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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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    How Stripping Solves Relationship Conflicts
    By Jamie Turndorf, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Love")

    Imagine being in the throes of a heated relationship argument, when suddenly you're facing a partner who has turned stone deaf. When our partners stop listening, we naturally turn up the volume, hoping to blast the wax from their ears. No use. Instead of understanding what’s bugging us, they dig in their heels and defend their actions. Now we’re really frosted, so we crank our emotional thermostat to the max and blast them with more heat. And big surprise. They're more deaf, more defensive, or just plain outta there in the flash of a firefly.

    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.

    How Can We Break the Cycle?
    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.

    Old Scars Make Us Overreact to Minor Events in the Present
    The unconscious mind constantly links present-day slights with the wounds we suffered as kids. This is what I call the Emotional Lake Effect. Think about an actual lake-effect blizzard that gathers moisture and energy as it moves across large expanses of warmer lake water and dumps mounds of snow on the lake’s leeward shores. Well, the unconscious mind does the same thing. As the mind dips into the reservoir of your unconscious, it dredges up memories of similar hurts that you suffered as a kid. The next thing you know, you’re blowing an emotional gasket because you are reliving all the pain of previous similar offenses. This explains why fireworks are going off inside you even though the current event doesn’t seem to warrant such an explosive reaction.

    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. 

    ___________________________________________________

    Known to millions as “Dr. Love” through her website AskDrLove.com— the web's first and immensely popular relationship advice site since 1995 — Dr. Jamie Turndorf has been featured on CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox, MSNBC and in Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, Glamour, American Woman, and Marie Claire, to name only a few. She writes a column called “We Can Work it Out” for Psychology Today online and her “Ask Dr. Love” radio show can be heard in Seattle on KKNW and on WebTalkRadio.Net, which broadcasts in 80 countries worldwide. 

    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

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    As the weather gets warmer and canoodling couples take up residence on every available park bench, you may be thinking of turning up the heat in your own relationship. If so, you are not alone! Writer Lily White certainly had the subject in mind when she penned this hilarious and insightful New York Times piece titled, "Let's Not Pretend to be Who We Aren't." We share it with you today in hopes to start a fruitful conversation about sex... to be continued in our next post! Today, enjoy Lily's article, and take the following quiz - designed by Dr. John Gottman himself - to check up on the state of your sex life.

    Quiz: 
    Assessing the quality of sex, romance, and passion in your relationship.

    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... 
    ☐ A. Romantic and passionate?
    ☐ 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.

    Scoring:

    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!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    It had been a while since we last discussed sex on the blog, and as Dr. Gottman recommends making a habit of talking about the subject, we decided it was time to share this quiz with you on Wednesday! Now that you've had a chance to get a feel for how things are going (no pun intended), we'd like to offer you some general tips. 

    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.

    The following are some examples of phrases you can use to increase your communication. Try them on for size, or use some of your own creation! Remember: While this may seem awkward and forced at first, once the initial barrier is broken down you will be able to comfortably communicate with your partner during sex, to tell them exactly what you want and how you want it.

    Romantic Things to Say to a Man During 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.


    Romantic Things to Say to a Woman During Sex:

    • 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.


    Enjoy your weekend homework assignment, and look forward to more next week on The Gottman Relationship Blog!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    L is for Love & Like
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC 

    "Love" is the obvious word here. But with all due respect to love, it’s probably a little too obvious for my tastes. Don’t get me wrong, I love love, but it often clouds the real issue at the heart of a relationship. You’ve heard that love covers a multitude of sins? Maybe that’s the problem.

    The "multitude of sins" is what erodes the integrity of a relationship. I touched on this a bit in January when I wrote about Betrayal. It’s not necessarily the gigantic elephant-in-the-room betrayals that destroy a relationship. It’s the little ones, the day-after-day ones that chip away at trust and lead husbands and wives to question commitment to wives and husbands.

    Love, however, has remarkable endurance. It survives more often than it doesn’t. Love is the reason couples come into my office. It’s because couples love each other that they’re in pain. It’s because of love that diminished trust and commitment are so distressing. Love is the tie that binds, and because it is so foundational and so constant, it is easy to take it for granted. It’s easy to assume love. It’s obvious. But sometimes love sometimes misses the point.

    Yesterday, my wife and I got into it. We were due for a fight and we went for it. We both raged for a hot minute. Yelled across two rooms to make sure we were "heard." She got critical. I got defensive. Typical stuff. The natural progression of a fight like this is that, one of us - usually me - will start cleaning the house in a huff. Yesterday, I made the bed. Swept the kitchen. Started unloading the dishwasher and eventually ran out of steam. This too is typical and at this point, one of us - usually my wife - offers a hug. So we’ll hug. She’ll say, "I love you." And I’ll cringe.

    Yesterday, when my wife said, "I love you," the words stung. Not because they weren’t true. And not because they weren’t what I wanted to hear. It’s just that, I know my wife loves me. What I really need, is to know that she likes me. I need to know that she enjoys, respects, admires, and appreciates me. And to be fair, I need her to know that I enjoy, respect, admire, and appreciate her. This is what I mean when I suggest that sometimes love misses the point. 

    Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: "I still love him. I’m just not in love with him." You’ve heard it before. I know you have. It’s among the most cliche of cliches. What does that even mean? What’s the difference between "love" and "in love?" I believe it’s the difference between "love" and "like." 

    In my Imagination post, I offered a quick look at architectural integrity of Dr. Gottman’s model of the Sound Relationship House. As I said then, the SRH derives its integrity from the twin pillars of trust and commitment. The whole structure deserves a full inspection, but for now, it’s worth noting that the house’s foundation is in "liking" each other. 

    Notice how the bottom level of the SRH emphasizes the relational friendship:

    • 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.

    All of these things lead to what Gottman calls The Positive Perspective, or Positive Sentiment Override (PSO) , which is essential for managing and surviving conflict. In the same way that a multitude of sins chip away at a relationship, PSO protects and fortifies your friendship and helps you survive those days when you’re due for a fight.

    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."

    My wife and I survived yesterday. It was just one of those days. And I know that "those days" can add up for couples and sometimes feel overwhelming. But days like these have taught us a new skill, or at least a new phrase: "I love you and I like you."

    It might not be as obvious, but it helps.

    ____________________________________________________________________________


    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.

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    Where Did the Love Go?
    By Kyle Morrison 

    The phone rings often at The Gottman Institute. Last week, I answered a call from a young woman distressed about arguments that were ruining what had been, till then, an easy-going relationship with her husband. "We’ve only been married two months," she said, questioning her intense anger and whether she had chosen the wrong partner. 

    I told her what I tell almost everyone with such a story: you’re in good company. I say this because people aren’t really calling to hear about couples therapy or practical tips – not at first. They call because they feel afraid, ashamed, and alone with their problem. "If we were right for each other," they say, "we wouldn’t do this." This is usually the sound of disillusionment, and I have heard it from both newlyweds and couples who have been together for decades. Something has changed, and they want to know: "Where did the love go? I’m not feeling the way I’m supposed to." 

    Where does this idea come from – that if we love one another, we won’t fight - or if we do, we’ll easily kiss and make up? Where is it written that if we begin to have strong negative feelings toward our partners, it is a mistake to be together? 

    It may surprise you that in Western society, "marriage was not always about the relationship between the man and the woman," says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History. Centuries ago, marriage "was a way of getting in-laws, of making alliances, and expanding the family labor force." She adds, "If love could grow out of it, that was wonderful. But that was gravy." Only as cultural attitudes shifted away from the Church during the Enlightenment and times became more prosperous did people began to pursue lives of choice. Marriage evolved into something that could begin and end at will. Love, not obligation and economics, became the primary motivation in deciding to tie the knot. 

    Over time, Western society’s ideas about love took on the form of a fairy tale, where being together almost always feels good, happiness is the norm, and all conflicts are ultimately resolvable. How this happened is multifaceted, but prince-and-princess fairy tales and fables are a good place to start. Used for entertainment and morality lessons, they were the spoken-word legacy of generations, until technology and mass communication replaced them with radio songs, TV shows, and movies about being incomplete or shattered without a happily ever after. These themes remain the norm in our popular culture. We are inundated with false ideas about love, goodness, perfection, and "the pursuit of happiness" (unaware that a state of continual contentment is biologically impossible and even undesirable). Wanting to feel good motivates most of the personal choices we make, as anybody who watches Mad Men or who knows their advertising history can tell you. We are caught up in economically-driven illusions about life, love, and reality.

    No wonder new couples are shocked when their feelings for one another begin to fray. But the "best behavior" fueled by early love is not meant to last. In addition to letting one’s hair down (the end of the "honeymoon" phase), people evolve: emergencies test even the strongest couples, and life is what happens when you are making other plans. Any of these changes naturally disrupt our ideas, often unconscious, about what it means to "love and cherish."

    When I hear about new partners who have begun to disillusion one another, I want to tell them that these moments are actually a gift, if they are dealt with thoughtfully. They are where the rubber meets the road, where the work of commitment, intimacy, and deep coupleship begin. The Gottmans often quote psychotherapist Dan Wile, who says, "When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years." In fact, Dr. Gottman's research found that a whopping 69% of the ongoing problems in marriage are unresolvable, and that’s actually comforting, when you think about it. It means that the majority of couples are having the same difficulties you are – about money, sex, in-laws, kids, whatever. It means you are in the club of Life with a capital L. Stick with it, and you will find that choosing to move through time with a fellow flawed human, learning and growing with somebody you love and trust is, despite all the difficulty, what really makes us happy at the end of the day.

    In one of his novels, the late author John Williams writes of his protagonist: "In his extreme youth, [he] had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia." That sounds like disenchantment to me. But Williams goes on: "Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart."

    Some people are already realists, but most of us need a little help seeing ourselves and our partners clearly. Painters and writers often leave their work unfinished, coming back for a fresh look after time has cleansed a confused or dead-ended perspective. This is the work of The Gottman Institute: to help couples repair the inevitable mistakes and work with the small, daily movements and moments that mean so much to the larger picture. Most likely, the friendship and love that brought couples together is hiding in plain sight. Our work enables partners to step back, get a fresh look at the other, and appreciate the ongoing creation of their masterpiece.

    _________________________________________


    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.

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    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? 


    It turns out that the ability to have these kinds of conversations is not one we're born with. However, like learning to ride a bike, the practice of intimate communication is a difficult one to unlearn. Make it a habit, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how natural healthy strategies begin to feel!

    With further ado, here are Dr. Gottman's three skills and one rule for having an intimate conversation. 

    The rule is that understanding must precede advice. In our Art & Science of Love Weekend Workshops, we tell couples that the goal of an intimate conversation is only to understand, not to problem-solve. We say this because premature problem solving tends to shut people down. Problem solving and advice should only begin when both people feel totally understood.

    Skill #1Putting Your Feelings into Words

    The first skill is being able to put one’s feelings into words. This skill was called “focusing” by master clinician Eugene Gendlin. Gendlin said that when we are able to find the right images, phrases, metaphors, and words to fit our feelings, there is a kind of “resolution” one feels on one’s body, an easing of tension. In intimate conversations, focusing makes our conversations about feelings much deeper and more intimate, because the words reveal who we are.

    Skill #2: Asking Open-Ended Questions 

    The second skill of intimate conversations is helping one’s partner explore his or her feelings by asking open-ended questions. This is done by either asking targeted questions, like, “What is your disaster scenario here?” or making specific statements that explore feelings like, “Tell me the story of that!”

    Skill #3: Expressing Empathy

    The third skill is empathy, or validation. Empathy isn’t easy. In an intimate conversation, the first two skills help us sense and explore another person’s thoughts, feelings, and needs. Empathy is shown by communication that these thoughts, feelings, and needs make sense to you. That you understand why the other person's experience. That does not mean that you necessarily agree with this person. You might, for example, have an entirely different memory or interpretation of events. Empathy means communicating that, given your partner’s perceptions, these thoughts, feelings, and needs are valid and make sense. You have your own perceptions. Both of your perceptions are valid. 

    Tomorrow, look forward to applying these skills in your weekend homework assignment!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    At the end of yesterday's post on The Three Skills (and One Rule!) of Intimate Conversation, we promised to follow-up with your Weekend Homework Assignment. Here it is:

    Set aside time this weekend to work on what you learned in Friday's blog. Try initiating an intimate conversation with an open-ended question. 

    Examples of such questions are: “What kinds of changes can we make together in the coming year to make it our best year ever?” “What do you feel is going well for you these days?” “What do you feel is not going so well?” 

    You can also begin a conversation by simply asking, “How are you doing, baby?” or “How is life treating you? Talk to me. I’m listening.”

    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.

    I feel...

    uncomfortable.

    like a failure.

    unappreciated.

    distant from you.

    alone.

    insulted.

    like I am not accepted.

    comfortable.

    misunderstood.

    special.

    affectionate.


    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?


    Expressing Empathy


    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, i
    n 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!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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  • 06/18/14--17:07: How To Protect Intimacy


  • Fear: N. \’fir\ An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
    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.

    And why should we make ourselves completely vulnerable when we are afraid? Our internal wiring does its best to prevent us from opening our hearts to those we fear will hurt us emotionally, let us down, or leave us, and this - in the language of evolutionary psychology - may be called an adaptive trait! It’s healthy. We need to protect ourselves!

    Dr. Gottman understands this. His book on trust tells us to listen to these feelings, but also provides incredibly important methods for discerning how trust functions (or malfunctions) in our relationships. He doesn’t waste any time in getting to the core of the issue: trust begins in emotional attunement. Emotional attunement is often rooted in the ways in which we speak to each other - trust is built and broken in our everyday conversations.

    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?

    When we are in a stressed-out state while trying to communicate with our partners, we risk unintentionally sending the wrong messages to each other. Damaging messages like, "I don't care much about you/your feelings" or "I'm too tired/stressed to treat our relationship as a two-way street." These days, we seem to need to re-learn the basics,  to reconsider what an intimate conversation even looks like. According to Dr. Gottman, many of us are laboring under some serious misconceptions, which may explain why intimate conversations so commonly provoke anxiety. 

    Intimate conversation is not about constant headlong plunges into touchy subjects and conflict discussions; in fact, overzealous plunging has the potential to tear relationships apart. Intimate conversation is about Sliding Door Moments. Intimate conversation is about sharing closeness and solidifying your emotional bonds with loved ones.

    For more on intimate conversation, we encourage you to explore Dr. Gottman’s recent release, What Makes Love Last?. In the meantime, please enjoy this short clip taken from an exclusive interview with Dr. Gottman about the book: 



    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In his bestselling book The Social Animal, anthropologist and New York Times columnist David Brooks calls upon Dr. Gottman's research to explain the fates of his two fictional protagonists. At this stage in the story, Harold and Erica have attained nearly every marker of external success available to a couple in their middle age, barring one: their marriage. The global admiration each garners through achievements of single-mindedly pursued career-goals have come at the cost of their relationship, which now disintegrates in all of the usual ways. Their intimacy gone with the wind, Harold and Erica pass by each other like ships in the night.

    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. 

    It is just so in Brooks' fictional marriage: 

    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

    First of all, what is emotional attraction? 

    Emotional attraction means being attracted not just to your partner's body, but also to their hearts, minds, and dreams. It means valuing them for who they are and what they stand for. While you may be sexually attracted to your partner’s physical appearance, developing deeper emotional attraction will make these feelings much stronger.

     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.

    Good luck, and have a great weekend!
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    M is for Money
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    Usually, when two people get married, they stand up in front of their friends and family and they make a promise to stick together, no matter what. For better and for worse. In sickness and in health. For richer and for poorer. This last one is tricky, especially if you consider the math. Whenever two people get hitched, one becomes richer and the other becomes poorer. It’s the law of averages.

    It should come as no surprise that money is one of the six most common areas of marital conflict revealed by Dr. John Gottman’s research. As a therapist, the money conversation is one of my favorites to have with couples. It’s the perfect playground for a discussion about solvable versus perpetual problems. You see, money is always two things.

    First, and most simply, money is math. $1 + $1 = $2. You can use that $2 to buy a thing that costs $2. If you spend less than $2, you have money left over. If you spend more than $2, you owe somebody money. And while I personally do not know how to calculate simple interest, I do know that earning and paying interest on money you save and owe is subject to fundamental mathematical rules. In the mathematical sense, money is actually pretty easy.

    But money is something else, isn't it? It’s loaded. It has meaning. You and your partner likely have different ideas about what a dollar is worth. You have different ideas about savings, and debt, and wealth, and poverty. What does $2 represent? Do you even know? Is it security? Luxury? Power? Value? 

    Here’s a fun exercise: Imagine that your income were to increase right now by 20%. First, do you know how much of a raise you’d be getting? That’s the math. Second, what would you do with the extra money? That’s the meaning. Now imagine that your income were to decrease by 20%. What would you have to cut out of your lives? 

    It’s important that you have these conversations early, because sorting out the math only exposes the need to create shared meaning around money. The healthiest couples are in agreement together about where they hold value in their household. This agreement is essential when navigating the many economies at play in the relationship. 

    Yes, economies. There is, of course, the economy of the dollar bill. But there are also the economies of attention, affection, time, energy, and labor among others. The cost of paying someone to do yard work may offset the emotional and/or physical cost of spending the day in the dirt. You may have to weigh the value of a once in a lifetime family vacation against the fact that you may have to put the bulk of it on a credit card. Understanding your economies will help you make those tough choices.

    In any case, the money that moves in and out of your household budget should serve to support and enhance your core values as a couple. You just need to know what those values are. You might agree that savings are important, but you may not agree on what you’re saving for. A car? A house? College for your children? European vacation? You may have to have the same conversation about whether you will prioritize philanthropy. Will you give a portion of your income to charity? How much? To which charities? Why? Personally, I am a champion of philanthropic intent. It is the one thing that has changed the way we think about money. In choosing to give away our money, we’ve found that it has less power over us. It was one of the ways that we were able to determine the meaning of our money. 

    In my practice, I’ve found that I have the money conversation most often with pre-married couples and newlyweds. There’s a special place in my heart for these couples. On my imaginary list of "Top 5 Regrets from the First Year of Marriage" I would have to include: Not meeting with - and listening to - a financial advisor*. There’s a litany of reasons why we didn’t make this a priority, but it boiled down to feeling hopeless about the math. I was unemployed, swimming in debt, and uncertain about my financial hopes and dreams. But our fear of the conversation cost us more than it didn’t. If you haven’t done it already, I encourage you talk with someone who can help you understand the math and meaning of money, especially if you’re just getting started.

    In the end, as important as it is to get your finances in order, it’s just as important to remember that richer and poorer may have very little to do with money. According to Dr. Gottman in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “What's most important in terms of your marriage is that you work as a team on financial issues and that you express your concerns, needs, and fantasies to each other before coming up with a plan.” In other words, the way you go about crafting your financial future and creating shared meaning is, by far, the best value on your investment.

    *If you are or know a good financial advisor interested in helping couples (especially newlyweds) navigate both the math and the meaning of money, send me an email at zach@gottman.com. I’d like to speak to you.

    ____________________________________________________________________________


    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.

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    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 herehere, 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,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    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!

    Money is a hot topic. We care about money because we long for security, stability, and safety. But we also know that money alone doesn’t guarantee any of these things – you may have heard the saying, “Some people are so poor that all they have is money!” 

    It’s definitely possible to be fiscally well-off and also miserable, unstable, and insecure. So, what’s the answer?

    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 w
    hen 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! 

    We can’t commiserate with money, but we can commiserate with human beings. 

    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. 

    For this reason, demonetizing our approach to relationship building may take us a long way. Thinking of budgets outside of the strictly financial realm (also considering our budgeting of time and energy) may help us reach an interesting, new perspective.

    Below, see some creative ways to create and strengthen relationships with partners, family, friends, and even strangers:

    • 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.

    What about philanthropy? As Zach said on Monday, "In choosing to give away our money, we’ve found that it has less power over us."Take some time this weekend to discuss the following questions with your partner: are there any causes the two of you share a deep commitment to? Any organizations you support, from your community center or place of worship to homeless shelters, crisis clinics, human or animal rights groups? Consider giving - within your means, of course! 

    Doing something to help others is a great way to strengthen that priceless feeling: “We’re on the same team, and we’re making a difference together!” 

    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,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Summer Romance
    By Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D. 

    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!


    _________________________________________

    Julie Gottman, Ph.D. is the co-founder and President of The Gottman Institute. She is the co-creator of the immensely popular The Art and Science of Love weekend workshops for couples, and she also co-designed the national clinical training program in Gottman Couples Therapy. This article originally appeared on The Gottman Relationship Blog in July 2013.

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    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,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    N is for Newlyweds
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    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 (zach@gottman.com). 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.

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    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!

    In short, if you're in a relationship, this post is for you - whether you've gotten to M or not.

    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:

    • August 9 & 10 at the Seattle Convention Center 
    • October 11 & 12 at the Shoreline Community Center
    • December 6 & 7 at the Tacoma Convention Center

    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?
    Start early! Get your relationship off to a healthy beginning and keep it healthy. The average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems (and keep in mind, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years). This means that the average couple lives with unhappiness for far too long, and we always advocate a position of prevention over intervention. Learning the skills that masters of relationships have taught us will improve your ability to build friendship, manage conflict, and create shared meaning in your partnership. 

    Q: Can I add The Art & Science of Love weekend workshop to my wedding registry?
    Absolutely! If you are using The Knot or Amazon Wish List to manage your registry, you can add the workshop to your universal gift wish list. We're biased, but we think this is the most important gift that you can list on your registry.

    Q: Can I give the workshop as a wedding gift?
    Yes, you can. Just call us at 888-523-9042 ext 1 or email us at couples@gottman.com, and we will help you put together your wedding gift.

    Q: Where can I hear from real couples about how the workshop helped them? 
    KIRO 7 News did a "Profiles" documentary on Drs. John and Julie Gottman in August 2010 and they interviewed real couples about their experience. Watch it now here. 60 Minutes Australia did a piece in May 2010 on the Love Lab and also interviewed real couples. See it here. We also filmed our own testimonial video after a workshop in 2012, which you can view on our YouTube channel here.

    Q: We don’t want group therapy. Do we have to share with the other couples?
    No. The workshop is an educational experience with exercises built into the curriculum to teach you the skills that the “masters” of relationships use. There is no group work and no public disclosure of any kind. The information is presented to you in an interactive lecture format by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, and you will work in a “nest” of just the two of you during the exercises. We provide plenty of room, so you don’t have to worry about the other couples overhearing you. And if you get stuck on an exercise, we have a team of CGTs on hand to help you through the exercise.

    Q: We would prefer to get private therapy before we get married. Are there CGTs who do pre-marital work?
    Yes. Just give us a call at 888-523-9042 ext 1 or email us at couples@gottman.com and we will give you a referral for a CGT in your area who does pre-marital work. You can also find a Gottman trained therapist near you by using The Gottman Referral Network here.

    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 couples@gottman.com.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In the wake of the Pride paraders and marchers strutting their colorful stuff through the streets of Seattle, Portland, Cleveland, New York, and Chicago, we’d like to turn our attention today to same-sex couples. 

    Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman have observed the strength and resilience of same-sex couples, even in the midst of the cultural and social stresses to which they are uniquely vulnerable. Together, the Gottmans have made a commitment to assuring that lesbian and gay couples have as much access as straight couples to resources for strengthening and supporting their relationships.

    Using state-of-the-art methods to study 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples, Drs. John Gottman and Robert Levenson (UC Berkeley) were able to learn what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail in The 12 Year Study.

    One key finding: Overall, relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same across couple types (straight, gay, and lesbian) that Dr. Gottman has studied. This result supports prior research by Lawrence Kurdek and Pepper Schwartz, who found that gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to straight relationships in many ways.

    According to Dr. Gottman, "Gay and lesbian couples, like straight couples, deal with every-day ups-and-downs of close relationships. We know that these ups-and-downs may occur in a social context of isolation from family, workplace prejudice, and other social barriers that are unique to gay and lesbian couples." However, his research uncovered differences suggesting that workshops tailored to gay and lesbian couples can have a strong impact on relationships.

    In conducting interviews, coding facial expressions, and collecting other measures, the researchers found the following.

    Same-sex couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict. Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement, and partners often give it a more positive reception. Gay and lesbian couples are also more likely to remain positive after a disagreement. "When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples. Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships," suggests Dr. Gottman.

    Same-sex couples also use fewer controlling, hostile emotional tactics. Drs. Gottman and Levenson also discovered that gay and lesbian partners display less belligerence, domineering, and fear in conflict than straight couples do. "The difference on these ‘control’ related emotions suggests that fairness and power-sharing between the partners is more important and more common in gay and lesbian relationships than in straight ones."

    In a fight, gay and lesbian couples take it less personally. In straight couples, it is easier to hurt a partner with a negative comment than it is to make one’s partner feel good with a positive comment. This appears to be reversed in gay and lesbian couples. Same sex partners' positive comments have more impact on feeling good, while their negative comments are less likely to produce hurt feelings. "This trend suggests that gay and lesbian partners have a tendency to accept some degree of negativity without taking it personally," Dr. Gottman observes.

    Unhappy gay and lesbian couples tend to show low levels of "physiological arousal." This is just the reverse for straight couples. For them, physiological arousal signifies ongoing aggravation. The ongoing aroused state - including elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and jitteriness - means partners have trouble calming down in the face of conflict. A lower level of arousal allows same sex partners to soothe one another.

    In conflict, lesbians show more anger, humor, excitement, and interest than conflicting gay men. This suggests that lesbians are more emotionally expressive - positively and negatively - than gay men. This may be the result of being socialized in a culture where expressiveness is more acceptable for women than for men.

    Gay men need to be especially careful to avoid negativity in conflict. When it comes to repair, gay couples differ from straight and lesbian couples. If the initiator of conflict in a gay relationship becomes too negative, his partner is not able to repair as effectively as lesbian or straight partners. "This suggests that gay men may need extra help to offset the impact of negative emotions that inevitably come along when couples fight," explains Gottman.

    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.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In recent posts on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we've been discussing new relationships. Today, we'd like to take a look at their core: the deep bond a couple builds through intimate interaction, in particular through their daily conversations. In this post, we will explain how to apply Dr. Gottman’s skills for sharing compassion and empathy with your partner. 

    Note: While the ideas we share are theoretically pretty straightforward, they can be difficult to put into practice. If you find implementing them to be a challenge, don’t get discouraged! Remember Dr. Gottman’s advice: No opinions or problem solving until you’ve gone through the four steps of attunement. 

    Also, remember that immediate advice may come off as glib and insulting to your partner. They may think to themselves, “Does this person think I’m so dumb I can’t come up with my own solution?” This probably rings a few bells - bells of annoyance and maybe even indignation.

    Below, you'll find an illustration of two possible conversations between Cheyenne and Will, a young couple walking home from a dinner with their mutual friend, Abby. 

    The first example is a failed attempt at expressing compassion and empathy in a bid for intimate conversation:

    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: 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,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    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:

    • 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.


    Things to Do Together:
    • Hug.
    • Kiss.
    • Hold hands.
    • Cuddle.
    • Reminisce.
    • Take a class together.
    • Volunteer together.
    • Talk over drinks, or coffee, or tea.
    • Philosophize.
    • 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. 

    This activity comes from the pages of Dr. Gottman's The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening our Marriage, Family, and Friendships. To learn more about bids, emotional connection, and the many other building blocks of trust, be sure to check it out. For now, we wish you a beautiful weekend.

    Happy Friday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    O is for Opportunity
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC 

    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. 

    If you’re a newlywed, or about to be, I encourage you to explore each of these ideas even if you don’t read another word of this column. Minimally, you need to acknowledge and talk about the fact that marriage is complicated. That said, if I were to argue for simplicity - which I am - I would say that marriage is, above all, an opportunity

    Dr. Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse is an allusion from book of Revelation - the last book of the bible. There is some ancient wisdom from the first book of the Bible as well. In the book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve are going through their pre-marital counseling, God basically says marriage is when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

    Leaving theology and gender issues aside for the moment, let’s take a look at the wisdom of this definition:

    1. Leave Home: One of the reasons that Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House metaphor is so effective is that it implies a structure that belongs to you and your spouse alone. The only way to build your Sound Relationship House together is to ensure that you’ve created healthy boundaries around your relationship. This starts with mom & dad. Marriage is an opportunity to declare that someone else is taking the role of “the man in your life” (or the woman, of course). Sometimes, it’s tough to “leave” your mother and father, especially if they are good parents, who have loved and supported you throughout your life. But I’ve actually found it’s tougher to “leave” parents who were less than perfect or even harmful.

    Leaving home isn’t just about your parents. It also includes your old boyfriends and girlfriends. Maybe the band you were in during college. Maybe it’s the fact that you usually spend every Saturday with your sister. It could be the actual physical structures that you are living in. Shirley Glass has famously noted that the healthiest relationships are the ones partners keep a window open between each other while erecting walls that protect their privacy from the outside world. Relationships get in trouble when walls and windows reverse and boundaries become messy. Think of your marriage as an opportunity to draw healthy boundaries and build a strong foundation for your very own home. 

    2. Seek Unity: Most of us want to find a compatible partner, someone who also likes chocolate and Ghostbusters and long walks on the beach. Personally, I think compatibility is overrated. What’s required is unity. Unity doesn’t mean you’re the same. It means you’re together. The top level of the Sound Relationship House focuses on creating shared meaning. Don’t underestimate the value of this opportunity. 

    With the confidence that comes from healthy boundaries, you can take creative risks in establishing new rituals. How will you make “The Holidays” uniquely your own? You can get ambitious about setting goals. Where will celebrate your 5th, 10th, and 50th anniversaries? You can get courageous about defining (and re-defining) your roles in the relationship. Who cleans this week? What happens when we switch the bread-winner role?

    Unity means defining together the ideas of “home” and “money” and “family” and “sex” and “autonomy” and even “unity.” This is hard work, because it means having to give up some of your own ideas in order to accept your spouses. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a whole bunch: The hardest lesson I learned during my first year of marriage was how selfish I was. Unity means letting go of your selfishness in order to become a better version of your self. Again, what a wonderful opportunity.

    3. Have Sex: This may seem like a no-brainer, and indeed, you may already be having sex, but I wisdom “becoming one flesh” is a specific invitation to have married sex. I’m not trying to spark a moral debate, but I do think there is something inherently different - and better - about married sex. Even Hollywood has figured this out. Think of all the times you’ve ever seen two people making love on screen. It can be explicit or implied. Probably hundreds, right? Now think of how many of all those hundreds depicted married people having sex with each other. Pretty small percentage, I bet. Hollywood is either implying that married sex isn’t sexy, or that it’s somehow too sacred to sell commercials with.

    The Gottmans have done a beautiful job advocating for married sex that is both sexy and sacred. They argue for “personal sex” by shifting the focus away from intercourse and toward intimacy. Dr. Gottman is a champion for erotic and emotionally connected sex that comes from a strong sense of trust and commitment. Indeed, you should practice the techniques of sex, but think of your marriage as an opportunity to have different - and better - sex by focusing on your long-term friendship and emotional connection. 

    NOTE: Many of my colleagues and friends encouraged (i.e. dared) me to write an “O is for Orgasm” column this week. I would have argued that a focus on achieving orgasm misses the point of married sex. The ability to talk about orgasm in a safe and curious is a much stronger indicator of sexual health for a couple.

    Regardless of how you feel about the Bible, there is some important wisdom about how we are meant to be in relationship with one another. Genesis gives us a glimpse of what a marriage should be. Revelation reminds us of what it shouldn’t.

    But let’s take the Bible out of it and weigh the opportunities available to anyone willing to commit to a long-term relationship. There’s a freedom that comes from leaving home and establishing healthy boundaries. There’s an exhilaration and maturation that comes from seeking unity by creating shared meaning and establishing new patterns. There’s an intimacy that comes from investing in emotional connection and prioritizing personal sex. 

    Every opportunity comes with a cost. In this case, it’s the work of exposing your attitudes, biases, and expectations for your relationship and then leveraging those things toward the construction of your very own Sound Relationship House.

    Happy to bat these ideas around with you, especially if you’re a recently or about to be married and need some help thinking through how to leverage your new opportunity. Feel free to email me at zach@gottman.com anytime.

    ____________________________________________________________________________


    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.

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