Articles on this Page
- 06/02/14--16:23: _Featured Blogger: D...
- 06/04/14--15:53: _Quiz: What Is The S...
- 06/06/14--15:44: _Weekend Homework As...
- 06/09/14--16:23: _Relationship Alphab...
- 06/11/14--15:25: _Featured Blogger: K...
- 06/13/14--16:35: _Dr. Gottman's 3 Ski...
- 06/14/14--23:33: _Weekend Homework As...
- 06/18/14--17:07: _How To Protect Inti...
- 06/20/14--16:20: _Weekend Homework As...
- 06/23/14--16:04: _Relationship Alphab...
- 06/25/14--17:54: _How to be Mindful A...
- 06/27/14--16:59: _Weekend Homework As...
- 07/01/14--16:10: _Featured Blogger: J...
- 07/03/14--16:32: _Dr. Gottman's 5 Tip...
- 07/07/14--16:00: _Relationship Alphab...
- 07/09/14--15:16: _The Art of Science ...
- 07/11/14--16:34: _What Makes Same-Sex...
- 07/17/14--18:04: _How To Share Compas...
- 07/18/14--17:00: _Weekend Homework As...
- 07/21/14--16:17: _Relationship Alphab...
- 06/02/14--16:23: Featured Blogger: Dr. Jamie Turndorf
- 06/04/14--15:53: Quiz: What Is The State of Your Sex Life?
- 06/06/14--15:44: Weekend Homework Assignment: Have Great Sex
- I could kiss you like this for hours.
- You taste so good right here.
- It feels so good being with you this way.
- Feel what my heart does when you touch me like that.
- I want no one but you.
- You are so masculine.
- Nothing pleases me more than touching you here.
- I remember the first time we kissed.
- I love it when you put your head on my chest.
- I love being inside you.
- No one is more beautiful to me than you.
- I love kissing you here.
- Don’t stop what you’re doing.
- I'm going to make you orgasm.
- 06/09/14--16:23: Relationship Alphabet: L is for Love & Like
- Build Love Maps: Know your partner’s world. Become an expert in her likes and dislikes. Listen to his stories. Again. Know about her dreams as well as her fears. Care about his favorite movies and his least favorite food.
- Share Fondness & Admiration: Let your partner know that you’re proud of them. Notice their creativity, intelligence, empathy. Out loud. Say: "Well done,""You look hot,""Thank you."
- Turn Towards Instead of Away: Hold hands. Answer his questions. Ask her opinion. Laugh at his jokes. Meet her eyes.
- 06/11/14--15:25: Featured Blogger: Kyle Morrison
- 06/13/14--16:35: Dr. Gottman's 3 Skills (and 1 Rule!) for Intimate Conversation
- 06/14/14--23:33: Weekend Homework Assignment: Intimate Conversation
- 06/18/14--17:07: How To Protect Intimacy
- 06/20/14--16:20: Weekend Homework Assignment: How To Increase Emotional Attraction
- 06/23/14--16:04: Relationship Alphabet: M is for Money
- 06/25/14--17:54: How to be Mindful About Money
- 06/27/14--16:59: Weekend Homework Assignment: 5 Ways to Make Money Work For You
- Want to show your partner your love? Instead of buying them a pricey gadget or piece of jewelry, go on a camping trip over the weekend and make priceless memories.
- Trying to communicate care for your sweetie? Give them your time and energy one-on-one, and do this often. Not just on a date, but at mealtimes and at bedtimes too. Put away that phone and iPad!
- Want to connect with Junior? Instead of buying your kid the latest Xbox game, have fun together by taking them to a local fair, festival, outdoor concert, or block party. Check your local listings for upcoming events this Summer.
- Want to teach your children about your value system? Organize a clothing drive or volunteer at a local soup kitchen and help out those in need.
- Looking for a way to make new family friends? Organize or attend a potluck at home or in your community. Enjoy sharing diverse cultures, eating delicious dishes, and meeting like-minded people.
- 07/01/14--16:10: Featured Blogger: Julie Gottman, Ph.D.
- 07/03/14--16:32: Dr. Gottman's 5 Tips for Summer Travel
- 07/07/14--16:00: Relationship Alphabet: N is for Newlyweds
- 07/09/14--15:16: The Art of Science & Love is for Everyone
- August 9 & 10 at the Seattle Convention Center
- October 11 & 12 at the Shoreline Community Center
- December 6 & 7 at the Tacoma Convention Center
- 07/11/14--16:34: What Makes Same-Sex Relationships Succeed Or Fail?
- 07/17/14--18:04: How To Share Compassion & Empathy in Intimate Conversation
- 07/18/14--17:00: Weekend Homework Assignment: Build Bridges Of Trust
- Fix coffee, a snack, or a meal for your partner.
- Wait on your partner when he or she is ill.
- Compliment your partner, say thank you, praise his or her efforts around the house.
- Listen. Listen. Listen.
- Buy a silly gift. Buy something inexpensive. Make it an inside joke.
- Do something kind for your partner’s friends or family.
- Run errands for your partner.
- Call or send an email during the workday. Ask how it’s going.
- Put a loving note into your partner’s lunch or briefcase.
- Draw a funny picture or write a sweet note. Hide it in your partner’s coat pocket.
- Hold hands.
- Take a class together.
- Volunteer together.
- Talk over drinks, or coffee, or tea.
- Wash the dishes: you wash, they dry.
- Go camping.
- Create artwork together.
- Help to take care of aging relatives.
- Take a shower or a bath together.
- Fold laundry.
- Take a spontaneous trip to somewhere beautiful.
- Plan your future. Dream.
- 07/21/14--16:17: Relationship Alphabet: O is for Opportunity
Millions of couples throughout the world are all too familiar with the way their partners - particularly the male - distances themselves when heated relationship conflict erupts. The technical name for this conflict pattern is the demand/withdraw negative escalation cycle, or Husband Withdrawal for short. Left unchecked, Husband Withdrawal leads to more heated arguments that result in a pervasive attitude of contempt, which Dr. Gottman has found to be the number one predictor of divorce.
What Causes Husband Withdrawal?
Heated fighting triggers a biochemical imbalance in men’s bodies that can cause them to flee from conflict. This occurs because their bodies are hard wired to be hyper-reactive to stress and danger - programming that dates back to prehistoric times when men were hunters and needed to react with lightning speed. Modern danger is no longer the ferocious tiger. It’s the pissed off wife or girlfriend, and when she comes at him, baring her teeth and berating him with criticisms, his body sees danger and involuntarily switches into autonomic nervous system (ANS) arousal, which triggers the fight-flight response. Dr. Gottman calls this flooding.
Since most men don’t want to physically fight their partners, they flee instead.
There are three ways that men flee from conflict.
The first type of fleeing is physical, in which the man leaves the room or the house, hides out in his workshop, or avoids coming home.
The second type of fleeing is mental, or psychic fleeing, in which the mind takes a hike. In this case, the man is physically present but mentally gone. When I first observed this pattern in my own practice decades ago, and began my own research and writing on the topic, I was delighted to find Dr. Gottman’s research. What I call psychic fleeing roughly corresponds to the stonewalling reaction that Dr. Gottman refers to as the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse.
The third type of fleeing is verbal fleeing in which a man justifies, makes excuses, and defends himself in order to verbally escape responsibility.
Not knowing that these various fleeing behaviors are driven by an involuntary, biologically programmed reaction, a woman thinks that her guy is hightailing it because he doesn’t care enough about her to stick around and resolve the issue. Her hurt morphs into anger, but when she blasts him with more intensity, she unwittingly sets off more biological fire alarms and more fleeing. This is how the cycle of out-of-control fighting is born.
In my latest Hay House book, Kiss Your Fights Good-bye: Dr. Love's 10 Simple Steps to Cooling Conflict and Rekindling Your Relationship, I outline my Relationship Climate Control techniques that enable you to easily abort the heated fighting that triggers the chemical imbalance that causes men to flee. It is precisely the cooling of the relationship climate that literally shuts off the fight-flight response.
One of my many techniques for cooling the climate is to identify and heal what I call the Old Scars from childhood. This aligns very well with the "Dreams Within Conflict" intervention from Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
Old Scars heat the relationship climate and fuel our fights in two ways.
To complicate matters, these associations are happening on an unconscious level - meaning your “feeling memories” are disembodied from the original trauma from way back when, which makes it easy to wrongly assume that the mountain of emotions you’re experiencing is the result of whatever your partner just said or did. The next thing you know, you’re aiming your broadsides at your partner and dumping old emotional baggage onto him or her without realizing it. This heats the environment to a sizzle. Take the following example:
Bob repeatedly checks his office messages when he is out with Mary. Mary becomes increasingly agitated by this behavior and finally blows up at him.
Why is she so furious over a seemingly innocuous action? Because memories of her mother who never had time for her were triggered by Bob’s behavior. So when a trivial incident occurs in the present, it surges that already overloaded circuit in her brain, and she blows. Such associations usually occur without any conscious awareness.
You Can’t Shake the Feeling
In addition to causing a disproportionate reaction, Old Scars also make it hard for us to let go of the feelings that have been awakened. We get emotionally stuck precisely because we aren’t consciously aware that an Old Scar has been triggered. Hence, we remain stuck with intense feelings that we can’t shake. Obviously, this heats the climate and creates more fighting.
To make matters worse, when we aren’t aware of what the core issue is, we end up fighting about the overt issue that got the ball rolling - the lack of foreplay, his being glued to the TV, her tendency to leave dirty clothes on the floor. What is diabolical is the fact that the overt fight content acts like a smokescreen that conceals the real issue: the Old Scar that lurks beneath.
Until the real emotional issue is identified, we never achieve resolution, fights go unresolved, and the climate just gets hotter and hotter.
How Stripping Can Solve Your Conflicts
Believe it or not, stripping resolves fights caused by our Old Scars. No, I’m not talking about getting nekked! I’m talking about a technique that I’ve created called Stripping Away the Overt Fight Content to uncover the Old Scar that lurks beneath.
To do this, I show you how to Draw a Fight Map in which we remove the overt fight content from the equation (the who did what to whom) and instead chart the emotional course of the fight: identify what you feel now, when you felt this way as a kid, and what was going on when you felt this way as a kid (who was doing what to you?). Last but not least, we identify your Happy Ending: what you wanted and needed in your past that you never received.
To achieve your Happy Ending this time around, I guide you to talk with your partner about your Old Scars. When your partner discovers that your reaction isn’t exclusively due to his/her behavior, a miracle occurs. You have now transformed your enemy into an ally who can help you realize the ultimate and most divine purpose of our intimate unions - to heal our Old Scars. This is our Happy Ending! A side benefit of healing your mutual Old Scars is a cooling of the relationship climate, which extinguishes ANS arousal, withdrawal, and fighting.
I should also make mention of the fact that it is also not uncommon for women to be the ones who withdraw from conflict. The good news is that even if the roles are reversed and a woman is doing the withdrawing, my Relationship Climate Control and conflict-resolution techniques are equally effective in aborting the pattern.
Dr. Turndorf is the author of the new Hay House book Kiss Your Fights Good-bye: Dr. Love’s 10 Simple Steps to Cooling Conflict and Rekindling Your Relationship, which has been endorsed by New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield, Dr. John Gray, and John Bradshaw. In August, Hay House will be publishing Dr. Turndorf’s next book Love Never Dies: How to Reconnect and Make Peace with the Deceased, which presents Dr. Turndorf’s remarkable spiritual reconnection with her beloved husband of 27 years following his death from a bee sting.
Follow Dr. Love on Twitter: @AskDrLove
Get out a pen and paper. For each question, write down the letter corresponding to the box that better describes your relationship right now!
1. Is the relationship...
☐ B. Becoming passionless (fire going out)?
2. I would say that...
☐ A. My partner is verbally affectionate.
☐ B. My partner is not very verbally affectionate.
3. I would say that...
☐ A. My partner expresses love and admiration to me.
☐ B. My partner expresses love or admiration less frequently these days.
4. I would say that...
☐ A. We do touch each other a fair amount.
☐ B. We rarely touch each other these days.
5. I would say that...
☐ A. My partner courts me sexually.
☐ B. My partner does not court me sexually.
6. I would say that...
☐ A. We do cuddle with one another.
☐ B. We rarely cuddle with one another
7. I would say that...
☐ A. We still have our tender and passionate moments.
☐ B. We have few tender or passionate moments.
8. I would say that...
☐ A. It feels like our sex life is fine.
☐ B. It feels like there are definite problems in this area.
9. I would say that...
☐ A. The frequency of sex is not a problem
☐ B. The frequency of sex is a problem.
10. I would say that...
☐ A. The satisfaction that I get from sex is not a problem
☐ B. The satisfaction that I get from sex is a problem
11. I would say that...
☐ A. Being able to just talk about sex, or talk about sexual problems, is not a serious issue between us.
☐ B. Being able to just talk about sex, or talk about sexual problems, is a serious issue between us.
12. I would say that...
☐ A. The two of us generally want the same thing sexually.
☐ B. The two of us want different things sexually.
13. I would say that...
☐ A. Differences in desire are not an issue in this relationship.
☐ B. Differences in desire are an issue in this relationship.
14. I would say that...
☐ A. The amount of “love” in our lovemaking is not a problem.
☐ B. The amount of “love” in our lovemaking is a problem.
15. I would say that...
☐ A. The satisfaction my partner gets from sex is not a problem.
☐ B. The satisfaction my partner gets from sex is a problem.
16. I would say that...
☐ A. My partner is still very physically affectionate toward me.
☐ B. My partner is not very physically affectionate toward me.
17. I would say that...
☐ A. I feel romantic toward my partner.
☐ B. I do not feel very romantic toward my partner.
18. I would say that...
☐ A. My partner finds me sexually attractive.
☐ B. My partner does not find me sexually attractive.
19. I would say that...
☐ A. I find my partner sexually attractive.
☐ B. I do not view my partner as sexually attractive.
20. In this relationship...
☐ A. I feel romantic and passionate toward my partner.
☐ B. I feel passionless, my own fire is going out.
21. In this relationship...
☐ A. My partner is romantic and passionate.
☐ B. My partner is passionless, that is, the fire is going out in my partner.
22. I would say that...
☐ A. The satisfaction I get from sex is not a problem.
☐ B. The satisfaction I get from sex is a problem.
23. I would say that...
☐ A. My partner compliments my appearance.
☐ B. My partner does not compliment my appearance.
24. I would say that...
☐ A. I am satisfied by how we initiate sex.
☐ B. I am dissatisfied with the ways we initiate sex.
25. I would say that...
☐ A. It is possible for me to refuse sex and have it be okay.
☐ B. I am unable to refuse sex and have it be okay with my partner.
26. I would say that...
☐ A. I hardly ever have sex when I don’t want to.
☐ B. It seems as if I often have sex when I don’t want to.
27. I would say that...
☐ A. We have many ways to satisfy one another sexually.
☐ B. We have very few ways to satisfy one another sexually.
28. Overall I would say that...
☐ A. We are good sexual partners.
☐ B. We are not very good sexual partners.
Count all the times you checked “A.” Divide that number by 28, and then multiply it by 100. That is your score. If you scored greater than 80%, your relationship is doing well in terms of affection, sex, romance, and passion. If you still have concerns and/or scored lower than 80%, you might want to check out The Gott Sex? Series: The Art and Science of Lovemaking for help improving this area of your personal life. Whatever your score is, be sure to tuned for some helpful tips from Dr. Gottman in our next posting on Friday!
The first, as you may have guessed, is this: Communicate!
There's a common misconception that talking during sex is dirty and inappropriate. While this misguided notion is consistent with the tone of publications that perpetuate it (see: Cosmo, which also encourages you to think of your partner as a stranger, to keep things interesting) nothing could not be further from the truth. By turning towards your partner and talking during sex, you make things personal, engaging in a form of emotional communication which increases intimacy and passion in your lovemaking. By focusing on the emotional instead of the physical, you can actually improve your physical experience without even trying!
Dr. Gottman has this to say about the art of intimate conversation:
People don't think of conversation as something that’s related to sex; you know, they’d say that having a conversation, that's not sex. People think that sex is touching, and kissing, and caressing, and sucking, and licking. But, having intimate conversation, saying, “Hey baby, how are you doing? How are you feeling about your job? You look kind of sad, you know, when you come home, lets talk about it!” is really sex.
Everything in that conversation is sex, and it helps build friendship and emotional connection as well. It doesn't seem like that would really be a key ingredient for friendship and for having a good sex life, but it's very essential because there is an increasing sense of emotional distance when couples don’t do these things.
In many relationships I have observed, people only start trying to be close when they want intercourse, or when they want to have an orgasm, and in these cases then there is no basis for closeness. There’s no prior emotional connection. In fact, people may be feeling alienated and lonely, like their needs are getting ignored in a relationship, and all of a sudden their partner wants to have sex with them, and it's even more alienating then. Insulting even. This is why communication and friendship are so important to a happy relationship.
This weekend, we give you permission to try it out.
Romantic Things to Say to a Man During Sex:
All for now,
It’s important to say, "I love you." One of the early signs that a relationship is failing is that couples stop telling each other. They simply stop saying the words. So don’t stop. But also, don’t stop at, "I love you."
This is Zach's 12th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.
Kyle Morrison is co-director of the Products Department at The Gottman Institute. In addition to working with product development, copywriting, and editing, she is also the webmaster for The Gottman Institute’s website. Kyle’s background in public relations, communications, and administration, along with her deeply personal interest in “conscious relating,” make her an enthusiastic team member. Kyle lives in Seattle with her husband, Alan, and two kid-substitute cats.
As Kyle Morrison explained on Wednesday, couples who reach out to The Gottman Institute in a state of distress almost always have one thing in common: they want to know that everything is okay. They want to know that they're not alone, and they want to make things right. Unfortunately, having been raised on a steady diet of fairytale logic and pop songs (see more here and here), few of us are equipped with particularly good ideas of what a healthy relationship is – much less how to make contingency plans for when we can see that our relationship isn't.
Operating from a basis of misconceptions about an effortless “happily ever after” can be dangerous. First of all, there's no such thing as a flawless relationship, simply because there's no such thing as a flawless person. And who would want this automatic perfection? Who would want to live in a world where everyone is the same? We could never fall in love, because there would be no source of connection – no shared idiosyncrasies, no weird inside jokes, no strange habits to bond over.
And yet, it's true: not all flaws are adorable. Idiosyncrasies that seem cute when we’re falling in love often lose their appeal over time, and come out in fights – blow-outs that occur when we do our best to stay silent, but can’t help keeping a running tally of annoyances, or finally exploding at our partners with laundry lists of our frustrations.
But here's the thing. Whether the crisis of the day is relatively minor, such as a partner’s chronic lateness, or more serious, like a penchant for substance abuse, the problems underlying conflict are often the same. They are rooted in issues of trust and communication. Because we aren't automatons, we can't read each other's minds. The root cause of our conflict is often simply our inability to adequately express our differences, feelings, and needs.
Let's look at an example:
Jamie sits and stews at a restaurant, waiting for her husband, Joe. She is steaming because she's been feeling neglected, and now she can see that he doesn't care about the effort she's made in planning their date night, booking a reservation, clearing her schedule, or making it to her current steaming position! She doesn't know that Joe is late because he’s excitedly putting the finishing touches on a mix tape he's making for her.
Now, imagine what the situation might look like if Jamie trusted Joe:
Rather than immediately jumping to the worst possible conclusion, she might wait patiently, not taking his lateness personally. She knows that Joe loves her and cares very much about spending time with her. She might assume that something has come up, and give him a call. If he doesn't answer, she might talk to her fellow diners and end up making a friend or two before he arrives. When he comes in with a sheepish smile and her present, all might be forgiven.
But as we all know, not every scenario plays out this way, and the prerequisite for the alternative is trust, which can't exactly be conjured up by saying a magic word. And that's exactly why it's so important for couples to take care of their connection – to build a culture of appreciation, turn towards instead of away, consult with their love maps, etc. Your emotional connection, this ability to see the best in each other and maintain positive expectations, is what helps couples protect their relationships from unnecessary stressors and weather the storms that do come.
In reality, what most distressed couples want is to re-establish a strong and healthy connection. The first step to re-building their bond is intentionally communicating nondefensively and openly. By doing so, couples may come to understand the reasons underlying each other’s choices and behavior patterns, express their frustrations in a gentler, more constructive way, and become aware, perhaps for the first time(!), of the effects they have on each other on a daily basis.
So why can’t we all just do this?
With further ado, here are Dr. Gottman's three skills and one rule for having an intimate conversation.
Skill #1: Putting Your Feelings into Words
Skill #2: Asking Open-Ended Questions
Skill #3: Expressing Empathy
Tomorrow, look forward to applying these skills in your weekend homework assignment!
All for now,
Putting Your Feelings into Words
If you find yourself struggling to put your feelings into words in the course of your conversation, you can use the list below as an aid. (You might need to use more than one word or phrase, and you may experience emotions not covered in this list; If this happens, don't panic! It's totally normal! The list is just a starting point). Improvisation is encouraged.
like a failure.
distant from you.
like I am not accepted.
Asking Open-Ended Questions
Explore your partner’s feelings and thoughts by asking questions that open the heart. Here are some examples you can try:
Do you think this has affected our relationship? If so, how?
What do your values tell you about this?
What would you really like to ask me?
What specifically is upsetting you in this situation?
Think of someone you really admire. What would he/she do and how would he/she view this situation?
To deepen intimacy in a conversation, it really helps to show your partner understanding and empathy. First, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and comprehend what they are saying or feeling. Then, communicate to your partner that their thoughts or feelings really make sense to you. Below are some great statements for conveying understanding and empathy. Look them over and use any that ring true as a follow-up to your partner's words:
I wish I would have known that earlier. I'm sorry.
You're making total sense.
That would have annoyed me too.
I'm on your side here.
That must make you feel so helpless.
Remember, in an intimate conversation, your job is to understand and validate, not to argue for your perception. Both partners take turns being understood. In the early years of a relationship, questions of trust are paramount: “Will you be there for me when I’m upset?” “Do I come first in your life?” “Can I count on you to earn money for our family?” and so on.
Once you start practicing these skills, you may be surprised by how naturally they work their way into your daily interactions with loved ones... and by the positive changes they quickly effect in the relationships that matter most. Good luck!
Intimacy: N. See Fear, The opposite of.
Well, not really. Not entirely. Fear was taken from the reality of Merriam-Webster. Intimacy was taken from the reality of human relationships. But, ultimately, it's true - when we are afraid of the consequences, we cannot trust our partners to listen to or fully support us. When we are anxious about their reception, it's terrifying to consider revealing our deepest feelings, hopes, or dreams.
In the endlessly over-stimultating, high-speed world we live in, we are culturally forced into a seemingly limitless barrage of superficial chatter. While small talk is harmless and often incredibly effective in maintaining an amicable work environment at the water-cooler, non-stop superficial conversation is toxic to any intimate relationship. Dr. Gottman finds irony and a cause for concern in the bizarre applicability of Jean Piaget’s findings on “collective monologue” to our everyday conversations. Originally found in preschoolers, the effect may also be observed in adults these days: around the dinner table, we often alienate each other without even realizing what we are doing.
We behave like toddlers. We somehow forget to leave our meaningless chattering water-cooler selves at the office, and wonder how it is that we end up missing each other entirely.
Consider the following exchange between Mia and Jesse at the dinner table, taking place on her arrival home from a long day at work and night school, and after he has spent all day dragging the kids around to various activities:
Mia: “Augh, I can’t believe how much stuff I have to do these days, it’s insane! I don’t understand how these classes can assign so much homework, don’t they realize we have jobs?!"
Jesse:“These tykes were crazy today, Bobby didn’t want to go to swimming lessons, and he keeps talking about being a lifeguard. Maybe we should stop sending him, they’re not cheap.”
Mia: “And I have such a stupid boss. He doesn’t even get it – I keep having to work overtime shifts!”
Jesse:“It’s not as if he even talks about life-guarding that much anymore – these days it’s all about dinosaurs. Sometimes it all feels so ridiculous…”
Mia: “What if I get laid off?”
Jesse: “WHAT? What are you talking about?!”
They are talking past each other. Think back to your recent conversations. Sound familiar?
At this point, as Brooks explains, the couple "wanted to return to the old days, when they were spontaneous and loving around each other, but were afraid they would be rebuffed if they tried... so they just withdrew," and blamed each other for everything that went wrong. Each felt personally victimized by the other and utterly helpless, simultaneously certain that they were in the right and "wondering if they were losing their minds."
If you've been reading our blog postings, this will sound familiar. It's the downward spiral of disconnection. As the rift grows wider, trust breaks down, and turning away (rather than towards) becomes the rule.
As the years went by, they fell out of the habit of really talking, or even looking each other in the eye. In the evening, she'd be on the phone in one part of the house, and he'd be behind his laptop in another. Just as sharing everything had been a habit when they were first married, now not sharing had become a habit. Sometimes Erica would have some thought she wanted to express to him, but their relationship now had a written consitution. It would now be inappropriate to rush into his office with some enthusiastic notion or curious fact.
Brooks suggests that Harold and Erica might benefit from the liberal application of a simple principle: Dr. Gottman's 5:1 Ratio. And this may well be true. Any couple may benefit from aiming to have five positive interactions for each negative one. This ratio works because it gives us the opportunity to start seeing each other in a different way, noticing the positive things our partners do in place of annoyances. Changing our focus in the moment becomes a habit, and our global attitudes shift. But David and Erica's problems can't be solved purely by pursuing this ratio, simply because without a basis in emotional attunement, success is unsustainable!
What Harold and Erica are missing is friendship. They are missing a foundation of emotional attraction, a bond that can make their marriage a safe harbor to return to every night, a steady source of fulfillment amidst the bustle and stress of otherwise tumultuous lives. Divergent interests and busy personal schedules don't have to dictate the course of a marriage - after all, pursuing independent goals is far less lonely (and often far more successful) with a partner's caring support.
"Great," you might be thinking. "Sounds beautiful, but how do we get there?"
Here's how you can start. Below, you'll find an exercise designed by Dr. Gottman to increase emotional attraction by having stress-reducing conversations!
Building Emotional Attraction
For example, you might find it pretty sexy that your partner can carry out an intellectual conversation, or talk about a novel or current news story that you've both read. This kind of attraction goes much deeper than the physical. Think of it as an expansion of "looks aren't everything."
Your emotional attraction to your partner is largely determined by the ways in which you communicate.
If you are communicating well, you are likely comfortable opening up to your partner about your opinions without having to worry about being judged for them. This high level of intimate trust is reaffirmed in daily dialogue - specifically in a “How was your day, dear?” conversation - but you may be surprised to find out that this conversation doesn’t always have a positive effect!
The Stress-Reducing Conversation
What this conversation does (or ought to do) is to help each of you manage external stress in your daily lives so that it doesn't spill over into your relationship.
According to Dr. Gottman’s close friend and colleague, UW’s Dr. Neil Jacobson, one of the key reasons for couples’ relapse after problem-solving in marital therapy is "discord caused by stress from other areas of their lives."
In other words, outside problems (at work, with friends, with family members) often end up coming into relationships to fuel the fires of conflict.
Couples who are overrun by stress and fail to talk about it with each other see their level of emotional attraction drop, and subsequently see their relationships suffer.
On the other hand, those who talk about the stresses of daily life with one another and help each other to cope keep their relationships strong.
Many couples have this sort of conversation at the dinner table or while undressing for bed. Sadly, this discussion does not always have the desired effect. Instead of decreasing stress, it actually increases it. While there is a time to talk about issues with your partner, discussing those that affect your relationship at this time is, to put it gently, inadvisable.
For starters, think about the timing of the chat. Some people want to unburden themselves when they’re barely through the door. Others need to decompress on their own for a while before they’re ready for discourse, but may want to talk before it gets late and they feel too tired. Talk to your partner and find out their preference!
The cardinal rule in having a stress-reducing conversation: only talk about stress outside of your relationship.
This is not the time to discuss areas of conflict between the two of you, or point fingers of blame. It's also not the time to instruct your partner on how to fix the problems they're facing. It’s an opportunity to support each other emotionally regarding other areas in your lives.
Remember: understanding must precede advice.
Though these conversations don’t center on your relationship, they directly improve it. They allow you to connect on an intimate level. How? Emotional attraction (and transitively, sexual attraction) grows when you feel your partner is listening to you, respecting and accepting your perspective, and expressing genuine care.
This is Zach's 13th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.
If you read Zach Brittle's posting on Monday, you know that M is for Money. M is also for marriage and misunderstanding and multidimensional and maybe, as in maybe a good thing and maybe not. We are conditioned to think of money as an ultimate goal, a passport to the land of eternal peace of mind, but in the long run we know this isn’t quite true. Most of us have figured out by now that money is not the ultimate answer. It can’t really make us happy and isn’t very good at solving our relationship problems.
It’s tempting and convenient to think otherwise, though. Think of the hassled husband (or wife!) on all those TV shows, eternally retreating into their office to escape the myriad challenges of daily life (most commonly, to avoid facing marital conflict). The pursuit of financial security as strategy for avoiding the complexities of human relationships is a common theme. It doesn’t even have to be a conscious decision at first, but it is a slippery slope! After all, we’re only human, and when faced with a choice between an intractable problem and a lovely distraction... well, we often can’t help ourselves.
Unfortunately, workplace escapism often makes things worse. Even solvable problems can become gridlocked issues when avoided long enough. Falling into these habits only increases the distance between us and loved ones, putting stress on relationships and limiting families’ ability to face challenges together. It takes a conscious effort to change our ways, and we may be helped by a change in perspective.
So let’s take a step back. What does money really give us? Theoretically, it provides that elusive sense of stability. Realistically, the picture is more complicated. Juggling work, friends, and family often gives us a big headache. We have limited resources, and the time and energy we spend making money get subtracted from what we have available for our relationships. See more here, here, and here.
Even well-intentioned, dedicated, and hardworking partners seeking to support their loved ones may unwittingly send mixed messages. “I care about you and want to make us happy and comfortable” becomes hard to hear when there’s hardly any time left in which to be happy and comfortable together. Miscommunications about priorities in this department abound, and can seem unavoidable for couples struggling to make ends meet.
But none of this is new. Here’s what is. M is also for mindfulness. As Dr. Gottman writes in The Relationship Cure, “Most people don’t get married, have children, make friends, or take jobs with the intention of allowing these relationships to fail. And yet that’s what often happens – simply because people don’t pay enough attention to the emotional needs of others.” In short, “If you don’t pay attention, you don’t connect.”
Whether money is something that addresses your basic needs (for food, shelter, etc) or is a way to buy luxuries, the bottom line remains: it is the people around you who enrich you life. You can struggle together or get by comfortably, but your relationships ultimately determine whether you live in joy or misery. As the saying goes, "The real measure of your wealth is how much you'd be worth if you lost all your money."
Take Zach Brittle's advice and talk to your partner about what money means to each of you. Is it a symbol of security? Freedom? Power? Oppression? Something to be saved or spent? As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, money is often symbolic of deeper emotional needs, and resolving financial differences typically requires "balancing the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes." A couple whose philosophies on the topic align perfectly is rare, but fortunately for those of us whose relationships don’t fit that model, there are some creative approaches to money that can bring couples closer together. We won’t keep you in too much suspense. Tune in on Friday to learn more!
All for now,
This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’ve been tackling the subject of money. As promised in Wednesday’s post, today we will share creative approaches to fight the destructive effects of financial stress on your relationships and help you to strengthen bonds with those you love!
Security, stability, and safety are found in community. They are found in our relationships with families and friends. In hard times, these will be the people who help us out and lift our spirit. Money isn’t too great at providing support, back rubs, or understanding. And when the good times roll around, we can’t share our joy with a stack of dollar bills – we want those closest to us to celebrate our successes, too!
Nurturing deep, healthy, happy, and long-lasting connections that allow us to do this rarely has much to do with money. On the contrary, money is often divisive, alienating us from each other, acting as a source of conflict in marriages, families, and larger communities.
Below, see some creative ways to create and strengthen relationships with partners, family, friends, and even strangers:
Don’t hesitate to make a personal list. These suggestions are intended as a starting point. We invite you to share your own affordable, creative ideas on our Facebook page!
Have a great weekend,
Now that summer’s here, what better time to heat up your relationship? No longer cooped up by cold dark days, it’s time to throw open the doors and together venture out.
Since John’s favorite adventure is visiting a bookstore while mine is tramping up mountains, not surprisingly we differ somewhat about the virtues of summer. We’re like that movie, “The Odd Couple,” a 1960’s tale of two roommates who are total opposites of each other. Each summer John rails against that “yellow stuff” (sunshine) and wants to stay indoors, while I’ll do anything to stay outside. So how does this “odd couple” find summer romance?
Thankfully, we both love the sea. John armors himself with a wide brimmed old straw hat and 50 SPF sunscreen, and together we jump into our double sea kayak and take off for far away islands. The secret to boating together? No criticisms or “corrections” allowed. Instead, in order to sync up we sing together and paddle in rhythm to our tunes. Only the seals can hear us, and so far they haven’t complained.
Here are some other ideas for summer romance: The tried-and-true picnic is standard summer fare. But make it special by taking along the Love Map and Open-Ended Questions Card Deck for updating your Love Maps. John and I recently sat out on our deck for three days taking turns answering every single card. Even after 25 years, we still had more to learn about each other. And if you’re so inclined, stash the Salsa Deck of your choice in your picnic basket for more "spicy" topics.
Setting up an air mattress outside and sleeping under the stars can sweeten your nights, too. Or hopping in your car with some weekend supplies and heading for the nearest campground! If you’re not fond of the outdoors, try an all-weekend movie marathon at your local cinema. Just make sure the theatre is air-conditioned. Afterwards, there’s lots to talk about: Which was your favorite movie, and why? Who was your favorite character? What was your favorite scene? Discussed over ice cream, of course.
And our favorite summer activity? Our annual honeymoon. Every year around anniversary time we ferry up to Salt Spring Island off the coast of British Columbia, our kayak in tow. Though married much longer, we discovered the joys of this annual ritual of connection 13 years ago, and we’ve been repeating it every year since. We always stay in the same B&B and visit the same restaurant where they know John will order only his favorite dish, weinerschnitzel, like his mother used to make.
By now we’ve also gathered a circle of friends, artists, and writers, who we look forward to seeing year after year. Best of all, there is no internet and no cellphone reception, leaving us with endless hours of nothing but each other. And that’s the sweetest of all.
Happy summer to you and yours!
InThe Relationship Cure, Dr. John Gottman emphasizes the importance of vacations as a ritual of connection. Taking a honeymoon after you get married is, as he explains, society's way of saying, "Take some time alone together in a romantic spot and get this relationship off to a good start!"
If you had a chance to read Dr. Julie Gottman's guest post on Tuesday, you know that your honeymoon doesn't have to be a once in a lifetime experience.
In fact, John and Julie go on an annual anniversary trip to Salt Spring Island, and recommend that you do something similar. Continue to honor your relationship by repeating a honeymoon ritual throughout your lives!
Here are Dr. Gottman's 5 tips from for creating your own summer vacation rituals:
Reconnect: "Find a destination that's both romantic and pleasurable. Leave the kids, pets, and other relatives at home. And don't bring the work cell phone." Take some uninterrupted time together and reconnect, away from the distractions and stressors of your everyday lives.
Relax together: Parents may benefit from planning weekend getaways without the kids a few times a year, and all couples should plan "dates" at least twice a month - "even if it's just go to a pub or coffee shop for an hour or two."
Plan: The emphasis here is on the word "plan." If you've ever been on an adventure (to lands near or far!) with a partner, you know just how easily traveling gives way to quarreling. On the road, there doesn't ever seem to be a shortage of sources of conflict. After all, who wants their freedom to do each and every little thing they want limited on vacation?
Accept Influence: If squabbling isn't on your ideal itinerary, and you would rather your outing be a joyous affirmation of your shared love than a lament of your differing wakeboard rental preferences, it may be wise to take some preventative measures ahead of time. Remember the importance of accepting influence in pursuing mutually satisfying compromises - topics of disagreement can range from the ice cream flavors you're sharing to whether or not you'll be visiting your in-laws, so it may be wise to acknowledge divergent preferences and brainstorm ideas with your partner in advance.
Yield To Win: In Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s collaborative The Art & Science of Love weekend workshop, husband and wife role-play the winning strategy known as the "The Akido Principle," or Yield To Win. To quote directly from the workshop’s manual, “one does not win an argument by countering everything [their] partner says. If you are a brick wall, things will only escalate. In fact, what you have to do to win is to get your partner to start saying yes, and the only way to do that is to yield to those parts of your partner’s point of view and argument that seem reasonable to you.” In doing this, you achieve something powerful. The two of you turn towards each other, become a team, and work together to solve your shared problem! In your travels on vacation, this exploratory, improvisational philosophy can take you far. Isn't saying yes and turning towards new opportunities what adventure is all about?
All for now,
In my last post, I suggested an imaginary list of "Top 5 Regrets from the First Year of Marriage." There are at least five things I’d do differently, but I’m not actually sure “regrets” is the right word. Regrets in particular somehow imply regret in general, which I don’t have. Given the opportunity to do it all over again, I’d definitely still choose to get married and to the same person. But our first year as newlyweds was rough.
Newlyweds. The word inspires songwritten images of carefree Sundays that begin with playful games of “Guess Who Cooks?” and end with reading poetry from overdue library books under the apple tree in the backyard (credit to David Harris for that one). Our first year wasn’t like that. We did have an apple tree in the backyard of our first rental house, but we also had a moldy basement.
I do a fair bit of pre-marital counseling in my practice and lately my philosophy is shifting. I used to work through a pre-established set of topics to help couples prepare for marriage. At the end of six sessions, we’d check the box off and the happy couple would head off to marital bliss. The problem with this sort of pre-marital counseling is that it implies that you can prepare for marriage before you’re actually married. But I don’t think that’s possible or healthy.
More recently, I’ve been asking couples to throw out the notion of pre-marital therapy and think instead of “transition to marriage” therapy. Giving couples an extended vision for therapy helps cement the preparation and acknowledges that only the only thing that can prepare you for marriage is actually being married. It turns out there are Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, but in my work with newlyweds I focus on priorities more than principles. So, without further ado, here are:
Three to Four Priorities for Newlyweds
1. Have a Thing: In the Gottman vernacular this would be “Create Shared Meaning.” Basically, it’s the idea that couples need to get proactive about forming a marriage culture that is uniquely their own. We spend most of our lives forming our identities through our family of origin. Then, one day we decide to get married and take on a new identity. I encourage couples to start by “Having a Thing.” Sometimes it’s the creation of a ritual - like Saturday morning hikes. Sometimes it’s the cultivation of a value - like generosity or hospitality. Sometimes it’s agreeing on a dream and working toward it - like a 5 year anniversary trip to Ireland. In order to have a thing - together - you have to get to know your partner’s hopes and fears, you have to focus your vision, you have to make sacrifices. Having a Thing is a fun and relatively easy thing to prioritize.
2. Fight Fair: Again, in the Gottman vernacular, this would be “Managing Conflict.” There’s a reason that songwriters are drawn to images of carefree Sundays rather than stress-filled Mondays. Conflict isn’t poetic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be artfully done. It is important for couples to recognize that conflict is inevitable and that the sooner they identify their problem issues, the better. The hardest lesson I learned during my first year of marriage was how selfish I was. I wasn’t very good at picking my battles and so we fought about everything from how to spend money to where to store the toothbrushes. When couples do the hard work of understanding the anatomy of their conflict and establishing healthy patterns of relating, it can help secure the foundation of the relationship in the long run. Fighting fair is a less fun, but arguably more intimate, priority for the first year.
3. Collect Resources: In my last post I mentioned that you need to find a financial advisor. This is an example of what I mean by resources. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I think you should also find a good therapist - one for each of you and one for your relationship. Get to know your neighbors. Get a library card. Take a cooking class. Basically, get to know your community and the resources that are available therein. Marriages aren’t meant to exist in a vacuum and knowing where and how to get help from (and give help to) your community can go long way...especially when the newlywed phase fades into the “we’ve been married a while, now what?” phase.
4. No Regret: All things considered, this may not belong on the list. Some of the most successful pre-marital therapy concludes with the couple deciding not to marry. Or at least not yet. Marriage is hard work and you’re bound to make mistakes. Regrets are okay. Regret is another thing altogether. I hear way too many stories of divorcing couples who say things like “I ignored the warning signs” or, “We shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place.” Don’t ignore the warning signs. Keep your eyes open for the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and reign them in. Early in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, we ask this question: If you had your life to live over again, do you think you would: (a) marry the same person (b) marry a different person (c) not marry at all? Be sure to give your relationship the scrutiny it deserves so that 5, 15, 50 years later you answer (a) with confidence and conviction.
If you have your own list of "Top 5 Regrets from the First Year of Marriage" or something to add to the list of "Three to Four Priorities for Newlyweds," please send them my way (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This is Zach's 14th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.
Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we pick up where Zach Brittle left off in his Relationship Alphabet column on Monday, "N is for Newlyweds." Actually, we pick up before "N is for Newlyweds," and even before "M is for Marriage," all the way back at "L is for Love" ... or "like-like," if you please!
If you've been enjoying the blog, but have been wishing to supplement your reading with something a little more hands-on, look no further! Please imagine us waving excitedly, possibly hopping up and down, and directing your attention to this...
Our Art & Science of Love weekend workshop, fully explained here, is appropriate and excellent for all couples, no matter what your relationship status - premarital, newly married, or long-term partners!
If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with insights and tools to make it a great one. If your relationship is distressed, this two-day workshop will provide a road map for repair.
If you live in Seattle, or would like to visit our beautiful city, you can register for one of the following dates. Workshop co-creators Drs. John and Julie Gottman will present on:
Additional Art & Science of Love workshops are presented by Certified Gottman Therapists (CGTs) around the world. Check them out here.
Questions? We have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the workshop.
Q: We are happy and in love. Why should we attend a Gottman weekend workshop before we get married?
Q: Can I give the workshop as a wedding gift?
Q: Where can I hear from real couples about how the workshop helped them?
Q: We don’t want group therapy. Do we have to share with the other couples?
Click here to view more FAQs. For more information about The Art & Science of Love or to register, please visit our website here, call us at 888-523-9042 ext 1, or email us at email@example.com.
All for now,
And what about sex?
In their famous 1970s study, Masters and Johnson found that the gay and lesbian couples have sex very differently from the heterosexual couples or strangers. The committed gay and lesbian couples were the only people excited by their partner’s excitement, while the others were focused on getting to orgasm. Gay couples turned towards their partners’ bids for emotional connection during sex. They took their time, enjoying the ecstasy of lovemaking. Rather than being constrained by a single-minded focus on the end “goal,” they seemed to enjoy the stimulation and sensuality itself.
To learn more, clinicians and all others interested may find The 12 Year Study here.
Will: You know Abby just doesn’t like crowds. Next time, you shouldn’t bring it up, it makes everything so awkward.
Cheyenne: You’re such a pushover, why can’t you stand up for me? You thought she was acting weird the other night, I don’t see why I can't talk to her about it.
Will: Come on, we’ve been through this before. Let’s go get some coffee or something. On the way, I can show you that art gallery I thought you’d like.
Cheyenne: No, whatever. It’s fine, let’s just go home.
In this scenario, Will reacts without considering Cheyenne’s need for support from him when she is upset. He immediately rushes to offer an explanation, even defending the person his girlfriend feels attacked by. He refuses to engage with her on an emotional level and attempts to distract her instead. She is left feeling disappointed and even more frustrated than before. She expected his empathy, and instead received advice she didn’t ask for and criticism she certainly didn’t expect to hear. Here is a way that Will could apply Dr. Gottman’s skills for intimate conversation to the same scenario, increasing his and Cheyenne’s attunement and trust in each other:
Cheyenne: I couldn’t believe how Abby reacted when I brought up what happened at the party. What a crude attempt at changing the subject! Who does she think she is? Just shutting me down like that…
Will: I’m sorry, I understand how that would make you upset. I know you wanted to help, but she never wants to go there.
Cheyenne: I like Abby… It’s just so frustrating that I have to walk on eggshells around her. It’s exhausting.
Will: That makes sense. I hate it when I have to censor myself in social situations. I just want to relax, too.
Cheyenne: Yeah. You know what? Let’s go see that gallery you’ve been talking about, the one you said I’d like…
Try these techniques in your own relationship, and the results may surprise you! By engaging in supportive, intimate conversations with your partner, you can build trust - the most important ingredient in a healthy, happy relationship - and be closer than ever!
All for now,
As many of us know all too well, having learned the hard way, trust begins and ends with emotional communication. Though we may wish this wasn’t so, no corner of our world is free from this rule. We are governed by it in our relationships just as our bodies are governed by the laws of gravity. Dr. Gottman’s studies cannot magic-away all of physics. He freely admits to this. Comparing broken trust in a relationship to a shattered mirror, he says: "You can glue it back together, but it will never be the same again.”
Nonetheless, his many years of research on our complicated human relationships fill him with hope. He offers it to us, bestowing tools upon those of us who dream of protecting trust. Though we've all been shattered by its fragility, we are not forever doomed to stand amid shards of glass. His studies have shown that a little bit every day goes a long way. If both partners build habits of turning towards each other in simple everyday moments, they build bridges wrought of affection, fondness, and admiration for each other: these are the bridges of trust.
Think of the exercise below as a list of ideas, of building blocks, and remember that they are not set in stone. Every relationship is different. Whether you’d like to build bridges, carve intricate tunnels, or sail messages in bottles towards each other, the connections you create will bring the two of you closer together. Practice affection, and trust will naturally follow.
Things to Do for Your Spouse:
Whenever I work with pre-marital couples, we spend a fair bit of time pondering whatever a marriage actually is. Is it a social contract? A political statement? A business agreement? A holy sacrament? Of course, it’s all of those things and they each have their own implications and consequences. More thematically, we explore whether marriage is a right, a privilege, a gift, a responsibility, a burden - there’s a reason the ball-and-chain metaphor exists. Mostly, we work on exposing the attitudes, biases, and expectations for the relationship.
This is Zach's 15th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.