Articles on this Page
- 02/24/14--17:10: _Self Care: Defensiv...
- 02/26/14--17:13: _Defensiveness: An E...
- 02/28/14--14:14: _Weekend Homework As...
- 03/03/14--15:59: _Relationship Alphab...
- 03/05/14--16:10: _Self Care: Contempt
- 03/07/14--16:41: _Weekend Homework As...
- 03/11/14--17:31: _Self Care: Stonewal...
- 03/12/14--15:37: _Self Care: Stonewal...
- 03/14/14--16:32: _Weekend Homework As...
- 03/17/14--15:59: _Relationship Alphab...
- 03/20/14--16:21: _What Does Friendshi...
- 03/21/14--16:44: _Weekend Homework As...
- 03/24/14--11:57: _Featured Blogger: D...
- 03/26/14--16:57: _Toddlers, Poop Dete...
- 03/28/14--16:19: _Weekend Homework As...
- 03/31/14--15:56: _Relationship Alphab...
- 04/02/14--15:53: _The Siegel-Gottman ...
- 04/07/14--16:03: _A Springtime Remind...
- 04/09/14--16:13: _Spring Clean Your M...
- 04/11/14--16:01: _Weekend Homework As...
- 02/24/14--17:10: Self Care: Defensiveness
- 02/26/14--17:13: Defensiveness: An Exclusive Interview With Drs. John & Julie Gottman
- 02/28/14--14:14: Weekend Homework Assignment: Accepting Responsibility
- 03/03/14--15:59: Relationship Alphabet: E is for Empathy
- 03/05/14--16:10: Self Care: Contempt
- Hostile humor and sarcasm
- Mockery, name calling, and mimicking
- Offensive body language (eye rolling, sneering, etc.)
- 03/07/14--16:41: Weekend Homework Assignment: Building a Culture of Appreciation
- 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?”
- 03/11/14--17:31: Self Care: Stonewalling Part I
- 03/12/14--15:37: Self Care: Stonewalling Part II (The Research)
- 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.
- 03/14/14--16:32: Weekend Homework Assignment: Stonewalling & Self Care
- 03/17/14--15:59: Relationship Alphabet: F is for Friendship
- 03/20/14--16:21: What Does Friendship Mean to You?
- 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?
- 03/21/14--16:44: Weekend Homework Assignment: Friendship and Self Care
- 03/24/14--11:57: Featured Blogger: Dr. Jessica Michaelson
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 03/26/14--16:57: Toddlers, Poop Detectors, and Choosing Your Battles
- 03/28/14--16:19: Weekend Homework Assignment: Q&A and Review
- 03/31/14--15:56: Relationship Alphabet: G is for Gratitude
- 04/02/14--15:53: The Siegel-Gottman Summit
- 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
- 04/07/14--16:03: A Springtime Reminder from Dr. Gottman
- 04/09/14--16:13: Spring Clean Your Marriage, Again!
- 04/11/14--16:01: Weekend Homework Assignment: Spring Cleaning Part II
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. We 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.
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,
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!”
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!
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:
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.
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 need. You will be happily surprised with the results!
Have a great weekend,
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.”
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.
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 atwww.zachbrittle.com.
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:
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?"
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,
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:
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,
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.
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.
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!
* 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.”
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.
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,
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 here. Many 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,
…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.
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 www.zachbrittle.com.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.zachbrittle.com.
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?
What is Interpersonal Neurobiology?
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?
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.
Can I get CEs for this training?
How much does the training cost?
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,
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:
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,
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,