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Nominated by 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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  • 02/24/14--17:10: Self Care: Defensiveness

  • If you haven't been following along, we've spent the last few weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog discussing Dr. Gottman’s Four Horsemen and their Antidotes in the context of self care. Last week, Zach introduced us to the third horseman: defensiveness. We continue the discussion today.

    Defensiveness might seem like the cuddliest of the horsemen. It doesn’t attack... it didn’t mean it that way... and it certainly didn’t do anything wrong. It never does.

    In reality, defensiveness is very complicated and not very cuddly, particularly because of its seemingly harmless and habit-forming nature. It is, after all, a natural response to perceived attack. W
    e all know how easy it is to defend ourselves, even about being defensive!

    When we allow ourselves to become routinely defensive in a relationship, we get used to handling problems by shoving them out of sight and out of mind. We deny their existence, and then proceed to directly/indirectly blame everything on our partner. Remember that when we are defensive, we respond to hearing about a problem with either righteous indignation, a counterattack, or by acting like an innocent victim. Let's take a look at what victimization looks like: 

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about/It didn’t happen/It doesn’t exist.”


    “It wasn’t me!”

    Masters of relationships understand that looking the other way and denying the existence of a problem isn’t a passive action. Looking the other way doesn’t just happen. It is a very conscious decision to not – if you’ll pardon our French – give a hoot. If one partner directly or indirectly expresses not giving a hoot, all responsibility falls on the other. When we turn away, we might as well be saying, “You deal with it! Alone! I’ll be over here, minding my own business as usual.”

    When we get defensive and say, "It wasn't me!" it generally implies, “It was you!” This is easily conceptualized in the famous children’s rhyme, “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?”

    Trouble is, finding someone to blame doesn’t usually solve the problem (“Wasn’t me!” “Then who?”) By the end of the conversation, the cookies are still missing and someone doesn’t want them to be. This remains to be discussed both in the example and in the rhyme.

    Giving in to the temptation to be defensive usually creates further conflict. So does a common variant: finding someone to blame in effort to achieve immediate relief from stress.

    These coping strategies certainly provide no opportunity for productive connection. They don't allow us to join together as a team to solve the problem – to look for missing cookies or discuss a difference in perspectives, needs, or boundaries. They prevent us from moving forward with a better understanding of each other.

    The sobering truth is that, when we allow the horseman of Defensiveness to run free, we sign up for mutual unhappiness. Not taking responsibility is toxic to relationships. In abdicating responsibility, we actively choose not to take care of each other. 

    We practically ensure that no one’s needs get met, making life harder not only for our partners but for ourselves. We perpetuate mutually destructive relationship patterns. This is not self care. 

    What can we do differently? What do Drs. John and Julie Gottman have to say about all this? In our next posting, we’re lucky to hear directly from them, so stay tuned!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In Monday’s post on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we made you a promise. Today, we keep it! Below we share an exclusive interview about defensiveness with Drs. John and Julie Gottman.

    When asked about how partners should think about defensiveness and its antidote, taking responsibility, Dr. John Gottman says this:

    Down-regulating one’s own defensiveness is the "work" in Making Relationships Work. It is always the challenge. It is important to note that [people in] all unhappy relationships have left a partner in pain and just gone on with life. 
    Instead, couples who make relationships work well adopt the motto that, “If you’re hurting baby, the world stops, and I listen. I’m with you.” To summarize: Seeing our partner’s pain and getting in touch with our love is the way to down-regulate defensiveness and think that we might have some (even a smidgen) of responsibility!

    Dr. Julie Gottman adds the following: 

    Self care includes providing ourselves with opportunities to grow. When we take responsibility for words or actions that have caused distress, we are opening the door to changes we need to make in order to be our best selves. Defensiveness keeps the door slammed shut. Defensiveness is another way of saying, “I’m perfect as I am, therefore I don’t need to grow or change in any way.” 
    This attitude leads to personal stagnation. It also leads to loneliness, as most others don’t consider themselves to be perfect, and therefore, can’t relate to you or connect with you. When we take responsibility, there is an audible sigh from those around us, as if they are saying, “Oh good, it’s okay that we are not perfect too… [now] we can all relax together in our own human imperfection!”

    How do you cope with defensiveness in your own relationship? Do you have strategies to help down-regulate when either you or your partner become defensive? We invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    We've spent this week on The Gottman Relationship Blog discussing Defensiveness, the third of Dr. Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. On Monday, we addressed its complicated and un-cuddly nature by examining the mechanics of victimization. On Wednesday, we shared an exclusive interview with Drs. John and Julie Gottman about defensiveness and its antidote - accepting responsibility. You’ll never guess the subject of your Weekend Homework Assignment! 

    Today, we share a few exchanges illustrating the difference between defensiveness and accepting responsibility. We will then send you off to practice this weekend with these examples as your guide!

    She: You’re always watching TV!
    He: What do you mean, "I’m always watching TV?" I’m working! Can I watch the news?! You’re always watching TV, and the kids...

    His defensive response to her criticism does nothing to help the situation. Instead, feeling attacked, he turns the tables and accuses her... to which she responds in kind, defensively! Off they go!

    What is another way that they could have handled this exchange? The antidote to defensiveness is accepting responsibility. Here’s an example:

    Accepting Responsibility:
    She: You’re always watching TV!
    He: I know you’re frustrated. I’m so tired when I get back from work that I just want to rest for a while. If it bothers you, let's find another relaxing activity that we can do together. What do you think?
    She: Okay. I’m sorry, it just feels overwhelming when I’m trying to take care of the kids and you’re just sitting there.
    He: How about if I help you and then we both go for a walk later tonight? We’ve both got to relax.
    She: Sounds good! Thanks for understanding.

    Here’s another example:

    He: You always work so late.
    She: I have a project to do for work, we’ve got a deadline.
    He: You ALWAYS have a project to do for work. There is ALWAYS a deadline.
    She: That’s not true.
    He: Why don’t you just move into the office?! 

    Well, that certainly escalated quickly. Let's try again... this time accepting responsibility. 

    Accepting Responsibility:
    He: You always work so late.
    She: I know. I’m sorry. I’ve got so much to do. What’s the matter?
    He: You haven’t noticed that we never spend any time together anymore?
    She: I know it's been hard. I miss you. I’ll try to talk to my boss about these deadlines.
    He: I would really appreciate that.
    She: I’ll try to take off early on Friday, maybe we can go to a show or something?
    He: Sounds great!

    Think about perpetual problems in your relationship, those problems that come up often and never seem to go away. Do you feel that the TV is on too much? Do you feel that your partner is away all the time? Do you feel overburdened with housework? Do you feel like you spend too much time arguing about little things?

    In healthy relationships, partners don’t get defensive when discussing an area of conflict. According to Dr. Gottman, they instead take responsibility for their role in the issue and express an interest in their partner's feelings. They say, “You're right, I could have been more aware of how exhausted you were. What you are saying makes some sense, tell me more.” Having acknowledged that you have some role in the problem, you are accepting responsibility for a part of it. When you do this, you will find that you can have real dialogue with your partner! You become a team working through the problem together.

    Imagine the conversations/arguments/fights you have about conflict areas going differently. If these discussions crop up all the time, you’ll be sure to benefit greatly from handling them in a healthier way. Think about a particular problem: What is your goal? What is the real problem underlying the conflict? In the first example, she wants more help and he wants them both to have a chance to relax. In the second example, he misses her, and she is stressed out at the office.

    When you have time, make a list of the subjects you want or need to address 
     the ones that never seem to get resolved. Write down your desired way for the conversation to go. Using the examples above, try to replace defensiveness with taking responsibility the next time the subject comes up. Don't forget to complain without blame and express a positive needYou will be happily surprised with the results!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    E is for Empathy
    Zach Brittle, LMHC

    Let’s review the Relationship Alphabet:
              A is for Arguing
              B is for Betrayal
              C is for Contempt and Criticism
              D is for Defensiveness

    Pretty grim, right? Not what you signed up for when you got married? Actually, you might have. If you had a wedding you probably stood up in front of a bunch of people and promised something like “for better or for worse.

    A-D represents the best of the worst. But it gets better. Because E is for Empathy.

    I’m obsessed with empathy lately. It’s hard to define exactly what “lately” is, but it’s been floating around my mind for a better part of a year. And it seems to me that it’s in the public consciousness as well.

    There’s actually a pretty vibrant debate these days about whether empathy is a necessary leadership quality. Many high profile (and high profit) companies are thriving in spite of (or in light of) their leaders’ lack of “people skills.” Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison are all infamous for their lack of empathy. But Daniel Goleman cites empathy as cornerstone of emotional intelligence, an essential quality for the most successful leaders.

    Empathy is also a hot topic in the medical field. One recent study found that doctors who are more empathetic generally have patients with better outcomes. But we don’t need research to tell us what we intuitively know. Remember, they already invented a thing called “bedside manner” to help evaluate whether or not a doctor was any good.

    CEOs have to have it. Doctors have to have it. Presumably anyone who wants to obey the Golden Rule while walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes in order to understand before being understood has to have it.

    But what is it?

    Empathy is generally understood as the capacity to identify and share someone else’s emotions and experiences. Dr. Gottman describes empathy as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared. He cites it as the key to attunement with your partner as well as essential to the emotion coaching style of parenting.

    As a husband and as a father, I’m clinging to Gottman’s wisdom on empathy. After all, he’s a brilliant researcher who has earned his stripes with over 40 years of research. My absolute favorite perspective on the concept, however, comes from a little boy.

    One of my favorite books of all time is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. (The movie gets a B+ from me.) On the surface, it’s your typical story of intergalactic warfare with alien bugs. It’s also a brilliant case study in empathy, demonstrated through the character of Ender Wiggin, a fascinating boy with an unusual aptitude for battle strategy as well as an irrepressible capacity for compassion. Reflecting on the central conflict of the novel, Ender says:

    In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.

    There’s really quite a bit going on here. Ender begins with an insight into conflict and the reader expects to learn how he will achieve victory over his enemy. Victory, however, isn’t the goal. At least it’s not the only goal. Ender is chasing understanding, and that understanding leads to love.

    To have empathy is to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe. And not just in the moment, but in general.

    As a therapist, my goal is to help couples understand this concept. Often, they come into my office thinking of one another as the enemy. They’re entrenched in patterns of argument, betrayal, contempt, criticism and defensiveness – and they have a really, really hard time achieving or even seeking understanding.

    I remind them that the enemy mindset doesn’t help them get what they want: trust, respect, understanding, intimacy. These things are built through a commitment to hearing not only the complaint but also the dream embedded in the conflict. This is hard work, and sometimes it requires you to be a master tactician, strategically deploying conflict management skills. More often it requires you to shift your mindset from “enemy” to “partner” in the battle for your relationship.

    You may be a CEO or a doctor. Maybe you’re a husband or a wife or a parent. There’s a pretty good chance you’re a therapist. You are most definitely a person. Whoever you are, I bet you want to be in safe, interesting, life-giving relationships. I urge you to become obsessed with empathy. It’s for better.


    This is Zach's fifth posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed it, you can read "A is for Arguments" here, "B is for Betrayal" here, "C is for Contempt and Criticism" here, and "D is for Defensiveness"here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability

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  • 03/05/14--16:10: Self Care: Contempt

  • In his latest Relationship Alphabet column on Monday, Zach argued that E is for Empathy, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are equipped to tackle what’s next in our series on self care and the Four Horsemen: Contempt!

    In his four decades of research, Dr. Gottman has found contempt to be the #1 predictor of divorce. What is contempt, and what makes this horseman the worst? The horseman of contempt carries with it a poison that seeps into our interactions, turning them into something ugly and toxic.

    This poison can take many forms, including:

    • Hostile humor and sarcasm 
    • Mockery, name calling, and mimicking
    • Offensive body language (eye rolling, sneering, etc.)

    Whatever form it takes, contempt can be lethal to a relationship. In the famous words of Dr. Gottman, "contempt is sulfuric acid for love. " It is the most poisonous of all relationship killers – destroying psychological, emotional, and physical health. Anderson Cooper of CNN reacts to Dr. Gottman's findings on contempt in this short clip:

    Contempt is poisonous because it conveys disgust. It can only be destructive. It is virtually impossible for a couple to resolve a problem while one partner is getting the message that the other finds them disgusting.

    Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts, and it attacks from a position of relative superiority. As we know, it inevitably leads to more conflict – never to reconciliation. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

    Jan comes home from a long day with children in tow to find her husband, Pete, on the couch. She asks him for help in making dinner. When Pete tells her he is tired, Jan snaps:

    "You’re ‘tired’?! Cry me a river… I've been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid! Just to be more pathetic…”

    Or imagine another couple, Emma and Luke. After Emma tells him she’d rather he not go out with his friends that night, Luke lashes out:

    "You don’t want me to go out with my friends tonight? Surprise! When have you ever been okay with me going anywhere? Would you like to tie me to something in this living room to ensure that I never leave you?"

    Dr. Gottman has found that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, and so on) than other people! Things aren't looking good for Jan, Pete, Emma, or Luke...

    Luckily, contempt has an antidote. This antidote is building a culture of appreciation.

    According to Dr. Julie Gottman, it works something like this:

    “In our humanity we need loving connection with others for our very survival – after all, biologically, we are pack animals who subsist through belonging to our pack. Contempt severs us from our pack. It leads us to cut ourselves off from others, pull inwards, and end up alone. Giving appreciation is one of the most powerful ways to connect with those around us. After all, we love to hear good things about ourselves and to be seen for the good we do in the world. Appreciation draws us closer to those who appreciate us, and in turn, when we give appreciation, we draw ourselves closer to those we love. It’s caring for ourselves by being loving.”

    How can we build a culture of appreciation? Look forward to a detailed answer on Friday!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Like the best of us, "Masters" of relationships are only human. There are moments at which they feel driven to distraction by their partner's personality flaws, and the little hairs on the backs of their necks stand up (yes, they have those t00). "Masters" of relationships experience conflict and go through rough patches – times at which positive sentiments threaten to be replaced by resentment and absentmindedness. Then, you may ask, what makes their relationships so successful?!

    In our research, we have found that happy couples succeed by frequently scanning their environment for ways of appreciating each other. 

    They show this appreciation through small actions every day, consistently communicating mutual warmth and affection. 

    It's the little things that count!

    Dr. Gottman explains how to build a culture of appreciation simply, like this: "
    Notice what your partner is doing right. Catch your partner in the act of doing good stuff!"

    Sound easier said than done? Don’t worry. The technique is tried and true. Here's how it works:

    Building a culture of appreciation, fondness, and admiration involves using the things you know about your partner to show that you care and want them to be happy. Positive thoughts invoke positive feelings, and the goal is to turn both into positive actions that help to heal and bring companionship back in your relationship.

    Here are some simple ways Dr. Gottman suggests for expressing genuine appreciation, admiration, and respect:

    • Express affection
    • Exchange tender touch
    • Kiss one another passionately
    • Give compliments
    • Surprise presents (go for the thought, not the price tag!)
    • Share silly and/or romantic poems
    • Ask, “What can I do next week to make you feel more loved?”

    When you take the time to notice and express what your partner does that 
    makes your life easier, makes you smile, or reminds why you were attracted to them in the first place, they feel validated. And validation is a powerful thing: we all love for our actions to be accepted and appreciated, and want to be honored and respected.

    Some examples follow:

    Mary knows that her husband Phil has been working on a very demanding and stressful project at work, coming home late each night, too exhausted to do much of anything... So one night, as they’re getting ready for bed, Mary takes Phil’s hand and tells him how proud she is of him, and how much she appreciates his hard working-nature and support of the family. Phil visibly relaxes and tells her how nice it is to hear her say that. He was afraid she’d be upset about his absence, and is glad that she understands he’s doing this for his loved ones.

    Earl has a favorite potato salad recipe passed down from his mom, but his wife Peggy grew up with her mom always making the traditional version… So every time Earl makes potato salad, he makes a special bowl of it just for Peggy. This simple act means much more to Peggy than potato salad should, because it shows her that he knows what she likes and cares enough to continue this tradition just for her.

    Fred has always been very self-conscious about his body, but has been working out really hard and is close to his goal weight… So his girlfriend Susie makes a special effort to let him know how attractive he is to her. When she hugs him, she mentions how strong his arms are getting, and when he’s walking around, she lets him see her long glances. When she sees him on the scale, she tells him that he gets more handsome every day, regardless of what he’s gained or lost. Suzie’s affectionate remarks reassure Fred, giving him confidence in his appearance, as well as letting him know that he is loved no matter what his body looks like.

    Emma has wanted to spend more time with her husband Matt, but in his free time he’s been golfing a lot with his friends, something that Emma doesn’t know how to do... So one afternoon when they are both free, she asks him to take her to the driving range and show her proper form! He’s surprised at first (she's never expressed an interest in golf) but lights up when she tells him that she's always been impressed by his talent, commitment, and love for the game. He's delighted to know that she wants to be a part of something so important to him. This show of admiration and affection fills Matt with good feelings for Emma and makes him excited to teach her.

    As you use these examples above as a model for expressing appreciation, remember that you and your partner are a team. Build trust by staying attuned and showing that you are on their side! 
    For example, when your partner is worried about a personal situation at work, letting them know how proud you are of them and how much you support them will have a deeper effect than telling them how good they look in their new outfit! Use what you know about your partner to show love and respect, and watch your romance grow...

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we tackle the final of Dr. Gottman’s horsemen in our series on The Four Horsemen and Self Care. Welcome to stonewalling

    Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws from an interaction. They stop responding, shut down, and close them selves off from the other.

    The stonewalling partner, feeling overwhelmed by a fight or conflict discussion, may engage in evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or partaking in obsessive behaviors. Anything goes, really. Anything that allows for that sweet feeling of escape. 

    That feeling of escape is, of course, short-lived, and ultimately followed by even greater strife.

    It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable "out," but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit 
    – a habit as destructive as it is natural. 

    We all know how completely infuriating and painful it can be to try to communicate with someone who is stonewalling. 

    When we're trying to share a hurt or ask for help in confronting a persistent problem, only to realize that the "listener" is pretending we aren't there, we're likely to feel discouraged. In fact, we're likely to become so discouraged – or upset, or angry – that we psychologically and emotionally “check out” as well.

    How can we end this vicious cycle? It's actually pretty straightforward: 

    Next time you sense yourself reaching boiling point (that feeling of a kettle whistling inside of you, steam ready to come out of your ears), know that it’s time to take yourself off the flame. The same goes for your partner. 

    1.  The first part of the antidote to experiencing this unpleasantness is to STOP the discussion. Let each other know when you're feeling overwhelmed, and say that you need to take a break. Attempts to continue will not make productive headway for either of you, but rather will intensify your shared conflict and emotional distress.*

    2.  The second step is to practice physiological self soothing – for at least twenty minutes, since it will take that much time for your bodies to physiologically calm down.** 

    By practicing these two steps and liberally applying mindfulness to your interactions, you can greatly reduce the damage of this kind of chronic stress to your relationship – and save yourself and your partner from going nuts.

    Sound promising? Read on. Our next post will be devoted to some scientific specifics from Dr. Gottman’s research, and, as usual, Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment will help you apply the research to your own life! 

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    * In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted arguing couples after fifteen minutes and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking about their issue again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction more positive and productive.

    ** According to Dr. Gottman, “the major sympathetic neurotransmitter norepinephrine doesn’t have an enzyme to degrade it so it has to be diffused through blood… this takes twenty minutes or more in the cardiovascular system.”

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    Yesterday on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we introduced Stonewalling, Dr. Gottman’s fourth and final horseman in our series on the Four Horsemen and Self Care. Today, we share some scientific specifics.

    As we have discussed previously, Dr. Gottman discovered that "Masters" of relationships maintain a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflict discussions. Positive interactions include: displays of interest, affection, humor, empathy, and affirming body language (like eye contact and head nodding). While it may be intuitive that negative exchanges outweighing the positive is a sign of relationship trouble, Dr. Gottman's 5:1 ratio also suggests that negativity is healthy as long as the ratio is maintained and the Four Horsemen are not present. 

    Cycles of non-constructive arguing and a lack of positive affect are major predictors of stonewalling, particularly predicative of stonewalling being used as an attempt to self-soothe or de-escalate, but backfiring and resulting in relationship deterioration. When these cycles grow more and more intense, and physiological arousal begins to skyrocket, the following dynamics emerge: 

    • For both partners, there is: (a) a decrease in the ability to process information (reduced hearing, reduced peripheral vision, problems with shifting attention away from a defensive posture); (b) an increase in defensiveness; (c) a reduction in the ability for creative problem solving; and (d) a reduction in the ability to listen and empathize. 
    • Men are consistently more likely to stonewall than women. They will withdraw emotionally from conflict discussions while women remain emotionally engaged. 85% of Dr. Gottman’s stonewallers were men. 
    • When women do stonewall, it is quite predictive of divorce. 
    • Men are more likely to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts than women, which may prolong their physiological arousal and hyper-vigilance, often causing their partners to flare up in response, until both are brought to a point of emotional detachment and avoidance. 
    • Male stonewalling is very upsetting for women, increasing their physiological arousal (things like increased heart rates, etc.) and intensifying their pursuit of the issue. 

    Note: Many of these findings come from a 1985 study by Drs. Gottman and Levenson, called "Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction," which you can access here.

    To summarize: stonewalling is bad! Here is a good rule: When the two of you are in conflict, and someone checks out, check in with them and take a break. In other words, when stonewalling starts, stop.

    Stonewalling is both natural and deadly. It is a normal defense mechanism, and it goes something like this:

    If I can just shut it out, if I can pretend not to see it or hear it, the problem won’t be there anymore. If I can just get through this, it will poof and disappear.

    If you tend to avoid conflict by thinking along these lines, something else may poof and disappear: your relationship. But don’t panic! There’s no cause for alarm, because there will be no poofing or disappearing if you know just one thing: a healthy way to cope with the urge to stonewall and emotionally withdraw. That way is physiological self-soothing, which we will explain in our blog post this Friday!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In Wednesday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we promised to follow our scientific specifics on stonewalling with a healthy alternative! The antidote to stonewalling is self-soothing.

    The first step to fighting stonewalling? 

    Stop the discussion. 

    If you keep going, you'll find yourself one step farther down the relationship cascades that lead to separation. The only reasonable strategy is to let your partner know that you're feeling flooded and need to take a break. It's crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation and innocent victimhood. 

    The second step to fighting stonewalling?

    Practice physiological self-soothing. 

    See some of our research on physiological self-soothing summarized hereMany people find that the best approach to self-soothing is to focus on calming the body through a meditative technique. Here's a simple one:

    The Practice of Physiological Self-Soothing: 

    1. Think of a neutral signal that you and your partner can use in a conversation to let each other know when one of you feels flooded with emotion. This can be a word or a physical motion (be creative!) or simply raising both hands into a stop position. Come up with your own. If you choose a ridiculous signal, you may find that its mere use helps to diffuse tension. For more about flooding, refer to our post from The Research series on Physiological Self-Soothing here

    2.  When you have moved apart to take your break, attempt the following: imagine a place that makes you feel calm and safe. A sacred space where nothing can touch you. It may be a place you remember from childhood - a cozy corner you read in, your old bedroom, or a friend's house. It may be a beautiful forest you explored on a trip. It may be a dreamscape. As you imagine yourself in this sanctuary, lose yourself in the peace of mind that it brings you. Meditating on a haven in your imagination can be a perfect, relaxing break from a difficult conversation.

    3.  Practice focusing on your breath: it should be deep, regular, and even. Usually when you get flooded, you either hold your breath a lot or breathe shallowly. So, inhale and exhale naturally. As in Eastern practices - from yoga to contemplative meditation - you may find yourself calmer and more centered if you stop for a moment, and allow the noise around you to temporarily fade away.

    4.  Tense and relax parts of your body that feel tight or uncomfortable. Feel the warmth and heaviness flow out of your limbs. Take your time. This technique is similar to a focus on breathing, but you may find one or the other preferable. Work with either of these techniques to feel your stress flow away.


    We think taking a break of this sort is so important that we schedule this exercise into the conflict-resolution section of every Art & Science of Love Workshop that we run. Self-soothing makes couples better able to work on their conflicts as a team rather than as adversaries.

    Think of these as starting points for the creation of an island of peace within yourself. You can return to this place again and again, whenever you like.

    Your (and your partner’s) mental health play a large role in determining the health of your relationship. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves! 

    Devote enough time and energy to self care (getting enough sleep, nutrition, exercise, time for pursuit of your passions), and watch the frequency and intensity of fights between the two of you drop dramatically.

    Remember: your ability to self-soothe is one of your most important skills. Practicing it can help you not only in romantic relationships, but in all other areas of your life.

    Have a wonderful weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    F is for Friendship
    Zach Brittle, LMHC

    I was in a job interview a while back when the interviewer asked me, “What three words would your best friend use to describe you.” I like the question, but it took me a moment or two to respond.

    If someone were to ask you, what would you say? Just for kicks, pretend I’m asking: “What three words would your best friend use to describe you?” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

    __________ __________ __________

    It takes a minute, doesn’t it? For me, it wasn’t because I couldn’t find the words. It was because I couldn’t decide who my best friend was.

    Eventually I said, “I think my wife would describe me as tall, dark, and handsome.” (Those aren’t the actual words I said. The actual words were more job-interview-y.) Baffled and a little incredulous, my interviewer said, “Your wife is your best friend?”

    When you thought of your three words, who were you imagining as your best friend? Was it your spouse?

    It’s an odd thing – spouses as friends, or at least as best friends. Spouses and friends are almost in two different categories. But they shouldn’t be, especially if we think about what friendship really is.

    Deep friendship is the foundational level of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory of happy couples. It is the root of commitment and trust. More importantly, it forms the basis for intimacy and satisfying sex. Couples with deep friendships have:

    …mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. They tend to know each other intimately – they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out.  
    (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work)

    Gottman’s definition includes one of my favorite words: Regard. I use it all the time when counseling couples, especially in early sessions. When couples have even a fundamental regard for one another, there is hope for therapy. Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT) helps couples build friendships through a variety of interventions designed to help couples develop mutual respect and enjoyment, but those interventions are often fruitless without regard. 

    So, how do you foster regard? How do you cultivate friendship?

    I think it begins by developing two simple skills: Asking questions. Telling stories.

    Learn to ask questions. Asking is a skill and you can develop it with practice. And the practice of asking can yield great rewards. One of my favorite leadership mentors, Bobb Biehl says, “If you ask profound questions, you get profound answers; if you ask shallow questions, you get shallow answers; and if you ask no questions, you get no answers at all.”

    Learn to ask profound questions. One of the core interventions of GMCT is learning to ask Open Ended Questions. Open Ended (i.e. profound) questions lead to deeper understanding of your partner’s inner world – Love Maps in the Gottman vernacular. Detailed Love Maps are an essential piece of deep friendships for couples.

    Again, it takes practice. It’s way easier to ask, “Did you have a good day at work?” than “So, what was it like at work today?” It’s even easier to ask, “Are you upset?” than “You seem upset – what’s going on?” But if your goal is friendship and intimacy, you’ll give it a shot and you’ll find it makes skill two a little easier.

    The second skill in deepening friendship is to tell stories. We all know somebody who is a “great storyteller.” Whenever I hang out with that guy, I always end up feeling like I’m a “bad storyteller.” But that’s simply not true. I’ve got great stories. So do you.

    I am surprised how many people have never told their story. You should try it. It starts with “I was born in…” You may be surprised what comes out of your mouth next. And if you’re telling it to a curious listener the opportunity for discovery is boundless. Your family story. Your first kiss story. Your broken leg story. They all hold insights into “you” and how you think about relationships. 

    As a couple you should also tell your collective story. The telling of your shared history is one of the earliest elements of GMCT. When new couples come in, I ask them for their whole story. It’s invariably filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears. How a couple tells the story is as important as the story they tell. Friends tend to “glorify the struggle” while couples whose friendship is broken focus more on the struggle itself. It’s important to learn how to focus on the stories of perseverance, connection, and joy. 

    Do not underestimate the power of stories. Our brains are designed to be drawn into and motivated by stories. Most of what we know about human history has been passed down through oral tradition. Stories have the power to build and transform relationships. They provide context for the rough spots and remind us that there is something bigger than the struggle.

    So, ask questions. Tell stories. Indulge curiosity and discovery. Create context for exploring each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. Focusing on your friendship and cultivating regard is the best thing you can do for your relationship as a whole.

    It’s not terribly complicated. Maybe start by asking, “What three words would you use to describe me?”


    This is Zach's sixth posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at

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    In his Relationship Alphabet column on Monday, Zach Brittle explained that "F is for Friendship." As Zach reminds us, Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory emphasizes the importance of fostering positive regard, exchanging open-ended questions, and sharing stories as the basis for cultivation of deep friendship between partners. 

    Today, we'd like to dig a little deeper into another critical aspect of friendship. It can be summed up in an excellent quote:

    "Commitment is an act, not a word." 
    - Sartre

    Any long-term, deeply-committed relationship (in marriage or otherwise) requires more than positive feeling and a finesse in question-asking or story-telling. 

    Intimate, committed relationships invariably require a certain level of dedication, loyalty, mutual support, patience, and persistence.

    That being said, there are roughly as many meanings of friendship as are there are “fish in the sea,” so as you embark upon your Personal Interpersonal Voyage, it may be helpful to work out an understanding of your own needs and priorities. 

    In friendship, what matters most to you?

    Below, you will find an abbreviated version of an exercise written by Dr. Gottman himself, which appears in full in his celebrated book The Relationship Cure

    Exercise: What Does Friendship Mean to You?

    The following list of questions will help to clarify the meaning of friendship in your life. When you consider each of these questions, pay particular attention to your relationship with your partner. Let your closest, most fulfilling friendships be your guide:

    • What does it mean to you to be a good friend? Do you feel that each of you is a good friend in this relationship?
    • Is it important to have a balance between giving and taking in this friendship? How are you doing in that regard?
    • How important is it for you to be able to express your true feelings to one another? 
    • Is it okay if you and your friend tell each other when you feel angry, sad, or afraid?
    • What’s the role of acceptance in this friendship? Can you rely on one another to feel affirmed? Supported? Valued? Is that important to you?
    • What’s the role of truthfulness in this friendship? Is it important for you to share honest opinions? Is it okay to disagree?
    • Is it okay to feel jealous or resentful if this friend has close relationships with other people? Is it okay to express those feelings?
    • How important is trust and confidentiality in this friendship? What happens if you or your friend betrays that trust?
    • What’s the role of intimacy in this friendship? How much sharing is enough? How much is too much?
    • How important is it for you to have the same ideas around monogamy or commitment to marriage? Do you have this in common?
    • How dependent should you be on one another? When asking for a favor, how much would be too much?
    • What’s the role of adventure in this friendship? Are you both satisfied with where it stands?
    • What’s the role of entertainment or amusement in this friendship? Are you both satisfied with where it stands?
    • How important is reliability in this friendship? Do you see it the same way? 
    • How important is affection in this friendship? Are both of your needs being met? 
    • How important is intellectual stimulation in this friendship? Are you both satisfied in this regard?
    • If one of you acquires a lot of money or status than the other, how would that affect your relationship?
    • How important is it to agree about spiritual matters or religion? Do you agree on those topics?
    • How important is it for you to agree about politics? Do you agree?
    • How important is it for you to pursue the same recreational or leisure time activities? Are you both satisfied with where this stands?
    • How important is it for you to have the same philosophy of family life or parenting? Do you share the same values in this area?

    Lots to think about? In our next blog posting tomorrow, look forward to a discussion of these questions in the context of our recent series on self care. In the meantime, keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers, and that understanding your own personal philosophy on friendship is instrumental in deepening your unique bond with your partner.

    For now, here's to Springtime, sunshine, and the beauty of new beginnings.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    For the last few weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we've been talking about self care. This week, we’ve tackled the subject of friendship. See Zach Brittle’s Relationship Alphabet column from Monday here and yesterday’s exercise on the meaning of friendship here. Today, we tie these subjects together! 

    So, how are friendship and self care connected? It’s pretty simple. Dr. Julie Gottman explains it succinctly:

    When we take good care of ourselves, we fill ourselves up, which in turn energizes us so that we can give to others.

    Most of us want to be good to our friends and partners, to show love, kindness, and reciprocal generosity to the people who bring laughter and joy into our lives. We want to show our affection to those who show us theirs, and to express appreciation for character traits, unique quirks, and senses of humor that never fail to make us smile. 

    In short, we want to turn towards each other and be there for those who are there for us.

    But too often, we find ourselves at a loss: too busy and overwhelmed to turn towards those we care about, sometimes too blinded by stress to see the natural give and take of friendship as anything but obligation.

    This is when we stop enjoying activities, going on adventures, or exploring together (engaging in grown-up play!), and start treating our friends like therapists or office assistants, in extreme cases even becoming opportunistic or overly dependent. This is when we start feeling really guilty.

    And this is where mindfulness comes in.

    When we notice signs of these easily recognizable patterns, it’s time to stop before we fall in completely! It’s time to recognize our boundaries, and give ourselves a break. In other words, it’s time for some self care. It's also a great time to practice some healthy communication skills, both internally and externally.

    Internally, communication about self care might sound like this: 

    I know there are a million things to do right now, but I’m at the end of my leash, and it’s probably better to dedicate this afternoon to well-deserved bubble-bath than to dedicate this evening to a huge fight with everyone I know.

    Lots of people (especially those not yet in the habit) find it difficult to ask for a break... but the discomfort you might feel in asking for a bubble bath will certainly wane once it has you submerged in its delightfully foamy embrace. You can ponder the proverb, “practice makes perfect,” as you flick soap bubbles expertly across the tub. Whatever it takes.

    Externally, communication about self care might sound like this: 

    Honey, I need to take a bath/go on a walk, and relax from this crazy work-day before dinner this evening.

    Remember: There’s nothing wrong in needing some space in your break, and there are ways to communicate about it without hurting your partner. 

    Communicating about space might sound like this: 

    Honey, I need to spend tomorrow at the spa/in the gym/gardening so that I can release some of this tension and return more relaxed, energized, and loving with you.

    Keep us in mind this weekend as you celebrate your relationships with friends, your partner, and yourself. Enjoy this glorious weather, and remember:
    Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine.    
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson                         

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    The Progressive Dad's Dilemma
    By Dr. Jessica Michaelson

    In the world I live in, a highly-educated community in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, adults come into parenthood with egalitarian ideals. Before kids, both men and women worked, both cooked, cleaned, payed the bills.

    But when conception and pregnancy come into the picture, this egalitarianism gets tested. It’s the woman who has to take her basal temperature, the woman who has to go to avoid salami and blue cheese, and the woman who gets the baby all to herself for now. 

    The fathers I know are acutely aware that their wives are taking the lionshare of the responsibility from the beginning of parenthood, and feel guilty that they can’t do more. 

    Slowly but surely, even for couples who are fiercely opposed to traditional gender roles in their relationship, we find ourselves in gender specific roles during the first few years of parenthood that can remain in place into adolescence. 

    For many couples, this traditional division of labor - childcare and housework for women, income generation and home repair for men - feels comfortable and each partner is satisfied. 

    However, in the progressive world in which I live, this division is rife with conflict for both partners. 

    Mothers want their partners to help with the childcare and housework. Yet a recent study, cited in the controversial New York Times article, “The Egalitarian-Marriage Conundrum,” found that the more men did these traditionally feminine tasks, the less sexually attractive their wives found them.

    Fathers want to be connected with the baby and supportive of their wives, but often feel at a loss for how to do this. As the author Michael Lewis highlights in his memoir, Home Game,

    In these putatively private matters, people constantly reference public standards. They don’t care if they’re getting a raw deal so long as everyone is getting the same deal. The problem with modern parenting is that there are no standards and it’s possible that there never again will be.

    In addition to a lack of public standards to reference, there are many factors that get in the way of progressive dads being as involved as everyone would like, including:

    • Feeling incompetent with the baby or the household chores
    • Gaining a sense of competence and usefulness through being a provider
    • Inner conflict between wanting to be involved and cultural ideas about masculinity and men’s roles
    • A mother-focused parenting culture in which all the conversation and attention is placed on the mother and child
    • The mother acting as ‘gatekeeper’ by asserting too much control over the childcare and household decisions, therefore undermining the father’s participation
    • Not fully understanding the specific importance of fathers in their child’s development

    The Gottmans are acutely aware of how challenging it can be for a father to be engaged in a satisfying way in our present culture. And they know just how important it is to support couples so they can overcome these obstacles. 

    In their parent-education program, Bringing Baby Home, facilitators emphasize the unique contributions that fathers make to their children. Their research has found that fathers:

    • Give infants more freedom to explore and focus more on delighting in the child’s independence.
    • Are more tactile and high energy with their children. Children tend to play with their fathers more like they would another child. When given a choice of who to play with, two-thirds of toddlers choose dads over moms. 
    • Help children regulate, or deal with, more intense emotions through this style of play than the quiet, verbal and visual games that moms tend to play. 

    In researching the effects on the Bringing Baby Home program, the Gottmans found that both fathers and mothers were surprised and thrilled to know these facts - it gave them a concrete reason to value and promote dad’s involvement. 

    And the results of dad being involved are astonishing. Here is just a small sample of benefits that resulted from fathers participating the the BBH program as compared to the control group who didn’t receive this education:

    • Father-infant attachment was higher 
    • The quality of father-child interaction was more positive
    • Fathers felt more satisfied in their parenting contributions
    • Fathers felt more appreciated by their partners for their involvement
    • Greater marital satisfaction for both partners
    • Less hostility between parents
    • Babies responded more to father’s soothing attempts
    • Children showed fewer language delays at one year
    • Both parents showed fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety

    Knowing these benefits can make it far easier to combat the pressures that get in the way of father involvement. With each of my clients, they have a sense that their marriage is the only one struggling with this dilemma of modern, progressive parenthood. But to quote John Gottman's words from And Baby Makes Three, “We are all in the same soup.” 

    Whether you are planning a family, expecting, or have young children, you and your partner can navigate the challenges of gender roles and parenthood gracefully when you prioritize your friendship and strive to manage inevitable conflict with kindness and curiosity.


    Dr. Jessica Michaelson is a certified Bringing Baby Home facilitator and founder of Early Parenthood Support, Inc. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and two sons. She provides education, coaching, and community for new and expecting parents around the world.

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    On Monday, we shared a guest posting by Jessica Michaelson that explored the challenges of modern fatherhood and the advantages provided by the Bringing Baby Home Program and Dr. John Gottman's And Baby Makes Three. Today, we can’t resist sharing a particularly relevant and thought-provoking piece we spotted in the Sturgis Journal. In this playful offering, authors James and Audora Burg hone in on a compelling connection: choosing your battles in caring for your toddler and caring for your marriage.

    Marriage Matters: Stand down, 
    ye mighty warriors
    By James and Audora Burg

    Toddlers seem to be especially adept at reminding their parents of the wisdom of “choose your battles.”

    Paul often gives us the opportunity to practice this skill. Our cue that another opportunity is nigh occurs when he goes toddling through the house, little stool in hand.

    The first time we saw him do this, he was merely relocating his “stage.” Once in place, he plopped the stool down, stepped up on it, and sang his version of the ABCs – the BBCs, as he then called them.

    But things changed when he discovered the height advantage provided by his stool. Then the countertops – and those things on the countertops – were within his reach. Oh boy! That front in the potential skirmish was abruptly closed off, however, when Audora pushed to the back anything that would have been within his reach.

    Mom may have thwarted him at the countertop, but our persistent explorer was not deterred. He looked around until he found another outlet for his curiosity. And we are generally choosing not to engage in what otherwise might have become the ultimate power struggle with Paul: lights and their switches.

    So when he flips the switch up, and the light goes on, we tolerate it. When he flips the switch back down, and the light turns off, we tolerate it. When he flips the switch again, we switch tactics and tell him, “Last time. Lights on or lights off. Then leave it.” And he generally does.

    But the rules of relaxed engagement nearly changed the night that Jim emerged from the bathroom muttering a public service announcement: “Note to self: always turn on the sink light before getting in the shower.” He had been showering when Paul walked in with his little stool, put it down, climbed up, and turned off the overhead light. It was a very dark minute before Paul managed to flip the switch back on.

    We play this for giggles, but the “choose your battles” decision also appears repeatedly in marriage, where it is rarely funny.

    Researcher John Gottman offers wisdom for both when and how couples should choose their battles. It comes down to “early and gently” - that is, engaging when an issue is still a minor skirmish, and gently, by using a “softened startup” and without being critical of the spouse.

    To that end, he advocates that every marriage should be equipped with a “Marital Poop Detector,” a built-in early warning system that clues the couple in that “something just doesn’t smell right.”

    If both spouses are responsive to their shared detector, they are by definition on the same side, working together to protect their marriage. And that makes it the ultimate win-win situation. 


    Does this article bring up any recent memories of battle-choosing and "Poop Detector" use with your partner or kids? As always, we welcome you to share your thoughts and experiences on our Facebook page!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    This Friday on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we reach the end of our series on The Four Horsemen and Self Care! As the clip-clopping of hooves grows faint and the dust clouds settle around us, we give you your Weekend Homework Assignment.

    This weekend, we’d like to give you a chance to reflect on all that you’ve learned. 
    To help in tying everything together, we share a short interview with Dr. Julie Gottman below. In the following Q&A, she shares her take on the links between mindfulness and Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT): 

    Q: How can couples be more mindful of their own personal histories and shared history when approaching the Four Horsemen in the moment?

    A: First of all, they have to be aware of how their childhoods affected them. Many are not. That means remembering how their parents voiced anger and disciplined them when young and conflicted between themselves. Then, couples must realize how these set the stage for their style of emotional expression with their partners here and now. Couples should aim to break the cycle – not use the 4 Horsemen themselves with either their partners or kids. This might mean having a long discussion with their partners about that history, each taking turns describing their experience while the other listens.

    Q: Generally speaking, where do you see links between GMCT and mindfulness practices?

    A: Mindfulness is wonderful. It’s a way to practice self-acceptance, self-soothing, and centering. When we can witness [ourselves] using mindfulness techniques, we tend to not judge ourselves so harshly. Mindfulness allows us to just see, observe, and understand without judgment. In turn, when we are less judgmental with ourselves, we are also less judgmental with our partners. Mindfulness also allows us to develop compassion for ourselves, which leads to feeling more compassion for others, including our partners. In GMCT, we encourage people to describe themselves rather than describing their partners, especially during conflict. Mindfulness strengthens our ability to do that through the self-awareness it creates.


    As you consider our latest series from the finish line, we encourage you to take the time to navigate back through our recent blogs, jotting down a few notes as you review, including connections you’ve made to events in your own life. These reflections may bring up difficult or painful memories, so whether or not you plan to talk about your conclusions with your partner this weekend, remember to practice good self care!

    Remember: It takes time to develop a natural habit of mindfulness, but as you gain awareness of your thoughts and emotions in the moment, you will become better able to take advantage of all of the tools offered by Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Self-knowledge is the key to developing a deeper understanding of your relationship - and to strengthening trust, commitment, and romance!
    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    G is for Gratitude
    Zach Brittle, LMHC

    Do you “give thanks” before meals? If so, to whom? Or to what? Does it matter? If you don’t give thanks, why not?

    What is the most thoughtful gift you ever received? What made it special? Was it the gift or the giver? How did you show thanks for the gift? Do you still need to do that?

    What special traditions, rituals, or habits do you have around Thanksgiving? How do those traditions make you more grateful? What if you celebrated Thanksgiving more than once a year? 

    Have you ever really thought about gratitude? About gratefulness? About thanksgiving? I mean, really thought about it?

    My guess is that most of us haven’t. I have a friend who describes himself as a “gratefulness mystic” in the manner of Brother David Steindle-Rast. I have another friend who has become known as “That Gratitude Guy” and speaks regularly on the benefits of gratitude. I have another friend who works in fundraising. Most people assume he asks for money all day. He disputes that assumption saying that what he really does is say “thank you” all day. These friends have thought a lot about gratitude.

    If you’re unfamiliar with the “manner of Brother David Steindle-Rast,” consider his thesis that if you want to be happy, be grateful. Steindle-Rast gently argues that grateful living comes from an awareness that “every moment is a given moment.” Every moment is worthy of gratitude. An abundance of gratitude translates into less fear and violence in the world. More contentment. Less scarcity. Maybe this is too mystical for you.

    Maybe you’re more inclined toward facts than theories. Consider that contemporary research is starting to expand the science and practice of gratitude. Recent studies have shown that people who consistently practice gratitude have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure. They have higher levels of positive emotions like joy, optimism, and happiness. They’re more inclined to “pay it forward” with generosity and compassion.

    Maybe you’re more inclined toward obedience. The Apostle Paul implores us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Jesus likes that. Maybe you’re more inclined toward etiquette. You definitely mailed your “thank you” notes before you celebrated your first anniversary. Maybe you’re inclined toward mid-90’s pop music. The band Geggy Tah celebrated gratitude in their one hit “Whoever You Are:” All I wanna do is to thank you / Even though I don't know who you are / You let me change lanes / While I was driving in my car. (Did you say “thank you?” You’re welcome.) 

    What does this have to do with your relationships? Everything.

    Gratitude is relational. It shifts our focus from ourselves to one another. I get it… we’re all narcissists. We’re all looking out for our own best interests, which may be great in the stock market, but doesn’t work that well in a marriage. Gratitude requires – actually invites – us to abandon our narcissism and remember that we are not alone. That reminder is a gift. Receive that gift and be thankful for it. The fact that you are not alone means that you can experience empathy, intimacy, and love.

    Gratitude is the secret that could put therapists out of a job: if couples would shift from defensiveness and toward gratitude on their own, they wouldn’t need to seek counseling. The thing about gratitude is that it’s easy. All you have to do is say “Thank you for __________.” At first it may be hard to fill in the blank. But if you make it a habit, it becomes just that. Here’s a trick: Set an alarm on your phone or your watch or whatever, and when it goes off, send a quick note of thanks to your partner. See how long it takes them to notice.

    They will notice. Everybody likes to be thanked. No one in the history of ever said, “Please don’t thank me, it makes me feel terrible.” Being appreciated feels great. It increases our sense of worth and value. And it’s contagious. I guarantee you that if you work gratitude into your relationship – even secretly – it will come back to you. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll feel happier and healthier.

    Commit to thinking about gratitude and to injecting it into your relationships. It’s a simple, powerful way to strengthen the friendship level of Gottman’s Sound Relationship House. It accelerates the shift to the positive perspective and leads quite naturally to fueling fondness and admiration for one other. Gratitude is the rising tide that lifts all boats in the relationship. 

    Try becoming a “gratitude mystic.” Start by giving thanks before dinner. If only to begin your meal with something besides your hunger. Say “thank you” again for that really thoughtful gift. Consider having Thanksgiving dinner more than once a year. We’ve already got Christmas in July. Why not Thanksgiving in May? Mark your calendars now for May 22nd. And set the alarm on your phone.


    This is Zach's seventh posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at

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  • 04/02/14--15:53: The Siegel-Gottman Summit

  • Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we break from our regularly scheduled programming to make a very important announcement. As you may have heard over on our Facebook page, we will be collaborating with Dr. Dan Siegel this summer at The Siegel-Gottman Summit in Seattle, WA on July 25 & 26. 

    We invite you to participate in this monumental gathering of Drs. John and Julie Gottman, world-renowned couples researchers and therapists, and Dr. Dan Siegel, internationally acclaimed pioneer in Interpersonal Neurobiology. Here is what you need to know about this historic event:

    Who is Dr. Dan Siegel? 

    Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. is a pioneer in the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. Dr. Siegel has published extensively for the professional audience as well as books for the general reader, including Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, an in-depth exploration of the power of the mind to integrate the brain and promote well-being. Most recently, Dr. Siegel released The New York Times bestseller, Brainstorm: The Power and purpose of The Teenage Brain. Click here to read more.

    What is Interpersonal Neurobiology?
    Interpersonal Neurobiology attempts to find the “consilient” discoveries that emerge from independent disciplines of knowing, such as the various disciplines of science. In this field, relationships are seen as fundamental to how the mind is created. As a participant, you’ll be able to apply the principles of this interdisciplinary synthesis to see how the mind can be envisioned as an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information.

    This definition of mind then offers us as mental health practitioners not only a clear view of the “mental” of our title, but also of the “health.” Integration - the linkage of different parts of a system - is seen as the way in which a self-organizing aspect of mind enables harmony in function to emerge. With impediments to integration, chaos and rigidity unfold.

    Who is this training intended for? 
    Participants working in the following fields will benefit from this training: Mental Health Practitioners, Educators, Coaches, Organizational Leaders, Allied Professionals, Clergy, Students and Interns, Professors, Researchers in the Social Sciences, and anyone who promotes the growth of vibrant relationships and healthy minds. 

    What will this training be about?
    Learn the science behind how the brain develops and is shaped through relationships. Understand what principles guide a happy, lasting relationship. In this rare training event, you will deepen your therapeutic skills by learning scientifically proven ways of assessing couples and implementing interventions by combining the principles of Interpersonal Neurobiology and Mindsight with Gottman Method Couples Therapy.

    Drs. John and Julie Gottman, together with Dr. Dan Siegel, will share the stage in an interactive, in-depth training and discussion using clinical vignettes, therapy videotapes, and experiential exercises with audience participation.

    What will I learn?
    Following this training, participants will be able to:
    • Summarize the three domains of the Gottman Method Sound Relationship House
    • Apply principles of Interpersonal Neurobiology to clinical assessment
    • Describe ways in which the Gottman Method can be integrated with the principles of Interpersonal Biology
    • Define the self-organizing aspect of the mind and mental health
    • Identify Gottman Method interventions that promote self-integration
    • List as least seven aspects of integrative prefrontal functions 
    • Discuss the ways in which attachment patterns and couple relationship dynamics intersect 

    Can I get CEs for this training? 
    Continuing Education (CE) credits will be available for this workshop through our training partner, CMI Education Institute, for an additional fee and number of CE credits and fee will be determined ASAP. If you are seeking Continuing Education Credit for this training, you will need to sign in each morning and again after returning from lunch on both days and turn in a course evaluation form which contains a short post-test. Gottman Institute staff will be on-site to answer any questions you may have regarding Continuing Education. For CMI’s accreditation information, please click here.

    How much does the training cost? 
    Early Registration Rate: $425 (Ends May 1)
    Student/Military Discount: $399
    Preferred Seating: $50

    Click here for a full listing of frequently asked questions. Still have questions? Please contact We look forward to seeing you at The Siegel-Gottman Summit the summer! 

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    As you are roused from your Winter slumbers by the annual alarm-clock that is Springtime, we encourage you – yes, you, and especially you, dear, perennially damp Seatteites – to notice the sweet smell of flowers, the trilling of birds, and the sudden, definitive upsurge in collective optimism. We encourage you to channel this energy wisely – instead of cramming a few more hours of email efficiency into your day, take this opportunity to strengthen your bonds with those who matter most. Your efforts will pay off, not only this Spring, but in the many seasons to come! (See more here).

    Remember: Relationships require regular care 
     like a plant, or your first pet goldfish – only more.  Harmony is gradually created or destroyed in the myriad, seemingly inconsequential moments that make up our days and lives. It’s easy to forget this, but, as Dr. Gottman explains in The Relationship Cure:

    Strong bonds are not necessarily forged out of earth-shattering events like job loss, irreconcilable conflict, or horrid disaster. Trust doesn’t require gut-wrenching conversations that plumb the depths of your souls. Rather, good relationships usually develop slowly over time, growing out of the thousands of mundane interactions we share each day:

    “How was your day?” “A little hectic. You look kind of tired, too.” “I am. Would you like some iced tea?” “Sure. Here, let me help you…”

    It turns out that all of this thoughtfulness does pay off richly in times of crisis – and at all other times. Making a habit of turning-towards leads to a virtuous cycle, and to “better access to the healing power of humor, affection, and compassion during times of conflict or catastrophe.” 

    In the words of Walt Disney: 

    The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

    Listen to each other with mindful awareness to increase mutual sensitivity to each other’s needs, re-invigorating your relationship and fortifying trust and connection!

    We'll leave you with some encouragement of the very best (Dr. Seussian) kind. Be brave and take heart...

    And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!

    Look forward to more seasonally inspired relationship tips throughout this week on The Gottman Relationship Blog!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to share an excellent article written by our friend Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT, titled “Get Out The Broom...8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” We love her suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship and putting the focus back on you and your partner this Spring! We’d like to add that it is absolutely possible (and realistic) to work on these things year round. We know that this sounds overwhelming. It doesn't have to be.

    As our research has shown, the happiest couples build romance everyday in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant moments. Keeping your romance aflame is not about dedicating all of your time to your partner. It is about nurturing a strong connection by turning towards each other, staying emotionally engaged, showing each other fondness and admiration, building bridges, and knowing and loving each other all year round. For more on staying emotionally connected, see our blog post, Magic 5 Hours A Week! And now, we give the virtual floor to Lisa:

    Get Out the Broom...8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Marriage 
    By Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

    A very popular post last year about this time, this piece on spring cleaning your marriage deserves a repeat performance. I think we all need reminders such as this to put the focus back on our loved ones. Enjoy!

    For many, spring is a time of renewal and recharge, a sleepy-eyed yawn and waking up from a winter slumber of sorts. People feel the urge to clean their homes, their cars and their work environments. Marriages can also benefit from a good spring clean as they can also “fall asleep” and get into a rut.

    Here are some ways you can take the spirit of renewal into your marriage:

    • Take a walk down memory lane. Do you remember when you met? Can you recall what drew you to each other? Take some time to reflect upon this time. Research shows that happier couples are the ones who can recall pleasant earlier memories. It can be an anchor for the relationship, a reminder of what you might have forgotten. ”Oh yea, that’s what I fell in love with…”

    • Get back to checking in. At one time you likely talked a lot, especially in the early stages of your relationship. As time goes on and life gets peppered with kid related responsibilities, family, social obligations and work, it’s easy to let the communication between you and your spouse get tossed out the window. Re-prioritize a daily relationship check-in, even if brief. ”How are you?…How are we?…Is everything ok?”

    • Look under the carpet for hidden resentments. One problem that can be a consequence of insufficient communicating in marriage is the build-up of negative emotions towards each other. If anger, disappointment or sadness go unchecked they can become toxic. Resentment can undermine the very fabric of the relationship. If there is something bothering you, bring it up. It’s useful to begin with “I statements” rather than using attacking language.

    • Check your assumptions. What if what you were upset with your partner because you misunderstood what he/she said or meant? What if you never clarified this? Well, you’d be suffering for no reason. One of the best ways couples can avoid distress is to simply ask the other what they meant rather than assume you know. Otherwise, you will likely have a negative emotional response towards him/her, followed by a negative behavior – and all for nothing.

    • Create happy memories. If boredom, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” and a lack of fun has permeated your marriage, it’s time to have positive experiences together to lay down over the other. It’s kind of like the negativity bias of the brain; the more you internalize positive emotions, the more you can ease your brain away from the negative. Plan date nights, go out and play, take a walk or do something totally new and invigorating.

    • If you broke it, fix it. We all make mistakes and can inadvertently hurt our partners. The important thing for the health of relationships is taking ownership when it’s appropriate. John Gottman, PhD refers to successful repair attempts as “the happy couple’s secret weapon."

    • More gratitude, please. There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together. Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.

    Take it up a notch if needed. If your marriage feels particularly “dusty” and in need of some TLC, get proactive and get access to the many tools available to help couples do just that; a local marriage weekend workshop or going through a marriage workbook or a book might be just what you need.

    It would be nice to imagine being able to do these things 365 days a year but this probably isn’t realistic for many. At the very least, adding your marriage to your spring cleaning to-do list every year is one consistent way to put the focus back on you and your partner again. If you’ve slipped up and “fallen asleep” during the winter, you can get back to prioritizing your marriage again…and maybe make up for some lost time.


    If you have gotten in the habit of sticking a band-aid over problems that have built up over the Winter, now is your chance to heal any remaining wounds - to patch them up, make peace, and restore your relationship to health.

    Remember that “Spring Cleaning” your relationship is a process – a deep clean, if you will. It requires patience, commitment, and hard work from both you and your partner. Don’t start wielding the feather duster to attack the cobwebs while looking under the carpet for hidden resentments, or make ambitious plans to renovate the entire house! Take your time. Know that “slow and steady wins the race.” Be gentle with each other.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In Wednesday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we shared Lisa Brookes Kift’s excellent suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship in her article, “Get Out The Broom...8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” In today’s Weekend Homework Assignment, we continue our discussion of spring cleaning your marriage by offering our own practical advice that you can try with your partner this weekend! As these have been drawn from Dr. Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and The Relationship Cure, we should note that there are many, many more activities like these available to you. Check out his many books on our website to gain access to a wealth of relationship knowledge.

    Below you will find Dr. Gottman's research-based suggestions for ways to build on Lisa's 8-step model. We have also provided methods (with helpful links!) to avoid experiencing such a deep clean altogether. As long as you regularly give it a gentle polish, your relationship will shine on its own! Take some time this weekend to try these activities with your partner:

    Take a walk down memory lane. 
    Conduct your very own Oral History Interview!

    Get back to checking in.
    Check in with each other on a daily basis, and make time regularly for longer conversations about potential stressors in each other’s lives. Listen to your partner and be supportive. Here is an exercise that the two of you can try, which will help you to talk about the stress that is being caused within your relationship.

    Look under the carpet for hidden resentments.
    Though you may feel exasperated with each other at times (don’t worry, we all do), make sure that you don’t amplify the problem by attacking each other from the get-go. By approaching conflicts gently, you significantly increase the likelihood of resolving them healthily and productively. We call this a Soft Startup.

    Check your assumptions. 
    Don't get tripped up in those frustrating mixed messages, don't jump to conclusions - see“Fuzzy Bidding” - and watch out for messages you may not even know you’re sending to your partner!

    Create happy memories.
    Every moment of emotional connection in your relationship can an opportunity to create a happy memory. From the little interactions we share daily with our loved ones (morning coffee, grocery shopping, driving to school, eating dinner) to important celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays) we can make each other smile.

    Remember one of the most vital determinants of health in a relationship, Turning Towards, and make sure to catch those Sliding Door moments. Create shared meaning in celebrating life in your own way!

    If you broke it, fix it. 
    Remember to Repair and De-escalate! And when you are Moving Forward, ask yourself the following questions: How did I get into this muddle in the first place? Why didn’t our conversation go well? What is the meaning of the issue between my partner and I? What are the sources of our gridlock on this subject?

    More gratitude, please. 
    Share fondness and admiration, and your Emotional Bank Account will grow, strengthening your connection!

    Take it up a notch if needed.
    Show your partner affection and appreciation. If you show your love, trust and intimacy will naturally follow!

    Have a lovely weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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