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Book Summary: The Five Core Conversations for Couples

The Five Core Conversations for Couples (2020) – Expert Advice about How to Develop: Effective Communication, a Long-Term Financial Plan, Cooperative Parenting Strategies, Mutually Satisfying Sex, and Work-Life Balance examines the five important topics every couple should talk about. It offers expert guidance on the core facets of a relationship that can help you strengthen yours.

Introduction: Learn the five fundamental topics to build a thriving relationship.

Can you imagine it? You’re 75, sitting on your front porch, holding your partner’s wrinkled hand, and telling them that you’ve made it. The two of you have successfully weathered the storm, and the only thing that can separate you now is death itself.

Isn’t that just a lovely goal to have? But how exactly do you turn that into reality?

Family therapist Julie Bulitt and her husband of 30+ years, divorce lawyer David Bulitt, hold the answer. In this summary, you’ll take a walk through the Bulitts’ five core building blocks of a healthy, long-lasting relationship. These are the deep conversations you’ll want to have with your significant other to work your way towards that old couple goal.

Book Summary: The Five Core Conversations for Couples

Core #1: Building and maintaining the connection

As soon as Sarah and Ron walked into Julie Bulitt’s office, she quickly noticed the palpable distance between them. Sarah appeared stiff right next to her husband, and Ron purposely sat down on the farthest chair from his wife. You could just see the stress etched all over their faces.

As it turned out, juggling full-time jobs and two kids meant they had no time for each other. In fact, they hadn’t spent quality time alone together for more than a year.

Julie advised them to schedule an activity they could enjoy as a couple, no kids or chores, just the two of them hanging out. It didn’t need to be a daily occurrence, but something they could both look forward to regularly. Sarah and Ron took this advice to heart, and when they returned to Julie’s office several weeks later, they were holding hands.

That’s one of the core pillars of a healthy and successful relationship: connection. You don’t just stop after forging a bond and committing to the relationship. Just like how a home needs tending to stay tidy, a relationship has to be maintained for it to thrive.

Unfortunately, more often than not, couples forget to put in the effort once they’re all settled down. They no longer work on themselves and the relationship. Then, when their disconnect begins damaging the relationship, they ignore it and hide behind the excuse that they’re too busy. They know it’s a problem, but they keep putting it on the back burner. They only start caring once it’s too late to repair the mess.

To avoid falling into that trap, it’s essential to keep in mind that a relationship requires ongoing attention and care. Maintaining a strong connection with your partner is what keeps the relationship alive.

And the best thing about it? It can be done in a variety of ways. There’s not just one way to connect with your partner. You can freely explore what works for you both.

It can be as special as going on weekly dinner dates or as simple as reading the morning news together without distractions. Even supporting your partner’s interests and doing something with your kid can count as connecting, too. It’s also important to talk about what acts of kindness you want your partner to do more, like complimenting you or picking up your dry cleaning.

Maintaining the connection also means learning how to deal with arguments. Remember that arguments lead to disconnect, and that’s the opposite of what you’re aiming for. Whenever you’re mad at your partner, communicate it instead of giving them the silent treatment. Don’t treat them as if they’re a ghost – that will just make things worse.

However, there are situations where it’s best to stay silent. If what you’ll say won’t change anything, it’s best to keep it to yourself. For instance, say you’re on a road trip and warned your partner not to drink too much water. They went ahead and did it anyway, and now they’re begging to stop at the next gas station. You could say, “I told you so,” but what’s the point? It’s not going to make them need to pee any less, so it’s probably best to just say nothing – and avoid any unnecessary drama.

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid pushing your partner’s buttons. Be mindful of how you criticize and correct them. And most importantly, when the going gets tough, don’t doubt for a second that you and your partner can handle it. If you believe in yourselves, you’ll be able to weather any storm.

Core #2: Money matters

Money can’t buy you love, but it sure can cause some major problems in your relationship if you don’t talk about it.

In fact, David Bulitt names “finances” as one of the four main reasons why his clients come to him. They haven’t been smart about money at all and it’s ruined their marriage beyond repair.

So, to make your relationship last, you need to sit down and have a chat about your finances as early as possible. This is especially important if you and your partner were brought up with different attitudes towards money. Having come from opposing backgrounds, you will likely spend money differently, too, and that can also affect your relationship.

That’s why it’s important to lay down the ground rules straight away. Discuss what you should and shouldn’t spend your money on. Admittedly, this can be challenging to do because there are just some situations where you’re torn between spending or not.

One instance is when your partner buys something for themselves, and then you feel the need to buy something for yourself, too. After all, there should be equality. But this can cause serious strain on your finances when money is tight. Instead of trying to aim for equality, aim for mutual understanding instead. Understand why they needed to buy it – and be accepting of their needs.

Another conflicting situation is when you see others buying stuff you don’t have. Imagine your neighbor just got a fancy new RV, and now you’re thinking, “Hey, I want one of those too!” Sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to treat your family to some road trip adventures, but let’s be real – jealousy doesn’t look good on anyone. Plus, your bank account might not be too thrilled with the idea either.

Finance discussions should also include the number of kids you want to have. Kids are expensive, so this should be decided from the get-go. And if you already have kids but regret having more than you wanted, don’t freak out. Just take it one step at a time. First, it’s important to accept those negative feelings. Then, start brainstorming ways to make up for lost time, like saving up for a girls-only trip to Vegas or a brand-new golf bag for your partner.

If you need to cut back on expenses over the course of the relationship, don’t simply cut them without consulting the other first. Remember that anything involving money should be a team decision.

Speaking of team decisions, always keep your partner in the loop on your financial situation. Give them an idea of how much joint savings you have, or how long until you pay off the family car. If it’s your partner who handles the finances, make it a point to ask about these things. It’s even better if you learn how to do your household finances, too. This way, you won’t be left in the dark.

Apart from identifying what to spend and what to cut, you should also talk about your partner’s spending habits that drive you up the wall. Don’t wait until you’re in a divorce lawyer’s office before you speak up – tackle them head-on. You might just find a compromise. Keep in mind that financial harmony goes a long way in keeping your relationship at peace.

Core #3: Parenting strategies

It’s often said that there’s no greater joy than becoming a parent. That may be true, but there are a whole lot of struggles that go along with it, too. That’s why to successfully navigate the ups and downs of raising kids, it’s essential to have open and honest conversations about parenting strategies.

One of the ways to keep your relationship in harmony while raising kids is to share responsibilities. When one of you is already frazzled by caretaking, tag in the other partner to take over. You can’t give your kids your best if you’re already running on empty. So secure some ‘me’ time to recharge – and pass the baton to your partner.

On the topic of responsibility, don’t be that parent who creates a disaster zone and then leaves. Say you didn’t pack your kid’s toys before going on a trip, and now they’re in a crying fit. You made the mess, so own that responsibility and clean it up.

But, easily one of the most essential parenting strategies is to always establish a united front. Discuss important rules, such as screen time limits or disciplinary actions. You should see eye to eye on things right from the get-go.

This helps you avoid situations where your kid says something like, “Mom agreed to let me have a sleepover,” or, “Dad said I could have two chocolates.” Without agreeing on these rules first, you and your partner will likely contradict each other.

Having a united front will also help you deal with all the crazy stuff that comes with parenting. Let’s face it, kids can be unpredictable. From dealing with addiction to navigating religious changes to managing mental health issues, you’ve got to have each other’s backs. At the end of the day, it’s all about teamwork.

Core #4: Intimacy and physical affection

If there’s anything hotter than good sex, it’s good communication about sex.

Almost all couples agree on how important intimacy is in a relationship. It’s what keeps the fire burning between two people in love. Sure, it may not be the only thing that holds a couple together, but it plays a massive part.

However, sex isn’t as simple as hopping into bed with your partner. There are things you need to talk about first. For one, each other’s sex drive. When one of you is ready to rock and roll while the other is ready to roll over and sleep, it can cause some serious drama.

That’s where compromise comes in – find a happy common ground where both of you can get your needs met. And if you have to turn down your partner’s advances, try sprinkling in some sweet words instead of just slapping down a hard “no.” That’ll be easier to accept.

Aside from sex drive, there’s also the challenge of keeping things exciting. If your routine starts to become dull, it may be time to mix it up. Watch a sexy movie, read steamy books, or use toys. Think of creative ways to get you and your partner in a good mood because sex isn’t just about what feels good physically but also emotionally. Just be sure that whatever gimmick you want to try, consider your partner’s concerns and feelings. Avoid engaging in things they’re not comfortable with.

Above all, don’t use sex as a weapon to punish your partner. If you’re angry or upset with your partner, don’t even think about holding out on them in the bedroom. It’s a surefire way to make things worse, not better. Talk it out. There’s nothing more effective than communicating your feelings.

Intimacy can also mean other things apart from sex. You can cuddle, give them a good morning kiss, or even just hug them before they go to sleep. The important thing is to show your partner some affection and show it frequently.

Core #5: Keeping the balance in the relationship

A seesaw’s no fun when you’re always on the ground. The same goes for your love life. If you want that relationship to go the distance, you have to find that perfect balance. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where both you and your partner feel like you’re on the same page.

That can look different in every relationship, though. Some relationships thrive on a balance of extreme emotions – they’re yelling at each other one moment and the next they’re clinging to each other like koalas to a tree. Others find more success in a more stable and steady approach, where emotions don’t run too high or low.

Balance in a relationship can also mean having more instead of less. While that sounds ironic, it’s actually healthy to have more of certain things. For instance, you should aim for more information – and less guessing. You should know the ins and outs of your partner’s life, from their work to their gym schedule. After all, trust is built on knowledge.

You might also need to give more attention to your partner. Whenever they talk about something, be present, and engage in the conversation. The topic may not be your cup of tea, but seeming interested in it will make your partner feel valued and heard. Sometimes, a listening ear is all they need to solve their problems, too.

Probably the most important “more” to have in your relationship is talking more about your feelings. You’re already aware of how crucial communication is, so practice being an open book to your partner.

Another way to keep the balance in your and your partner’s lives is to give each other some breathing room every now and then. While you might want to spend every waking moment with them, it’s important to maintain other social connections. It helps you stay grounded and brings fresh insights into your relationship. So, whether you want to plan a day at the spa with your friends or hang out with your buddies over some beers, go for it! And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can always go solo, too. Carving out some “me” time is never a bad idea – it’ll keep you feeling young and free.


There is no single secret formula to building a successful relationship. It’s composed of multiple important building blocks: connection, finances, parenting, intimacy, and balance. Mastering these core building blocks involves laying them out in the open and having conversations about them. You can never go wrong when it comes to honest communication.

About the author

David and Julie Bulitt have been married for 34 years. David is one of the premier DC Metro family law attorneys, having settled and litigated complex, high profile divorce and custody cases since 1986. Julie is a licensed clinical social worker with more than twenty years of experience working with children, teens, and families. Together they have four daughters, three grandchildren, and two dogs. They divide their time between suburban Washington, DC, and Bethany Beach, Delaware.


Communication Skills, Sex, Relationships, Marriage, Nonfiction, Psychology, Self Help, Conflict Management, Family Conflict Resolution, Love and Romance

Table of Contents

Introduction: Who Are We? Why Are We Here? vii
The First Core: Building and Filling 1
1 Connection is Your Lubrication 5
2 The Garage Will Get Dirty 8
3 Fix the Roof 11
4 Use Your Oxygen Mask 14
5 The RV 17
6 I Don’t Give a Shit about the Dry Cleaning 20
7 Silence Is Not Golden 24
8 It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It 27
9 If It Won’t Matter, Don’t Say It 31
10 I Think I Can, I Know We Can 35
Couple’s Kickstarters 38
The Second Core: Money, Money, Money 41
1 Fun, Fun, Fun till Reality Takes Your T-Bird Away 43
2 You Canceled My Newspaper? 46
3 Learn to Drive before You’re Sixty-Five 50
4 A Balance of Power 53
5 Don’t Wait for the Repo Man 56
6 Don’t Bank the Bitching 60
7 Harvard 63
8 Cash and Kids 66
9 The Swimming Pool 69
Couple’s Kickstarters 72
The Third Core: Parents and Partners 75
1 The Adoption Option 78
2 Pass the Trash 82
3 Voted off the Island 85
4 Make It, Take It 88
5 Jesus joins the Family 91
6 No One Sends You Dinner When Your Kid Is in the Psych Ward 95
7 Sticks and Stones 98
8 Addiction Finds Us 101
9 Ride in the Same Ambulance 104
10 Letters to Our Daughter 109
11 To Our Other Three 114
Couple’s Kickstarters 116
The Fourth Core: Bumping and Grinding 119
1 It’s Not a Budget Item 122
2 Tussies 125
3 That’s Not My Finger 128
4 Is That All There Is? 131
5 A Hitch in Your Giddyup 134
6 To Porn or Not to Porn 138
7 Is There Even Such a Thing? 142
8 I Don’t Need Another job 145
9 Two Minutes and a Tissue 148
Couple’s Kickstarters 151
The Fifth Core: It’s a Balancing Act 155
1 Costco 158
2 Cussing to Kissing 161
3 Assbook 164
4 More or Less 167
5 The Minivan 171
6 Bumper Cars 174
7 Stay out of My Tub 177
8 You’ve Got to Have Friends 180
9 Weekends Away 183
10 Ruby Slippers 186
11 The Best Chicken in the Pot I Ever Ate 189
Couple’s Kickstarters 192
The Takeaway: On and On 197
About the Authors 199
Acknowledgments 201
Index 202


A Top Divorce Lawyer and a Family Therapist Show You How to Really Talk—for Better or for Worse

Married for 33 years, David, a divorce lawyer, and Julie, a family therapist, have both been witness to families struggling with life’s most difficult challenges. At the same time, they have weathered their own challenges at home: raising four daughters, two biological and two adopted, and dealing with one child’s mental health and behavioral issues. What they’ve learned about saving a marriage or knowing when to call it quits, when to turn to professionals or when to try tough love, could fill a book—and it does.

The Five Core Conversations for Couples tackles every corner of relationships with the wisdom, knowledge, and best advice culled from David and Julie’s unique personal and professional experiences, organized topically into the five core reasons that people come to their offices. Topics include:

  • Disability
  • Abuse
  • Serious illness
  • Estrangement
  • And much, much more

Take a look inside the hearts and minds of two marriage professionals to gain a fresh perspective into your own relationships and to have valuable and more frequent conversations with those you love.


Review Rating: 5*****Reviewed By Romuald Dzemo for Readers’ Favorite

The 5 Core Conversations for Couples by Julie and David Bulitt is a non-fiction relationship guide that provides tools for couples to build effective communication, establish a long-term financial plan, create winning and collaborative parenting strategies, have a work-life balance and a mutually satisfying sex life. The authors have solid backgrounds that give them the authority to write this book. David is a divorce lawyer who knows from inside knowledge what married people go through while Julie is a family therapist. The authors draw on their personal experiences in raising their family to share the wisdom that will help couples find topics for meaningful conversations, handle the stress and challenges that accompany making difficult decisions, and reach deeper levels of success in marriage and intimacy. The 5 Core Conversations for Couples by Julie and David Bulitt is one of the best books I have read on relationships — practical and packed with wisdom. The authors explore important topics that address the key challenges many families are facing, including abuse, disability, poverty, estrangement, divorce, and parenting. The book provides answers to some of the questions that readers deal with: how can a couple create the balance that allows them to experience emotional, financial, physical, and psychological growth in their family? The book is written in a popular conversational and easy-to-read style. The 5 Core Conversations for Couples is a beautiful gift that couples need to have at the start of their journey. I could have avoided a lot of stress and the headaches my wife and I experienced had I read this book before our wedding.

Reviewed By Christian Sia for Readers’ Favorite

The 5 Core Conversations for Couples by Julie and David Bulitt is a book whose purpose is succinctly captured in the subtitle: Expert Advice about How to Develop Effective Communication, a Long Term Financial Plan, Cooperative Parenting Strategies, Mutually Satisfying Sex and Work-Life Balance. This is a book that deals with the kinds of conversations that couples need to have, especially if they want to create a long and strong relationship. The authors observe that “…there isn’t one simple rubric of questions to ask before embarking on a committed relationship. There are general questions you can ask, but each couple needs to also figure out his or particular deal breakers, whether it’s money, sex, kids, or in-laws.” So, how can they ensure that they stay together and weather the storms together? This book offers strong insights and tips on how to lay the foundation for a solid relationship.

This groundbreaking book is written by two people with solid backgrounds and a lot to share. Julie is a licensed Clinical Social worker who doubles as a private therapeutic consultant for family and couples while David is an experienced and reputable divorce lawyer. It is interesting to see how the authors bring their professional and personal experiences into the book, providing practical advice on key and sensitive topics like disability, illness, estrangement, abuse, and a lot more. This book is one that anyone should read before making a long-term commitment to marriage because it contains suitable material for family planning and setting relationship goals. The 5 Core Conversations for Couples by Julie and David Bulitt is very informative and engaging, filled with insights and wisdom.

Reviewed By K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite


The 5 Core Conversations for Couples is a work of non-fiction in the relationship/self-help genre which is aimed at adult couples and was written by author duo Julie and David Bulitt. The book is written to serve as a guide for couples who intend to build a strong and healthy relationship by having honest and difficult conversations at an early stage. Focusing on communication between partners, the book gives insight from its highly qualified authors on how to navigate the hurdles that couples must jump together to keep their relationship fulfilling and rewarding for both partners. What results is a fulfilling read that is sure to inspire confidence for couples tackling their issues head-on.

Author duo Julie and David Bulitt have really hit the target with this series of intense but accessible hot topics that can serve as the strong foundations of any relationship as it moves towards a serious future. One of the most endearing things about this guide is the level of personality and personal experience which the authorial couple has put into their delivery and development of the text, as their own professional and personal lives are offered up with honesty and the wisdom of hindsight. This makes for a strong dual narrative that speaks of hard work, passion, and honesty, and it makes some of the more distressing subject matter in the work a lot easier to take on and engage with as a result. Overall, The 5 Core Conversations for Couples is a must-read for any couple who feel they need stability and deeper mutual understanding in their lives.

Review Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed By K T Bowes for Readers’ Favorite

There are a lot of favorite quotes in The 5 Core Conversations for Couples by Julie and David Bulitt and I marked a fair few. I love this one: ‘The concept of making a connection is soaked into our relationship blanket. The word itself is thrown and tossed around–and not just on TV–without much thought about what it means to make a connection, and what it really represents in terms of developing and maintaining a relationship.’ It represents just one of the genuine nuggets of wisdom hidden in this helpful toolbox for couples.

There were lots of sections in the book which struck home for me in my marriage of almost three decades. David and Julie Bulitt do an insightful job of highlighting the trigger points in most relationships and walk through each with painful honesty. They share personal stories and situations which cut very near the bone and I’m not sure I could be so brave. Coming from the perspective of an experienced family therapist and a divorce lawyer, the Bulitts have the market sewn up and yet their advice is strangely familiar. There are so many ‘aha’ moments hidden in the pages of this book, which will quickly become a handbook or instruction manual for living as half of a successful couple.

‘”It didn’t take a heart-to-heart chitchat to know how you were feeling. I knew that when I saw my putter bouncing into the neighbor’s yard,” David points out.’ There were so many points in this book which found me laughing out loud. The situations are so raw and real that it will appeal to anyone looking for self-improvement. It’s the kind of workbook that can be read individually or as a couple and targeted questions at the end of each section force the reader to think about making the necessary changes. The 5 Core Conversations for Couples by Julie and David Bulitt is written as a conversation between a man and wife team and is hugely effective in providing a safe place to learn and grow.

“An insightful, often funny and painfully honest guide to navigating rough patches in relationships.”-KIRKUS REVIEWSA married couple talk out their differences, travails, and humorous foibles in this rollicking self-help book. David Bulitt, a divorce and family lawyer, and his wife, Julie Bulitt, a social worker and family therapist, have a series of bantering conversations in this text that draw on anonymized case studies of their clients and episodes from their own marriage of more than 30 years to back up their pointers on improving one’s relationships and family life.

They explore five themes: building a solid partnership; dealing with monetary issues, such as their own periods of overspending, financial crisis, and austerity; work-life balance; parenting, including their own experience raising a troubled daughter; and sex, a topic that provokes some acerbic exchanges over the course of the book. Via these dialogues, they convey straightforward, sensible wisdom, stressing the importance of communication, facing problems head-on, and being attentive to the needs of one’s partner.

The Bulitts couch their advice in homely metaphors–“Your relationship garage gets cleaned and swept by spending time with your partner, doing nice things for him, talking to her, and at least now and then, having sex with each other”–and raw confessional moments: “I was tired and wanted to sleep,” Julie recalls of times when she rebuffed David’s advances. “But Mr. Selfish Boner-Head made me feel guilty, like I was shortchanging him somehow.” For the most part, though, their conversations often play out in snappy repartee worthy of a screwball comedy, as when she says, “Tell me I look good, that you think I’m sexy; you’re attracted to me. It’s not all that complicated,” and she kids, “You want me to lie.” Other passages earnestly reveal the authors’ self-lacerating anguish over their daughter’s destructive behavior: “when a parent says that they will ‘always be there for you no matter what,’ it might be a lie.”

Overall, the Bulitts’ vivid, captivating prose and willingness to open up about their shortcomings and setbacks make their advice engaging and credible.

An insightful, often funny, and painfully honest guide to navigating rough patches in relationships.

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