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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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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our Summer Romance series by sharing a list of fun, summer-related date ideas for reconnecting with your partner this weekend. While seeing an outdoor movie together or going for a picnic is wonderful, we challenge you to take things one step further by actively turning towards each other throughout your outing. What does that look like?

    One of the greatest predictors of your relationship’s success is your ability to turn towards each other, constantly developing your bond by making an effort every day to reach out to your partner and accept their bids for emotional connection. We have found that the majority of conflict in relationships is the result of turning away from and against these bids. Turning away and against are related to both suppressed negativity (sadness, self-pity, stonewalling) and being in the attack-defend mode (anger, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, belligerence). Playful bids and enthusiastic efforts to turn towards each other result in heightened levels of positivity during conflict discussions. They also help you to build up your emotional bank account, maintain a strong and healthy bond, and bring the fire back into your romance.

    In his research, Dr. Gottman discovered that the “masters” of relationships display a way of scanning their environment to find ways of appreciating their partner. In other words, they “catch” their partner doing things right and compliment them on it. Just as building your Love Maps are a great way to strengthen your friendship system, as we discussed on Monday, making a conscious effort to turn towards each other’s bids for emotional connection will strengthen the emotional connection felt between the two of you. 

    Now that you are informed about the benefits of turning towards your partner’s bids for emotional connection, here are some great ways to put it into practice this weekend: 

    • Go camping: Get away from the stress of work and retreat to the wilderness. Even if it’s just for one night, sleeping out under the stars with only the company of each other will remind you of what’s most important – your relationship. 

    • Go kayaking: Rent or borrow a couple of kayaks and spend the afternoon or early evening exploring local waterways. Moving slowly through the water in a wind or human-powered craft will reduce your stress level, give you and your partner a chance to ask each other open-ended questions, and increase your chances of spotting some wildlife.

    • Have a picnic: Pack a couple sandwiches, a bottle of wine, and a blanket and head to the nearest park. Even if it’s just around the corner from your house, the change of scenery will be a refreshing variation from your weekly routine. For more turning towards: Stop by your local grocery store and pick out picnic items for each other – do you know your partner’s favorite sandwich? Their favorite snacks? Their favorite drink? If not, here’s a great opportunity to learn! 

    • Attend an outdoor movie: Pack a blanket and get ready to watch some of your favorite films on a big, outdoor screen. Best of all, most screenings are totally free. Check your local listings.

    • Go for a walk/hike: It may sound simple, but a long walk is still one of the best summer dates you can have. Whether it’s a scenic weekend hike to a waterfall, a hilltop viewpoint or some other specific destination, or just an evening stroll through a favorite neighborhood, there’s something about taking a walk together that is guaranteed to bring you closer. For more turning towards: Bring your Love Map Card Deck and take turns asking each other questions.

    • Go for a bike ride: Take advantage of the nice summer weather to tune up your bikes, dust off your helmets, and get back out there. Make a date to do one of your favorite rides or try a new one that promises great scenery and enough challenge to get your blood moving. Pack a lunch and make a day of it!

    • Attend an outdoor concert: Great music sounds even better when you have the opportunity to hear it outside in the open air. Never heard of the group performing? Even better! Discover new music together, creating a lasting shared memory. Many parks, wineries, and even zoos now host outdoor concerts, and there are a number of major concert venues that are designed to take advantage of their natural settings and spectacular views (See: The Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State).

    • Attend a baseball game: Whether you are a fan of the game or not, the pace of baseball makes it the perfect spectator sport. Sit back, relax, and watch the game while engaged in deep conversation. For more turning towards: Share stories from your own athletic career. Did you play sports? What was your most proud moment? Your most embarrassing? 

    • Visit a farmers market: In many places, the return of summer also means the return of the local farmers markets. Go early to get the best selection of local fruit, vegetables, and other produce. While you’re there, sample local honey, preserves, and baked goods, and check out all the different crafts. 

    We’ve said it before and we will certainly say it again: it is the small things done often that make the most difference in a relationship. Whether you are out on a bike ride or attending a baseball game, make it a priority to turn towards each other’s bids for emotional connection this weekend.

    Have a great weekend,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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  • 07/22/13--16:41: Bringing Baby Home

  • We are very excited to announce the relaunch of the critically acclaimed Bringing Baby Home program! The first Educator Training has been scheduled and will take place in Seattle, WA on October 26 – 27, 2013. Over the course of the next few weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will explore the history of the program, explain its updated curriculum, and share our vision for its future. Without further ado, we would like to formally welcome you to the all-new Bringing Baby Home (BBH) program! 

    The BBH program is a research-based, early educational prevention program for parents, designed to help promote the healthy social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children. Our aim was to promote social change by making the BBH workshop available as part of the standard birth preparation program offered to expectant couples in hospitals throughout the nation. This was accomplished first in the state of Washington, and is now being provided across the U.S. and worldwide.

    The project began in 1999 as a small pilot study designed by Dr. John Gottman and Alyson F. Shapiro. This study later grew into a full-scale program enhancement project in 2001 and was concluded in 2005, when the youngest of our research participants reached two-and-half years old. Formerly sponsored by the Relationship Research Institute, which is in transition due to grant funding, the BBH program has been absorbed by The Gottman Institute.

    The transition to new parenthood holds potential for great joy; yet research shows that soon after the birth of a child, approximately two-thirds of couples experience a significant drop in relationship quality. Furthermore, many parents experience not only the “baby blues,” but also postpartum depression and other mood disorders. The result of these changes is compromised parenting and decreased quality of parent-child interactions, which can have negative effects on infant development.

    The first year of life is a crucial time in the healthy development of a child. A foundation of trust develops for children when they consistently experience that their world is safe and approachable. Effective parenting can help children build this essential foundation of trust. Experts have discovered that the relationships and emotions children are exposed to in their earliest years influence them for the rest of their lives. The early relationship established between parent and child lays the foundation for all of the child’s other relationships.

    We hope you will join us on The Gottman Relationship Blog as we discuss the BBH Program over the next few weeks! Interested in the October 26 - 27 Educator Training? Click here for more information and to register. Space is extremely limited as attendance will be restricted to 90 participants. Are you already a BBH Educator? We would love to hear about your experience implementing the program is your community! Join the conversation on our Facebook page

    Until next time,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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    One afternoon in 1998, Dr. John Gottman received a call from a woman at Seattle Children’s Hospital on behalf of the newspaper Seattle’s Child. She wanted to know if John could give a keynote lecture about the effects of parenthood on marriage and relationships. Though he hadn’t performed research focused on early parenthood, he had collected data on new parents in his long-term study on newlyweds – interesting statistics that could be shared with the public. Together with his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, he began to search through the data describing the couples who had babies, and was stunned by what he found:

    67% of couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.

    Shocked by these numbers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman were compelled to perform further research on the subject. What was going on in these relationships? How did the happy couples remain happy when exposed to the same stressors that made the other couples fall apart? What differentiated the “masters” of transition to parenthood from the “disasters?"

    In sixteen studies conducted on parents before and after their child’s birth, Drs. John and Julie Gottman and their associates discovered the following:


    • Though both parents work much harder after the birth of their child, they both feel unappreciated. 
    • In the year following the baby’s arrival, the frequency and intensity of relationship conflicts increases significantly. 
    • Mom’s sexual desire tends to drop considerably, normally staying low throughout the first year of baby’s life, particularly if she is nursing. As a result, frequency of sex declines dramatically. 
    • Moms usually get very involved with the baby, and are too fatigued to offer their partners much in the way of emotional connection. 
    • Moms and dads both undergo enormous changes in identity – thinking of themselves not only as parents and partners, but as members of a greater family: friends, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters. 
    • Parents often find their values changing vastly, along with their goals in life. 
    • Couples want to be better parents for their child than their own parents were with them. 
    • As the relationship changes, it begins to take on a different life: “Before Baby” and “After Baby.” 
    • As soon as Baby is born, Mom’s friends arrive on the scene – a society of women who have come to help. New dads can feel excluded and crowded out, and are likely to respond by removing themselves from the situation. They often withdraw from the baby and from Mom, working more, while trying to avoid conflict. 
    • When Mom is unhappy, her baby does not retreat. The same is not true for Dad. A child tends to withdraw emotionally from a father who is unhappy in his relationship with Mom – a tragic gulf grows between him and his child.

    Masters of transition to parenthood were able to navigate the stressors and life changes accompanying the birth of their baby with success. They found ways of dealing with the normal challenges of new parenthood, while the unhappy “disaster” couples could not. They were overwhelmed.


    The desire to answer the questions raised by this research led John and Julie Gottman to write their acclaimed book, And Baby Makes Three. In it, they show couples the way to smoothly navigate the transition to parenthood.

    Along with the release of their book, Drs. John and Julie Gottman's research on parenthood gave birth to a new program: Bringing Baby Home.

    In Friday’s blog posting, we will share an exclusive interview with the Directors of the program, our very own Joni Parthemer and Carolyn Pirak! We leave you with this clip of Dr. Gottman speaking about his research on the transition to parenthood: 


    Stay tuned,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are very excited to bring you an exclusive interview with two Bringing Baby Home Master Trainers. We recently sat down with Carolyn Pirak and Joni Parthemer to discuss the history of the BBH program and their work to re-launch it. As a reminder, The Gottman Institute will be sponsoring a BBH Educator Training in Seattle, WA on October 26 – 27 of this year. Click here for more information. Before we get to the interview, allow us to introduce you to these two wonderful women:




    Joni Parthemer holds a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and is both a Master Trainer and Education Director for the BBH program. She also holds certification as a Childbirth Educator and International Childbirth Association Approved Trainer. 

    Joni is a faculty member at the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Professions at Bastyr University as well as a Birth and Family Educator at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA. She has developed, published, and implemented a variety of training materials for educators interested in providing support and growth programs for families.



    Carolyn Pirak holds a Master of Social Work and works with children and families in both medical and educational settings. She is the Founding Director of the Bringing Baby Home program, a Master Trainer, and the author of the Bringing Baby Home Sections: Curriculum, Emotional Communication, and Children. 

    Carolyn is currently a consultant for a variety of organizations and Parenting Programs and works at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA in Birth and Family Education. he is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of children, couples, and families. She is married and is the mother of two children.



    The Gottman Institute: How did you first hear about the Bringing Baby Home program?

    Joni: I have worked as a professor, educator, and birth & family health care specialist for over 30 years. In my role as a birth and family educator at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA, I was approached by Dr. John Gottman, along with two other colleagues (Carolyn Pirak, MSW and Rosalys Peel, RN) to create, implement, and train couples and professionals in research-based information about what works and doesn't work in relationships - and pivotal to the Bringing Baby Home Program - the profound effects the transition to parenthood has on familial relationships. Our first meetings occurred in the late 1990's and fifteen years later the BBH journey continues! 

    Carolyn: I have been involved with the BBH program since 1998. The Gottmans had identified through their couple's research that the arrival of a new baby caused couples to have increased challenges and conflict in their relationships. They believed that a psycho-educational program could help couples learn what to expect during the transition to parenthood and have tools to manage the changes and they wanted to test their hypothesis. They approached Swedish Medical Center, the hospital where I worked, to be a site for their research study. I was part of the team that designed and facilitated the workshop intervention for new parents. After seeing the data showing the success of the workshop, I was excited to make the program available to parents worldwide, increasing my involvement and commitment to the program. I have been a part of BBH for the past 15 years as a facilitator, trainer, and the Founding Director. Currently, I am a consultant for TGI overseeing the new curriculum for BBH and helping with program design, training, and marketing. 

    The Gottman Institute: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement in the BBH program?

    Joni: I can honestly say that I've followed my passions throughout my career and found a way to jive those into my professional endeavors. There are transformative touch points in our lives - the birth of a baby is the birth of a new family. Women have always been daughters, men have always been sons. What does it mean to be a mother, a father? Parents become grandparents and children become siblings. Family constellations morph. Core introspection about life goals and what "family" means - these are big philosophical questions of one's life that emerge and evolve, whether you are ready or not! The profound journey parents make as individuals, couples, and parents is life affirming. This program offers couples insights, reflection, and tools to navigate their new normal and weave their unique family tapestry.

    Carolyn: Being involved with the Bringing Baby Home program has been rewarding on several levels. First, I have gotten to meet many wonderful, dedicated professionals who are working together towards a common goal to change the lives of children and families. Second, the opportunity to hear from couples about how their relationships changed once they incorporated concepts from the workshop has inspired me to keep the program going. New parents are "born" everyday so our work is never done. Teaching parents important concepts such as how to take a good break, how to play cooperatively with a baby, or simply how to express appreciation changes lives. My hope is that the material we have taught parents will make changes in families around the world so that children benefit from growing up in a sound relationship house. This will allow them to grow up and lead more happy, productive, and satisfying lives. That is rewarding!

    The Gottman Institute: What is the most important takeaway that participants can expect to walk away from the BBH Educator Training with? 

    Joni: Concrete, research-based, and research-tested tools for growing healthy parent-parent and parent-child relationships.

    Carolyn: Professionals who take the October Educator Training will leave prepared to teach the BBH workshop to pregnant couples and new parents.

    The Gottman Institute: What can participants expect to be new at the October Educator Training? 

    Joni: The October Educator Training will use the newly revised BBH curriculum. While the research is the same, the presentation of the material is different. There are new teaching icons, new photos and graphics, a significant change in tone of voice, and recommended teaching activities throughout. 

    Carolyn: There are also updated references and citations, updated material on fathers, a new connecting with kids chapter, and a newly designed couple's manual.

    The Gottman Institute: How many people have been trained as BBH Educators?

    Joni and Carolyn: 1,500 worldwide 

    The Gottman Institute: How many couples have gone through the BBH curriculum?

    Joni and Carolyn: It’s difficult to say exactly, but we know for sure that we have helped several thousands of couples worldwide through the Bringing Baby Home program! 

    ____________________________________

    You can meet Joni and Carolyn at the BBH Educator Training this October! Questions? All inquiries about the training can be directed to Alan Kunovsky at alan@gottman.com or 206-523-9042 x 108. As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page

    Have a great weekend,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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    Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we announced the relaunch of the Bringing Baby Home program and shared the date of the first Educator Training, which will take place on October 26th and 27th in Seattle, WA. This week, we will explain the training's curriculum, share what skills attendees will gain, and discuss what knowledge they will be able to impart to others. We would like to start today by introducing you to the basic structure of the training.

    Our newly designed, research-based training prepares participants to independently teach pregnant and parenting couples how to successfully prepare for the transition to parenthood.

    Participants will learn to teach couples how to:
    • Strengthen their relationship
    • Effectively manage stress and conflict
    • Recognize and respond to postpartum depression
    • Meet the emotional and psychological needs of a child
    • Keep both parents involved in parenting 

    By popular demand, we’ve reduced the workshop to 2 days from 3 to maximize your time. Educators from around the world are already signed up to attend! Join them and learn how to present this valuable and much needed work in your neighborhood.

    Who is the training for?

    Educators, nurses, social workers, child and family therapists, birth and postpartum doulas, midwives, childbirth educators, professors, parent coaches and clergy - all have taken the Bringing Baby Home Training and become Gottman Educators. The Educator Training program is designed for professionals who work with expectant parents and families with young children.

    What can you do with this training?

    The training provides the tools and know-how to facilitate couples’ small groups and classes at your church, community center, place of business, or home. Attendees learn how to teach pregnant and parenting couples the skills needed to encourage healthy, supportive family relationships while decreasing postpartum depression, relationship conflict, and hostility.


    What can I expect from the training?
    The BBH Training is a high quality program that combines lecture, multi-media presentations, interactive exercise, hands-on “teach back” opportunities, discussion, and periodic quizzes. Your workshop includes a dedicated trainer to facilitate two days of research-based training and all workshop materials. Participants will be taught how to use the materials, content, tools and exercises, and will be able to teach the BBH workshop to parents immediately following the training.

    During the Educator Training, participants will have the opportunity to: 
    • Attend insightful research-based and research-tested lessons
    • Participate in “teach-back” sessions with peers
    • Learn ways to market and promote the BBH program in your community
    • Participate in brown bag discussions that will help reinforce key topics or points of interest
    • Test their knowledge of what was learned over the course of the training. Periodic quizzes during the training and provided sample test questions help participants prepare for the final test. Passing this exam enables participants to teach the BBH Program in their community.

    As a result of Educator Training, participants will be able to:
    • Independently teach and facilitate the 12 hour Bringing Baby Home Couples Workshop.
    • Independently teach and facilitate multiple authorized Sections of the Bringing Baby Home Couples Workshop. 
    • Use the Gottman BBH Educator title and distinction.

    Each participant receives the following materials: 
    • One Training Manual: Gottman Educator Training Manual, 300 pages. Developed and written by Drs. John and Julie Gottman and Master BBH Trainers, it includes all the teaching tools, exercises and research for successfully teaching the Bringing Baby Home Workshop. 
    • One Couple’s Workbook: Bringing Baby Home Couple’s Workbook, 150 pages. Includes insightful research, key parenting tips, guides and information, resources and interactive exercises. This is the manual that couples receive when taking the BBH Workshop from Educators. 
    • Six Card Decks: These fun, interactive cards are used in the Bringing Baby Home Workshop with parents as interactive exercises. Titles include: Love Map Cards, Love Map Cards For Couples with Kids, Open-Ended Questions Cards, Father’s Cards, Expressing Needs Cards, Softened Start-up Cards. 

    If you have any questions about the October 26-27 BBH Training or would like more information about its curriculum, please contact Alan Kunovsky at alan@gottman.com or 206-523-9042 x 108. As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page.


    Until next time,

    Ellie Lisitsa

    TGI Staff

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    Happy Friday! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we'd like to share a few important pieces of information.

    First, as promised, we offer you a look at the format of our upcoming Bringing Baby Home Educator Training this October, which you can see here! Second, we'd like to invite you to take a look at this series of videos to get a sense of the foundation on which our BBH training is built. Last but certainly not least, we would like to share the following article with you, written by ABC News a few years ago, which discusses the astounding results of the BHH program at the time. We hope that it will serve to illustrate the structure and nature of our programs and workshops, and show you what you can learn with us!

    Without further ado: 

    Baby Makes Three: Dealing With Children In Your Relationship

    The introduction of a new baby can be full of great joy. For millions of young couples, the arrival of a baby brings dramatic changes to their marriages.

    But after the initial excitement, comes the loss of personal time and sleep.

    "The reality is that your time, it's no longer your own," said Paul Kruglik. "You're definitely on the baby's schedule."

    Paul and his wife of two years, Melinda, have a 5-month-old son, Parker. The couple always dreamed of having children. But, the baby brought bliss and blues.

    "One day you're pregnant and everything's so great," Melinda said. "And the next day, everything's complete chaos."

    While Melinda said she heard having a baby would alter her relationship, she didn't know how much.

    "People can tell you that it's hard, and they can tell you that it's going to change your relationship, but [it's] not until you're doing it that you start to realize how true that is," she said.

    "The euphoria's worn off, and your tiredness sets in. And so, right about 9 o'clock every night for a good week or two weeks, I would cry. And it was awful to feel that way."

    Mothers aren't the only parents susceptible to this.

    "Thirty percent of fathers have postpartum depression symptoms," said Relationship Research Institute executive director John Gottman. "Fifty [percent] to 80 percent of moms have symptoms of postpartum depression."

    Gottman said many parents feel ashamed and embarrassed about their troubled feelings.

    Celebrity mothers like Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond helped bring PPD to the forefront with their personal tales. Today, more couples are seeking help.

    Gottman began the Bringing Baby Home workshop. The two-day course prepares a couple for how their relationship will change once a baby arrives. Its research shows the workshop cuts PPD rates from 67 percent to 23 percent.

    "About two-thirds of couples had serious problems in the first three years of the baby's life, where their happiness with one another went down," said Gottman, who has researched relationships for 30 years. "Their hostility increased."

    The two-day workshop includes everything from lectures to a fun card game designed to test how well couples really know one another. They're taught how to remain calm during inevitable conflicts, and how something as simple as a 15-minute massage can increase intimacy.

    Nancy Manzo said she attended the workshop to prepare for parenthood.

    "I think the reason we're here is to learn as much as we can before we become parents, to see what we can do to help make that a positive experience," she said.

    Another participant, Ian Mulholland, said he wanted to focus on maintaining his close relationship while simultaneously taking it to the next level.

    The couples are given a chance to learn the realities of life when a baby enters the family picture.

    "The baby required immediate attention," Gottman said. "It's stressful. You're not sleeping. You're irritable."

    He added if couples don't have the information, they will believe their relationships are bad.

    The workshop's goal is to strengthen the marriage so couples learn as much about taking care of one another as they do about caring for the baby. It also stresses the importance of fathers.

    "The secret of dad's involvement with the baby is his relationship with the mother, and she is able to be a better mother if he's involved with her," Gottman said.

    Many believe the focus on fathers is important.


    "Often what happens postpartum is that Dad gets shoved aside, or he may feel that the best way to show what a great dad he is, is to run to the office," said ABC News parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy.

    "Moms have learned to mother from their mothers. Fathers learn from their wives. So, working on the dynamic between the couple can help them communicate better, even when they're operating with a very short fuse."

    Murphy said the program is amazing because Gottman was able to achieve huge reductions in PPD by focusing on the couples' relationships.

    But postpartum depression can't always be helped with something as basic as better communication.

    "There is a big difference between baby blues — that as many as 50 percent of moms may experience clinical depression — which affects 10 [percent] to 25 percent of moms, and is much more serious," Murphy said.

    "Contributing factors include hormonal changes, family history, sleep deprivation and the symptoms are more severe: significant changes in appetite or sleep patterns."

    Prolonged sadness, an inability to take pleasure in anything, including the baby, or thoughts of hurting herself or the baby also may be signs, she said.

    "Then, treatment by a professional is absolutely critical," Murphy said. "PPD not only affects the mom, but we know from a large body of research that depressed mothers have depressed babies."

    Murphy said it can be a vicious cycle for mother and baby because more fighting makes the child more irritable. In turn, the baby cries more, which causes more stress in the parents' relationship.

    "Also, men and women experience stress very differently," she said. "We know from studies on psychophysiology that when people are stressed, adrenaline levels go up. And when this happens, men tend to fight or flee."

    "Women react differently. They're actually able to calm down faster because of a hormone called oxytocin, which is excreted during breast-feeding, and when they rock or hold their baby."

    Even though having a baby has changed his life in a very dramatic way, Kruglik said he wouldn't trade his experience for anything.



    ____________________________________

    If you have any questions about the October 26-27 BBH Training or would like more information about its curriculum, please contact Alan Kunovsky at alan@gottman.com or 206-523-9042 x 108. As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page.

    Have a great weekend, 
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Last week, The Huffington Post published an article featuring our research – a very well written, comprehensive piece about the Gottman approach to managing physiological and emotional flooding in relationship conflict. We have shared the article below, followed by some thoughts we felt were important to consider in response. 

    Making Sure Emotional Flooding Doesn't Capsize Your Relationship
    By: Stephanie Manes, LCSW

    We all know what it's like to get carried off by some rough emotional currents when we are dealing with our mate. These aren't the day-to-day flashes of anger or hurt. I am talking about the giant waves of bad feelings that completely knock you down and take any rational thought with them. This is how it usually goes. You are in the middle of a conflict or disagreement, your partner says or does something, and suddenly you fall down a deep dark rabbit hole. The only notes you register are rage, hurt, panic and fear.

    When I'm caught in one of these rip tides, I have the physical sensation of something taking hold of my body -- my muscles clench, my temperature skyrockets and my stomach does turns. My mind goes into overdrive. I am deaf to anything my husband is saying and can only hear the blame narrative rapidly evolving in my head. I become a prosecuting attorney endlessly repeating a courtroom argument. Mind you, when I'm all caught up like this, my allegations are usually not terribly sound. Any reasonable judge would probably toss my case right out (or at least knock the charge down from a felony to a misdemeanor). But even knowing that doesn't dampen my prosecutorial zeal.

    The difference between flooding and more manageable experiences of our emotions is one of magnitude. You reach the point when your thinking brain -- the part that can take in gray areas, consider other sides, stay aware of the real state of affairs -- is shut out. Psychologist John Gottman explains this emotional hijacking as the hallmark of our nervous system in overdrive. Something happens -- and it could be almost anything -- in your interaction with your partner that sets off your internal threat-detection system. This is your parasympathetic nervous system in action, preparing you for battle or flight. In this state, you lose some of your capacity for rational thought. Science describes this is as a decrease of activity in your pre-frontal cortex, the center of higher cognition.

    The stuff that works well when you are being chased by a mastodon doesn't work so well in the home. Our instinctive reactions in these moments usually make the situation worse. The fight response we are primed for becomes a cascade of angry words that just deepen wounds. In flight, we might stalk out of the room or shut out our mate with icy silence. Basically, when we react in the grip of emotional flooding, we do and say the kind of things that are likely to trigger emotional flooding in our partner. And then both people in the room are out of control.

    Here are some things I have learned along the way from my own experiences, and from counseling other couples, that may help you and your mate find your ways when either of you gets derailed by emotional flooding:

    • Make a commitment to try self-soothing the next time you find yourself caught up in a heavy emotion over this or that with your partner. The reality is that it is not easy to hold back from acting out when we are completely enraged or feeling utterly devastated. But if you have essentially accepted the idea that you can't entirely trust yourself and your perceptions when you are in a state of total reactivity, you at least have a fighting chance of pulling yourself back from the spiral. Some part of you will have registered the notion that you probably shouldn't be so quick to buy whatever blame narrative or catastrophic rendering of things that your mind has come up with.

    • Mentally store a picture of your partner at their best -- a moment when you experience them as loving, generous and well-meaning. Add as much detail as you can to really capture how you experience your partner when you are feeling loved and cared for. I like to picture my husband standing at the top of the stairs waiting to greet me at the end of day with a look of pure happiness. Try shifting your focus to this image when you get trapped in a negative story about them. This helps your brain move out of the reactive myopia and reintegrate a more balanced view of your partner.

    • When you do get flooded, you need to hit the pause button on your interaction and turn your attention inward. I find that before I can do anything, I need to reassure myself that I will be fine if I wait for this storm to pass. Like a standoff with an armed hostage-taker, I have to convince her to at least put down the gun before we can keep talking.

    • Observe what's happening. This is the key to creating some distance between yourself and the storm of thoughts and feelings. Mentally note that you have gotten activated. Start to investigate what happens when you get emotionally flooded. Notice what thoughts take shape in your mind and what sensations move through your body.

    • Use images to ground the process of slowing, observing and letting go. You might want to imagine your mind as a wheel that was suddenly spinning furiously. With each breath, you are able to slow down its speed until it is barely turning. Or picture your racing thoughts as a cloud of sand that has been kicked up in the water. Wait for the sand to sink back down to the seabed, leaving clear water. As your frantic thoughts subside, your nervous system can calm down, too. Imagine any constriction melting. Relax your hands, imagining yourself physically letting go of the story you created about what has happened with your mate.

    • Take timeouts when you need to. Sometimes you can self-soothe on the spot. At other times, you may need to take a break from the interaction. Make a plan with your partner that if either of you gets too activated in an argument to hear the other -- to avoid saying things you will regret -- you will take a time out. Agree to come back together to continue the discussion within a certain period of time, but don't delay indefinitely. Use the time to actively soothe yourself rather than obsessing over your version of what went wrong, which will just keep you activated. The point here is to disengage with your reaction so you can re-engage with your mate.

    And by all means, don't get down on yourself when you do get tripped up and act out. That's what "I'm sorry" is for. 
    _____________________________________ 

    As you have gathered from this piece, emotional flooding can "capsize your relationship" if not managed properly. Here's what we'd like to add:

    Click here to read an entry from our Sound Relationship House Series that discusses the aftermath of a fight. In this blog posting, you will find a numbered list. This list will take you through some of our previous entries in the 6 Skills of Conflict Management

    Even if you've seen this list before, take the time to refresh your memory! Though you cannot avoid flooding in all situations, re-acquainting yourself with these conflict management skills can, at the very least, help you to work through areas of disagreement from a gentler place. With the right skills, you will be able to move from the introduction of a difficult subject to the conclusion of your conversation with greater warmth, connection, and mutual understanding.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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  • 08/07/13--17:01: Sleepless in Seattle


  • Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we confess we are having difficulty sleeping at night. It’s August, it's hot in Seattle, most of us are not fortunate enough to have air conditioning, and we just saw this in the news: 

    According to a recent article on PsyBlog, a newly released research study by Amie Gordon and Serena Chen of UC Berkeley, "The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict: Do Sleepless Nights Mean More Fights?" indicates that a restless night is associated with greater relationship conflict the following day. Although this may not be a surprise, the specific results are worth noting:

    This research examined the impact of a basic biological process - namely, sleep - on relationship conflict, specifically testing whether poor sleep influences the degree, nature, and resolution of conflict. In Study 1, a 14-day daily experience study, participants reported more conflict in their romantic relationships following poor nights of sleep. In Study 2, we brought couples into the laboratory to assess the dyadic effects of sleep on the nature and resolution of conflict. One partner’s poor sleep was associated with a lower ratio of positive to negative affect (self-reported and observed), as well as decreased empathic accuracy for both partners during a conflict conversation. Conflict resolution occurred most when both partners were well rested. Effects were not explained by stress, anxiety, depression, lack of relationship satisfaction, or by partners being the source of poor sleep. Overall, these findings highlight a key factor that may breed conflict, thereby putting relationships at risk.

    In other words, according to the PsyBlog article, 
    78 couples were tracked over a two-week period. Each day the couples made notes about their sleep quality and any arguments they'd had with their partners. The results showed that even for those who were good sleepers, just a single night's poor sleep was associated with increased relationship conflict the next day. These findings were not affected by one partner being the source of the poor sleep, or overall relationship satisfaction, depression, stress or anxiety. Only one partner in the couple had to have a bad night's sleep and their relationship suffered the next day. Four processes caused by the poor sleep are to blame:

    1. Less empathy. The worse couples slept, the less empathy they showed towards their partners. And it worked both ways: after a bad night's sleep, not only did they find it difficult to judge their partner's emotions, it was difficult for their partner to read them in turn.

    2. More negativity. There will always be bad feelings at some stage in a relationship; but to be a good relationship overall, these should be massively outweighed by the good feelings. When partners slept poorly, this ratio went in the wrong direction towards more negative feelings. 

    3. Conflict resolution problems. When tired, couples found it harder to resolve their differences. 

    4. Selfishness. Poor sleep can induce more selfish feelings in partners and they feel less able to appreciate and feel gratitude towards the other.

    You can find the article in its original form here.

    Wonderful, you might think! Great! How is this supposed to help me? Here’s how:

    Now you know (because science has spoken!) that there is such a thing as getting up on the wrong side of the bed. When we “wake up” from a sleepless night, we feel grouchy, and when we feel grouchy, we spread the grouch to our partner. Even on cool, pleasant nights, something may be wrong. Maybe you are stressed for another reason: work is crazy, you’ve got to take care of an older relative, you’ve been overspending, your kids aren’t doing their homework, or you are a human being. There are plenty of things that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep! They don’t have to. You are in control. Below, we share strategies for getting a good night's sleep from doctors at Harvard University*. 

    Timeless Tips for Sleeping Well:

    1. Make sure your room and bed are comfortable. Not too hot, not too cold. If you need to find a better mattress or get some pillows or blankets, make the investment – your relationship will thank you. 

    2. Remember to exercise. It is a surefire way to ensure deep, restful sleep, as long as you do it early in the day.

    3. Eat well, and long before bedtime. Don’t go to bed on an empty stomach, but remember that eating heavy food makes it harder to fall asleep!

    4. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are sleep killers. Drink decaf and leave cigarettes alone. If you have to drink coffee or smoke, do it long, long before bed. 

    5. Do not attempt to use a “nightcap” – though it may help you to fall asleep, alcohol reduces sleep quality and leaves you feeling under-rested. If you like, take a melatonin instead. 

    6. Breathe deeply. Do some stretches, take a bath, or drink some warm milk – these things can soothe you.

    7. Come up with a bedtime ritual. It’s nearly impossible to fall asleep if you have been working or watching TV right up until the moment you hit the bed. Make sure that you give yourself time to unwind before you turn out the lights. Get into the habit of turning the lights down and reading a book or cuddling up with your partner. Take the opportunity to turn towards your partner while you ask them open-ended questions. 

    If you make sure to practice good sleeping habits, you will more likely wake up re-energized and strengthened, and your relationship will be too!

    Take care,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    *Source: Epstein, Lawrence, MD and Mardon, Steven, The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, 2007, McGraw Hill Books.

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    In Wednesday’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, in which we shared a recent study out of UC Berkeley on the relationship between sleep and relationship conflict, we brought up the importance of cultivating good habits in self care, one of the most critical tools in maintaining healthy relationships. This weekend, we offer you a few of Dr. Gottman’s tips for goal-setting and stress management! We hope that the following lists will help you as you work to find balance and create a healthier lifestyle, both for yourself and for your relationship.

    DR. GOTTMAN'S TIPS FOR GOAL SETTING: 

    • Make your goals specific and measurable. Rather than telling your partner that you would like to talk more, suggest that you go on a date every other Saturday. Leave the kids with the babysitter and find some time for just the two of you.
    • Think about the pros and cons of making healthy changes. If we stick with the example above, we could imagine that a pro would be the ability to feel closer to each other and relax (at a favorite dinner spot, on a jaunt through a beloved park, in a cozy cafe), and a con could be the price of the babysitter.
    • Break big goals into little ones! If you want to get in shape, don’t go crazy – this will only add to your stress. You know how much your butt is going to hurt after your first day running two hours on the treadmill. Go slow. Start with smaller increments. Apply the treadmill example to everything.
    • Ask for support! If you want to take care of yourself, remember the people closest to you – the ones you can count on. Call them if you want a boost of encouragement!
    • Anticipate obstacles and have a backup plan! If you take a moment to be honest with yourself and realize that your new self care plan might be as fleeting as a New Year’s Resolution, don’t feel defeated! You are in control. Imagine the difficulties you may face in accomplishing your goal. For example, if going on a run every morning is going to be unrealistic once your kid starts school, try to come up with a solution that you feel confident will work. Could you work out a carpool with other parents so you have more time to yourself? Could you run in the evenings?
    • Make a daily plan and track your progress! Ask yourself the following questions frequently: What are my intentions today? (“I’ll go on a run tonight” or “I’ll stay away from the croissants at our staff meeting today” or “We’ll talk over dinner tonight, no more TV for a little while”)
    • Reward yourself for short-term and long-term successes! (“Yay! I ran!” or “Yay! I didn’t eat a croissant!” You get the idea…) 

    Worn out? Here are some of our ideas for activities to diminish your personal and mutual stress levels that will leave you feeling a little lighter. 

    • Filled with nervous energy or frustration? Take some time to engage in physical activity and work it off, simultaneously staying fit and healthy! If it helps to diminish stress, bring your favorite music along. The relief you gain from spending an hour or two exercising will diminish your likelihood to snap at your partner. 
    • Love reading? Dive into a book. Let yourself fall into the world of fiction or, if you prefer to fill your head with facts, explore a book on your favorite academic subject! 
    • Miss your friends? Skip over to your favorite coffee shop or local watering hole with a few close friends. Taking the time to reconnect with those who feel like your home away from home will leave you all feeling rejuvenated. Also, you can get things off your chest that have been weighing you down. 
    • Play an instrument? Want to learn? Take a trip into the land of music and experience its incredibly cathartic escape. It will likely provide you the sense of satisfaction and freedom that leaves you ready to face the real world. 

    Remember that you can enjoy any of these stress-free activities with your partner! Here are a few more ideas for relaxing together - choose from the ones below or come up with your own, and you may learn more about each other in the process, strengthening your bond!

    • Watch your favorite show together. 
    • Go on a jaunt through the neighborhood. 
    • Explore a beautiful park – take a hike if you’re in the mood! Watch a sunset. 
    • Go on a date. 
    • Take the kids to get ice cream. 


    Note: We'd like to share a link to something we wrote almost a year ago on The Gottman Blog! This entry offers important tips for reducing stress within your relationship, with particular focus on improving sexual happiness - we direct your attention to the bulleted list at the bottom.

    Whew! That's a lot to think about. Don't panic! Remember that these lists are ways of keeping you and your relationship from being overwhelmed in daily life. 

    The activities we share with you today are not prescribed for immediate use. This blog entry is a resource, one that you can return to any time. This weekend, take a moment to relax and try an activity above. Which ones sound good? Take them for a spin!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    As we have mentioned previously on The Gottman Relationship Blog, Dr. John Gottman’s groundbreaking research with couples has allowed us at The Gottman Institute to apply his work to a much broader spectrum of human relationships. Today, we are excited to announce a brand-new series that will focus on the role that technology plays in our most intimate relationships. Without further ado, we bring you Relationships in The Digital Age: The Gottman Perspective. 

    We have been receiving messages of the following sort for quite some time:

    I was wondering if The Gottman Institute does anything for the younger generation. I am not married, but it's my understanding that your teachings apply to all couples, so I've been diligently taking notes and lecturing my own parents and friends on how to be a better relationship partner.
    With so many readers asking us to share our wisdom with the younger generation, we are happy to oblige! Starting today, The Gottman Relationship Blog will seek to tackle some concerns that Generation Y-ers face in the relationship sphere. 

    We will seek to expose, analyze, and develop strategies for countering the difficulties of communication and connection that technology brings into our lives by applying The Gottman Method.*


    In this new series, we mean to help all readers, regardless of relationship status or age, to navigate a new virtual landscape whose endlessly changing terrain guarantees a constant influx of new challenges.


    Communicating through these new media can be just as complex as communicating in real life, or even more so.

    We will work to develop an awareness of how networking technology can be used to help, not hinder, the strength and intensity of your relationships by showing you how to apply The Gottman Method to your virtual interactions.


    We will teach you how the tools that you have learned from following our blog, reading Dr. Gottman’s books, and attending workshops may be applied in a completely different context. While many of the techniques and strategies for maintaining healthy relationships translate intuitively and directly from offline to online, crucial differences between the dynamics of face-to-face and cyberspace interaction require specific adaptation and deeper thought.


    The Gottman Method will be our guide as we consider an array of topics, covering media from instant messaging (text messages and online chat) to social networking sites, answering the questions that we suspect are most relevant to you:


    • What do I do if my partner doesn’t respond to my text messages?
    • How long is reasonable to wait for a response to a text message?
    • How can I decrease the likelihood of misunderstandings in virtual communication with my partner?
    • What kinds of conversations are okay to have online?
    • When is it necessary to move a conversation offline?
    • How can the text medium be used to support intimacy?
    • How can my partner and I improve our ability to connect in cyberspace?
    • What should we do if conflict arises?
    • How can we talk about perpetual problems we experience in online interaction?
    • How can I keep my relationship healthy in the face of the pressures that have developed in the social networking revolution?
    • How can I keep myself and my partner sane, protecting our connection when the use of technology in communication is often unavoidable?

    What are the problems that arise when you use technology to communicate with your partner? How can these problems be addressed? Tune in to The Gottman Blog to find out!

    All for now,

    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff



    *DISCLAIMER: Dr. John Gottman has spent the past 40 years researching relationships, primarily focusing on married couples. He has also studied families, parents, and children. He has not performed research on the effects of technology on relationships. To appeal to relationships in the digital age, particularly the younger generation, we will be putting his proven findings on intimate relationships in conversation with journal and news articles from the fields of technology and social behavior. 


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    Technology is changing what it means to be "together." While communication is nearly effortless and instantaneous at any distance, it can be more difficult to connect with others. It’s counter-intuitive that easier access to others can make our social lives more difficult, but there is no denying that living in a networked culture can be demanding and stressful. It is tempting, or even necessary, to use technologies that constrain our ability to communicate clearly and personally. There are no familiar conventions to lean on when it comes to the way we use digital media – and there are many bad precedents being set!

    New technologies are often adopted because they offer convenience - systems are offered which circumvent the shortcomings of those that already exist. Unable to gossip on the phone with your friend in class? Text messaging under the desk is an excellent alternative to note-passing, allowing for instant exchange. The problem is that as convenience takes priority and becomes the norm, it’s all too easy to lose what makes communication a moving human experience. It's all too easy to lose all sense of closeness and intimacy. 

    For a romantic relationship, this can be a very big deal. Opting for convenience does not communicate commitment or enthusiasm - and when commitment and enthusiasm are gone from your virtual communication with your partner, problems offline are sure to follow.

    It is very difficult to meet each other’s needs for emotional connection through this media, which can easily catalyze mutual negative sentiment override and the erosion of trust.

    Here is the reality:

    Though it is hard to admit, technology has us in its grip, and its development is progressing at mind-boggling speed. Without addressing the difficulties that it brings into our lives, we risk the destruction of our most intimate relationships. That is a fact.

    Any conversation that happens in cyberspace (over cell-phones, online chat, social media, etc) has high potential for trouble. Although it is a tool that can be used in a great variety of positive and constructive ways, even to build certain kinds of bridges, virtual communication can be a hotbed for misunderstanding, in which flying sparks often result in fire. Without the skills to avoid the flames, they are difficult to control, and often almost impossible to put out.

    Think about it.

    Chances are that you’ve experienced situations in which, while attempting the most innocuous of dialogues  - turning towards your partner to check in about their day on the phone, or attempting to finalize and mutually commit to previously discussed plans via text message - you have found yourself suddenly, unexpectedly engaged in conflict, with no idea how to reach resolution or communicate with your "opponent!"

    This happens because the difficulty of identifying and addressing misunderstandings face-to-face (with the ability to exchange facial expressions and nonverbal cues) pales in comparison to the near-impossibility of overcoming misunderstanding in the virtual sphere. This happens because of the difficulty of sharing and responding to bids for attention, or recognizing sliding door moments in this largely alien context. This happens because the emotional connection skills that serve you well in real life can’t always help you in the face of online isolation, or isolation-fueled antagonism.

    Most of the time, problems in contact over virtual media go unaddressed: though they are frequent sources of stress, the vast majority of communications technology users believe that the drawbacks virtual media presents are a necessary evil, that you have to pay dearly for such unprecedented convenience, and that sometimes, relatively significant social discomfort in this sphere is inescapable.

    When it comes to your relationship with your partner, this is a dangerous perspective!

    Luckily, these problems truly are often avoidable, can be understood and addressed in a healthy manner, and don’t have to create so much stress in our lives. In this series, we will show you how.

    On Friday, look forward to learning some practical ways to tackle basic problems in virtual communication – general tips about bidding that you can use when interacting with your partner (and others) in The Digital Age!

    Until Friday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff  


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    Dr. John Gottman has discovered many surprising things about relationships over the past four decades, sharing these findings with us in his books, lectures, conferences, and workshops. Central to his work in creating Gottman Couples Therapy, along with his wife Dr. Julie Gottman, was the discovery of “sliding door moments.” It is during these moments, when one partner bids for the other’s attention, that relationships are made or broken. 

    During the everyday moments we share (or try to share!) with our partner, from “I love you” to “Did you see that crazy jerk cut in front of me?,” we expect or hope for a return – a hug or a kiss, shared laughter, or simple acknowledgment. Sliding door moments are an opportunity to connect, and failing to notice and take advantage of them is a sure path to the slow-but-steady destruction of your relationship.


    When our partners do not respond and turn away from or against our bids for emotional connection, we begin to lose trust in them. Though Dr. Gottman explains that the reasons for failed connection are often the result of mindlessness, not malice, they add up (or take away) from a relationship over time, creating complex and all-encompassing systems of Positive or Negative Sentiment Override. Dr. Gottman discusses his trust metric in this short clip:



    So, what does all this mean for our relationships in the Digital Age? The gadgets that we use to communicate with one another (cell phones, Skype, Facebook, etc.) are conduits for sending and receiving bids for emotional connection. They are the purveyors of sliding door moments. They dispense opportunities for connection, despite dragging us into a world of disconnection. If you fail to respond to a text message, even if its unintentional, your partner may feel that you have turned away from their bid for emotional connection. 

    The conclusion? We must do our best to stay close in a virtual dimension that trivializes the tone of the written word. We must pay as much attention to contact with our partner online as we do in real life, because let's face is, online is real life! Below, we give you a short list of tips for improving your ability to connect with your partner in cyberspace – we have chosen tips that we feel are the most important to implement without delay:

    • Talk About Texting: Have a discussion about sending and receiving text messages. If it is important that your partner respond to your texts in a timely manner, let them know. What does it mean to you to send a text and not receive a response? To some this is a sensitive topic, and for others it is not an issue. The important thing: understanding each other's needs and respecting them. 

    • Acknowledge Acceptance: If you are busy when you receive a message, do your best to turn towards your partner and let them know that you will respond as soon as you are free. This can be as simple as, “Busy. Will respond ASAP. XOXO” The word choice is less important than the acknowledgment of receiving the message, the promise to follow up, and its fulfillment in the follow-through! If you know you will not have access to your phone and will be unavailable for a while, let your partner know. 

    • Pick Up The Phone: When making plans, discussing logistics, or arranging a meeting with your partner via text message, it is best to pick up the phone and make a call. Not only will taking the extra effort mean a lot to your partner, but it will also help you to avoid confusion.  

    • Communicate Care: The seemingly inconsequential nature of messaging makes it difficult to feel connected, all the more reason to be especially attentive. Without the aid of tone of voice and body language, even the most sincere messages can be misconstrued. 

    • Know When to Stop: Don’t sling words back and forth without thinking. This can lead to confusion, and confusion in virtual communication is, as we have discussed, not ideal. If you feel a conversation escalating over text message or online chat, table it until you can speak in person. Be sure to follow up. 

    This set of suggestions is intentionally brief, as we will be going into more depth on the subject in this blog series. We have shared them today as the first Weekend Homework Assignment to give you a chance to reflect upon and consider these ideas. 

    Take some time this weekend to think about the way in which you and your partner have handled virtual communication in the past, whether it be via text message, Facebook chat, Skype, or another medium. Think about situations in which you wish things had been handled differently. What would you have changed? How can you use this list of suggestions to approach future interactions in a healthy way? As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page. 

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we launched our new series: Relationships in the Digital Age. We started off by investigating the basics of virtual communication in relationships, enumerating some of its risks and rewards.

    Today, we would like to discuss one risk in particular: the enormous destructive potential of fighting in cyberspace.

    One of the greatest dangers we face in using technology to communicate arises when we find ourselves in conflict. If a disagreement occurs, then tensions mount and emotions run high. We may become flooded, just as we would in face-to-face argument. But here’s the thing:

    When partners are flooded in conflicts offline, they can agree to take a break, to self-soothe, and to come back to the conversation after a short pause. In online conflicts, this is almost impossible. 


    When we are psychologically engaged in both worlds - in the world of text messaging and in “reality” - part of us constantly stays focused on the conversation we are having online. 

    Text messages and online chat can keep us continually occupied in the conflict process, in which there is no opportunity for a “time-out!”

    Without the ability to take a break, we stay escalated and preoccupied, coming up with well-thought-out responses and rebuttals to the messages we are receiving. Because we remain flooded, we may find ourselves fuming and strategizing like this all day, becoming more and more upset over solvable problems.

    We remain caught up in thinking about the unresolved problem, increasingly frustrated and distracted from the activities of our day, often becoming gridlocked on subjects that might not have become so contentious if they came up face to face.

    The truth is, even if we genuinely strive to understand our partner, we cannot see their facial expressions, hear their tone of voice, or interpret their body language – emotional connection is greatly impaired.

    As we spar online, intimacy goes out the window.

    Because of the literal and figurative distance between us, rational reflection on the intentions of our partner becomes nearly impossible, and our capacity for self-reflection declines. As tensions mount, we lose control. As we lose clarity of connection with ourselves and lose clarity of our image of the other, our partner ceases to be a complex human being, and begins to assume the shape of a depersonalized adversary.

    What a mess!

    Sound familiar? Don’t panic. You are by no means alone. It is precisely for this reason that we write about the subject. Now that we have identified the problem, we will help you to understand it more deeply, and see what is happening underneath for the two of you when it arises. This understanding will help you to perceive and manage these situations in a more healthy way, staying in control of yourselves and your relationship.

    Look forward to learning more about conflict in cyberspace on Wednesday!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In our last post on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we introduced the topic of Conflict in Cyberspace. Today, we would like to explore the subject in greater depth. First, we give you a brief summary of Monday’s piece:

    Conflict is, by definition, an absorbing state. When it is encountered online, it can be even more so. Without access to the language of emotion, continued miscommunications are inevitable, and flooding can be more damaging (and longer lasting) than in face-to-face interaction.

    The moment that partners engage in argument in this virtual setting, they literally lose their senses. Two things happen at once:

    1) As virtual communication takes away their ability to perceive visual, tonal, and nonverbal cues, it deprives them of access to a complete human connection.

    2) In addition to being thus impaired, partners are more and more blinded by their escalating frustration with each other.

    When we enter into this space, we may begin to encounter a new and very serious problem:

    We no longer perceive the other person as a complex human being, one who may have hurt feelings, or be yearning to connect.

    Because of the fundamental separateness we feel when we type from opposite ends of cyberspace, there remains a discontinuity in our connection. You can imagine virtual communication as an imperfect bridge– missing some bits, inviting those traversing it to fall through the cracks.

    When partners encounter significant difficulties in virtual interaction, they may ascribe these difficulties to the method of communication; however, when they are engaged in serious conflict they may become blinded. They may see their relationship itself as the cause of the problem or even see their relationship as damaged. Sound familiar?

    Ironically, this attribution error - blaming the partner entirely for conflicts that, in large part, stem from the nature of the media over which they unfold - may inflict direct and very real damage to the relationship itself.

    At this point, people often begin to feel that they are under attack. They may lash out in defense against what they perceive to be aggression, insensitivity, or coldness from their partner, the inescapable result of lack of warmth afforded by virtual media. As text messages go furiously stampeding back and forth over this already rickety bridge, they may do more damage to it, and send the remaining bits falling into the cyber-void.

    Even when partners try to re-forge links in conflict over messaging, their attempts may be lost in translation. The already plummeting feelings of connection have been translated into a loss of trust. They may have already lost control, and noticed too late.

    We’ve all experienced this feeling – it’s painful and exhausting to reach out over and over and be rejected, to try repeatedly to build bridges and fail. When one or both partners become flooded, the course is very difficult to reverse.

    Here’s the bottom line: Continuing to engage in conflict that arises over online messaging is a very, very bad idea!

    On Friday, we will share some alternatives to the disaster scenarios described above! Look forward to some simple, specific ways to avoid conflict in cyberspace!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    If you have taken one thing away from our Relationships in the Digital Age series up to this point, we hope it is an awareness of the folly of text warfare. Having been persuaded of the inadvisability of fighting in cyberspace, you are likely interested in alternatives. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we share 10 tips for dealing with conflict and navigating emotionally charged conversations online that you can put into practice this weekend! 

    1.  Connect with your partner by sending messages that share affection, fondness, and admiration. They may seem insignificant, but surprising your partner with these short and sweet notes will let them know that you’re thinking of them – and likely make their day!

    2.  Understand that your partner might not always be available– they may be in the middle of something time-sensitive, or be in a place where responding is inappropriate or impossible. For these reasons, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect immediate responses from your partner at all times – remember that this expectation can become a major source of conflict in your relationship.

    3.  Find ways to remind yourself and your partner that you are a team. Distance can warp your connection, create feelings of vulnerability, and throw you into opponent roles to attack and defend.

    4.  Ask your partner to have the conversation later, when you see each other face-to-face, and can gain access to all tonal, visual, and nonverbal cues necessary for emotional connection. Don’t “ask” this harshly – simply let your partner know that you want to avoid unsuccessful attempts at communication, and want to postpone the conversation so that the two of you can understand each other fully.

    5.  Fight off flooding by drawing a clear boundary if you feel that the conversation is getting out of control. Let your partner that you are happy to discuss the subject in person.

    6.  Don’t respond to stinging texts aggressively. Remember the coldness of the medium itself, and its inability to communicate feeling – if you feel that your partner is sending you hurtful texts, consider the vast potential for misunderstanding on both ends. Keep in mind the following possibilities:

    • You may be misinterpreting their messages.
    • They may be misinterpreting your messages.
    • They may be responding harshly because they feel wounded.
    • You may not perceive their hurt feelings through a medium incapable of communicating emotion.
    • They may not perceive your hurt feelings for the same reason.

    7.  Be very careful to avoid sending messages that call up the Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, or Stonewalling. Inviting them into your conversation is an easy way to assure the worst. See more on the Four Horsemen here.

    8.  Do not allow yourself to become flooded and lose your temper, as you risk angrily sending your partner messages that you’ll later regret. More more on self-soothing here.

    9.  Keep in mind that text fighting can go on for hours, and that text messages sent in the heat of the moment are saved on your phones for-e-ver. Or until your inbox is full. The two of you can go back and re-read all of the unfortunate things you said to each other over and over. Thank you, technology.

    10.  Calm yourself down in whatever way works best for you. Taking a break involves stepping away from the phone (or the internet).

    Imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes. Read the messages you write before you hit Send. Be as thoughtful and kind as possible and always remember: small things often.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Over the last couple of weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we have written much about the dangers of conducting intimate relationships in The Digital Age using modern communication technologies. This week, we’d like to share some of the benefits! (Hooray!)

    We will begin with the intuitive and proceed quickly into the counter-intuitive.

    Modern communications technology gives couples who are separated by distance the opportunity to share their lives with each other. In long-distance relationships, couples can now connect not only by phone, but also in video-chat by using services such as Skype and FaceTime, which provide access to their partner’s eyes, face, and body language.

    We would like to turn your attention to an article in the Health section of US News, The Upside of Long-Distance Relationships, which tackles some issues directly related to our current series, and includes several important quotes from Robert Navarra, one of our very own Ceritifed Gottman Therapists. While the research cited in the article focuses on long-distance relationships, the results carry implications for all couples who use virtual communication technologies. We’d like to explore this US News piece as a way of sharing our own thoughts on the subject.

    The article opens with a description of a study run by researchers in Hong Kong and at Cornell University. The reported results follow:


    Long-distance lovers felt as much or more trust and satisfaction in their unions as "geographically close" partners…[and] those in long-distance relationships disclosed more personal details to their partner and also idealized each other more.

    To clarify, the researchers did not find that idealization of partners improves all relationships. They found a correlation between idealization and greater trust and satisfaction in long-distance relationships. In truth, this makes perfect sense by virtue of a simple fact - idealization of one’s partner is a natural result of distance. We all know how easy it is to romanticize someone when they are away!

    This is not to call into question the importance of “magic” and “special idealization” described by Suzanne Phillips as a benefit of long-distance, but to clarify something important. As Dr. Gottman discusses in his books (and as we’ve previously shared on our blog), remembering all of the beautiful, amazing things you saw in your partner when you first met is key to maintaining lasting love, especially during times of stress and conflict. The purpose of this is to avoid creating a false, negative perspective of him or her as a result of your current state.

    Dr. Gottman writes about this in his books as a part maintaining a culture of fondness and admiration – the idea of which is not to idealize your mate as a “goddess” or a “genius," but rather to maintain a realistic image of your lover in circumstances which make it very easy to vilify or lose respect for them. The resulting positive perspective is about seeing each other’s real beauty and loving each other despite human imperfections, even when the going gets rough.

    Now that we have clarified the results of the study and their implications, it's safe to say that the study does provide unqualified cause for celebration. It suggests that new communication technology, if used in healthy ways, can be wonderful for long-distance relationships - and that its existence may actually give couples separated by distance some advantages over those who live close-by!

    As the author points out, using virtual communication to connect with a partner long-distance confers unexpected benefits. In requiring extra effort to overcome certain challenges, couples learn to maintain intimacy, care, and healthy problem solving. Also, because daily conflicts over mundane minutiae are often less common in long-distance relationships, it is likely that the absence of daily stressors makes it easier to use technology to nurture a positive perspective, share fondness and admiration, and build a strong, satisfying relationship.

    The most important take-away from this article is the following:

    Couples should, as Robert Navarra says, take advantage of newly available technology (texting, video chat, social media, etc.) to maintain a strong bond, and the best way to do so is to do so regularly.

    “Part of intimacy involves knowing the details of the other person's daily life, big and small, because you're that important to each other.” In other words, keep it real. As the article says, “The more a couple knows and appreciates each other, the stronger and healthier they are.” If you are in a long-distance relationship, take our advice:

    Share your worlds with each other in all of their interesting, mundane, and complicated glory. Be present. Know each other deeply, and always keep learning. Build love maps. Communicate fondness and admiration


    Using new technologies to your advantage can create a sense of immediacy, closeness, and the feeling that you are really there in each other’s lives on a daily basis. The digital age is, in many ways, a beautiful thing. It allows us to do something unprecedented - in a way, we can be truly together, anytime.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Happy Friday from all of us at The Gottman Institute! Having discussed some of the benefits that modern communication technology has to offer intimate relationships on Wednesday, particularly to those characterized by long distance, we’d like to continue today in the same spirit.  As your Weekend Homework Assignment, we give you this short and sweet list of ideas for building intimacy with your partner anywhere, anytime. Try one (or two, or more!) this weekend: 


    • Check in regularly with your partner. Show your interest in their daily activities and life. How did that presentation go? What did they have for lunch? Let them know how excited you are to share a 6-second kiss with them later! 
    • Send small, meaningful messages to cheer each other up, especially if your partner is stressed or having a hard day. Share funny things – text, pictures, videos – and make each other laugh. Send an inside joke. Send a funny video you found on Youtube. Send a SnapChat. Send a Lolcat. Be creative! Humor will bring you together. 
    • Share interesting things with each other – insightful articles you loved in the news, a piece of great writing that has been circulating through the office, a set of photographs someone found on BuzzFeed or StumbleUpon, whatever you think your partner would appreciate!

    And particularly for those of you whose lovers are far away...

    • Play card games together via video chat. You can even watch movies or TV shows together! There are all sorts of activities that you can connect over online when you’re apart. If you can find something that you both enjoy, it can become a personal tradition for the two of you, an interest that regularly brings you closer.
    • Video-chat (Skype, FaceTime, etc) – see each other’s faces! If you are far apart, you can create a ritual – pick a time that works for both of you, and set it aside for Skype dates. The sense of continuity you can create by making your dates happen at regular times (say, agreeing to always connect at 8 pm on Saturdays) will give you and your partner something to look forward to. A stable, consistent connection you can rely on can overcome any distance.
    • Last but not least, remember that there are ways to connect without using the internet, even when you’re far apart – ways which trade convenience for charm, speed for sentimental value. You can’t go wrong by surprising your partner with something sweet and personal in the mail. Express your affection with a small, inexpensive gift like an inside joke, a silly handwritten poem or love letter, funny drawings, or flowers.

    In this Digital Age, regardless of the distance between you, there’s something captivating and magical about receiving something by snail mail. To bake cookies and send them to your partner, for example, is to master the art of attraction. The sense of caring, time, and personal attention that is carried by these small gifts inevitably sparks romance and can strengthen your love and appreciation for each other enormously.

    Technology can help couples to turn towards each other even when they are apart. Take advantage of this. Whether you are near or far away, take Mother Teresa’s advice: “Do small things with great love.” How do you use technology to turn towards your partner? Let us know on our Facebook page. 


    Have a wonderful holiday weekend, 
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are excited to feature a guest posting from Zach Brittle, LMHC. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. He has completed Level 3 Practicum Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com.

    Relationships in the Digital Age: A Practitioner's Perspective
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    Throughout the course of his research, Dr. John Gottman discovered that he could predict divorce with 96% accuracy. The “whats” and “hows” of this are well documented throughout this blog. Over the last couple of weeks, The Gottman Institute has explored the notion of relationships in the Digital Age. I think we can all agree that it’s best if couples can find a way to cultivate face to face, flesh and blood intimacy. But what if they can’t? 

    What if you’re one of the unpredictable couples? What if the normal rules don’t apply to your relationship? In my practice, I see a lot of couples who, for one reason or another, fall outside the standard deviation. And I spend a lot of time asking, “What if…?”

    “Sam & Diane”* came into my office a couple months ago. Their relationship was in the toilet and they knew it. They had, quite simply, lost the ability to speak to one another. No longer civil. No longer kind. The Four Horsemen were riding roughshod through their relationship. Rather than relate to one another they disappeared into their screens. Facebook. Words with Friends. Work email. Anything. Anything except one another. 

    It’s a pretty common story: “Technology” invites us to avoid intimacy and we accept the invitation. I do it. You do it. Sam & Diane do it. We settle into toxic patterns (and, to be fair, not just with technology) that keep us from connecting with the people we love the most. What if, borrowing a term from the tech glossary, we decided to “reboot?”

    In the case of Sam & Diane, they chose to reboot by adopting a simple rule: No screens - no iPhone, no TV, no computer - in the morning or for the first 60 minutes after work. They had recognized the role of technology in their relationship and they made a conscious choice to arrest the pattern. Simply by creating this rule, they changed the tone and tenor of their relationship and began establishing new Rituals of Connection. 

    Once they picked their heads up from their screens, they realized that they had to find new ways to relate to one another. At first it was civil silence. Then short walks together. Then a pottery class. Still, they struggled with some of the most fundamental relationship skills. Simply put, trust had eroded and both partners remain battle-scarred. Building true intimacy is a slow and steady proposition - unlike the instant gratification offered by your shiny new smartphone. With commitment, however, and a desire to rebuild the relationship, that same smartphone can, perhaps ironically, become a handy tool. 

    Sam & Diane had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for a while; but after their reboot, something changed for them. They weren’t ready to share the same bed, but rather than climb under the covers and chase the next high-score, they began texting one another from across the house. Talking about the day. Raising issues. Telling jokes. Encouraging one another. They were cultivating a relationship.

    It’s not best. But it’s better. And isn’t that the promise of a marriage: for better as well as for worse. Personally, I think couples tend to think that “better” and “worse” are things that happen to them. But they’re not. Better and worse are choices we all make.

    What if we consistently chose for better? Regardless of the pros and cons of technology, what’s better right now? Does text or email allow you to express what you feel without getting flooded? Does a “like” on your partner’s Facebook post put a deposit in their emotional bank account? Can you use a simple text to encourage your spouse?

    Technology is not inherently bad or inherently good. It just is. Relationships in the Digital Age are going to get more - not less - complicated. The truth is that relationships in any age are complicated. But with a little bit of creativity and courage, honest to goodness flesh and blood intimacy is always possible for couples who pick their heads up long enough to choose “better.” 

    *Sam & Diane are an imaginary couple meant to represent a collection of couples in my practice. The real Sam & Diane are characters on Cheers.

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    On Tuesday, we invited Zach Brittle, LMHC to write an article for our series on Relationships in the Digital Age. We loved his perspective as a clinician, and have decided to follow up by connecting his experiences with Dr. John Gottman's work. In today's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will address the problems brought up in Tuesday's posting and give you a chance to work through them with a Weekend Homework Assignment!

    In his piece, Brittle neatly summarizes: 

    “Technology invites us to avoid intimacy and we accept the invitation.” 

    This elegant statement is chilling in part because technology is personified, and given some consideration, the rhetorical choice makes sense as a reflection of its glorified presence in our lives. His words carry another uncomfortable meaning – how many of us remember a moment in which we intentionally chose to accept technology’s invitation? There is rarely such a moment.

    The acceptance of the invitation happens gradually and very subtly, in choices to turn away from each other and face the screen. The cell phone, the computer, the iPad, the kindle, you name it. An escape into the straightforward, undemanding world of cyberspace. We want our relationships simplified. Virtual connection? Easy and addictive. When we look up from our screens and find ourselves disconnected, we may realize that, in our unwitting withdrawal, we have alienated those we care about, and may find ourselves in self-imposed isolation from which it is difficult to emerge. How can we, as Brittle suggests, "choose better?"

    First, we must accept that we don’t come together face-to-face as much as we used to, or as much as we need to. To feel truly connected to one another, we need to create sacred times and spaces. These can be both formal or informal rituals of connection with our loved ones. We need to make a commitment to come together regularly with our families and friends, creating a sense of reliability, security, and trust in our relationships. We need to remember that this coming together extends past holidays and family dinners. 

    You can come together with anyone at any moment, simply by giving them your attention, affection, or love. It is when we choose to be fully present with our loved ones in “the old fashioned way” that we build our most profound and beautiful connections – connections that can last a lifetime.

    Below we share an exercise that we hope will inspire you to dream up ways to apply this knowledge to your own life – to bring yourself closer to the ones you love most. The following are suggestions for creating Shared Meaning from Dr. Gottman's celebrated book, The Relationship Cure. These ideas are ones that you can use in all your relationships, whether it be with your partner, children, siblings, extended relatives, and even friends! Try out a few of them over the weekend, and see how your relationships grow closer and start to feel more connected:

    Things to do for (and with) your friends and family:

    • Ask “How are you?” in a way that shows that you really want to know
    • Listen to stories and jokes, even when you’ve heard them before
    • Return things you borrow
    • Say thank you for favors, trade big favors (painting houses, building decks, etc)
    • Offer spur-of-the-moment invitations to go out for coffee, dinner, a movie
    • Accept spontaneous invitations (if you can!)
    • Ask for advice, give advice, don’t feel obligated
    • Know when what you are asking for is too much
    • Remember birthdays, give personalized gifts, don’t feel that you must overspend
    • Offer compliments
    • Accept apologies
    • Let them off the hook when they say “I can’t do it, I’m exhausted”
    • Let them be upset if they need to be
    • Ask for help
    • Let them help you
    • When they are stressed, try to help them (within your power)
    • Collaborate on projects
    • Talk on the phone
    • Host parties for mutual friends
    • Exercise together
    • Volunteer together
    • Celebrate each other’s successes
    • Show affection
    • Cry together
    • Laugh together
    • Share hugs

    We hope that you have a chance to think about these ideas, and that your weekend is filled with light, tenderness, and warmth.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    We are complex creatures. We are shaped by the environment in which we live, by our achievements and shortcomings, by the people we surround ourselves with, and most of all, by our actions.

    In the age of technology, we must acknowledge the degree to which we are shaped by our complicity in the digital revolution. The fast paced evolution of high-tech gadgets, the environment created by omnipresent cell phones, instant messaging, and social media, and the inundation we experience every day by an avalanche of information all impact our lives and our identities in significant ways.

    In this Digital Age, as we encounter unprecedented challenges, distractions, and dilemmas, virtual reality becomes a new source of stress. Our lives in cyberspace demand a great deal of attention and create pressure to learn skills for simultaneously navigating online and offline connections.

    We are getting used to putting people on pause as we multitask, often feeling distracted by conversations with others or by the projects we are supposed to be working on. We struggle to define reasonable behavior in spite of practically nonexistent social etiquette in virtual communication. The public sphere and the private sphere are becoming nearly indistinguishable, and we are losing our sense of distinct identity. 


    This is a problem.

    The use of technology gives us many opportunities while taking away others. The very thing giving us an easier way to communicate with our loved ones makes it more difficult to carve out time for real, deep conversations and connections. It distracts us so much that we miss opportunities to deeply explore ourselves and each other.

    This week, we encourage you to consider your own life in the context of the digital age. Where are you? Where are you going? Is this someplace you want to go? If not, where do you want to be? Are you dependent on technology? How does social media impact your relationships with others, and more importantly your relationship with yourself? In our next two posts this week, we will offer you suggestions for reconnecting with yourself in deep and meaningful ways – to “know thyself” is a necessary condition for enjoying deep and meaningful relationships with those you love.

    We leave you with this: “Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

    Until Wednesday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff


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