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Nominated by About.com for "Relationship Blog of the Year" 2012 & 2013. The Gottman Relationship Blog provides practical tools and skills to strengthen relationships, all based on 40+ years of research performed by Dr. John Gottman.

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    Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. Vagdevi has over 25 years of experience as a therapist, consultant, and educator. She has also been a certified Gottman Couples Therapist and a certified Gottman Workshop Leader since 2006. She offers the Art & Science of Love Workshop for couples twice a year in Austin and has presented clinical trainings in the US, Canada, and India. For more info, explore her website: www.drvagdevi.com.


    How I Integrate Gottman Method Therapy and Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy in My Work With Couples
    By Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D. 


    (Editor's Note: In July of 2013, Dr. Sue Johnson, Dr. John Gottman, and Dr. Julie Gottman will join together for the first time ever to offer a powerful clinical training in Seattle, WA. Registration for The Johnson-Gottman Summit is now open.)

    In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, two pioneers in marital research on far ends of this continent were quietly gathering data on how to create happy lasting relationships. John Gottman and Susan Johnson’s work was initially known mostly among academic circles because in the clinical arena, clinicians were still afraid of doing couples therapy (Young, 2005). Gottman and Johnson’s research brought an unprecedented empirical foundation to what was often considered chaotic, unpredictable and thankless couples therapy work. Today Gottman and Johnson are considered two of the most influential figures in couples therapy, not just for academics but for clinicians as well (Meunier and Baker, 2012).

    The philosophical and technical differences between their approaches to relationship research and therapy have generated separate and passionate followers (Young, 2005). Both researchers have developed unique models of adult loving relationships, but from different points of view and different sets of data. As Johnson noted about Gottman’s research, “What I loved about it was that it stayed close to the data. It stayed close to the reality, the real reality.” (Young, 2005). Gottman gave us a science of healthy relationships from systematic longitudinal and observational research on couples not in therapy (Gottman, 2007). He focused on both couples in distress (the Disasters of Relationship) as well as couples in lasting, satisfied relationships (the Masters of Relationship). Susan Johnson, on the other hand, built her foundation of loving relationships on the theoretical framework of John Bowlby as well as thousands of hours of decoding and tracking couples therapy sessions (Johnson, 2008). So Johnson’s model is an empirical model of couples therapy. Gottman said of Johnson’s work, “This is it. This is really what is missing in cognitive behavioral therapy and behavioral marital therapy. It’s all so intellectual. It really isn’t looking at what is going on at a level of depth that really matters.” (Young, 2005).

    Along with his wife and clinician Dr. Julie Gottman, key to the ideation and creation of the method, Gottman brings a relationship skill building and existential lens while Johnson is firmly grounded in Attachment Theory. There are also differences in their view of couples therapy and the role of the therapist. The Gottmans warn against therapists becoming indispensable to the couple and encourages them to coach couples to manage their own physiology, conflict, or intimacy system (Gottman, 2007). Johnson uses the therapist as a “secure base” and encourages them to build a secure container in which the anxiously or avoidantly attached partner can take the risk of expressing vulnerable feelings and needs. There may be other differences that are not being noted here. The exciting frontier is not in their uniqueness or differences but their growing confluence and the ability to integrate both approaches in a seamless couples therapy that can benefit both clinicians and couples.

    Here is some of the common ground I see in Gottman and Johnson that allows me to flexibly shift from a relationship building to an attachment-oriented therapist as the couple’s emotional system requires.

    When a couple enters therapy with me, I begin with the Gottman program. The Sound Relationship House is a simple, practical, and aspirational model that every couple can understand and adopt with little resistance. Who doesn’t want the relationship that has a wonderful friendship base, tackles gridlocked and perpetual conflict with ease and humor, and a shared meaning system that inspires the best in oneself? The structured process of the Gottman assessment is reassuring, straightforward, and transparent. Couples appreciate being able to tell the story of their relationship, being heard separately and together, and being able to (sometimes in the late night glow of their private desktop light) fill out the surveys and conduct a private review of their relationship strengths and growth edges. The contracting process inspires hope as each strength is highlighted and celebrated and growth edges are reassuringly connected with specific skills they will learn within a reasonable period of time. Couples feel a sense of promise and relief as they walk away with their SRH magnets and a map of the journey they are going to take with me.

    And then the real work begins! Both Gottman and Johnson recognize the necessity of an emotional focus and the powerful influence of attachment histories, styles, and internal working models in adult intimate relationships. I might be helping the couple replace their four horsemen with the appropriate antidotes, but a part of me is tracking their negative emotional cycle. I watch the compelling, absorbing nature of negative emotions (Gottman, 2007) and the unresolved hurts and wounds (Johnson, 2008) that get in the way of being able to engage in respectful, mutually honest, and vulnerable conversations. I offer one spouse the practical information about criticism and contempt as he struggles to understand how to express his frustration while I simultaneously hear, validate, and explore the attachment needs and emotions of the other partner who is crying out to be acknowledged and connected with. I have the relationship science and simple language of Gottman in my right hand and a more emotion-focused dynamic and interpersonal toolbox in my left hand, and I weave both into the therapeutic process.

    Similarly, I help couples process an argument with the Aftermath of a Disagreement form and help them learn how to make their dialogues just a little bit better than the last time. At the same time, I look for the anatomy of the fight. Why was this particular argument more painful for the wife? Does her attachment history shed some light on her ability to let go of her protest anger? As they process the clearly laid out exercise and take the steps one at a time, the structure keeps the conversation safe and manageable while I use my skills as an attachment-oriented observer to help the withdrawn spouse re-engage a little bit, share some risky emotions, or I help the blamer soften their internal dialogue and reach out with tenderness.

    Sometimes the integration of Gottman and Johnson is more obvious as when I am working with bids and turns and helping a couple process failed bids. I know from both researchers that not all hurts are the same and that some emotional injuries can be traumatic when they trigger deeply held beliefs about the self, the other, and about intimate relationships. Gottman gives me the SRH theory to help the couple see the connection between the emotional bank account and the weather of the relationship and how the friendship base downregulates negativity, increases positivity, and increases intimacy, romance, and connection (Meunier and Baker, 2012). Johnson gives me the tools to repair a broken bank account, to take couples gently through the process of first acknowledging and then healing attachment injuries, and restoring the bond that once existed (Johnson, 2008).

    I do have to confess that the Gottman Method is my first love. His hands rest lightly on my shoulders and he paints the relationship landscape for me in a way that fits smoothly with the way I work. Johnson’s methods draw me into the turbulent waters of primary emotions that require more effort from me in order to stay afloat. But I am hopeful that the future of couples therapy is in great hands. I am excited that Gottman and Johnson are in dialogue about their ideas and I hope we will all be part of this evolving conversation.

    References:
    Gottman, J.M. (2007). Marital Therapy: A research-based approach. Training manual for the Level I professional workshop for clinicians. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute.
    Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little Brown and Company.
    Meunier, V. and Baker, W. (2012). Positive Couple Relationships: The evidence for long lasting relationship satisfaction and happiness. In Roffey, S. (Ed.) Positive Relationships: Evidence based practice across the world. Sydney, Australia: Springer Publications.
    Young, M.A. (2005). Creating a Confluence: An Interview With Susan Johnson and John Gottman. The Family Journal, 13(2), 219-225.

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    As we are all quite aware, Valentine’s Day has developed a negative (and controversial) reputation as an American holiday for its sentimentalism and commercialization. It is an especially sensitive topic in the field of relationship psychology. Despite its reputation, we at The Gottman Institute feel that it’s a great day to do something a little special with your partner, if you do it The Gottman Way! 

    Celebrating Valentine’s Day “right” is a source of stress for many couples. A deluge of advertisements pours down on us, beginning weeks before the holiday - many of them creating guilt-avoidance incentives for men to spend as much money as possible on their female partners. All of this marketing has made us feel that we suddenly need to conjure bouquets of roses, diamond rings, and “steak dinner with extra shrimp!” Unfortunately, the media attention grows over time, so that most of us end up feeling under a great deal of pressure by the time February 14th rolls around. 


    After much debate and consultation, we have developed "The Gottman Way" for celebrating Valentine's Day. We believe that the best gift you can give your partner is a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship. To help you do so, we have made our wide arrange of products (card decks, books, DVDs, and more) more affordable. Head over to our Facebook page for more information. Instead of dining at the most expensive restaurant in town, cuddle up on the couch with our Love Map and Open Ended Question Card DeckIf you wish to do something special, that's fine too! Most importantly: relax. This is the first step to enjoying the day. High expectations on Valentine’s Day are a source of conflict in many relationships, so if you wish to celebrate, do it in a way that is comfortable for both you and your partner.

    Reserve a table for two at an affordable restaurant, stay in with a much-loved movie and a bottle of wine, spend time asking each other open-ended questions, or do something else with your partner that the two of you can enjoy. Valentine's Day presents a perfect opportunity to establish a ritual of connection in your relationship. By returning to the same restaurant year after year, or by watching the same movie, you will form a lasting tradition that you look forward to. This tradition will also give you the opportunity to look back on your relationship and reminisce about years past, reminding you of how strong your bond has become.

    Visit our Pinterest account for other simple, cheap date ideas. Most of all, remember that Valentine’s Day is not about buying an expensive gift or planning the most extravagant date. These gestures are not only unnecessary, but are also likely to create a great deal of discomfort due to financial expectations. Valentine’s Day should not have you automatically reaching for your pocketbook – it should be a time to celebrate love with your partner. There’s no price tag on that.

    With that said, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the most important moments in a relationship do not occur on a single day. The real romance comes during the everyday, seemingly insignificant moments. Dr. Gottman speaks about these "sliding door moments" in this clip:



    Do you read the Sunday paper together or silently alone? Do you chat while you eat dinner? Romance grows when you know that your partner is having a bad day at work, and you take sixty seconds to leave words of encouragement on their voice mail. It is kept alive when your partner says, “I had the worst nightmare last night,” as you're heading out the door and you say, “I’m in a big hurry, but tell me all about it tonight,” instead of, “I don’t have time.” Couples who turn toward each other in these moments remain emotionally engaged and stay together. Work on the emotional connection every day, not just this Valentine’s Day, and your relationship will flourish as a result. 

    Wishing you love this Valentine's Day and always,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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  • 02/11/13--16:31: Announcement: The Research

  • We are excited to announce a brand-new series from The Gottman Relationship Blog! Over the next six weeks, The Research will chronicle the four decades of clinical research performed by Dr. Gottman with over 3,000 couples. While The Sound Relationship House Series offered you insights into Dr. Gottman’s theoretical models and gave you research-based skills to incorporate into your own relationships, The Research will examine exactly how these skills were developed. We will be selecting Dr. Gottman’s most influential studies from the past 40 years, explaining their hypotheses, procedures, and results in a comprehensible, easy-to-understand way.

    The Gottman Institute, The Relationship Research Institute, Gottman Method Couples Therapy, and Dr. Gottman’s numerous best-selling books all exist because of Dr. Gottman’s 40-year career as a research scientist whose methods and standards are as rigorous as those used by medical science. The data generated by Dr. Gottman’s research offer a scientifically-based glimpse into the anatomy of marriage and couples relationships. Most importantly, they provide us with factual, objective information that has contributed to the development of tools, methods, programs, products, and services dedicated to helping couples build stronger, happier relationships. 

    The Gottman Institute welcomes the opportunity to share the insight Dr. Gottman's research can provide the field of relationship study, and we hope this blog series will provide a greater level of detail and depth to your understanding of our work. In today’s posting, we would like to begin The Research by answering Frequently Asked Questions about Dr. Gottman’s research on couples:

    Q: Is Dr. Gottman really able to predict whether a couple will get divorced with 94% accuracy?

    Statements about the 94% accuracy rate of divorce prediction have become a source of confusion. People hear Dr. Gottman’s prediction rate is 90 or 85 or 94 percent accurate (depending on the study) and find it amazing, unbelievable, and downright scary. (He often tells his wife that this is why they don’t get invited to more dinner parties!) What Dr. Gottman is able say is that a particular couple is behaving like the couples that were in the group that got divorced in his 1992 study (Buehlman, K., Gottman, J.M., & Katz, L.), a study in which Dr. Gottman predicted with 93.6% accuracy which couples would divorce. Look forward to an in-depth explanation of this study in the coming weeks. 

    Altogether, Dr. Gottman has completed seven studies that explored what predicts divorce. These studies included three groups: 1) couples that divorced 2) couples that stayed together and were happy and 3) couples that stayed together and were unhappy. Dr. Gottman’s research helped him identify specific behavior patterns in couples that he later termed the “Masters” and “Disasters” of relationships.

    Although the predictive studies have been touted in the media, Dr. Gottman believes that it’s much more important to understand why certain actions increase divorce risk rather than to predict it. This enables Drs. John and Julie Gottman to design successful interventions. Their very high prediction rate suggests that they’ve hit upon a type of interaction or pattern of behavior that can make a couple vulnerable to divorce – and this sheds light on how best to intervene. 

    Q: How many divorce prediction research studies and general relationship studies has Dr. Gottman conducted with couples? 

    Dr. Gottman’s research work with couples started in 1972 and continues today. So far, he has completed 12 studies with more than 3,000 couples. Dr. Gottman’s divorce prediction research specifically (seven of the 12 studies) included 677 couples. These studies were completed at Indiana University, University of Illinois, and University of Washington. 

    Q: What research methods does Dr. Gottman use to study couples? 

    Dr. Gottman and his colleagues brought a multi-method approach to the measurement of couple processes. Methods include: 
    • Interactive behavior (Coding partners’ behavior and emotions as couples interact in various contexts) 
    • Perception (Self assessment through questionnaires, video recall, attributional methods and interviews) 
    • Physiology (Measuring autonomic and endocrine systems) 
    • Interviews (Oral history, meta-emotion, attunement) 
    • New questionnaires. 
    ________________________________________

    For more Frequently Asked Questions, please visit our FAQ page here. If you would like to research Dr. Gottman’s work for yourself, you can access all of his published articles here. Is there a specific study that you would like to see us highlight? Connect with us on Facebook and let us know! This will be our biggest undertaking to date on The Gottman Relationship Blog - we hope you'll join us.

    All for now,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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    Today we kick-off The Research series on The Gottman Relationship Blog with a study from 1976. Nearly 37 years ago, 
    Dr. John Gottman, Cliff Notarius, Howard Markman, Steve Bank, and Bruce Yoppi conducted a series of studies that investigated behavior exchange theory and reciprocity in positive and negative behaviors expressed between partners in distressed and non-distressed marriages.

    Exchange theory proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process. The purpose of this exchange is to maximize benefits and minimize costs. According to this theory, people weigh the potential benefits and risks of social relationships. When the risks outweigh the rewards, people will terminate or abandon that relationship.

    The researchers gathered two groups of couples – distressed and non-distressed, the former having rated their marriages as “experiencing difficulties” while the latter whose marriages were “mutually satisfying."

    In the studies, distressed and non-distressed couples made decisions on high and low-conflict tasks. They continuously coded both the intended impact of their own behavior on their spouse and the impact of their spouse's behavior on themselves. In Study 1, distressed couples did not differ from non-distressed couples on how they intended their behavior to be received. However, the behavior of distressed spouses was received more negatively by their partners than the behavior of their non-distressed counterparts. The couples in Study 2 also behaved in a way consistent with a communication-deficit explanation of distressed marriages; that is, distressed couples' behavior was likely to be coded by their partners as far more negative than they intended.


    In the end, the researchers concluded that the reciprocity hypothesis did not hold, reporting the data from the present investigation support a "bank account" model of non-distressed marriage rather than a reciprocity model. In a bank account model, a non-distressed marriage differs from a distressed marriage in that there are more positive "deposits" than negative "withdrawals” from the emotional bank account. In a non-distressed marriage, the consequent positive impact codes are not contingent upon the spouse's antecedent coding. Perhaps it is precisely this lack of reciprocity in a context of high positive exchange that characterizes stable positive interaction in non-distressed couples.

    The results of this study (along with many, many others), gave Dr. Gottman the tools with which to create the world-renowned Gottman Method Therapy, and to help couples to build their own
    Sound Relationship House. This particular study directly relates to building an Emotional Bank Account by taking the opportunity to Turn Towards your partner's bids for emotional connection in Sliding Door Moments. Look forward to Friday’s blog where we will show you how! 

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Hollywood has dramatically distorted our notions of romance and confused us entirely about what makes passion burn. While watching Ryan Gosling pour his heart out in "The Notebook" may make your heart pound, real-life romance is fueled by the ways in which you interact with each other in the little moments that make up your day. It is kept alive through a joined effort to stay connected. It is created each time you let your partner know that he or she is valued and loved by you.

    Romance does not have to grow in a boat carrying Ryan Gosling through tumbling waves and sea spray. It can also grow in a supermarket. It grows when Becky asks, “Are we out of bleach?” and instead of shrugging, her husband says, “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case!” It grows when Eric wakes up in the morning to say, “I had the worst nightmare last night,” and his girlfriend responds, “I’m sorry honey – I’ve got to run to work, but tell me a little bit about it now so we can talk about it more this evening!” instead of “I don’t have time, I have to go.” In one case, the partners respond to a bid with "turning towards," and in the other, they "turn away" - a choice that sends their mate a message about whether or not they are attentive, caring, supportive. These everyday moments can either be a source of stability or a source of stress. 

    In relationships, these seemingly unimportant moments are the ones which are most important of all. They force you to make a quick decision, often entirely unaware that it may play a role in determining the strength or weakness of your emotional connection! If you don’t pay attention to these little moments, your failures to turn towards each other build up, and you risk undermining the strength of your bond. Luckily, our research provides a strategy to avoid putting your relationship in jeopardy.


    We have discovered (from the research study discussed on Wednesday) that a major indicator of a couple's overall happiness is what we’ve come to call their Emotional Bank Account
    . Partners who characteristically turn towards each other rather than away are putting money in the bank. They are building up emotional savings that can give them a sense of peace and security when they go through hard times. Because they have stored up so much mutual goodwill, they are better able to make allowances for each other when conflicts arise. 

    Though it is challenging to always notice when your partner does turn towards you, out research has shown that taking the time to see the benefits of your work will pay off. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman describes a study in which couples were observed at home, noting that "happily married couples noticed almost all of the positive things the researchers observed their partners do for them...unhappily married couples underestimated their partners' loving intentions by 50 percent!"  

    If you regularly contribute to your Emotional Bank Account, you and your partner will both understand each other's intentions much better when conflict arises! Rather than interpreting each other's words as intentionally aggressive or negative, even when they are not meant that way, you will hear each other's message loud and clear: Though at the moment you may be arguing, you both know that you love each other, and that this momentary conflict is much, much less important to each of you than your relationship.

    Here’s Dr. Gottman on building an Emotional Bank Account:


    In Monday's posting, we will continue The Research series by offering an in-depth analysis of a groundbreaking research study on divorce prediction performed by Dr. John Gottman. 


    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff
     

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    In 1992, Dr. Gottman and two of his colleagues, Kim Buehlman and Lynn Katz, conducted a clinical research study which was to astonish the world of relationship psychology. Interviewing 52 married couples about the history of their relationships allowed the researchers predict which couples would separate or stay together 3 years later with over 94% accuracy. So, how were they able to do this?

    In the interviews, the couples described their first meetings, courtship, decision to get married, the good and bad times, their philosophy of what makes marriage work, and the way that their marriage has changed over the years. Afterwards, they made a brief visit to the lab, to have a 15-minute discussion about an area of conflict in their marriage, so that the researchers could see an example of the couple’s conflict style.

    The researchers focused on a particular a set of 7 variables in this study, to determine which were predictive of the success or failure of the relationships they observed. These variables were:

    1. Expression of fondness/affection
    2. Expression of negativity towards spouse
    3. Expressiveness vs. withdrawal
    4. We-ness vs. Seperateness (how much they identify as part of the couple)
    5. Level of traditionality regarding gender roles
    6. How couple reported dealing with conflict: Volatility, Chaos, or Glorifying the Struggle
    7. Marital Disappointment or Disillusionment

    Variables increasing likelihood of a couple staying together:

    • A husband’s expression of fondness towards his wife
    • Both the husband’s and the wife’s expression of we-ness
    • Expression of positivity or happiness in their marriage, especially on the part of the husband 

    The single most powerful predictor of divorce in this study was the husband's disappointment with the marriage, which, at the time of their interview, was significantly correlated with both his own and his wife's marital unhappiness, his belligerence towards his wife, and his wife's contempt and anger towards him. The husband's disappointment in the marriage was also correlated to his wife's faster heart rate during the marital interaction (increasing the likelihood of flooding).

    Couples who score high in the Chaos dimension may end up divorcing because of their approach to the continual unforeseen circumstances they find themselves in. Couples who score high on this dimension feel out of control of external events and usually do not know how to problem solve or get back on their feet. Instead, they just accept that life is hard and they continue to struggle to survive instead of growing closer or learning new ways to deal with life's problems. Unfortunately, the philosophy of passive endurance, that life is hard and there is nothing a person can do about it, does not help their marriage survive.


    On the other hand, couples who Glorify the Struggle have a better chance at staying together than couples who do not. These couples may be in the same turmoil as the couples who score high in chaos, but the difference is their perception of the hardships. Quotes like "Marriage is the hardest job in the world, but it is well worth it" demonstrate the couples' feelings of hopefulness and togetherness ("we-ness" in Gottman-speak). Glorifiers go on to tell in detail how certain traumas and intense experiences made them feel closer to one another. Hence marriages with this outlook on hardships grow stronger and get better as time goes on. Glorifying the Struggle correlates negatively with divorce because hope and commitment towards the other is stressed.

    This is a lot to think about. Luckily, you don’t have to slog through a slew of research studies in order to learn how to strengthen your own relationship! Our work at The Gottman Institute allows us to share the conclusions that Dr. Gottman has reached - so that we can give you the tools to create and maintain healthy, happy, and long-lasting relationships with your loved ones!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to give a warm shout out to all the readers who sent us positive feedback on Facebook about The Research series, and also recognize those who have shared our blog with others! Thank you! We are delighted to hear that you’re finding the postings both insightful and understandable - we will continue to share about the science behind the headlines for the next several weeks.

    We’ve received a number of requests to go into more depth on the study we shared on Monday. See more of Dr. Gottman’s findings below, and look forward to Friday’s blog posting, in which we will share the practical implications of this groundbreaking study on divorce prediction.

    In Predicting Divorce from the Oral History Interview (1992), Dr. Gottman and his colleagues found that the Marital Disappointment/Disillusionment dimension was the most powerful single predictor of divorce. This dimension attempts to capture how depressed, hopeless, or defeated a spouse may sound when talking about his or her marriage (or about marriage in general). In the interview, people who scored high in Disappointment/Disillusionment sometimes said that they didn’t know what makes a marriage work because all they’d seen or experienced were bad ones!

    While other couples were less blunt about their disappointment with marriage, they instead sounded disappointed or sad about specific aspects of their relationship. Some couples mentioned that they had unrealistic expectations about what marriage would be like. A number of participants in the study actually attempted to advise the interviewer about marriage, revealing their regret and displeasure with their own union.

    Both husbands' and wives' presence or lack of “we-ness” during an oral history interview is a strong indicator of whether a couple will divorce or not. The husbands and wives who are low on this dimension may not feel connected or intimate with their spouses. These couples are probably living parallel lives, in the same home, but never really deeply joining together any more. In extreme cases, spouses may blame each other for problems in their marriage to escape responsibility or to avoid talking about the problem as a couple.

    Many of those couples who score low in the “we-ness” dimension also admit to not being able to communicate with their spouse about their problems because they have such different viewpoints or perceptions. Many of these spouses will appear lonely or isolated because they are not able to receive support from their partners or from others (or feel that way). Sometimes one member of the couple being interviewed will score higher on “we-ness,” while the other emphasizes differences and and separation – a state of affairs implying lack of communication and mutual understanding dangerous to the future of the relationship.

    We hope that this has been thought provoking! Rest assured - at one time or another, all of us experience phases in our relationships in which we feel disappointed or disillusioned. This is normal. The key to addressing these feelings is communication and a mutual desire to make an effort to manage these problems, as well as the knowledge necessary to address the problems in a healthy, productive way. On Friday we will share some of these ways!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


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    As we discussed on The Gottman Relationship Blog this week, an Oral History Interview can tell researchers a lot about the future success or failure of a relationship, based on the measurement of variables such as Disappointment in Marriage and Expression of Fondness/Affection. 

    While Dr. Gottman’s 1992 study on divorce prediction was influential in a multitude of ways, there was one discovery in particular that has made a lasting impact on the way that we view relationships:

    A couple’s scores on the “we-ness” dimension were greatly correlated with the function of their fondness and admiration system. 


    After all, this makes sense: if you and your partner feel like a team, you are more likely to have a healthy approach to problem solving, and transitively less likely to experience disappointment in your marriage.

    For couples in crisis, the best test to measure the strength in their fondness and admiration system is to focus on how they view their past. If your marriage is in deep trouble, you’re unlikely to elicit much praise from each other by asking about the current state of affairs. Talking about the happy events of the past, however, helps ma couples reconnect. If you revive fondness and admiration for each other, you are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team, and the growth of your sense of “we-ness” as a couple will keep the two of you as connected as you felt when you first met!

    Below is a questionnaire designed by Dr. Gottman to help you rediscover your fondness and admiration for each other. Completing this questionnaire will help you to remember the early years of your relationship - how and why you became a couple.

    Note: Your marriage doesn’t have to be in deep trouble to benefit from this exercise. By focusing on your past, you can often remember and reconnect with your history of positive feelings!


    You will need a few hours of uninterrupted time to complete this exercise. You can ask a close friend or relative to serve as interviewer or you can read the questions out loud and talk about them together. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions - they are merely meant to assist you in recalling the love and perspective on marriage you have had in the past.


    The History of Your Relationship:


    1.     Discuss how the two of you met and got together. Was there anything about your partner that made them stand out? What were your first impressions of each other?

    2.    What do you remember most about your first date and the period of your new relationship? What stands out? How long did you know each other before you got married? What do you remember of this period? What were some of the highlights? What types of things did you do together? 

    3.     Talk about how you decided to get married. Who proposed and in what manner? Was it a difficult decision? Were you in love? Talk about this time. 

    4.     How well do you remember your wedding? Talk to each other about your memories. Did you have a honeymoon? What was your favorite part of the wedding or honeymoon? 

    5.     Do you remember your first year of marriage? Were there any adjustments you needed to make as a couple? 

    6.     What about the transition to parenthood? What was this period of your marriage like for the two of you? 

    7.     Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as the happiest period in your relationship? When was a good time for you as a couple? Has this changed over the years? 

    8.     Many relationships go through periods of ups and down. Would you say this is true of your marriage? Can you describe some of these low and high points? 

    9.     Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as really hard times in your marriage? How did you get through these rough periods? Why do you think you stayed together? 

    10.   Have you stopped doing things together than once gave you pleasure? Explore this idea together and discuss why you stopped.



    Remember, this exercise is not meant to be a quick-fix, one-time solution to any problems in your relationship! Considering and discussing some questions in this exercise from time to time may be enough to salvage and strengthen your fondness and admiration for each other over time – to remind yourselves of the things you find wonderful about your partner, and to remember to cherish each other through the years.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    From 1980 to 1983, Dr. Gottman and his close friend and colleague Dr. Robert Levenson worked together to study the physiological and affective predictors of change in relationship satisfaction. Physiological predictors (like heart rate, pulse transmission, and skin conductivity) were observed and measured as levels of physical arousal in subjects, while affective predictors were observed in behaviors indicating the presence of various emotions and mood states. In this study, Drs. Gottman and Levenson sought to discover which physiological and affective cues could be used to predict the change in a couple’s relationship satisfaction over a span of 3 years.

    In 1980, 30 married couples were recruited by newspaper advertisement and were scheduled for three laboratory sessions. The first session was scheduled for a time when the couple would not have spoken to each other for at least 8 hours. This session consisted of two 15-min conversations, each preceded by a five minute pre-interactional baseline during which they sat in silence. In the first conversation, the couple was asked to discuss the "events of the day" as if they were home alone at the day's end. 

    In the second conversation, they discussed a conflictive problem area in their marriage. In the second and third sessions, each spouse returned separately to view the videotape of the first session's interaction. A continuous rating of affect was obtained by having the spouse manipulate a rating dial that traversed a 9-point scale (anchored by very negative and very positive on the extremes and by neutral at the center). Spouses were instructed to adjust the dial as often as necessary so that it always reflected the way they felt during the interaction. A laboratory computer monitored the position of the dial continuously and calculated an average every 10 seconds.

    Four physiological measures were obtained from each spouse during the first session's baselines and interactions: (a) heart rate, measured by the interbeat interval (IBI); (b) pulse transmission time (PTT) to the finger; (c) skin conductance level (SCL); and (d) general somatic activity (ACT), a global measure of bodily movement. The laboratory computer monitored these physiological variables continuously, averaging them every 10 seconds.

    In 1983, the researchers were able to make contact with 19 of these couples to determine the change in their relationship satisfaction over the preceding 3 years. 

    Their Findings:

    A broadly based pattern of physiological arousal (in both spouses) in 1980 was found to predict decline in marital satisfaction - the more physiologically aroused the couple was during the 1980 interactions, the more their marital satisfaction declined over the following 3 years.

    Several affective variables also predicted decline in marital satisfaction, including a pronounced gender difference in negative affect reciprocity: Marital satisfaction declined most when husbands did not reciprocate their wives' negative affect, and when wives did reciprocate their husbands' negative affect.

    In other words, couples grew less satisfied in marriage if wives responded to their husbands being upset, and their husbands DID NOT respond to their wives being upset.

    Wait, what?


    Drs. Gottman and Levenson discuss these surprising findings at length in their study, which you can read for yourself here.

    To save you some time, we have summarized their thoughts below. The evidence points to the following reasons for such results:
     


    • In dissatisfied marriages, husbands tend to withdraw emotionally (stonewall) in negative interactions while wives remain emotionally engaged. Men also show less affection while women continue to demonstrate affection.
    • The experimental data indicates that a husband’s emotional withdrawal in dissatisfied marriages is pervasive. As the husband begins to become withdrawn from his wife, she shows more negative affect. One might consider this dichotomy to be a sign of his wife’s initial attempts to coax her husband back into the relationship.
    • The wives in the study appeared to be more attuned to the quality of emotional interchange. As marital satisfaction declined, the interaction between the couple appeared to reinforce the behaviors specific to each partner. The husband’s stonewalling made the wife more dissatisfied, her negative affect increased, in turn making her husband feel less satisfied with the relationship. 

    Once this vicious cycle has begun, it is difficult to stop. This all sounds pretty bad. We know. But there’s no cause to fret! Fortunately, Dr. Gottman’s decades of research following this study have allowed him to develop methods that you can use to avoid this cycle entirely. Whether you feel free of its clutches or trapped in its endless downward spiral, this cycle can be vanquished for good through the practical skills of Gottman Method Therapy. Check out Dr. Gottman’s bestselling book, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, and head over to our Facebook page to learn more about the powerful tools we have developed to help couples like you maintain strong, healthy bonds.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff
     


    Reference: 
    Levenson, R.W., & Gottman, J.M., (1985). Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 85-94.

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    In relationships that are working well, the couple's interaction style is constructive, affirming, and enjoyable. In unhappy relationships, the interaction style may be destructive, defeating, and dismal. Over time, a couple develops a set of expectations about the prospect of interacting that is grounded in their past experience. In happy relationships, there is an expectation of pleasure and a sense of optimism that becomes associated with the anticipation of interaction, whether it is sharing the events of the day after a period of separation or working on a problem that needs to be solved. In unstable relationships, an expectation of displeasure, dread, and pessimism may evolve, because past interactions, whether they be over mundane or profound issues, have been experienced as highly punishing.

    Dr. Gottman and Dr. Levenson believed that it was these pleasurable or unpleasurable expectations that accounted for the differences in physiological arousal they observed during the periods of their study they used to measure “baseline” - when couples sat facing each other for 5 min in silence, knowing that they would soon be engaged in interaction. Couples’ expectations were then carried over into the interactions themselves, which the subjects had consistently indicated were prototypical of the kind of interactions they’d had in the past.



    This perspective led the researchers to hypothesize about several distinguishing characteristics of the couples observed in 1980 whose marital satisfaction declined most over the 3 year study: these couples would have had the most punishing interactions in the past, and the least hope of improving these interactions in the future. 

    For them, the interaction required by the study’s experimental procedures would have been troublesome, then unsettling, and ultimately, highly physiologically arousing. These couples were experiencing the negative affects of fear, anger, and sadness— fear of the impending interaction, anger toward each other, and sadness about the bleak prospects for their marriage.

    The physiological measures used in the study confirmed this hypothesis. As we mentioned on Monday, a broadly based pattern of physiological arousal (in both spouses) in 1980 was found to predict decline in marital satisfaction - the more physiologically aroused the couple was during the 1980 interactions, the more their marital satisfaction declined over the following 3 years.

    As our research shows, when one partner experiences hypervigilance (an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats), it is because they have developed this response to an interaction with their spouse through repeated experience. When time passes and this response is triggered over and over again, their physiological arousal may throw them into fight-or-flight mode, or, when completely overwhelmed, to shut down the system completely – to stonewall (see The Four Horsemen).

    Men are more likely to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts than women, which may prologue their physiological arousal and hypervigilance, often causing their partners to flare up in response, until one by one, each partner is brought to a point of emotional detachment and avoidance.

    When physiological arousal accompanies relationship conflict, it may lead to: (a) a decrease in one’s ability to take in information (reduced hearing, reduced peripheral vision, problems with shifting attention away from a defensive posture), (b) an increase in defensiveness, (c) a reduction in the ability for creative problem solving, and (d) a reduction in the ability to listen and empathize.

    If you take a moment to think about it, you can probably remember instances in which you’ve experienced or observed this kind of thing – being handicapped in all of these ways does not exactly make for healthy or productive interactions. We all know how it feels to be overwhelmed, but don’t all have the tools to fight this feeling. As promised, we will end this week on the practical application of our research findings. This Friday, we will share some of the tools Dr. Gottman’s years of research have uncovered for avoiding this problem entirely!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


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    Before we post your Weekend Homework Assignment, allow us to briefly recap this week on The Gottman Relationship Blog. On Monday, we introduced Drs. Gottman & Levenson’s findings from their three year study (1980-1983) on Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction. On Wednesday, we went into depth about their findings and discussed the effects of physiological flooding on an individual's ability to communicate during conflict discussions.

    Drs. Gottman and Levenson found that the frequent ongoing experience of overdrive in physiological arousal (flooding) in a couple’s  interactions lead partners to maintain a state of  constant hyper-vigilance in the expectation of punishing experiences. Couples learn to engage in deeply harmful behaviors when faced with difficult situations - the affective and physiological signs of which you can read about here and here. Today, we’d like to give you a chance to make these findings work for you!

    First of all, we’d like to remind you to practice investing in your relationship’s Emotional Bank Account, to begin reconnecting with each other in positive ways by practicing Turning Towards, to work towards nurturing a Positive Perspective using the skills of Conflict Management, and to work on building and strengthening your Sound Relationship House. These tools will help you to overcome your built-up expectations and responses to negative interactions from the past – allowing you to avoid constantly setting off the alarms which trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy of relationship disaster. However, it is extremely important to also focus on learning mechanisms for physiological self-soothing when flooding does happen!

    All of us have experienced what Dr. Gottman refers to as emotional and physiological flooding. If the Four Horsemen are present in a conflict discussion with your partner, you may feel overwhelmed by a barrage of negativity, both real and perceived. As adrenaline kicks in, all systems are in overdrive, and constructive conversation becomes totally impossible. If you keep going, you'll find yourself exploding at your partner or imploding (stonewalling), neither of which will get you anywhere. In Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,
    Dr. Gottman writes about his research on flooding, explaining that “if your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, you won’t be able to hear what your spouse is trying to tell you no matter how hard you try." It is physically impossible to communicate. 

    According to his own studies and those of other researchers, including Robert Levenson, Ph. D., and Dolf Zillman, Ph.D., Dr. Gottman has been able to show that men and women are curiously different in their responses to flooding. Because of biological differences in the way that our bodies respond to stress, perhaps stemming from evolutionarily adaptive mechanisms developed in our cave-dwelling days, it is still more difficult for men’s bodies to calm down after an argument. Women calm down more quickly because it takes less time for their cardiovascular system to recover from stress.


    Caught up in the heat of the moment, however, we all experience the physiological signs of stress: sweating, shaking, and being short of breath - a state in which it is completely impossible to think clearly about anything at all, much less to resolve a complicated problem with our loved ones. We lash out.


    To prevent frustrations and resentments before they arise, Dr. Gottman shares some ideas he has gathered from his research that we encourage you to try this weekend:

    Try something that may feel totally foreign in the heights of your distress: breathe. Practice physiological self-soothing by imagining your favorite place, a place you can get lost in, a place in which you feel untroubled and where you can float peacefully within yourself. Meditate on this place. Do not dwell on your argument or think thoughts that maintain your level of distress. Don’t focus on getting even. Avoid thoughts of righteous indignation ("I don't have to take this anymore") and innocent victimhood" ("Why is he always picking on me?"). Instead, spend your time doing something relaxing, such as listening to music or exercising.


    After spending around twenty minutes in this serene state, you can return to your conversation, centered and calm. Why twenty minutes? According to Dr. Gottman, “the major sympathetic neurotransmitter norepinephrine doesn’t have an enzyme to degrade it so it has to be diffused through blood… this takes twenty minutes or more in the cardiovascular system.”


    In one particular empirical study on flooding, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking about their issue again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction more positive and productive.


    When we are caught in the eye of the hurricane, all bets are off. We hope that practicing the skill of physiological self-soothing this weekend will gradually make your conflict conversations with your partner feel less tempestuous. 

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In 1993, seeking to address the deficiency of research on the subject at the time, Drs. John Gottman and Lynn Katz performed a longitudinal study which examined the effects of marital interaction styles on children. The little research that had been done in this area had conceptualized marital quality too simplistically, defining it based on a single dimension - relationship satisfaction. This was not enough.

    Reviewing the literature available on the association of marital distress and child outcomes, Drs. Gottman and Katz noticed some interesting trends, the exploration of which they felt could lead to a better understanding of the complex constructions of family dynamics. For example, Gayla Margolin of the University of California (1988) proposed that couples differ in the way in which emotions are expressed during conflict resolution. Although she was able to show that some couples express their negativity very openly and directly, while others keep the conflict silent and hidden, the consequences of these different affective patterns of conflict resolution for children's socio-emotional development had been largely unexplored.

    Drs. Gottman and Katz set out to conduct a unique longitudinal study, one which would identify the particular styles of marital behavior predictive of specific outcomes in the behaviors of their children. They would focus on two marital conflict styles: "Mutually Hostile" and "Husband Angry and Withdrawn." The former was marked with mutually negative, contemptuous, and often belligerent exchanges, and the latter distinguished by a Demand-Withdraw pattern, the husband often responding to his wife’s demands with Stonewalling and evasions.

    The researchers hypothesized that a couple whose conflict style was Mutually Hostile would lead children to display externalizing behaviors (aggression, hyperactivity) and that couples whose conflicts were marked as Husband Angry and Withdrawn would cause children to display internalizing behaviors (depression, anxiety, withdrawal).

    They were right.

    Here are the results of their study:


    The researchers’ observational assessments of marital interaction during parents’ conflict resolution discussions obtained when children were 5 years old predicted teachers' ratings on a survey of child behavioral problems measuring levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors when the children were 8 years old. 

    Two distinct and uncorrelated marital interaction patterns were related to specific forms of child outcomes. The Mutually Hostile pattern (which correlated with later marital dissolution) also predicted externalizing behavior patterns in children 3 years later. The Husband Angry and Withdrawn pattern predicted child internalizing behaviors. 

    In other words, parents whose conflicts are characterized by mutual hostility often produce children who are unable to wait their turn, tend to disobey or break rules, or expect others to conform to their wishes. Couples whose conflict styles involve a pattern of wife hostility met by anger and withdrawal or stonewalling of the husband tend to produce children who are shy, depressed, or anxious.

    Measures of marital satisfaction and child temperament did not relate to child outcomes, nor did they interact with marital patterns to produce deficits in children’s general adjustment.


    Look forward to the next posting from The Research on Wednesday, as we will be going into more depth in our discussion of this study by looking at some of its odder and less expected findings. We will also explore gender differences in its outcomes, evaluate the likely psychosocial causes of such results, speculate on their impact on child emotional development, and share their many implications for families. 

    On Friday, we will give you the opportunity to apply this study’s findings to your own life with a Weekend Homework Assignment. It is our goal to make The Research of Dr. Gottman and his colleagues understandable, applicable, and interesting to learn about. If our blog postings have been beneficial to you, we encourage you to share them with others. As always, we invite you to join the conversation on Facebook.

    Until Wednesday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


    Reference:Katz, L.F., & Gottman, J.M., (1993). Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors, Developmental Psychology, 29, 940-950.

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    In the research study we introduced in Monday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, "Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors" (1993), Drs. Gottman and Lynn Katz found that a child’s temperament does not have a statistically significant affect on marital satisfaction, its change over time, or the style in which the couple engages in marital conflict.

    It is not the child’s temperament that predicts marital conflict, but rather the type of marital conflict that predicts a child’s temperament.

    To the extent that couples were hostile towards each other when resolving their marital disputes, 3 years later their children tended to be seen by their teachers as exhibiting mild forms of antisocial behavior. Below are aspects of conflict style found by Drs. Gottman and Katz to predict different child behavior outcomes.


    When conflict style is Mutually Hostile (a symmetrical pattern of marital interaction in conflict in which each spouse directly attacks the other's fundamental beliefs, feelings, and character) it leads to higher likelihood of divorce and of child externalizing behaviors (aggression and hyperactivity). Here are a couple of theories explaining this phenomenon:

    • Children exhibiting externalizing behaviors may be sensing the instability of their parents' marriage and acting out their fears of a potential divorce.
    • Children fearing parental divorce may also show externalizing behaviors  to distract their parents from their marital problems. By focusing attention on themselves, children may encourage their parents to unite in their concern about their child's adjustment and detour attention away from a potential marital conflict or separation. Children do not have to initially understand the way this works consciously – they need only realize that this trick leads to a decrease in their parents fighting.
       
    When husbands are belligerent and wives are angry, higher levels of internalizing behaviors (distress, shame, and self-blame) are found in girls than boys. For boys, wife's belligerence is associated with internalizing behaviors. These findings suggest that, to the extent that a husband or wife acts in a belligerent manner when resolving a marital dispute, their opposite-sex child will be rated by teachers as showing internalizing behaviors 3 years later. Although anxiety and withdrawal may be adaptive responses to the threatening nature of belligerence, the fact that children's behavior is related to that of their opposite-sex parents is interesting. 

    One speculation stemming from family systems theory is that children may be allying themselves with or identifying with the same-sex parent and so are affected by the belligerent behavior of the opposite-sex parent.


    Given the prospective nature of this study, it was possible to address whether having a temperamentally difficult child places a strain on a marriage. In our data, child temperament was not predictive of marital dissatisfaction at Time 2 or related to a decrease in marital satisfaction over time. 

    Children whose parents showed marital interaction patterns predictive of divorce (see: Four Horsemen) exhibited externalizing difficulties, but actual divorce/seperation at Time 2 (3 years after the initial study) was not associated with externalizing behaviors at time 2. Thus, the behavior pattern seen in children of hostile couples cannot be attributed to parental divorce/separation. These findings support previous evidence suggesting that the behaviors couples engage in that are destructive to their relationship also have an impact on their children even before actual marital dissolution occurs. 

    Children learn by imitating the behavior of their parents. We all know this. Among the many complexities of this study’s results, the simple theme repeats itself again and again. Learning more about the particular ways in which our behavior as parents sculpts our children's is critical for raising Emotionally Intelligent children. You can read more about this in Dr. Gottman's celebrated book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Childand learn ways in which to keep your marriage happy and healthy in his more recent release, And Baby Makes Three


    On Friday, look forward to a Weekend Homework Assignment, which will provide you with proven ways to apply this study’s findings in your own family!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    As we promised in Wednesday’s blog posting, today we will connect the dots, giving you ways to apply the research we’ve shared with you this week to your own life! First, allow us to recap the basic findings of Drs. Gottman and Katz’s 1993 study on how marital conflict affects children:

    • It is not the child’s temperament that predicts marital conflict, but rather the type of marital conflict that predicts a child’s temperament. To the extent that couples were hostile towards each other when resolving their marital disputes, 3 years later their children tended to be seen by their teachers as exhibiting mild forms of antisocial behavior. Parents whose conflicts are characterized by mutual hostility often produce children who are unable to wait their turn, tend to disobey or break rules, or expect others to conform to their wishes. Couples whose conflict styles involve a pattern of wife hostility met by anger and withdrawal or stonewalling of the husband tend to produce children who are shy, depressed, or anxious.

    Conflict is a natural (and healthy) part of any intimate relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research on this subject may come as a welcome relief. He has discovered that as children grow up, their ability to cope with emotions is strengthened not by conflict avoidance between their parents, but rather by the example that their parents set in their healthy acknowledgement of negative emotions. 

    The efforts that you make to work through inevitable differences with your partner in a loving and accepting way will strengthen your relationship with your child. In the most formative years of your children’s lives, exposing them to emotionally intelligent styles of conflict resolution is scientifically proven to do wonders for their future success. Once formed, the research shows that that the habits your children pick up from you really stick. 

    Dr. Gottman’s research on the effects of healthy parenting has shown that an awareness of your own emotions and those of your children dramatically strengthens your connection as a couple too! Feelings of companionship, affection, fondness, admiration, and general happiness about their marriages were shown to increase for couples who taught their children to work out areas of conflict in a healthy way. These couples also showed less of a tendency to treat each other with belligerence, contempt, stonewalling, and other chaos-inducing behaviors. As those of you with children know, chaos is to be avoided at all times! There is always enough chaos.

    If you and your partner become Emotion Coaches, Dr. Gottman’s term for couples who engage in healthy methods of problem solving, you stand to benefit enormously both in your own relationship and in your relationships with your children. Watching their parents treat each other with respect and understanding teaches children essential life-skills. From the sandbox to the classroom, they will have learned crucial skills in dealing with their own emotions and those of others in a healthy way.

    This weekend, when your child expresses negative emotions about something, or misbehaves in some manner, try to figure out the underlying cause of their feelings. Discover the benefits of these proven strategies:

    • Show your child respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Talk through their feelings with them and try to understand their source.
    • Be aware of your child’s responses to your method of working through the moment with them.
    • In difficult interactions, make your child feels your empathy, by patiently validating their feelings and getting to the root of their expression.
    • Instead of focusing on your parental agenda in these situations, show your child that you respect their attempts to solve problems, and guide them with trust and affection. Work through these experiences together.

    To read more about Dr. Gottman’s research on Emotion Coaching, check out his critically-acclaimed book, Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to break from our regularly scheduled The Research series to make an exciting announcement:

    The Gottman Relationship Blog has been nominated by readers of About.com (one of the top 100 websites in the world with over 36 million visitors monthly) for #1 Marriage Website/Blog of 2013!


    At the time of this blog posting, we hold a slim 2% lead over the second place nominee. We would LOVE your vote! It only takes seconds and you can vote once every 24 hours. To vote, click here. Select "The Gottman Institute Relationship Blog." Enter your e-mail address (you won’t receive spam!) and the two-word security code shown, and press submit. It’s that easy! If you voted for us, let us know on our Facebook page or Twitter account so we can express our appreciation to you personally. 

    In addition to a huge thank you, a nomination for #1 marriage blog on the web calls for a "State of the Union" evaluation of our content. Whether you are a regular reader or a newcomer, we value your opinion and would love your feedback. In order to better serve you, we would like to know what your needs, desires, and expectations are. What has been your favorite posting topic? Least favorite? Are there topics that you would like to see discussed further in depth? A topic that has not yet beed addressed? Please submit your suggestions, recommendations, and questions to our Facebook page

    We would also like to take this opportunity to make some other exciting announcements about upcoming workshops, professional trainings, and product launches: 


    • We recently surpassed 15,000 “Likes” on our Facebook page. Thank you to our followers, readers, and contributors! You inspire us each and every day with your commitment to creating and sustaining lasting love. We value your feedback and promise to do our best to respond personally. Keep it coming!
    • The Johnson-Gottman Summit is fast approaching and tickets are selling fast. This premier, two-day clinical training event with the world’s best in couple’s therapy will sell out. Reserve your seat today here before it’s too late. 
    • Become a Seven Principles Program Educator! We are excited to announce a brand new training opportunity. Learn how to lead The Gottman Seven Principles Program, based on Dr. John Gottman’s New York Times bestseller The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, in your community, church, school, hospital, or home. Only two live trainings will be offered: May 3rd and May 18th. Cost: $300/person. Click here for more information. 
    • Our May Art and Science of Love Couple’s Workshop is filling up fast! Learn how to foster respect, affection, and closeness; build and share a deeper connection with one another's inner world; keep conflict discussions calm; break through and resolve conflict gridlock; and strengthen and maintain gains in the relationship. If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with insights and tools to make it last. If your relationship is distressed, this two-day workshop will provide a road map for repair. Reserve your seat today here before it's too late. 
    • We recently leaked an image on our Facebook page of our brand-new Emotion Coaching program for parents. “The Heart of Parenting,” which will launch on April 1st, will be available online as a web-based video series and also as a physical product (DVD + Manual). Stay tuned for more information. 

    As you can see, 2013 is shaping up to be a very busy year for The Gottman Institute. We hope that you will join us!

    Warm Regards,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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    (Editor's note: The Gottman Relationship Blog needs your vote! Vote now: http://marriage.about.com/b/2013/02/19/vote-for-best-marriage-blogwebsite.htm)

    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue The Research with a six-year longitudinal study performed by Dr. Gottman and fellow University of Washington researcher Sybil Carrère. Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion (1999) tested the hypothesis that the way in which a discussion of a marital conflict begins – in its first few minutes – is a predictor of divorce. 

    The marital conflict discussions of 124 newlywed couples (married less than 6 months) were coded using the Specific Affect Coding System, and the data were divided into positive, negative, and positive-minus-negative affect totals for five 3-minute intervals. It was possible to predict marital outcome over a six-year period using just the first 3 minutes of data for both husbands and wives. Here’s how:

    Earlier research from our laboratory indicates that women initiate conflict discussions nearly 80% of the time. In couples heading for divorce, the wife's opening statement is usually made in the form of a criticism (a global attack on the husband’s character such as, "You're lazy and never do anything around the house") rather than a specific complaint ("You didn't take out the trash last night"). The husband’s initial reaction to the wife’s opening is then either defensive (in marriages heading for divorce) or shows him not escalating her negativity. 

    The marital interaction assessment in this study consisted of a discussion by the husband and wife of a problem that was a source of ongoing disagreement in their marriage. After the couple completed a problem inventory, the experimenter reviewed with the couple the issues they rated as the most problematic, and helped them to choose several issues to use at the basis for the discussion. Communication (they missed their partner emotionally, weren't being understood emotionally, or weren't feeling loved) was the most common theme of the marital discussions. Money and finances also were frequent topics. After choosing the topic for discussion, couples were asked to sit quietly and not interact with each other during a 2-minute baseline. 

    The couples discussed their chosen topics for 15 minutes, and then viewed the video recording of the interaction. Both the husband and wife used rating dials that provided continuous self-report data. 

    The researchers collected continuous physiological measures and video recordings during all of the interaction sessions. The tapes were coded using a computer-assisted system developed in our lab to index facial expressions, voice tone, and speech content to characterize the emotions expressed by each couple. Coders categorized affects displayed using five positive codes (interest, validation, affection, humor, and joy) and 10 negative affects (disgust, contempt, belligerence, domineering, anger, fear and tension, defensiveness, whining, sadness, and stonewalling). 

    Drs. Carrère and Gottman found that the startup of the conflict discussion was key to predicting divorce or marital stability. Of the 17 couples who later divorced, all started off their conflict discussions with significantly greater displays of negative emotion and fewer expressions of positive emotion when compared with couples who remained married over the course of the 6-year study. In stable marriages, both husbands and wives expressed less negative affect and more positive affect at the first three minutes of such discussions. 

    Dr. Gottman on his 6-year study: "The biggest lesson to be learned from this study is that the way couples begin a discussion about a problem - how you present an issue and how your partner responds to you - is absolutely critical.”

    Look forward to Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, which will give you skills to soften your startup when bringing up a topic of conflict with your partner. 

    All for now, 
    Michael Fulwiler 
    TGI Staff

    Reference:
    Carrere, S., and Gottman, J.M., (1999). Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion, Family Process, Vol. 38(3), 293-301

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    In Wednesday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we introduced Dr. Gottman's 1999 study, Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion. Today, we will apply the findings of this study and teach you skills to soften your startup when bringing up a topic of conflict with your partner. But first, here is a recap of Dr. Gottman's longitudinal study on divorce prediction:

    Drs. Gottman and Carrère discovered that they could predict the likelihood of a couple's divorce by observing just the first 3 minutes of a conflict discussion. The couples who divorced started their discussions with a great deal of negative emotion and displayed far fewer expressions of positivity than those who stayed together six years later. Not only were they negative, but they were also critical. 

    As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, discussions invariably end on the same note they begin. If you start an argument harshly by attacking your partner, you will end up with at least as much tension as you began with, if not more. Softening Startup of your conversations is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. If your arguments start softly, your relationship isfar more likely to be stable and happy. Here are proven skills Dr. Gottman suggests for softening your startups when bringing up an issue of disagreement with your partner:

    Complain but don’t blame. No matter how "at fault” you feel that your partner is, approaching them with criticisms and accusations is obviously not productive. What isn’t obvious, however, are the little things we say in arguments with our mate that make them feel criticized or blamed. Eye-rolling is a perfect example of this sort of unintentional, destructive behavior. According to Dr. Gottman, it’s all about approach! Instead of blaming your partner with, “You said you would clean the backyard today and it’s still a mess,” try a simple complaint. “Hey, there are still some fallen leaves in the gutter and tennis balls everywhere. We agreed you’d rake and clean up after Buster. I’m really upset about this.”

    Make statements that start with "I" instead of "You." When you start sentences with "I" you are less likely to seem (or be!) critical, immediately putting your partner into a defensive position. Instead of saying “you are not listening to me," you can say, "I don’t feel like you are listening right now. Instead of "you’re so careless with money," say, "I think that we should try to save more.” Focus on how you’re feeling, not on accusing your partner! Both of you will stand to gain something from the conversation - both you and your partner will likely feel that you are hearing and understanding each other more.

    Describe what is happening, but don’t evaluate or judge. Instead of accusing or blaming your partner, simply describe what you see in the situation. Instead of violently attacking with accusations, such as “you never watch the baby,” try saying, “I seem to be the only one chasing after Charlie today.” Instead of lashing out at you, your partner is more likely to consider your point of view and deliver the results you are hoping for 
    with this approach. Be clear. No matter how long you have been with your partner or how well they know you, you cannot expect them to read your mind.

    Be polite and appreciative. Just because you are in conflict with your partner, it does not mean that your respect and affection for them has to diminish. Adding phrases such as “please” and “I appreciate it when you…” can be helpful to maintaining warmth and emotional connection during a difficult conversation. Which is, of course, exactly when you need it most.

    Don’t store things up! We've all been there: Exhausted and overwhelmed, feeling like we are drowning in a whirlpool of problems, one issue just keeps leading to another, we are out of control! Suddenly we find ourselves bringing up a laundry list of issues we never intended to broach. Which all somehow feel related. 
    Generally, the issues we bring up in such conversations don't feel so related to our partners. Flooded with emotion, both parties are entirely incapable of reaching a resolution. As we all know, not doing the laundry regularly leaves you with an enormous mess. Don’t wait forever to bring up an issue with your partner, and your conflict discussions will be far more productive. Don't let the situation escalate!

    So you've approached your partner with a softened startup, but they respond with negativity. What do you do? Dr. Julie Gottman answers here.

    This weekend, consider the ways in which you have experienced conflict discussions in the past. How did they start? How did they end? Can you think of examples of instances when  you could have changed your approach in the beginnings of these conversations? Try embarking upon your next conflict discussion with these Softened Startup techniques and you will be amazed by the productivity of your dialogue! Look forward to next week on The Gottman Blog, as we continue The Research!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In 1994, Drs. Gottman, Kahen, and Katz of the University of Washington conducted a study which examined how parenting behavior relates to a child’s ability to successfully interact with their peers. According to the researchers, pervious exploration on the subject had yielded the following results: “Children of warm, involved, and moderately controlling parents are popular and are more likely to be socially competent than children with unresponsive, uninvolved, overly permissive, or overly controlling parents."

    Unfortunately, these previous studies failed to address several important questions: What are the different roles of the mother and father in the social development of their child? What is the relationship between specific processes in parent-child interaction and specific processes in peer interaction?

    In this study, the researchers considered two categories of parent-child interaction: affect (positive vs. negative) and engagement (active engagement vs. withdrawal) in children between ages 4 and 6. 
    Additionally, they considered two categories of child-peer interaction: Engagement in play and negativity or positivity of play. 

    Engagement in play was measured by the amount of positive parallel play, collective monologue, and common ground activities established during peer interaction. The child's ability to exchange information and disclose thoughts and feelings were also examined as examples of peer engagement. 

    To index negativity and positivity, the researchers examined the amount of negative parallel play (which is an index of side-by-side play with high levels of negative affect), out of room behavior (which was an index of noncompliance with the instructions of the home taping), crying, anger, laughter, and joy during peer play. Negative and positive parental affects have been found to relate to children's popularity among peers, pro-social behavior, and successful peer interaction.


    Procedure: 
    This study consisted of a laboratory parent-child interaction session in which all three family members (mother, father, and child) were present, and a home visit with the child and a best friend in which peer interaction data was collected (best friends were chosen to estimate maximum social competence). It is interesting to note that, "for purposes unrelated to the present report," the laboratory sessions took place inside a mock-up of the Apollo space capsule. The researchers explain: 


    “For purposes unrelated to the present report, a full-scale mock-up of the Apollo space capsule was constructed and astronaut space suits were made for the children for their laboratory visit. Parent-child interaction laboratory sessions took place with the child dressed in the space suit and seated in the space capsule.”


    Prior to the 10-minute parent-child interaction, children were instructed to listen to a relatively uninteresting story read to them in a monotone voice. In the videotaped interaction, parents were instructed to question kids to obtain information about the story, and then asked to teach their kids to play a video game they had previously learned. The peer interaction home visit consisted of audio taping a 30-minute play session of the child and his/her best friend (no adults present).


    Parenting styles were coded with the Kahen Engagement and Affect Coding Systems. Negative engagement codes were parental intrusiveness and command. Positive engagement was measured by high scoring in engagement (parental attention towards the child) and responsiveness to child’s needs. Negative affect was based on criticism (direct disparaging comments, put-downs), derisive humor (sarcasm or making fun at the child’s expense), and positive affect was based on codes for affection (praise, physical affection) and enthusiasm (cheering, excitement at child performance).


    Results:
    The researchers discovered that children whose parents display negative behaviors during parent-child interaction may not learn conflict management skills and often spend more time playing by themselves.

    Both parents have a strong influence in determining their child's ability to engage in high levels of play with their peers. Children whose mothers abstained from criticism or derisive humor in the parent-child interaction were able to establish common ground activities and exchange information with their friends. Children whose fathers were affectively positive and responsive to their needs scored higher in self-disclosure (the most intimate level of play) during their peer play session.


    In the parent-child play session, parent intrusiveness (physically taking over control of the video game they were trying to teach their child) and derisive humor (making fun of the child's performance, being sarcastic) communicated incompetence and a lack of respect for the child's efforts. Children whose parents were intrusive, disengaged, and used derisive humor were more likely to have negative peer play with their best friends (being angry, crying, making negative comments, not complying with task instructions). 

    Here, we see what Drs. Gottman, Katz, and Kahen call the direct transfer of behavior displayed toward children to their child's interactions with peers, the hypothesis being that, “these children have more negative peer play because they are imitating their parent's tendency to convey that others are incompetent and unworthy of respect.”


    The results of this study make it clear that, while both parents have a huge impact on the development of their child's interpersonal learning and behavior, each parent has a different role. One of the primary goals of the researchers in this study was to determine how mothers and fathers differ in the effects of their parenting behavior on children's peer relationships and social skills. On Thursday, we look forward to sharing some of their fascinating findings!


    All for now,

    Ellie Lisitsa

    TGI Staff


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    As promised in Tuesday’s posting (in which we discussed this 1994 study by Drs. Gottman, Kahen, and Katz), today we will systematically take you through the researcher's findings about the roles of mothers and fathers in the social development of their children.

    According to their published paper, “some differentiation in the roles of mothers and fathers in children's developing peer relations was seen. There were three important findings relating to this differentiation. First, when fathers were emotionally volatile, children's play with friends tended to be disengaged and involved more solitary activities. Second, mother's emotional communication was related to the degree to which children displayed positive affect with peers. Third, both mother's and father's parenting related to children's ability to engage in higher levels of engagement with peers.

    Allow us to provide a more in-depth explanation for each of these findings: 

    1) Children who remained at a low level of engagement (monologue) with a best friend had fathers who used derisive humor more, were low in engagement, and used more commands than fathers of children who were less likely to use monologue during play. Children frequently engaged in positive parallel play had fathers who were enthusiastic and affectionate!

    2) Children who were more negative with a peer had fathers who were more intrusive and less engaged, and mothers who used derisive humor more. Children who showed more positive affect during peer play had mothers who used derisive humor less, and were less intrusive and critical.

    3) Mothers’ emotional communication was related to the degree to which children displayed positive affect with peers: Mothers who were low in derisive humor, criticality and intrusiveness had children whose peer interaction tended to have higher levels of laughter and joy than mothers who were higher in these negative parenting behaviors.

    4) The father's parenting was unrelated to positive affect during peer play, but instead it was related to children's engagement with peers. Indeed, the degree to which fathers' parenting is limited to positive interactions with their child appears to be related to their children's movement towards intimacy versus disengagement from others.


    If fathers are highly positive and responsive to their children, children are able to achieve connected interaction through self-disclosure (sharing personal feelings and information with others). However, if this positive affect is combined with a tendency to respond to their child critically, then their children's play with peers tends to retreat toward more solitary side-by-side activities.


    According to the researchers, a possible explanation of this phenomenon is that volatile fathers provide a constant backdrop of strong positive and negative judgments of their child's behavior. The display of intense negativity within the context of largely positive interaction may demonstrate to children that involved interpersonal interaction entails the possibility that negative affect will be directed toward them. Given the risk of conflict during coordinated play, these children may become fearful and timid and come to prefer solitary activities rather than engage in more connected interaction.


    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we discussed the relationship between parenting behavior (of both the mother and the father) and a child's ability to participate in high levels of engagement with their peers. We described a 1994 study conducted by Dr. Gottman which explored this topic, and furthermore provided in-depth explanations of the study's results. Today, we’d like to share another fascinating (and relevant) study with you conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick of UMass Boston.

    Dr. Tronick is the Director of UMass Boston’s Infant-Parent Mental Health Program, where he conducts research on how mothers’ depression and other stressful behaviors affect the emotional development and health of infants and children.

    Jason Goldman published a great writeup on Thoughtful Animal about Tronick's 1975 experiment, the impact it had in understanding child development, and how it’s being used, including to predict child behavior:

    In 1975, Edward Tronick and colleagues first presented the “Still Face Experiment” to colleagues at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. He described a phenomenon in which an infant, after three minutes of “interaction” with a non-responsive expressionless mother, “rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get the interaction into its usual reciprocal pattern. When these attempts fail, the infant withdraws [and] orients his face and body away from his mother with a withdrawn, hopeless facial expression.” It remains one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology.
    Once the phenomenon had been thoroughly tested and replicated, it became a standard method for testing hypotheses about person perception, communication differences as a result of gender or cultural differences, individual differences in attachment style, and the effects of maternal depression on infants. The still-face experiment has also been used to investigate cross-cultural differences, deaf infants, infants with Down syndrome, cocaine-exposed infants, autistic children, and children of parents with various psychopathologies, especially depression.

    The fascinating video below portrays the natural human process of attachment between a baby and mother, and then the effects of non-responsiveness on the part of the mother:


    As Rick Ackley suggests in this article from his blog The Genius in Children, "While the video shows the importance of mother-child attachment, it also reveals something else of vital importance to parents and all other educators. Watch it again. Is the baby experiencing a loss of attachment or a loss of agency?"

    Agency refers to the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one's own actions in the world. When we "still face" our children by ignoring their expressions of emotion, for example, they may experience a loss of agency. Show your child respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Validate their emotions and guide them with trust and affection. Your child’s mastery of understanding and regulating their emotions will help them to succeed in life. Dr. Gottman calls this being an "Emotion Coach." The five essential steps of Emotion Coaching are as follows:

    • Be aware of your child’s emotion
    • Recognize your child’s expression of emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
    • Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
    • Help your child learn to label their emotions with words
    • Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately

    The same can be said when we "still face" our partners by turning away from their bids for emotional connection. Michele Weiner-Davis of Divorce Busting said it best in a Facebook posting this morning:

    Every time you turn away from your spouse or he/she turns away from you, whether you show it or not, your response is not dissimilar to the baby [shown above].

    Turning towards means actively turning to your partner and replying to their small bids for emotional connection that they make throughout the day. This means being interested in what they are saying or doing and following up by responding to them in a way that shows you are listening. Validate their feelings and emotions. Ask questions. Be the support they need. Remember: understanding must precede advice. 

    All for now,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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