This is Zach's 16th 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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Articles on this Page
- 07/24/14--17:48: _The Importance of A...
- 07/26/14--16:26: _Weekend Homework As...
- 08/01/14--16:32: _Weekend Homework As...
- 08/04/14--17:07: _Relationship Alphab...
- 08/06/14--16:29: _The Relationship Be...
- 08/08/14--17:09: _5 Things Zebras Can...
- 08/12/14--17:08: _6 Arguments All Mar...
- 08/15/14--16:15: _Featured Blogger: C...
- 08/18/14--16:12: _Relationship Alphab...
- 08/26/14--16:58: _5 Ways to Strengthe...
- 09/03/14--16:21: _Relationship Alphab...
- 09/05/14--16:09: _Weekend Homework As...
- 09/10/14--16:32: _The Four Parenting ...
- 09/13/14--09:40: _What Style of Paren...
- 09/16/14--17:43: _Relationship Alphab...
- 09/19/14--15:59: _Meet Jeremy Cowart,...
- 09/22/14--16:17: _Reflections on Doin...
- 09/26/14--16:55: _Announcing The Gott...
- 09/30/14--16:41: _Relationship Alphab...
- 10/03/14--17:01: _Weekend Homework As...
- 07/24/14--17:48: The Importance of Autonomy in Your Relationship
- When your partner says, “I’m feeling so stressed! I'm going to go on a run,” try this: “Great, I’ll watch the kids! When you’re back, I’ll take my turn?”
- When your partner says, “I’d like to go see Mike tonight, he’s been asking me to get drinks with him for a while,” say, “Sure! I’ll hold down the fort, maybe do some of that laundry. Could I see Linda tomorrow?”
- When your partner asks, “Could we go to that BBQ for Tess’s birthday tomorrow?” take the time and go – the two of you deserve a break. If you’d like, you can add, “That sounds wonderful. Could we work on the taxes later this weekend, though?”
- 08/01/14--16:32: Weekend Homework Assignment: Turn Towards Your Child
- Pay attention to what’s going on in your child’s day-care center or school. Talk to teachers. Read newsletters. Show interest.
- Attend your child’s sports activities, performances.
- Sit down with him or her at mealtimes, including breakfast. Turn off the TV and talk.
- Pack your child’s lunch. Include healthy treats and a funny note.
- Take photos of your child.
- Show affection by touching your child gently and often – cuddle and stroke smaller children. Offer your hand to bigger kids as long as they’ll take it. Make hugs a habit.
- Offer choices whenever possible. Within reason, let your child decide what to wear, what to eat, what activities to pursue.
- Pay attention to your child’s likes and dislikes. If she likes crunchy peanut butter better than creamy, buy crunchy.
- Take interest in your child’s friends. Ask questions about them. Be kind to them.
- Show interest in your child’s creative projects.
- Express gratitude.
- Ask your child what she wants to be when she grows up. Listen.
- Ask your child about his fears. Listen.
- Apologize when you’re wrong. This teaches kids that it’s okay to make mistakes and admit to them.
- Monitor activities. Always know where your child is.
- Keep asking questions about your child’s experiences and thoughts.
- Play games.
- Go for a walk.
- Take a nap.
- Make up stories.
- Cook a meal or bake a treat.
- Have a “grug” – a group hug.
- Share “butterfly kisses” (with your eyelashes) or rub noses.
- Tickle, wrestle, or horseplay (but be careful with small children).
- Look at your child’s baby pictures. Tell your child happy or funny stories about her birth and infancy. Let your child know how glad you are that he was born.
- Read the newspaper, watch TV, or laugh at the funnies together. Talk about them.
- Read books aloud – even after your child is old enough to read by themselves.
- Go to their favorite restaurant.
- Go to a children’s play or a movie. Talk about it.
- Play catch, shoot baskets, kick a soccer ball around. Practice conditioning.
- Plan and take a vacation. Make a scrapbook of memories when you get home.
- Plant a garden and designate one part as theirs.
- Sing. Play music. Dance.
- Do craft projects.
- Play make-believe.
- Camp out in the backyard, or, on a rainy day, build a pillow fort.
- Provide homework help when appropriate.
- Make packages of letters, drawings, and audio/videotapes for out of town friends and relatives.
- Research the family tree.
- Do a jigsaw puzzle.
- Go to the park or a playground. Crawl around on the equipment together.
- Plan birthday celebrations. Make plans for the holidays.
- Go to “story hour” at the local library or bookstore.
- Share an activity like swimming, skiing, hiking, camping, or bowling.
- Go to an art fair. Make up stories about the pictures.
- Make a growth chart and check it often.
- Do community volunteer work together.
- 08/04/14--17:07: Relationship Alphabet: P is for Problems
- 08/06/14--16:29: The Relationship Between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
- 08/08/14--17:09: 5 Things Zebras Can Teach Us About Fighting Stress
- Knowing the destination is more than half the battle. The rest is one part perspective, and one part knowing how to get there.
- Luckily, if you’ve been following the blog, reading Dr. Gottman’s books, or seeing a CGT (Certified Gottman Therapist), you've got some perspective, and already know a lot about how to get there.
- Sapolsky’s ideas overlap significantly with GMCT (Gottman Method Couples Therapy). Particularly in the realm of stress and conflict mangement. So, dear reader, you and your wisdom are ahead of the curve!
- 08/12/14--17:08: 6 Arguments All Married Couples Have
- 08/15/14--16:15: Featured Blogger: Casey and Meygan Caston
- 08/18/14--16:12: Relationship Alphabet: Q is for Questions
- 08/26/14--16:58: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship This Labor Day Weekend
- 09/03/14--16:21: Relationship Alphabet: R is for Repair
- 09/05/14--16:09: Weekend Homework Assignment: Repair Attempts
- 09/10/14--16:32: The Four Parenting Styles
- Treats child’s feelings as unimportant, trivial
- Disengages from or ignores the child’s feelings
- Wants the child’s negative emotions to disappear quickly
- Sees the child’s emotions as a demand to fix things
- Minimizes the child’s feelings, downplaying the events that led to the emotion
- Does not problem-solve with the child, believes that the passage of time will resolve most problems
- Displays many of the Dismissing Parent’s behaviors, but in a more negative way
- Judges and criticizes the child’s emotional expression
- Emphasizes conformity to good standards of behavior
- Believes negative emotions need to be controlled
- Believes emotions make people weak; children must be emotionally tough for survival
- Believes negative emotions are unproductive, a waste of time
- Freely accepts all emotional expression from the child
- Offers little guidance on behavior
- Does not set limits
- Believes there is little you can do about negative emotions other than ride them out
- Does not help child solve problems
- Believes that managing negative emotions is a matter of hydraulics, release the emotion and the work is done
- Values the child’s negative emotions as an opportunity for intimacy
- Is aware of and values her or her own emotions
- Sees the world of negative emotions as an important arena for parenting
- Does not poke fun at or make light of the child’s negative feelings
- Does not say how the child should feel
- Uses emotional moments as a time to listen to the child, empathize with soothing words and affection, help the child label the emotion he or she is feeling, offer guidance on regulating emotions, set limits and teach acceptable expression of emotions, and teach problem-solving skills
- 09/13/14--09:40: What Style of Parent are You?
- 09/16/14--17:43: Relationship Alphabet: S is for Sex
- 09/19/14--15:59: Meet Jeremy Cowart, the Most Influential Photographer on the Web
- 09/26/14--16:55: Announcing The Gottman Relationship Checkup
- 09/30/14--16:41: Relationship Alphabet: T is for Turning
- 10/03/14--17:01: Weekend Homework Assignment: Turning Towards
- The way I was treated in my family growing up
- A previous relationship
- Past injuries, hard times, or traumas I’ve suffered
- My basic fears and insecurities
- Things and events I have not yet resolved or put aside
- Unrealized hopes I have
- Ways other people treated me in the past
- Things I have always thought about myself
- Old “nightmares” or “catastrophes” I have worried about
When we get into “official” romantic relationships, a shift in perceptions often occurs. Others may see us differently, and we may feel personally transformed. This can be a blessing and a curse. The burden of expectations - both internal and external pressures - can make us feel trapped. Forced to behave in certain ways, we are left despairing and mourning (or cursing) our loss of autonomy.
Today, arguably more than ever, we value our independence. We balk at any perceived threat, highly aware and protective of our rights to be ourselves and follow our dreams. And while we truly deserve to live on our own terms, things can go terribly wrong when we get confused about terminology.
To avoid confusion, let’s clarify our definitions.
We are social animals. We need community. To achieve long-term happiness and self-actualization, we may need to reconsider our notion of “freedom.” Most of us need to feel “a part of something” – a wolf pack, a tribe, a family, or any other intimate, supportive relationship – in order to feel fulfilled.
Look forward to a hands-on follow-up in our next posting, your Weekend Homework Assignment!
PS: The Siegel-Gottman Summit with Dr. Dan Siegel begins tomorrow in Seattle, WA. You can join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #SGSummit in your tweets and Facebook postings. Follow us on Twitter: @GottmanInst.
As we discussed on Thursday, autonomy is necessary for personal growth. It’s great to have time and space to ourselves. There are moments in which we all know that ignoring the need to recharge would be a terrible idea!
Moreover, taking time to do our “own thing” once in a while can actually benefit us and make us appreciate our relationships with our partners more! If we work or play apart for a bit, we have a chance to miss each other and feel extra glad to reunite. (Added bonus: something new to talk about!)
On the other hand, as we all know, too much space can be destructive. And a sign of underlying problems. Whether space is created out of fear of losing ourselves or each other, out of mistrust or insecurity about our relationships, self-isolation rarely ends well, and the barriers we build to protect ourselves usually end up hurting everyone involved.
The fear that we can’t provide our partners with all that we “should” is another common source of barrier-building. Rifts are made out of guilt and resentment, which in turn spring forth from misconception.
Rather than distancing ourselves from one another in hard times, acknowledging that we are all human (with natural strengths and limitations) and reaching out to each other in our communities will naturally grow and strengthen relationship intimacy.
It makes sense that unhappy couples are typically isolated, cut off from friends and family. Their relationships have grown either codependent or overly distant, and when the going gets rough, the echo-chamber in which they have become trapped may exacerbate problems. Detachment and a lack of support from others often limits perspective and feels destabilizing and alienating.
Escaping from the false dichotomy of independence vs. dependence – and reaching a happy state of interdependence in the context of a larger, supportive community – allows couples to experience growth: to encourage one another to explore and follow personal dreams.
Today, we’d like to share an activity that may help you build this trust, lending strength and stability to your relationship.
Though you may have some difficulties forming new patterns in your communication about certain topics, the results will pay off enormously. To begin with, try the following simple changes. You know the drill - these are just examples. Every relationship is unique! Feel free to improvise:
Try it this weekend!
Below, we present a list of activities that can help you take advantage of the free time you have together by identifying opportunities to turn towards. This list is brought to you from the pages of The Relationship Cure. It has two parts: things you can do for your child and things you can do with your child.
Read over these suggestions and consider those you arrived at on your own in the past week! Are there some you’d like to try in the weeks ahead? Are there some you’d like to make a part of your daily interactions together?
Things to do for Your Child
Things to do With Your Child
Have a great weekend,
John Gottman’s research revealed that about ⅔ of relationship problems are unsolvable. One of my favorite questions for couples is whether that statistic is discouraging or encouraging. Think about that for a second. Does the idea that 69% of your issues are not going away bum you out? Or does it give you hope?
Dr. Gottman calls these perpetual problems. They’re the ones you’ll likely still be fussing about five years from now even though you were fussing about them five years ago. The easiest example from my own marriage is the fact that one of us is an extrovert, lights up a room, and all that. The other is an off-the-charts introvert. We still haven’t figured out how to make the other one go to a party the right way.
Most couples I know are frustrated by the fact that most of their problems are unsolvable. It’s hard to have the same battles over and over again. My personal bias, however, is that I’m glad to know that we’re normal. My wife and I spent way too much time arguing over the fact that we were having the same fight that we ultimately forgot what we were fighting about in the first place.
Dr. Gottman has said that the number one thing that couples fight about is nothing. I can vouch for this. This past weekend, my wife and I got into an argument over fruit flies. It was really stupid. Later, when our older daughter (age 11) was explaining the argument to her sister (age 7), she said, “It’s never about the fruit flies.” Indeed. What’s it about then?
I think it’s about perspective (bonus p-word). If you can accept that many of your problems aren’t going away, then you can focus on what to do about those issues when they come up. As a first step, quit trying to solve the problem. It’s wasted energy. Instead, focus on achieving perspective, empathy, and, ultimately, dialogue.
Think of the problem as a third thing, trying to distract and disgust you - kind of like fruit flies. That third thing is designed to disrupt the comfort of the home, literally bugging you with the accumulation of small annoyances that become an infestation. In the case of fruit flies, there are a bunch of home remedies. We use a glass of red wine covered in Saran wrap. But what’s required is that you find the nest and remove it. Best if you do that together - with one another..
That’s what dialogue is. It’s a conversation with one another - rather than at one another - that is designed to reveal the deeper meaning of a particular conflict. Dr. Gottman refers to this as the “dream within conflict.” Whenever the dream or hope or aspiration for the relationship is ignored, problems arise. But when those dreams are revealed and understood and respected, it creates space for the relationship to become more meaningful than the problem.
This is Zach's 16th 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.
"We had five great years together and one terrible night," Gilbert told James, and so started the process of reconciliation on Sunday night in Miami. "I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back."
Sound familiar? The relationship between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers is not unlike a marriage. Four years after taking “his talents to South Beach” and crushing the collective heart of Cleveland, LeBron is coming home. What would Dr. John Gottman say about the complicated, off-and-on romance between the NBA superstar and NBA franchise? Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will analyze their relationship – through the lens of Gottman research – to explain how to overcome a betrayal and rebuild trust.
Marriage #1 (2003-2010)
According to Dr. Gottman, one of the best predictors of a couple’s future is how they view their past. Let’s start from the beginning. When the Cavaliers selected LeBron James as the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the city of Cleveland had already fallen in love with “The Chosen One” from nearby Akron, Ohio. According to author Ryan Jones, James left high school as “the most hyped basketball player ever.” The relationship between the hometown kid and the Cavaliers flourished as James took the team to the NBA finals in 2006 and won back-to-back MVP awards in 2009-2010. He tossed chalk (below), adorned larger-than-life billboards, and organized regular charity events in the Cleveland-Akron area. He was “King James," Cleveland's homegrown superstar.
However, James failed to deliver a championship to the city and faced heavy criticism for his poor shooting and costly turnovers, especially late in games. He became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2010.
The Betrayal (2010)
Everything changed the night of July 8, 2010. On a nationally broadcasted television special dubbed The Decision, Lebron James announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat.” The public breakup was a devastating emotional blow to the city of Cleveland. According to the AP, fans “could not understand why James, Akron born and bred, would embarrass the people who say they loved him most.” Within an hour, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an angry letter on the team’s website to reassure the fanbase. In it, he mocked the "King" and his nicknames, referred to his leaving as a “shocking act of disloyalty” and “cowardly betrayal,” and promised Cleveland would win a championship before James did. Fans burned his number 23 jersey on national television and greeted him with venom in his first game back the following season. It wasn’t pretty. However, James did not retaliate. “I have the utmost respect for this franchise, the utmost respect for these fans,” he told reporters after the game.
The Other Team (2010-2014)
James would go on to win an NBA Championship in his second season with the Miami Heat while the Cavaliers went 40-108 in their first two seasons without him. James and Gilbert did not speak. "I'd sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He'd look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look,” Gilbert later told USA Today. James would take Miami to the NBA Finals for four consecutive years, winning back-to-back MVP Awards and NBA Championships in 2012-2013. While the Cavaliers floundered in mediocrity, LeBron James became the most successful basketball player on the planet.
After losing the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs earlier this year, James opted out of his contract with the Heat on June 25 and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Rumors began to swirl that the Akron native was considering a return to his hometown. Would he get back together with the team that he had broken up with? If so, how would he be received by the fanbase that he betrayed?
On July 11, James shocked the sports world by publishing a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated. In it, he revealed his intentions to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now,” he explained. If he had to do it all over again, yes he still would have left, but he would have done things differently. He addressed Gilbert’s letter, the booing of the Cleveland fans, and the burning jerseys. “My emotions were mixed… Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?” King James was coming home.
In an exclusive interview with USA Today, Gilbert explained his first meeting with James, a scene Mitch Albom described as “every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce.” The two had not spoken in four years. According to Gilbert, “The first thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that's good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.’”
"On this planet," Gilbert said, "there is no perfection. If you chose to end relationships because of one mistake, you're going to be alone."
Phase 1: Atone
But there's good news too. We can also discover the ways in which certain lucky critters – from lab rats and monkeys to our fellow human beings – have adapted to living marvelously well under pressure and avoided developing these afflictions, even in their old age! An exploration of how these lucky buggers cope can help us learn to take control of stress in our own lives.
According to Sapolsky, these lucky buggers tend to have the following in common:
1. An outlet for frustration
2. A sense of predictability
3. A feeling of control
4. An optimistic outlook
5. Social support
Relationship problems can be a significant stressor, but our approach to love matters enormously. Believing that “Love is a battlefield,” or, even more dangerously, that “All’s fair in love and war” may not be the best strategy.
By approaching our relationships from a different perspective – with a desire to overcome challenges by working together – we may achieve a far more satisfying outcome.
When we consider the parallels between Dr. Sapolsky’s research and GMCT, this makes a fantastic amont of sense. In GMCT, problems are divided into solvable, perpetual, and gridlocked. Getting a better feel for how our problems fit into these categories can help us enormously, as we can identify those we can solve easily and those we need to approach in a different way. While perpetual problems are clearly predictable, they don’t have to raise our blood pressure – we can use models like GMCT to reach mutual understanding.
When we truly listen to each other, we hold the key that unlocks potential in conflict discussions. We gain insights that grant us access to each other’s inner worlds,and also activate protective factors against illnesses caused by chronic stress.
This weekend, build emotional attraction through a heart-to-heart, stress-reducing conversation with your partner.
Actually understanding why we’re having the same arguments over and over can safeguard us from unnecessary stress, providing anenhanced sense of control and making room for a more optimistic outlook.
From this position, we may begin to see alternate ways to approach perpetual problems in the future. By building Love Maps, we learn about each other’s histories and potential triggers, so that the ways in which our words and actions affect each other become clear. We can predict what will happen. This is especially helpful in overcoming gridlock and stress from within our relationships.
Finally, the social support we give each other in a heart-to-heart is a true source of vitality – making an impact far beyond our in-the-moment emotional state. Rather than bottling up our frustration until we feel hopeless, helpless, and totally haywire (see: NSO), we can reach out to each other to gain access to those outlets, a feeling of control, and an enduring positive outlook.
When we feel truly seen, heard, and understood, we are soothed, lowering each other’s levels of stress hormones and cortisol, working together to weather any storm.
In this way, we can live and love, enjoying not only radically improved relationships, but longer, healthier, and happier lives.
*Why, indeed? As it turns out, stress triggers a fight-or-flight response in both zebras and humans. However, as zebras don’t usually worry about social and psychological stressors (like in-laws, the Middle East, dress sizes, or the stock market), and focus solely on physical stressors (like lions and twigs snapping suspiciously in the distance), they don’t suffer the same chronic activation of stress response we do. Our inability to turn off the stress-response is what gives us our highly evolved ability to be “worried sick.”
1. Work Stress
The Solution: Acknowledge that at the end of a long, stressful day you may need time to yourselves to decompress before interacting with each other. If you bring your work stress home, it will sabotage your marriage. Build time to unwind into your daily schedule. Once you’re both feeling relatively composed, it’s time to come together and talk about each other’s day. Have a stress-reducing conversation.
The Solution: Side with your spouse. Establish your own family rituals, values, and lifestyle and insist that in-laws respect them. An important part of putting your spouse first and building this sense of solidarity is not to tolerate any contempt toward your spouse from your parents.
The Solution: 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 dreams to each other before coming up with a plan. You’ll each need to be firm about items that you consider nonnegotiable. Itemize your current expenditures, manage your everyday finances, and plan your financial future. If you’re having trouble, see a financial planner.
The Task: Fundamental appreciation and acceptance of each other.
The Solution: Learn to talk to each other about sex in a way that lets you both feel safe. The goal of sex is to be closer, to have more fun, to feel satisfied, and to feel valued and accepted in this very tender area of your marriage. A major characteristic of couples who have a happy sex life is that they see lovemaking as an expression of intimacy but they don’t take any differences in their needs or desires personally
The Solution: The simple truth is that men have to do more housework. Maybe this fact will spark a husband's enthusiasm for domestic chores: Women find a man's willingness to do housework extremely erotic. When the husband does his share to maintain the home, both he and his wife report a more satisfying sex life than in marriages where the wife believes her husband is not doing his share. However, the quantity of housework is not necessarily a determining factor in the housework = sex equation. Two other variables: whether the husband does his chores without being asked, and whether he is flexible in his duties in response to her needs.
The Solution: In the first year after baby arrives, 67% of wives experience a precipitous plummet in their marital satisfaction. Lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated, juggling mothering with a job, economic stress, and lack of time to oneself, among other things. Why do the other 27% sail through the transition unscathed? What separates these blissful mothers from the rest has everything to do with whether the husband experiences the transformation to parenthood along with his wife or gets left behind.
It didn’t take long for problems in our own marriage to set in. They started on our wedding night when we got in a fight and Casey slept on the couch, and everything went down hill from there. Our early years of marriage were horrible because we were both deeply wounded and had no idea how to communicate and respect each other. We both got married to be happy, but no one ever told us it would require so much work.
It was the pain of watching our own relationship crumble that fueled our desire to learn how to succeed in marriage. We quickly realized it wasn’t just our marriage at risk. It was all around us. Our friends were quitting on their marriages too. Many of them would find their way to our couch, where we would listen to the pain, confusion, and regret of their recent divorce. They thought that leaving was the easy way out – that the grass was greener – but soon realized that it was even worse on the other side.
That’s when we turned the corner. Deep down inside we wondered, if we continued the way we’re going, would we be sitting on someone else’s couch saying the same thing? It seemed that we weren’t just courting the Four Horsemen. We had built stalls for them in our living room. Things got so ugly in the early years of our marriage that we weren’t sure if either of us were going to make it out alive.
In our eagerness to learn about marriage principles, we got our hands on Dr. Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. We discovered the wealth of resources offered by his team at The Gottman Institute and found ourselves watching his videos on YouTube together. We thought that we were doomed and destined for divorce, but then we heard Dr. Gottman say something really amazing.
Conflict is inevitable and it’s a mechanism for learning how to love each other better.
Those words went straight to our hearts and our minds in a significant way. We discovered that we needed to go back to the roots of our friendship and start using Love Maps to spark conversation and build connection.
Conflict cannot be managed without a strong friendship in the marriage. Of course we are going to disagree on where that picture should be hung up, or which restaurant we should eat at, but focusing on our friendship has allowed us to use conflict to better understand each other and love more effectively. We became good at asking each other questions, we listened more, and we even began sharing the same goals and dreams for our future together.
Three years ago, we created Marriage365 as a channel of hope to other struggling couples. Through our daily Facebook and Instagram feed, we provide practical advice to help these couples get back on track. And it’s working. We have gathered almost 40,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 19,000 on Instagram. The positive response is giving us the courage to spend our lives gathering resources for couples that will reach the next generation.
We are continually faced with the challenges of making our marriage a priority. Some days we win, some days we lose. We discovered that great marriages don’t happen by accident, but require being intentional 365 days a year. We want to see marriages thrive. We want to see marriages last a lifetime. We want to be part of the solution. We’ve enjoyed playing the role as coach and mentor for couples in the early stages of marriage and when they hit the rough patches. The influence of Dr. Gottman’s research runs deep in our work, and it has provided a proven framework for us to give help to couples in need.
The legacy of the Love Lab lives on in Marriage365 and we are so grateful for that.
I have to confess, when I opened up my column to your questions, I was really hoping to get a bunch of benign inquiries like: What’s your favorite novel? Where did you honeymoon? Cats or dogs?
But your questions were not benign. They were filled with pain and longing and betrayal and confusion. I am grieved for you. I am sorry that your relationships are struggling. I’m sad that you’re not enjoying the fruits of intimate, trusting, joyful relationships.
The honest truth is that there aren’t simple answers to these questions. Part of what makes satisfying relationships so rewarding is that they’re hard to create and maintain. And when you lose focus on the relationship, even for a moment, you can slide into habitual patterns of disconnecting pretty easily - even without noticing.
No couple ever woke up one day and decided to stop being affectionate. They accepted, sometime much earlier in the relationship, that intimacy wasn’t a priority. This is super subtle and can be seen in Dr. Gottman’s theory of bids and turning towards.
Both Peter and Annie are describing relationships where at least one partner has stopped making bids, likely because the other partner stopped turning toward previous bids. Why? Who knows. That’s part of why therapy is really helpful. What can we do? Start by focusing on bids.
First focus on turning toward your partner’s bids. Let them know that you’re paying attention to them. That you think they’re interesting. Funny. Attractive. Prioritize intimacy, even if it’s not sex. Become an expert at turning toward the bid. Then re-evaluate the strategy for your own bids for affection and attention. Get really good at holding hands, then hugging, then the six-second kiss.
The relationship got knocked off-track way back when. It’ll take hard work and patience to get back to where you deserve. But it’s the tortoise’s work, not the hare’s.
If there was one dominant topic in your questions, it was jealousy and betrayal. Specifically, how to avoid jealousy and recover from betrayal. This issue, just like the intimacy questions above, ultimately boil down to how well a couple can make and respond to bids for affection and attention. When you do that well, you will protect yourself from the perils of infidelity. When you don’t, you sow the seeds for the small betrayals that can lead to the eventual affair. But what about after the affair?
Sarah wrote about how well she and her husband have been doing in the aftermath of his affair. They’ve both done a great job taking responsibility and re-investing in their friendship. They are talking together and working through conflict and distress more and better than before. Still, they’re having a hard time trusting in the “new norm.” “How long,” she asks, “does it take to create lasting overall confidence and trust?”
Of course it would be silly to try and offer a precise timeline, but I tend to think it boils down to perspective. The further away you get from the incident, the more it fades into the distance. It’s natural to have some post-traumatic stress in the wake of an affair and to continue to struggle with confidence and security. But at some point, the perspective (and the story) will shift away from the affair and toward the recovery. The Gottmans refer to a process of Atonement, Attunement, Attachment. Trust that process and continue to lean into the new norm. At some level, simply committing makes it so.
Secure attachment goes a long way toward mitigating jealousy even when infidelity has never been an issue. Justin asks, “How do I lovingly connect to my jealous wife while not giving up who I am and what I enjoy?” I suppose it really depends on “who you are” and “what you enjoy.” Certainly some things are inappropriate. The best way to lovingly connect with your wife is to discover your wife’s dream and honor it. Her jealousy is attached to some portion of her dream that has not been heard or respected. If you want to mitigate betrayal in your relationship, focus on atonement, attunement and attachment.
The final theme that came up in your questions, and perhaps the most telling, is how important it is for you to be heard. More than a few of you sent me paragraphs about your relationship. I imagine it must have felt good to believe, if only for a moment, that someone was willing to hear your story and offer empathy and insight. Or maybe just the act of writing your story down helped you make sense of it. In any case, I want to encourage you to consider therapy as a means to understand your struggle. A good therapist is infinitely more effective than some guy sitting at a keyboard.
Cheryl wrote, "My husband is so controlling, at this present moment he hasn't been talking to me for two weeks now. He even moved out of our bedroom and stopped eating my food. The only time he talks to me or things are normal is when I compromise my happiness and do what he wants, and I am tired of living my live through making him happy at the expense of my happiness."
Ashley said, "My husband and I have been married for 15 years and been experts in the four horseman since we walked down the aisle. We've lived parallel lives for most of our marriage. Lately, we’ve been trying to stop the four horseman cycle, to nurture our fondness and admiration and turn toward each other. It's not working well enough (yet) for me to imagine staying in this marriage much longer."
Cheryl and Ashley are asking the same questions: Can my marriage be saved? When is enough enough? Are my expectations too high? Help.
Sometimes, the answer is “No, your marriage cannot be saved. ‘Enough’ was a long time ago. Yes, your expectations are too high.” Most couples are unhappy for an average of six years before they seek help. Even then it could be too late. Dr. Gottman often refers to the “Story of Us.” If your “Story of Us” is fraught with contempt rather than admiration, more “me” than “we,” and more disappointment than satisfaction, it may be time to try telling a different story.
Dr. Gottman says, “If there is clear compelling evidence that your relationship is already over or unsalvageable, and you want to move on, I believe it’s okay to let it go.” I agree. Even as a relationship therapist, I’m not in the “Stay Married At All Costs” camp. But I’d urge you to get some help before you decide to walk away. A good therapist will help you identify the strengths in the relationship that may simply be hiding in the midst of some present chaos. Minimally, it’ll be a good opportunity to tell your “Story of Us” and get some insight and empathy. Check The Gottman Referral Network to see if there’s a good Gottman trained therapist in your area.
I can tell you this for sure: you are not alone. I get questions like yours all the time. I hear stories of pain and longing and betrayal and confusion. But I also see couples recover and reclaim the best of themselves and their relationship. Again, it’s the tortoise’s work, not the hare’s.
By the way, my favorite novel is The Brothers K by David James Duncan. My wife and I honeymooned in Bermuda. And I don’t have the pet gene, so my preference with regard to cats and dogs is “neither.” Thanks for asking.
This is Zach's 17th 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 and Certified Gottman Therapist 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.
In the United States, Labor Day weekend is a time for fun, friends, and family. It’s a time for camping trips, barbeques, and the kickoff of the college football season. Celebrated every year on the last weekend in August, it symbolizes the end of summer and the beginning of autumn – whether you’re ready for it or not.
Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we share five ideas for using the upcoming three-day weekend to strengthen your relationship with your partner.
Most of us were raised in families in which some rituals were considered important. By making them a part of your life (or coming up with your own new ones together), they become your rituals as well and further your identity as a family. Click here for some great ideas.
Update Your Love Maps
Set aside time this weekend to update your Love Maps. No cellphones or television allowed. Click here for some questions to get you started, and don’t be afraid to come up with a few of your own.
Accept Your Partner’s Influence
Accepting influence is extremely important, especially for men. In a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, we found that, even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct. Click here to read more about the importance of accepting influence.
Expressing appreciation is a great way to build the fondness and admiration system, which is crucial to the long-term happiness of a relationship because it prevents contempt – the most dangerous of The Four Horsemen – from becoming an overwhelming presence in your life. The better in touch you are with your deep-seated positive feelings for each other, the less likely you are to act contemptuous of your partner when you have a difference of opinion.
Share a Six-Second Kiss
Long enough to feel romantic, the six-second kiss serves as a temporary oasis within a busy day and creates a deliberate break between the on-the-job mentality (i.e., going to or from work) and a couple’s one-on-one time together. It releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that is secreted when breastfeeding. Oxytocin is responsible for the comfort and connection that forms between mother and child and may explain the way kissing bonds us to another. A six-second kiss also releases dopamine, which triggers the same part of your brain that is stimulated by cocaine. Those butterflies in your stomach, they come from epinephrine and norepinephrine, which increase your heartbeat and send oxygenated blood to your brain. Some studies have even shown that kissing can cause a reduction in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so a daily six-second kiss could help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart attacks. Click here to read more about the importance of kissing.
This is Zach's 18th 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 and Certified Gottman Therapist 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.
6 or Above: This is an area of strength in your relationship. When conflict discussions are at risk of getting out of hand, you are able to put on the brakes and effectively calm each other down.
Below 6: Your relationship could stand some improvement in this area. By learning how to repair your interactions when negativity engulfs you, you can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your problem solving and develop a more positive perspective of each other and your relationship.
What separates stable, emotionally intelligent couples from others is not that their repair attempts are necessarily more skillful or better thought out, but that their repair attempts get through to their partner. Because repair attempts can be difficult to hear if your relationship is engulfed in negativity, the best strategy is to make your attempts more formal and deliberate in order to emphasize them. Talk to your partner this weekend about repair attempts. If you need a place to start, check out the Gottman Repair Checklist here. What works for you? What doesn't? Don't be afraid to get creative.
Have a great weekend,
With school starting up again, we would like to turn our attention to the relationship between parent and child. As Dr. Gottman explains in Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, "good parenting involves emotion." Dating back to the 1990s, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. For parents, this quality of “emotional intelligence” means being aware of your child’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them.
Effects of this style on children: They learn that their feelings are wrong, inappropriate, not valid. They may learn that there is something inherently wrong with them because of the way they feel. They may have difficulty regulating their own emotions.
The Disapproving Parent
Effects of this style on children: Same as the Dissaproving style.
The Emotion Coach
Effects of this style on children: They learn to trust their feelings, regulate their own emotions, and solve problems. They have a high self-esteem, learn well, and get alone well with others.
Dismissing: Add up the number of times you said “true” for the following items: 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 28, 33, 43, 62, 66, 67, 68, 76, 77, 78, 80. Divide the total by 25. This is your Dismissing score.
There is an old saying that some partners want sex to feel close, but others only want sex when they already feel close. Does that fit us in any way? Do you think that’s true? Is it true of us? Is that a problem? If so, how can we make that better?
Do the work of cultivating intimacy in order to increase the quality of your intercourse. That said…
This is Zach's 19th 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 and Certified Gottman Therapist 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.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe
My Professional Experience With the White Mountain Apache Tribe
Between single-couple therapy and multi-couple therapy, I have probably done more than 400 hours of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with White Mountain Apache tribal members. In addition to my job-specific duties in suicide prevention and intervention, I did over 60 hours of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with couples while at Apache Behavioral Health Services. Many of these couples were in acute distress and identified intimate partner conflict as a precipitating factor in their suicidal ideation or attempt. At Rainbow Treatment Center, I helped organize and facilitate the first-ever couples (6-week) day treatment cycle using Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Twice a day we did couples therapy with the group: an hour in the morning on building friendship and intimacy and an hour and a half in the afternoon on managing conflict. I also designed and facilitate a multi-couple outpatient treatment program for substance abuse and domestic violence using Domestic Violence-Focused Couples Therapy (Stith, McCollum, & Rosen, 2007) and Gottman Method Couples Therapy. I also presented on Gottman Method Couples Therapy at the 2012 Rainbow Treatment Center Couples Retreat (as a guest speaker), facilitated Gottman Method Couples Therapy at the 2013 Couples Retreat, and coordinated with Dr. Bob Navarra to launch the maiden voyage of “A Roadmap for the Journey: A Gottman Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery” at the 2014 Couples Retreat.
Gottman Method Couples Therapy
In the process, John Gottman observed what he came to call the Masters and Disasters of Relationship. He defines Masters of Relationship as two people who stay together, who report high relational satisfaction, and who like and enjoy one another. These relationships are suffused with a much higher percentage of positive interaction, even when discussing a conflict, than a couple in distress (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2013, p. 2).
Through multi-dimensional, thorough, and extensive research, John Gottman was able to decipher what strengthens relationships; that is, what keeps a relationship stable and vibrant. He learned that couples who stay happily married have everyday interactions with one another that are very positive. Secondly, the couples who stay happily married are far less negative and more gentle in the ways they handle conflict. Through intervention studies, he learned that these were not only the effect of happy relationships, but also the causes (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2013, p. 2).
2. Couples need to be in emotional states to learn how to cope with and change them. Much of the emotional learning in marital therapy may be state-dependent. This means, unless we allow individuals to become as emotional in therapy as they do at home, they may not have access to important learning we have offered once they leave the therapy session.
3. The therapist should not do the soothing. Partners should learn how to self-soothe and even to soothe one another.
4. Interventions should seem easy to do. Interventions should not seem costly psychologically or appear foreign to people.
5. Marital therapy should be primarily a positive affective experience.
6. I [John Gottman] am not idealistic about marriage and it’s potential. The goal is fostering a “good enough marriage.” (Gottman, 1999, pp. 179-185)
First, in my experience, Gottman Method Couples Therapy fits well when working with White Mountain Apaches because of the assumptions above. The dyadic focus gives the clients the skills that they need to improve their friendship and intimacy and manage conflict on their own. Since most therapy here is very brief and the more concrete the better, the focus on skills and on the dyad is very instrumental. The assumption of state-dependent learning is also very helpful since, in my experience, many of my clients have poor emotion regulation skills. Allowing them to experience emotional states in session and teaching them how to cope with and change them at the same time, helps them to better access their learning while under stress outside the therapeutic context. Helping partners to self-soothe and to soothe one another is critical, since flooding and diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) are very common, in my experience.
The assumptions that the interventions should be easy to do and that marital therapy should primarily be a positive affective experience are equally important because, in my experience, many clients are afraid of and reluctant to participate in marital or couples therapy. In order for them to stay engaged in and benefit from marital therapy, the interventions need to relatively easy and the affective experience positive. Finally, the goal of fostering a “good enough marriage” is a worthwhile and achievable goal. Expecting a “perfect” marriage would be unrealistic and, very possibly, harmful.
Second, in my experience, the metaphors of Gottman Method Couples Therapy, particularly the Sound Relationship House and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (I.e. Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling) are easily accessible to and resonate with my White Mountain Apache clients. Everyone understands about building a solid house. My clients easily grasp the Four Horsemen and become quite adept at identifying when they are occurring.
Third, the interventions of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are very helpful for my White Mountain Apache clients, particularly the Gottman Love Map Exercise, the Aftermath of a Fight Questionnaire, teaching Softened Startup, Self-Soothing, and the Dreams Within Conflict Intervention.
Many of the couples that I see had a very brief courtship period before “getting together” and that period was often dominated by the mutual abuse of alcohol. As a result, they did not build Love Maps (I.e. a cognitive map of their partner’s inner psychological world, his or her worries, stresses, joys, and dreams). However, if there is just a speck of fondness and admiration between them, Love Maps can still be built. The Love Map Cards provide couples with a structured and enjoyable format for building Love Maps. We have used the Love Map Cards at the annual couples retreat, in the couples day treatment cycle, and in the multi-couple treatment program and it has been a pleasure to see how much our couples enjoy the exercise.
The Aftermath of a Fight or Regrettable Incident Questionnaire is probably the intervention that I have used most with couples. The purpose of the Aftermath of a Fight Intervention is to help couples process their last fight without entering back into the fight. The couple that I worked the longest with worked primarily on this skill. When they completed therapy, they told me: “We still fight, but not like we used to and we come back together sooner and process the fight on our own.” This is a couple that used to stonewall each other and go their separate ways for days; now they process their fights the same day, usually within a matter of an hour or two. That, in my book, is progress and, for them, is a “good enough marriage.”
Teaching softened startup is critical for my clients. Startup, the way a topic of disagreement is broached, is critically important in predicting marital outcomes. How a conflict discussion begins usually determines how it ends. If it starts harshly, it will end harshly. If it starts softly, it is more likely to end better. Harsh startup by the female partner is associated with relational or marital instability and divorce or separation (Gottman, 1999, p. 41). Women are consistently more likely to initiate conflict discussions and to use harsh startup. In my experience, startup in the couples that I have worked with is very harsh, so teaching couples how to initiate conflict discussions with softened startup is very helpful and effective for them in terms of managing conflict.
Teaching clients to soothe themselves and their partner is equally important. I have observed that when emotions and conflict are involved, my clients become quickly flooded and experience diffuse physiological arousal (DPA), which is to say that the body’s general alarm mechanism is activated and individuals experience physiological changes which make it harder to problem solve. Individuals in DPA only hear and see signals of danger; nothing else. They are more likely to attack or be defensive verbally. Empathy and creative thinking fly out the window; along with positive communications skills (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2013, p. 37). With my clients, this usually results in domestic violence, a drinking binge, and/or a partner leaving for days or weeks. Therefore, it is important to teach couples to recognize when they are getting flooded and how to take a break and soothe themselves. A pulse rate above 95 beats per minute is a good indicator that someone is flooded. I once had a client that got up to 140 bpm in session. After doing a relaxation exercise with him, his pulse rate was 55, below the average rate of 60. He now uses the relaxation exercise to soothe himself when he is becoming flooded.
Finally, the Dreams Within Conflict Intervention is most useful in helping couples move from gridlock to dialogue on perpetual issues. The idea behind the intervention is that most gridlocked, perpetual conflict results from life dreams in conflict and the goal is to help couples dialogue about the conflict without getting back into gridlock. I have found that once couples understand the life dreams behind their partner’s position, there is a great softening that occurs. For example, I worked with one couple that, whenever they would argue, he would try to leave and she would try to retain him, and that is where the domestic violence would often begin. He grew up in a home where he witnessed his father brutally beat his mother and swore that he would not be like his father. Therefore, when he and his wife start to fight, he immediately starts to leave to avoid violence. She grew up in a home where her father abandoned her and her mother frequently and, eventually, all together, so she would try to retain her husband because his wanting to leave triggered her abandonment issues. Once they understood each other’s experience, they were able to soften their approach to each other in conflict and to take a negotiated time out instead of one wanting to leave and the other trying to retain the other.
One Caveat: The Uninvited-Invited Guest
When people are intoxicated or under the influence of a substance, they cannot use the conflict management skills that they learn in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Sobriety is a pre-condition for the effectiveness of Gottman Method Couples Therapy. However, I believe that sobriety and the relationship can be worked on simultaneously and that the triggers and skills (I.e. stress reduction, managing conflict, creating a sober-supportive environment, etc.) for both overlap.
Gottman, J., & Schwartz Gottman, J. (2013). The Art & Science of Love: A Weekend Workshop for Couples. Seattle: The Gottman Institute.
Stith, S.M., McCollum, E.E., & Rosen, K.H. (2007). Domestic Violence Focused Couples Treatment: Multi-Couples Treatment Manual. Falls Church, VA: Virginia Tech.
Fully HIPPA compliant with 480 questions in 5 unique sections, our assessment not only accurately evaluates a relationship's strengths and challenges, but also provides personalized feedback. Here’s how it works:
Clinicians must first apply to become a member of The Gottman Relationship Checkup. Once approved, they can invite their couples to complete the questionnaire. Before the couple can start the assessment, each partner must create a personal profile that requires them to have a unique login and password. This password is specific to their information and responses. Neither partner can access the other’s information at any time, and we encourage that they not share their information with each other.
When both partners have completed their individual assessments, a notification will be sent to the clinician that the scores, areas of concern in the relationship, and suggested treatment options are available on the clinician's dashboard. This information is not shared with The Gottman Institute. After receiving the scores, the therapist will be able to review the analysis with the couple and discuss any suggested steps for improving their relationship.
If you are a clinician and have used or are currently using the standard Gottman Assessments, this online tool has been adapted from the paper version and has been revised with the addition of new questionnaires for the online format. The online version provides you, the clinician, with a comprehensive assessment, automatic scoring, and a recommended comprehensive treatment plan for your clients, saving you time and effort while improving accuracy.
We will continue to share more information about The Gottman Relationship Checkup as it becomes closer to launch on October 6th. Until then, be sure to “Like” The Gottman Institute on Facebook for updates and announcements.
This is Zach's 20th 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 and Certified Gottman Therapist 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.
4. Unattractive. A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
5. Sad. A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
7. Criticized. A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
8. Worried. A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
9. Misunderstood. A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
10. Like leaving. A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
to my partner.
4. I felt no affection A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
toward my partner.
5. I definitely felt A Great Deal Definitely A Little Not at all
Now that you know what triggered this episode, it’s time to see whether your emotional reaction is rooted in your past. Were there any connections there between earlier traumas or behavior and the current situation? Use the following list to facilitate this search for links between the past and present.
After you’ve discussed each other’s answers above, you will come to see that many of your differences are not really matter of “fact.” We are all complicated creatures whose actions and reactions are governed by a wide array of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories.
As you work through this exercise, you’ll become more adept at turning toward each other regularly. When you honor and respect each other, you’re able to appreciate each other’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.