I thought it might be fun to buy some of the top-selling card decks on Amazon, and take a critical look at what’s being offered.
Instead of ranking them, I’d like to talk about what I noticed and what I think you, gentle reader, might be most interested in learning.
The costs vary from deck to deck but my sole financial involvement with this blog post was the $190.30 that I used to purchase the following decks...I do not have any affiliation agreement with these retailers.
The Gottman card deck
No one has done more to popularize couples’ questions games than the Gottman Institute.
The Gottman card decks are still available for purchase in physical card decks but are now additionally available as a free sample from the Apple and Google app stores.
If you follow this link for "Gottman Card Decks" in your app store, you’ll be able to download the app for free!
When you download the Gottman card deck app, you’ll have access to a sample of the Gottman card decks from more than 1,000 couples questions on individual virtual “cards.”
What I really like about the app is that you can “star” a favorite card, and tab back and forth between accessing All questions, as well as your favorites.
They make the Gottman card deck app fun and easy to use. For example, if you shake your phone you’ll see a random card.
Gottman Card Decks have a Science-based focus
There are distinct Gottman card decks in the Gottman card deck app that offer couples relationship questions that make you think, and dive deep into specific topics:
- Love Maps: Learning about your partner's inner world and daily life. What are their hopes? Dreams? Goals? This card deck will help you discover your partner's love map.
Exploring love maps is a fun and easy way for partners to connect and deepen their understanding of one another. In his book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman developed a question game for couples that seems to have inspired the creation of Gottman Card Decks.
Gottman’s main goal in developing his card decks was to help couples build richer love maps.
What’s a Gottman love map?
Gottman discovered that the happiest couples are continuously mindful of their partner’s world. They understand the stresses, concerns, aspirations, and goals of their spouse.
Gottman found that this rich understanding of one another’s world is a hallmark of happy, connected couples.
Here are some of the most popular Gottman decks used by couples at all stages of their marriage:
- Rituals of Connection & Opportunity: Ideas for creating new relationship rituals for parting, coming together, reducing stress, and staying connected while living insanely busy lives. Opportunity questions explore possibilities for novel experiences to consider doing together. These questions will invite you both to turn toward one another.
- Salsa (Mild, Medium, Hot): Not one...not two...three separate decks with bold suggestions and activities for "spicing up" your sex life.
- Expressing Needs, Great Listening & Expressing Empathy: Empathy is a misunderstood need between spouses. This card deck will help you both to express greater empathy and compassion with one another.
These cards will also help you to explore one another's needs and wishes.
Many of these questions will help couples understand and validate one another's perspectives.
Here are some Gottman card decks that are more specific in the areas of married life that they explore
- Couples and Addictions Recovery. Some issues are less fun to talk about, but the way back is clearly illuminated by scientific research. It’s critical that spouses support each other in this problem. The science-based Gottman Couples and Addictions Card Deck is an essential tool in recovery.
- 52 Questions after 50. What family issues will you confront in your later years? How will you deal with health concerns for your aging parents? Are you struggling with downsizing? Do you want to go back to school and learn something new?
- 52 Questions before Marriage or moving in. In this Gottman card deck, each card asks one or more questions on how romance, your social life, work, and finances will be impacted by living together.
- 52 Questions before baby. Here are the essential questions you’ll need to ask each other before a baby challenges your existing routines (and potentially upends your lives).. In this powerful Gottman card deck, each card asks fundamental questions about the transition to parenthood might impact your lives.
The Gottman card decks have wonderful “couple questions” and invites you both to be more creative and playful in your conversation, while deepening your emotional bond.
Men often struggle with intimate conversations. This is often because many tell me that they didn’t get much practice in their family of origin.
These cards are a great way for men to become more comfortable and curious about sharing thoughts and feelings with their partner. Very giftable.
Deeper Connections by VNS relationship game for couples
While Gottman’s card decks have targeted themes for improving love maps and decks couples in specific stages in a relationship, many competing decks don’t. The Deeper Connections deck takes a broader approach.
Deeper Connections cards have questions that tend to cast a wider net compared to Gottman’s often more narrow focus.
The Deeper Connections couple game questions can be used by couples at any stage of their relationship. They make it clear this is a deck for positivity and fun...regrets and complicated emotions are off the agenda.
This is a deck for creating fun bonding moments and rich positive conversations.
The rules are simple. Give the cards a good shuffle and take turns drawing from the pile. one partner reads the question, and both answer. There are 200 cards in 4 distinct categories (Relationship, Past, Personal, and Miscellaneous).
The Deeper Connections card deck has a relentlessly positive approach to fostering rich and intimate conversations.
The Deeper Connections by VNS card deck offers 200 questions for couples to strengthen their emotional intimacy.
As I opened the very attractive Deeper Connections box, I was confronted by a quote devoid of irony:
Love is a game that two can play and both win. Eva Gabor
So if any of Eva’s 5 ex-husbands want to process their complicated feelings...they’ll just have to use some other card deck.
This is an interesting deck. Very giftable.
Couple Connect by Life Sutra couple questions game
The Couple Connect by Life Sutra relationship game for couples was developed for the target audience of relatively new couples who have been together for 5 years or less.
The author, Dr. Tania Sharma, Ph.D., CRC, has a strong background in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and mindfulness, and it shows in some of her questions like this one:
Suppose there was an artificial intelligence device in your house. This device routinely picks up data about the quality of your relationship. It also gave you suggestions to fine-tune your relationship every month. Can you “guess” what some of those suggestions might be?
This is a brilliant re-imagination of the famous “Miracle Question” that is such a staple of modern therapy.
The Miracle Question is a profound ‘thought experiment’ and a creative way to tease our worthy clinical goals.
What makes the Miracle Question so compelling is that it invites the client to pretend (under fanciful circumstances)that their life has already dramatically changed for the better and notice with great specificity what is different.
Here is the Miracle Question as written by Steve DeShazer
Imagine that tonight as you sleep a miracle occurs in your life. A magical momentous happening that has completely solved this problem and perhaps rippled out to cover and infinitely improve other areas of your life too…
Think for a moment and tell me… how is life going to be different now? Describe it in detail.
What’s the first thing you’ll notice as you wake up in the morning?
This line of questioning focuses on what will happen after the problem is dealt with – focusing on an ardently desired “instead”...a compelling new future supplanting the undesired present.
The Couple Connect Card Game offers a fun and effective way to rekindle the spark in your relationship.
Dr. Sharma did an excellent job crafting good questions based on scientific principles. She also drew on her experience doing couples therapy. The categories of the cards are:
Do, Act, & Experiment. These cards are direct behavioral prompts designed to increase awareness and acceptance of one another’s differences.
Talk, Connect, & Share. Relationships are strengthened by thoughtful, open conversations. These cards do a great job, without dodging more complicated feelings. Here is an example:
Sometimes we create and cling to a virtual image of our partners in our minds which is way off from reality. Did you ever create such a virtual fantasy world in the past with your ex-partner? How did your bubble burst?
If you’re a relatively new couple, and you want a good relationship game for couples, I strongly recommend Couple Connect by Life Sutra for other reasons as well.
Besides being research-based, Life Sutra donates 10% of its income to local food banks. With every couple’s question game purchased, you get to feed hungry American children!
Better questions come from better clinicians. I am a fan of the Couple Connect by Life Sutra couple questions game.
A great gift for couples!
Affection, a Couples Game by Lulu couples questions game
Affection, a Couples Game by Lulu is a couples’ card game for any point in a relationship. It’s designed with light, fun questions, as well as more thoughtful relationship conversation prompts.
I like the way the Affection deck, like the Gottman decks, runs a gamut from playful, to thoughtful, to intimate. While Gottman is more categorically specific than the Affection deck, I like how the Affection deck easily moves between exploring happy memories, closely-held values, and aspirational relationship goals.
Affection has questions in 7 categories:
Intimate. These couple questions focus on emotional intimacy.
One Thing, Go. These questions are designed for a quick blurt of an answer. Take the first thing that pops into your mind and share.
Looking Back. These couple questions reminisce of fondly shared memories but also reflect thoughtfully on past experiences.
Moving Forward. These aspirational questions invite couples to share visions of an ideal future.
Game of Truth. These couple questions explore intimate and meaningful thoughts and feelings.
Playful. These are silly questions that encourage playfulness and acceptance.
The Wild Card. There are some excellent exercises that are directive and operate outside the game. Like Dr. Sharma’s Do, Act, & Experiment cards, the wild cards in the Affection deck are based on sound, science-based couples therapy principles.
Affection, a Couples Game by Lulu is another great couple game card deck. A great gift for couples!
Love Languages by Fluytco relationship game for couples
The Love Language by Fluytco couple question game gets points from me for saying out loud that their questions are not hetero-normative... but that is true of all of these decks.
While there is no particular therapist credited as the author, the Love language card deck was clearly designed with ideas gently lifted from science-based couples therapy.
The Love Languages Deck has no apparent connection to Gary Chapman or his popular 1992 book, the Five Love Languages.
The cards are divided into 5 categories; Family, Sex & Intimacy, Couple, Individual, and Past & Future.
Like other card decks, shuffling the cards to boost question variety is encouraged.
One caveat on the sex and Intimacy questions. They are quite blunt. This is a deck that some couples might prefer to use privately, and not with other couples.
Are these Card decks games? Or questions? Can we use them with our friends?
Researchers have studied how couples actually use the decks, and it’s clear that the questions are the focus. Most couples simply take turns and tend not to focus on specific game rules.
Consequently, most manufacturers have suggested game “rules” lightly. They’ve also noticed that younger couples will sometimes play with their friends.
A good rule of thumb is to familiarize yourself with the deck you’re using before diving cold into a new deck with your friends.
Why am I talking about this?
There have been some negative comments on Amazon about some of the questions found in the Love Language card deck.
A Couple on Amazon complained about “harsh questions about our past. It brought up old flames, past relationships, including sexually-related questions regarding other people, and definitely raised some eyebrows.”
Critics have a point about the Love Language relationship game for couples.
For conflict-avoidant couples some of their questions make better land mines than couple questions.
Here are a few questions that some couples feel are a bit over the top and don’t belong in a card deck designed to build intimacy.
- What are you most hesitant to tell me?
- What’s the angriest you ever felt toward me?
- How would you react if your child hit you?
- What do you hate the most about my parents?
Because of the unexpectedly edgy nature of the questions in the Love Languages Deck...it wouldn’t be my first choice as a gift for couples.
Deeper Connections vs. Love Language card deck
While the Deeper Connections card deck takes extreme care to craft positive questions, the Love Language deck might be a little too provocative for some couples.
On the other hand, one of the most common complaints by couples who bought more than one card deck was a repetitive sameness of questions...this is obviously less true of Love Languages.
I’m sure that many couples will welcome the challenge and seek this unusual deck out...but other decks are safer bets as gifts.
Our Moments Couples Edition couples questions game
Our Moments Couples Edition is a compact little card deck that emphasizes simplicity and portability. I like the fact that they have a mission statement:
We help couples, parents, children, and families to re-connect, better communicate and improve their relationships, one conversation at a time.
This card deck has no categories. The cards are small in size, and some of the 100 questions in this little deck are as curious as they are clever:
If you could choose your own life obstacles, would you keep the ones you have?
What do you value most: free time, recognition, or money?
What’s one dream you’ve tucked away for the time being?
I really like the Our Moments Couples Edition Card Deck, and their commitment to inspiring excellent conversations in marriages and families.
What makes Our Moments such an interesting company is that they also produce family-oriented card decks, such as the Our Moments Kids edition: 100 Thought-Provoking Conversation Starters for Great Parent-Child Relationship Building.
Their emphasis is on simplicity and asking compelling questions makes this a great relationship game for couples...and their kids too!
This card deck series is a wonderful gift for both couples and their families.
Intimacy Deck by Best Self relationship game for couples
The Intimacy Deck by BestSelf is an attractive set of 150 questions segmented into 6 categories; Past, Random, Life, Relationship, Intimacy, and About You.
This is a popular, well-reviewed card deck.
As with other card decks, some long-term couples with prior card deck experience may feel less challenged because many decks tend to ask the same predictable questions.
A number of couples who have bought more than one deck, have complained about the overlap of questions when a card deck doesn’t have the clear focus of the Gottman card deck.
However, if you’re looking for a couple, The Intimacy Deck by Best Self is also a solid, highly rated relationship game for couples.
Some card decks by couples therapy thought leaders may not be what you expect...
Because of their rising popularity, I expect to see more couples therapy thought leaders offering their own version of a couples card deck.
You’ll have to be careful here because it might not be what you’re looking for.
For example, Esther Perel is a well-known couples therapy thought leader. Esther has designed a new card game, Where should we begin?
At $40, it’s a bit pricey compared to the other decks...and it focuses on helping people cope with persistent anxiety and uncertainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s too early to tell if Perel’s card deck will be an effective tool to combat “social atrophy.” But as a potential gift for couples, it’s a bit of a downer.
Storytelling is the bedrock of neurotypical human connection.
Another reason why Perel’s deck might not be what you’re looking for is that the intention behind her card game is to promote connection with all intimate others...including platonic relationships.
Her intent was to create a card deck that acknowledges our collective emotional disconnect (romantic and platonic) due to the impact of COVID.
I have to disclose, in all fairness, that I did not purchase this particular card deck.
But I read all the available reviews and promotional material which describes its use for up to 6 players.
I feel Perel’s deck may be a bit off target for many couples seeking a conventional deck...it would probably not be my first choice as a gift.
How the Gottman card deck and other decks build intimacy
What I like most about the Gottman card deck, and other relationship card games for couples is they’re an effective low-tech or no-tech way to support and encourage intimate conversations.
We all need to put our phones down and our laptops away from time to time. It helps when we turn toward one another and ask interesting questions.
I think that the decks that emphasize clinical research (i.e. Gottman and Couple Connect, and others) would probably work best for couples actively engaged in science-based couples therapy.
Many therapists use the Gottman card deck during their couples therapy intensives as a morning warm-up.
I think most couples could benefit by playing any of these relationship games on a weekly basis. That’s why I think most couple card decks make great anniversary or wedding gifts.
The Gottman card deck or other relationship games for couples can become an important part of your rituals. Regardless of the deck you select, get the most benefit by:
Keep your deck in a room where you both often find yourselves.
Some couples establish a ritual of engaging with their card deck on a regular basis. A routine of using the cards can promote deeper intimacy over time.
Have a strategic conversation about the topics and questions that are most meaningful for you. One of the key benefits of couple card decks is that answers tend to flow in paragraphs….and any good couples therapist knows that speaking in paragraphs without interruption to a spouse who is bestowing attention is a really good relationship habit.
Don’t be afraid to invest in a different card deck when your first deck gets a little stale.
Continue the positive habit of intimate conversations until your reliance on card decks wanes. Be available to your partner emotionally whenever they ask an intimate question. The best ability is availability.
Final thoughts on the Gottman Card deck and other relationship games for couples
In the wake of COVID, We have some repair work to do with many of our intimate relationships. It’s time to change the music that propels our Demon Dances.
Now that I’ve returned to conducting in-person intensives, I’ll be gifting the decks I bought to my intensive clients over the next few weeks.
I believe that couple question games such as the Gottman card deck, and some of the other relationship games for couples mentioned here can be a powerful tool in rebuilding our intimate relationships.
However, as much as I love relationship games for couples I’m more interested in teaching couples how to hold Generative Conversations and ask compelling questions on their own.
This is the deep work of emotional fluency in the aftermath of COVID.
I see couple questions games as an incredibly effective set of “training wheels” for deeper conversations.
But ultimately, any good couples therapist will work with you both to increase your innate curiosity and desire for connection. They’d also seek to gradually curb your reliance on external prompts,(such as card decks), to fortify your resilience as a couple.
Using card decks in couples therapy and at home, can help you learn precisely how to do that.