H is for Humor
By Zach Brittle, LMHC
When I was in the ninth grade, I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit six times in the movie theater. I have probably watched it at least once a year since then. It is my favorite movie of all time. I am not kidding.
First of all, Bob Hoskins is a genius. He and his thick English accent seamlessly disappear into the character of Eddie Valiant, an alcoholic private investigator in depression-era Hollywood. On top of that he spends half of the movie acting alongside a cartoon rabbit. (It’s an Oscar-worthy performance though he was only nominated for a Golden Globe.)
The film (yes, film) was ahead of its time technologically. It combined live action and animation in a way that is said to have spearheaded the modern era of American animation. It’s also an exercise in collaboration, as several competing studios came together to create a robust “Toon Town” which included our favorite Disney and Warner Brothers characters and even Betty Boop.
But the reason Who Framed Roger Rabbit is my favorite is because of Roger, a scrawny, precocious, hilariously odd yet lovable character - not terribly unlike ninth grade me. And because of Roger’s wife Jessica, a beautiful, sophisticated, classic noir femme fatale, complete with the smoky voice and endless curves. (She’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way.)
Roger is crazy in love with Jessica. Despite the fact that Jessica is way out of Roger’s league, she’s crazy in love with him too. Eddie doesn’t understand it, so he asks her, with more than a little suspicion, “What do you see in that guy anyway?” Jessica responds simply and unapologetically: “He makes me laugh.”
All of a sudden, ninth grade me had hope. Could it be possible that a good sense humor was enough to help me get - and keep - the girl? I think so.
Humor has been woven into our relational DNA since the earliest of days. Aristotle believed that laughter is what separates us from the beasts, and that a baby does not have a soul until the moment it laughs - usually around its 40th day.
If laughter is what makes us human, then humor is a necessary tie that binds us to one another and reminds us that our relationships are designed to bring joy. Monty Python’s John Cleese, who understands humor more than most, says, “A wonderful thing about true laughter is that it just destroys any kind of system of dividing people.”
During the course of his research Dr. Gottman was able to divide couples into two categories: masters and disasters. The disasters were prone toward “systems of dividing,” specifically the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. The masters had effective strategies for dismantling those systems. Dr. Gottman calls these strategies repair attempts.
Repair attempts are the “secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples,” according to Dr. Gottman. Repair attempts are “any statement or action that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” Masters repair early and often using a variety of strategies.
Repairs can be cognitive strategies like compromise, taking a break, or asking for clarity. They can also be emotional repairs like expressing affection, taking responsibility or - you guessed it - using humor.
Humor is a powerful repair technique. It can lower the tension level of an argument, destroy the division between you and your partner, and remind you that you’re human. An artfully deployed inside joke can shift the focus away from your fixed position and toward your shared we-ness. It’s an emotional repair without an emotional conversation.
It’s important to note that humor can also backfire. Humor needs to be balanced with sincerity. If humor is your only strategy, you will dilute its power. Also, any humor that expresses criticism or contempt or belittles the other’s point of view (like sarcasm) will not serve to repair the relationship, but will actually deepen the conflict.
Remember that repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples. Humor is the most secret because it’s your secret. As you and your partner build your friendship, and collect experiences, look for the places where comedy shows up. Look for the ridiculous, the surprising, the awkward. Watch Monty Python sketches. Buy a joke book if you have to.
In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Roger literally uses humor to save Jessica’s life. It’s unlikely that any of you will be terrorized by a pack of weasels trying to erase you with toxic Dip, but the symbolism is clear. Relationships are under constant threat of toxic systems. Take it from ninth grade me: A strong sense of humor is a powerful tool.
*I’m aware of having written a post on humor that isn’t especially humorous. So here’s a bonus joke. It’s my favorite:
Q: What did one snowman say to the other snowman?
A: Do you smell carrots?
This is Zach's eighth 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.
Since the dawn of the Digital Age, humans have been puzzling over their electronic devices and asking themselves basic questions, like:
What makes us human? Are we becoming cyborgs, and is that bad? Emotions can be difficult to deal with, and wouldn't it be nice if they didn't exist sometimes?
This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we'll try to scratch the surface of these issues by continuing the discussion Zach started on Monday. We'll argue the case for humanity by raising a few questions of our own. For example, if you wanted to be a cyborg, would you be reading this blog? Also, how are you not a cyborg? What differentiates us from machines?
It turns out that the answer is often humor. Our ability to laugh.
Can a computer make a joke?
No! Or rather, yes and no, as many of us found with the release of What Would I Say?– the app that scrambles and rearranges status updates on Facebook into humorous phrases, so that they wind up resembling something between a nonsense poem or song lyric and an uncannily wise haiku.
While the program makes us laugh, the app’s genius rests in understanding the mechanisms of humor, particularly the unexpected inversion of the familiar – and 100% of the material comes from us. The algorithm can exploit a known formula, but in order to be funny, it needs the key ingredient: familiar, human content.
Where are we going with this?
The familiar is basically what makes our relationships function. The Sound Relationship House is built on the familiar – shared experiences and memories, shared love maps, shared fondness and admiration, shared dreams and rituals that fill our lives with meaning. And what creates a happily shared future for a couple? A happily shared past and present.
This may sound pretty intuitive, but the devil’s in the details – it is not the events of the past that are happy, but the couple’s perception of their shared experience of these events.
Dr. Gottman's research on the Oral History Interview has revealed that “masters” of relationships – those who describe their connection as happy, healthy, rich, and meaningful – report strong feelings of connection sustained through the course of their relationship. These “masters” are not recruited for study from a collection of gods, space aliens, robots, or cyborgs. They share our human imperfections and their stories reveal a firm grasp on the human condition. Just like relationship “disasters,” they face periods of unhappiness and conflict. The difference is in their approach to these challenges.
"Masters" of relationships build a culture of positive perspective and turn towards each other in moments of harmony and discord alike – and this is made possible by their repeated choice to face the music together.
To be a team, we must be deeply familiar to each other, and consistently recreate a sense of “we-ness” through knowing glances, smiles, and shared laughter.
As we all know, laughter is an incredibly powerful force. The relief it brings can diffuse even the most nerve-racking of situations. It breaks down barriers and creates an inescapable sense of shared humanity. It reminds us of the fact that we belong to the same species and of how cool that is.
In Friday's Weekend Homework Assignment, we will dig deeper into specific issues relating to the use of humor in relationships, and give you some ideas for bringing more laughter and joy into your own!
All for now,
We begin today's Weekend Homework Assignment with a short history of humor! Read it for context on our exploration of its role in human relationships, and to gain a deeper understanding not only of our approach to humor, but of your own.
Historically, people have thought about humor a lot. Historical thought about humor in social interactions has been characterized by several major theories. The first, superiority theory, mostly belonged to Plato, Hobbes, and Aristotle, and explored the comic mechanisms of jokes whose punch-lines leave us feeling “better than” others. (Hmmm).
Here's a joke that fits the bill (it won first place with the highest number of up-votes in a year-long project called LaughLab):
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?". The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"
Chronologically following superiority theory came Kant’s incongruity theory, postulating that jokes are funny because they reveal inconsistencies between our assumptions and reality. This idea was made popular through the support of other famous people who think a lot, like Hegel, Schopenhauer, and our favorite scientist/philosopher, Sigmund Freud!
Here's an example of incongruity from LaughLab:
An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote:
“Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”
“But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”
Freud added to this line of thinking with his own philosophical musings on relief theory, which basically asserts that humor’s primary function is to release tension. We all know how that feels. When they were all put together, these theories sired our modern perspective on funny-ness.
To summarize, according to these widely accepted theories, jokes are funny when they make us feel:
- better than another person or group
- that our assumptions/reflexive judgments can “make an ass out of you and me”
- a welcome sense of relief in a stressful situation
Here’s your Weekend Homework Assignment:
Think about the ways in which you’ve experienced humor in your life. Does one of these theories resonate with you more than the rest? Is this because of personal experience? Is it?
How did the people you grew up with (your parents, other family members, friends of all ages) [try to] make jokes? What were some of your favorite aspects of each one’s sense of humor? What were some of your least favorite? What set their sense of humor apart from the rest?
What do you like about your partner’s sense of humor? What do you dislike about it? What sets it apart?
How about your own?
In any situation, humor may bring in a different perspective. It can take us away from the heat of the moment, and, in a sense, perfectly embody mindfulness by providing a self-aware suggestion. How?
For example, in a fight, humor can reveal a third perspective, and though this perspective might not be, “Wow, this situation is totally funny and not at all painful,” it very well may be, “I love you” or “Let’s make peace.”
If introduced in the right way, a joke can be an invitation to laugh together. To share a positive moment. The joke is a signal. It says, “Hey - we’re stillon the same team.” It says, "Our team can still have fun!" It says, “Our relationship is so much more important to me than this silly fight.”
So… what do you feel constitutes “the right way?" Look forward to the Gottman perspective on Monday!
Have a great weekend,
In our last post on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we promised to teach you "the right way" to share humor in your relationships. The Gottman Method for joking around, if you will. Here it is. It's pretty straightforward:
We sent you on a trip down memory lane in your Weekend Homework Assignment for a reason. If you want to understand the role that humor plays in your relationships today, it's useful to start by considering the role it played yesterday. We may learn a lot by asking a simple question:
What effects have our friends' and families' senses of humor had on us in the past?
For simplicity's sake, we will generally associate individual styles of expression with major schools of humor theory below. Here they are again:
1. Superiority Theory
Some attempts at humor - as Plato, Hobbes, and Aristotle explain - rely upon putting others below ourselves (and often involve themes such as racism, sexism, and homophobia).
As you may expect, The Gottman Institute doesn't endorse this particular comic strategy. Using it or being exposed to its effects can be highly unpleasant, and it is pretty unlikely to strengthen bonds with those you care about.
However, an understanding of our shared human tendency to enjoy status-elevating punch lines is very important, as it increases our consciousness of each other's feelings. Here is a helpful New Yorker cartoon to illustrate this point.
2. Incongruity Theory
Humor often reminds us of the importance of perspective, encouraging flexibility and reality testing by insisting upon the existence of valid viewpoints outside of our own. Is what we think really the only truth? Does anyone else's experience have value? This guy isn't so sure...
3. Relief Theory
Freud and others have long observed the obvious: humor can be used to create relief. It is a marvelous force of healing and social bonding.
Less obvious and frequently observed is humor's enormous potential for destruction.
One joker may diffuse a tense situation by making everyone laugh together over shared experience, while another seeks personal comfort, using "humor" to escape by creating distance rather than overcoming it (see: the long, lonely, and foolish road spanning defensiveness, condescension, and contemptuous mockery).
Our point is simple: Humor is pretty complicated, and if we want to use it in a way that builds and maintains healthy, loving, and strong connections, we must be mindful.
Later this week, we will explain what this kind of mindfulness looks like, and give you a chance to practice!
All for now,
1. Having or showing no ability to think, feel, or respond
2. Showing no use of intelligence or thought; having no purpose
What does mindlessness call to mind? Passivity? Excuses? The complete abdication of responsibility? "Whoops, sorry?"
Mindlessness is often the result of carelessness, not malice. Unfortunately, the source of mindlessness is rarely the primary concern of its victims. It still hurts!
One of the most powerful methods for improving our relationships is adopting an active stance against mindlessness: giving our loved ones the attention they deserve. Today, as promised, we address this issue in relation to humor, where mindlessness can pose a particularly serious threat.
Oddly untouchable by critique or analysis, humor unamusingly and paradoxically manages to be two things at once: a source of both great healing and great harm. We’ve all heard someone attempt to transform the meanest remark into a harmless joke with the addition of two magic words:“Just kidding!”
Our tendency to avoid thinking too hard about jokes is understandable – after all, there seems to be nothing less funny than analyzing comedy. Unfortunately, this isn't quite true! There is something less humorous, and it's the dangerous culture we unwittingly create when we avert our eyes.
Let's turn off autopilot. Some jokes are just not funny. We can see this clearly in our most intimate relationships.
Some mindless attempts at humor include:
- Defensive joking
- Aggressive/hostile humor (such as sarcasm)
- Mockery (name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering)
In order of escalating intensity, from self-protection to outright attack, these expressions of “humor” herald the arrival of our favorite horsemen: Defensiveness and Contempt. Defensiveness, as you know, often leads to escalating physiological arousal, increasing risk of Flooding and Stonewalling. (If you notice yourself or your partner engaging in these behaviors, remember to take a break and self-soothe!)
The verdict is clear: mindlessness is not funny. Luckily, there is an alternative.
Here’s how to be mindful:
- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- Be aware of context and power dynamics. For example, light-hearted teasing may be enjoyable in one relationship, but completely inappropriate in another – it may reinforce a mutually amusing, banter-y rapport with one friend or partner, but be taken literally by someone else, causing emotional harm. Be especially careful to avoid teasing kids, who may not "get the joke," and be aware that mockery and harsh sarcasm can cause lasting trauma at any age.
- Consider each person’s unique cultural background and personal story. Be aware of the potential implications of these stories, including enduring vulnerabilities. If you draw a blank when considering this last bullet point in a particular situation, consider asking some open-ended questions and getting to know the person better! (Build Love Maps!)
In making an effort to get to know someone, and then keeping this knowledge in mind as you interact with them, you implicitly send a caring message: “You matter to me,” or, “I am thinking of you.”
In this way, mindfulness creates intimacy. Remember this when joking around, and enjoy its effect in strengthening and deepening your relationships.
Let these ideas percolate, and get ready to apply them to your own life in our posting tomorrow, your Weekend Homework Assignment!
All for now,
PS: On the topic of mindfulness, we wanted to remind you that Early Registration for The Siegel-Gottman Summit with Dr. Dan Siegel of The Mindsight Institute ends next week! If you are interested in attending, please don't forget to take advantage of the early bird pricing.
According to Dr. Gottman, sharing humor with your partner is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your relationship. Surprising each other with random acts of hilarity, enjoying playful back-and forths, giving yourselves to the moment – these are ways in which your time together is gradually filled with a sense of laughter and joy. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Relationship Cure, all that playfulness requires is a “willingness to turn toward another’s sense of silliness… and have a little bit of fun!”
In everyday situations, you often have the chance to react to situations in a variety of different ways. Imagine the following scenario:
Lila asked her husband Charlie to help her in the backyard on a sunny afternoon. She’s been having some back pain and wants to untangle a particularly stubborn thicket of weeds, creeping steadily closer and more alarmingly to the rose garden that she loves. To add further cause for delight to an already wonderfully pleasurable activity, the rain from the night before has caused enormous sludge puddles through which they are constantly forced to squelch in their relatively useless leaky boots. Charlie obliges, but isn’t being particularly helpful, not knowing a cabbage from a daffodil.
As Lila grows more and more irritated by his incompetence and he grows more and more annoyed by her maddening micromanagement, she tops everything off by accidentally splashing him with the overabundant mud. Covered in mud, Charlie turns towards Lila.
He has two choices. He can express his exasperation at the entire state of affairs in which he has been mired, or he can look at their mutually muck covered state and see the humor in a completely absurd situation.
Looking at his wife with a mischievous glint in his eye, he dips his finger into a bit of reddish dirt on his jacket, and draws a frowny face with it on her arm. With the paradoxical air of an exhausted rogue, she draws two streaks of red dirt war paint across his cheeks. He returns the favor. Now laughing hysterically at their mud covered selves, they are able to see the hilarious nature of their predicament, and the end of their struggles are punctuated by fits of hysterical giggling.
What has Charlie done in the scene above? He has done something incredible: he has converted a potentially explosive situation into a moment of hilarity. By engaging his wife in play, he has made them into a team – sweaty, exhausted, trapped in muck, a hilarious double act. Relieving tension, he has alerted his wife to the comedic value of their plight! Remember the endless wisdom of Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP! – the job's a game!”
Luckily, most moments you share with your partner are much easier to fill with laughter. The power of shared mirth is invaluable to building your shared meaning and friendship, the quality which Dr. Gottman tells us is a predictor of the ultimate success or failure of your relationship.
Start practicing by applying this principle to your own life this weekend, and watch the connection between yourself and your loved ones deepen and thrive!
Have a great weekend,
I is for Imagination
By Zach Brittle, LMHC
Initially, I planned to write about Integrity. The word gets thrown around a lot in conversations about good behavior. But I don’t tend to use it that way. It’s too preachy. When I talk about Integrity, I typically use it the same way architects use it: to mean whole, undivided, and sound in construction.
This would have been an easy direction to go given that the Gottman Method features its own architectural metaphor, the Sound Relationship House. The SRH derives its integrity from the twin pillars of trust and commitment. Without these, Dr. Gottman suggests, the “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” won’t work. I would have argued that it’s just as important for you to have personal integrity – a sound internal construction – as it is for you to have relationship integrity. But that would have been too preachy.
So I turned my attention toward Intent. Intentionality is an essential ingredient of a healthy relationship. When intentionality fades, couples drift into that “ships in the night” stage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard couples tell me they feel more like roommates than lovers.
I tell them to do something... anything. It doesn’t have to be therapy, but it helps. Maybe just pick up the Seven Principles book and give the exercises a try. It doesn’t have to be a standing date night, but that helps. You could learn a new game together - this one is my favorite recommendation. Commit to Spaghetti Sunday or Wine Wednesday or MONday is FUNday. Pick a show to binge on together. It almost doesn’t matter what you do, just do it on purpose.
I don’t need 750 words to talk about Intent, so I considered writing about Infidelity. But then I’d need a lot more than 750 words. Intercourse. That’s a stretch. Individuation. Snore. Ignorance. It’s bliss. Check. In-laws. Another time. Ultimately, I was stuck without the right word heading into a family vacation to Disney World.
Have you ever considered the power of Imagination? Walt Disney did. And he discovered that power was limitless. The Disney parks are a testament to idea that there is no such thing as no such thing. Talking mouse? Sure. Sleeping Beauty’s castle in southern California? Why not? Build a Walt Disney World in central Florida? You bet. And let’s make sure that everyone who visits has an experience they could only call magical.
Entire theses have been written about the Disney philosophy and business model. I won’t attempt to explore those here. I’ll just say that wandering around Walt Disney World, I was constantly in awe of the power of imagination. Often enough it was some detail or presentation at the parks themselves. Just as often it was the astonishment on my daughter’s face or the laughter in her voice. For just a few days we forgot that we were real people living in a real world. We were Treasured Guests at the Happiest Place on Earth.
I am, of course, a champion of trust and commitment in a marriage, and I believe they are required for making marriage work. That said, I really do think at least two other pillars are required. The first is Hope, which I won’t expand here except to say that a couple with even a grain of hope has a chance. Imagination is also required.
I believe, as Dr. Gottman has suggested, that marriage is a creative endeavor. Whenever two people come together in a relationship, they are creating a brand new culture. Genesis says that in a marriage, two become one. That process requires some creative math. The top floor of the Sound Relationship House invites couples to create shared meaning. ALL creative endeavors require imagination.
In a marriage, imagination is a willingness to believe that your relationship can be different than your parents’ or even different than than your own relationship six years ago. Or six months ago. For engaged couples, it’s the active dreaming about what their relationship will be on the other side of the altar. For couples in distress, it’s a chosen conviction (aka Hope) that the relationship can be better than it ever was before. For you it might simply be MONday is FUNday.
In any case, you have to be willing to expand your thinking and to risk believing there is no such thing as no such thing. Your marriage can have integrity with trust and commitment, hope and imagination. Start today by planning that one thing you never thought you could, or would. Find a therapist. Go to a Magic Kingdom. Do something. Anything. Imagine the possibilities.
*On a totally different note, but because I know you’re interested in “marriage,” I want you to read Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. It’s a complicated but ultimately satisfying novel about integrity and intent and imagination in a marriage or three. It was the perfect read for my vacation, except that I finished it too quickly and now I’m without a book. When you finish it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet me @kzbrittle. I want to talk about it with you.
This is Zach's ninth 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.
Whether you were intrigued, inspired, or impressed with Zach's "I is for Imagination" column on Monday, you'll be pleased with today's offering: a TED talk and corresponding article which aims to incentivize imagination in your life by igniting the insight-making machine in your mind.
As Tania Luna, "Surprisologist" and co-founder of Surprise Industries explains, "Surprises make life simultaneously more serene and more exciting." Anybody not interested in a relationship that can be summed up in these terms?! Serene. And Exciting. At the Same Time. How does she do it? Read on to find out, and consider possible applications of her ideas to the world of relationships! Be sure to also listen to the talk by following the link above.
8 tips to make your life more surprising from Tania Luna, Surprisologist
By Elizabeth Jacobs
In today’s talk, Tania Luna shares her experience of immigrating to the United States from Ukraine as a little girl. Perfectly happy with her family’s outhouse and with chewing a single piece of Bazooka gum for a week, Luna found herself blown away by the wonders of her new country. From pizza to pennies to pit-bulls, Luna’s moving story reminds us to appreciate the unexpected joys of daily life and to embrace uncertainty. This philosophy translates directly to Luna’s day job, as a Surprisologist. Luna co-founded Surprise Industries, a company that curates delightful experiences for both individuals and teams. (Read more about Luna’s work in this TED Blog Q&A.) “Surprises make life simultaneously more serene and more exciting,” says Luna. Below, she offers 8 pieces of advice for how everyone can make their lives a little more amazing.
1. Commit to the mindset and process of surprise. Decide to be a surprisologist, and explore the world through this lens. Ask yourself, “What would a surprisologist do?” Create systems to reinforce surprise in your life. Counterintuitive though it sounds, schedule time to wander, and set up reminders using FollowUpThen.com. Even the most exciting people need to be plucked out of their routines sometimes.
2. Get to the pot of gold on the other side of awkward. Remind yourself that all the good stuff in life lies behind a sticky clump of discomfort and uncertainty. Few people follow their dreams or take positive risks — not because it’s difficult or even scary, but because we avoid that sensation of uncertainty that we call awkwardness. Learn to love it. Remind yourself that discomfort means you are growing AND reaching someplace special that few people dare to go. Try a hobby that looks awful. Talk to a stranger. Or spend some alone time if you tend to avoid your own company...
3. Stop Googling away delight. I love instant information, but I also know that seeing photos of my hotel room before I get there and using Yelp to pick out the best dish on the menu strips my life of surprise, discovery and serendipity. Let yourself imagine and then get surprised...
4. Turn your social circle into a different shape. Go way off the grid when it comes to meeting new people. Being surrounded by people like us is comforting, but it also stops us from growing and learning. Go out of your way to speak with and empathize with people who don’t share your norms. Ask friends to introduce you to the most unlike-you person they know.
5. Collect sensations. When was the last time you smelled, tasted or touched something new? Every week give yourself the assignment to explore and experience the world through one primary sense.
6. Get lost. If you always know where you’re going, you’ll never get someplace new. Let yourself wander, mapless, in an unfamiliar park or neighborhood. Try playing the Left, Left, Right game — keep turning left, left, then right until you discover something surprising. (I learned this one from my fellow Surprisologist, LeeAnn Renninger.) Or simplest of all, set aside free wander and wonder time...
7. Schedule a Yes Day. Saying “yes” to new things can be overwhelming, so I like to dedicate one day every week to saying “yes” to all new opportunities. FYI: my Yes Day is Wednesday :)
8. Keep a Surprise Opportunity Log. Anytime someone mentions something they love or have always wanted to try, jot it down and put to good use in the future. Surprising others is as much fun as surprising yourself.
What do you think? Do these ideas sound reasonable? Have you tried any before? If so, what were the results? Let us know by joining the discussion on our Facebook page!
All for now,
To those readers who've been enjoying this week's posts about imagination and surprisology, but aren't sure how best to go about integrating them into your own life, this is for you! In today's Weekend Homework Assignment, we share one of our favorite activities, providing a perfect way to incorporate the combined principles of intentionality and surprise into your relationship on an ongoing basis. Without further ado, here's Date Night in a Jar.
Get together with your partner this weekend and come up with a list of things you both want to try: local restaurants, movies to go see or rent, events to attend, attractions to visit, first experiences to experience together, etc. Keep it updated as new ideas are brought up in everyday conversation. Put these ideas on little scraps of paper or write them on popsicle sticks, as depicted above. Then place your date night ideas go into jar, and save them for your next night out together!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
If "Date Night in a Jar" doesn’t really fit into the way that you and your partner interact, think of other ideas to surprise each other in a playful, romantic way. Check out Unbox Love, a subscription service that delivers a creative Date Night in a box to your doorstep once a month.
Remember: It is the small things done often that make the most difference in your relationship. Introduce fun into your relationship in ways that feel more natural to you – every relationship is different! Perhaps you could surprise your love with tokens: a “kiss” token, a “massage” token, a “trip to the ice cream parlor” token… let your imagination run free!
You can give a sweet gift like this to your partner on any occasion, no need to wait for birthdays or holidays! Surprise them with something and rejuvenate your friendship and closeness. Creating great memories together and sharing laughter and joy will help the two of you to build affection and fondness for each other. As the two of you play and have fun with each other, trust and support in your relationship will naturally follow.
Have a great weekend,
Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.
- Albert Camus
You know that moment when you've decided to plan a surprise/do something nice for/spend quality time with someone, only they decide to get really upset with you instead? Today's post is about that.
Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we talked about adventure, imagination, and surprisology - how to bring them into your love life and then bask in your own glory/enjoy the exciting results.
Today, we'd like to address what happens when our plans don't go as planned and the results are exciting in the worst way possible.
As many of us know too well, it's incredibly demoralizing to have our creative efforts backfire, especially when they've been made in order to spend quality time with those we love. In these moments, we've put time and energy into thinking of ways to make our partners happy, only to end up embroiled in conflict. It's no wonder we feel totally helpless!
In these moments, it's important to remember that we have a choice.
We can either let our hurt, angry selves operate on autopilot in the conflict that follows (doing a bit of damage here, suffering a few ego-hits there...) or we can realize that our partners might:
(a) have other (reasonable?) ideas about what constitutes a good time!
(b) be genuinely busy, and simply need a rain-check!
(c) be interested in connecting, albeit in a slightly different way!
We can still connect. All it takes is a deep breath and willingness to adapt to the new reality: a need for compromise.
How do you and your partner generally handle these situations? Do you meet each other half-way, or argue until someone storms out or bursts into tears? Does one of you tend to give in, or do you find mutually acceptable middle-ground?
Take the quiz below to get a sense of the state of compromise in your relationship, reading each statement and marking it True or False!
- Our decisions often get made by both of us compromising (T/F)
- We are usually good at resolving our differences (T/F)
- I can give in when I need to, and often do. (T/F)
- I can be stubborn in an argument, but I’m not opposed to compromising (T/F)
- I think that sharing power in a relationship is very important (T/F)
- My partner is not a very stubborn person (T/F)
- I don’t believe that one person is right and the other wrong on most issues (T/F)
- We both believe in meeting each other half way when we disagree (T/F)
- I am able to yield somewhat even when I feel strongly on an issue (T/F)
- The two of us usually arrive at a better decision through give-and-take (T/F)
- It’s a good idea to give in somewhat, in my view (T/F)
- In discussing issues, we can usually find our common ground of agreement (T/F)
- Everyone gets some of what they want when there’s a compromise (T/F)
- My partner can give in, and often does (T/F)
- I don’t wait until my partner gives in before I do (T/F)
- When I give in first, my partner then gives in too (T/F)
- Yielding power is not very difficult for my partner (T/F)
- Yielding power is not very difficult for me (T/F)
- Give-and-take in making decisions is not a problem in this relationship (T/F)
- I will compromise even when I believe I am right (T/F)
Now, check your score! If more than half of your responses were False (10+), you’ve got some work to do on compromise in your relationship. If less than half of your responses were False, you’ve still got some work to do on compromise in your relationship! You can always work on compromising with your partner. This questionnaire is simply meant to give you an idea of the current state of affairs.
Compromise is something we all struggle with on a daily basis, whether most of our battles are fought silently, with ourselves, or out loud, with others. Our abilities in this department may seem to fluctuate, depending on all sorts of external variables beyond our control. But compromise is a art that can be learned!
Stay tuned to get a peek at Dr. Gottman’s research-based tips on the art of compromise. Look forward to learning more in tomorrow's step-by-step lesson, and get a chance to practice your new skills in Friday's Weekend Homework Assignment!
All for now,
P.S. It's not always rainbows and butterflies, it's compromise that moves us along!
We’ve all been there: in the middle of a fight we know we can’t win, aware that our frustration has overwhelmed all sense of perspective, yet utterly unable to stop.
In this moment, it may help to remember the old saying: It is better to bend than to break! This is just what Dr. Gottman’s research has shown.
When we’re caught in the heat of an argument, we’re in a state of crisis. Crisis, from the Greek krisis, is defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” In this moment, what we yearn for most is to feel safe.
Dr. Gottman’s studies have produced evidence for what we intuitively know: Without a feeling of emotional and physical safety, there is no way for us to reach a state of compromise with another.
His studies have also yielded evidence for something counter-intuitive. If your goal is to reach a state of compromise, you must first focus on yourself.
To reach compromise, you must define your core needs, refuse to relinquish anything that you feel is absolutely essential, and be willing to accept influence.
Dr. Gottman’s advice, based on years of research, is the following:
Remember, you can only be influential if you accept influence. Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.
If you feel like this is an incredibly tall order, you are not alone! The following exercise may be of comfort. Featured in The Art & Science of Love weekend workshop that Dr. Gottman leads with his wife and collaborator, Dr. Julie Gottman, this activity will help you and your partner to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems creating conflict and stress in your relationship.
Exercise: The Art of Compromise
Step 1: Consider an area of conflict in which you and your partner have been stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area, and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.
Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.
Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner, in the way that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you. Make sure that you really listen to each other in discussing your core needs:
- Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
- What are your guiding feelings here?
- What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
- Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
- How can I help you to meet your core needs?
- What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?
Note: This exercise should not be approached in the midst of a stressful discussion. It will be most helpful if undertaken in peace-time, perhaps in the evening or on a weekend with no distractions (give the kids something to do or hire a sitter, leave the phones in another room, etc). It should take you and your partner approximately thirty minutes.
Remember, this activity is not a magical pill that can be popped, making all of your problems disappear forever. Instead, it is likely to be the beginning of a long series of honest, fruitful, and fulfilling discussions!
If it still feels intimidating, don't be discouraged; It probably means that this is very important to you. Those of us who love someone have a real gift, and this caring is our greatest power – allowing us to see the loved one's unique beauty, providing us with the motivation to overcome challenges together, and energizing us as we build bridges between our souls.
We leave you with the wise words of Virginia Woolf: “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”
All for now,
Many couples fail to make headway on solvable problems because they don't know how to compromise. To learn compromise, you must accept influence.
As we all know, this means keeping an open mind, but it's important to remember what keeping an open mind means:
You don't have to agree with everything your partner says or believes, but you have to be open to hearing his or her position, opinions, and desires.
If you catch yourself sitting with your arms folded, shaking your head while your partner is talking, stop. Your discussion will never get anywhere that way.
Once you’re ready to accept influence, finding a solution you both can live with is not complicated. Often, compromise is just a matter of talking through your differences in a structured fashion, without allowing defensiveness or negativity overwhelm your discussion.
For today's Weekend Homework Assignment, we would like to share one of our most popular exercises from The Art & Science of Love weekend workshop. It is also included in Dr. Gottman's New York Times bestselling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you are familiar with the exercise or have completed it with your partner before, feel free to add your own creative items to the inventory!
The Gottman Island Survival Game:
Imagine yourself shipwrecked with your partner on a tropical desert island. Gilligan and Ginger are nowhere in sight - the two of you are the only survivors. You have no idea where you are. A storm appears to be on the way. You decide that you need to prepare to survive on this island for some time, and to find some way to ensure you can be spotted by a rescue party. There are a lot of items from the ship on the beach that could help you, but you can only carry ten items.
Step 1: Each of you writes down on a separate piece of paper what you consider to be the ten most important items to keep from the inventory list below. Then rank-order these items based on their importance to you. Give the most crucial item a 1, the next most important item a 2, and so on.
- Two changes of clothing
- AM-FM and short-wave radio receiver
- Ten gallons of water
- Pots and pans
- Toilet paper
- Two tents
- Two sleeping bags
- Small life raft, with sail
- Sunblock lotion
- Cookstove and lantern
- Long rope
- Two walkie-talkie sender-receiver units
- Freeze-dried food for seven days
- One change of clothing
- One fifth of whiskey
- Regional aerial maps
- Gun with six bullets
- Fifty packages of condoms
- First-aid kit with penicillin
- Oxygen tanks
Step 2: Share your list with your partner. Together come up with a consensus list of ten items. This means talking it over and working as a team to solve the problem. Both of you need to be influential in discussing your viewpoint and in making the final decisions.
Step 3: Once you have compromised on a third list, it’s time to evaluate how the game went. Think about how effective you were at influencing your partner and how effective they were at influencing you. Did either of you try to dominate? Were you competitive? Ask yourself if you had fun. Did both of you work well as a team and feel included, or did you sulk, withdraw, express irritability/anger?
Acknowledge any problem areas and agree to work together on these issues with your partner!
We can't change bad habits overnight, but we can move forward if we take responsibility for the part we play, and we can work together. To learn more about overcoming relationship troubles caused by issues of compromise, make sure to pick up a copy of Dr. Gottman's bestseller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Have a great weekend,
J is for Judgment
By Zach Brittle, LMHC
J is an eight-point Scrabble letter. Only Q and Z are worth more. Turns out there simply aren’t a lot of words that start with J. This fact is especially true in the area of relationships. J has been the hardest post to originate. Sometimes, when I’m stuck, I turn to the back of one of the Gottman books for inspiration. I found “jealousy” and “Jews, Orthodox,” but mostly the Js are last names.
One name “Johnson, Susan” is definitely worthy of comment. Along with the Gottmans, Dr. Sue Johnson is an important pioneer in the world of evidence based couples therapy. As one of the creators of Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), she helps couples understand the science of love and the art of repair. Clinicians and couples alike would be wise to explore how her work dovetails with Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT). But, because I’m not an expert in Sue Johnson, I decided not to write about her.
Ultimately, I decided to focus on “judgment” - mostly because “judgment” and “judging” and “judgmental” get a bad rap when it comes to relationships. The general understanding of these words is pejorative, implying - ironically? - that judgment isn’t just. But I would argue that judgment is an essential element of any healthy relationship. The real danger is negative judgment.
“Judge” is a lot like “catch.” Have you ever been caught? Like with your hand in a cookie jar? How about when you were falling down the stairs? When someone catches you, it can be punitive or protective. “Pride” is another word like this. Pride can go before the fall or it can empower and encourage you. One of my favorite song lyrics from The Avett Brothers says, “I wanna have pride like my mother has, And not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad.” You must ensure that your pride doesn’t turn you bad. You have to do the same with your tendency toward judgment.
I want to let you in on a little secret about therapists. Presumably, couples enter counseling to get a non-judgmental perspective about what’s going on in their relationship. But we are judging you. All the time. No doubt, some of my colleagues will balk at this notion, but I’m not afraid to own it. On the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INTJ, which means that judging is what I do. It’s who I am. In fact, I couldn’t do my job without it. The capacity for judgment is a gift, even a responsibility.
Husbands and wives both feel a certain kind of freedom in the therapist’s office. That freedom comes from the belief that their highest hopes and deepest fears can be safely expressed. They say things to me and to one another that they wouldn’t consider saying at home. But it’s not because there’s no judgment. It’s because the judgment is measured and considered and articulated in a way that serves the relationship.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, sensitive or intuitive, a thinker or a feeler, a perceiver or a judger, you can relate in a healthy way. But if your inclination is toward judgment, you need to pay extra careful attention. Speaking from experience, we judgers are prone to contempt - after all, the judge’s bench is raised - and criticism. Because we know what’s “just,” we’re pretty good at pointing out what’s wrong with everyone else, and to letting them know how to fix it so they can be just like us.
But this type of judgment is dangerous. It transforms the home into a courtroom, where cases are won and lost. Verdicts are handed out. Punishments are levied. In these homes, where one partner is wielding judgment like a sword, both partners suffer. It’s tragic when the judge cares more about justice than the relationship.
The best judges are known for their wisdom. Their patience. Their ability to understand and articulate the nuances of the law. Their discernment. The best judges get to the heart of the matter. In relationships, they understand the science of love and the art of repair. They know that their job is to catch their loved one when falling, not simply when they’ve broken the law.
One of the goals of Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT) is to ensure that couples do not become “therapy-dependent.” This goal is achieved by equipping couples with the ability to make considered decisions and come to sensible conclusions (i.e. judgment) and teaching them to express those judgments in healthy, positive ways. That freedom that couples feel in the therapists’ office… that’s what home should feel like. Not like a courtroom.
This is Zach's tenth posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.
The Importance of IntegrityBy Nate Bagley
A year ago, I set out on a quest to discover what true love looked like. My journey has taken me from coast to coast, and placed me at the feet of some of the world's foremost experts on love, both in study and in practice. The more amazing couples I sat down with, the more I saw an obvious overlap between their stories and the studies found in Dr. Gottman’s research, and in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
You can read more about my story here.
Several months ago, I found myself sitting with my co-host, Melissa Joy Kong, in the home of MeiMei and Kiran. I will never forget the conversation we had with them, because it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me.
After spending only a few minutes with MeiMei and Kiran, I was left with the desire to be more compassionate, understanding, engaging, and loving towards other people in my life. The way they speak to each other, treat each other, and even look at each other is inspiring and contagious.
They know that the things found in Dr. Gottman’s research - like a deep friendship, honesty, being gentle with one another, accepting influence from one another, and mutual fondness and admiration - are key to a thriving relationship. Yet there are so many people who know these things, but don’t have a relationship like MeiMei and Kiran’s.
So, what’s the difference?
I believe it’s one word: Integrity.
Simply put, integrity is doing what you say you will do.
Most relationships suffer because of a lack of integrity. We make commitments to ourselves and others, we break them, then make excuses to avoid taking responsibility.
We promise to be patient, kind, understanding, and loving. We promise to be faithful, to be loyal in word and deed, to remain committed for better or for worse, in sickness and health, in good times and bad. We promise to put the needs of others before our own, and love each other until death.
It is important to note that at some point or another, we all falter on these commitments. Pride gets in the way. We act selfishly. We come up short, and fall out of integrity with ourselves and those we love.
There is a difference, however, between the couples who recover and thrive when these circumstances arise, and those who allow these situations erode and destroy their love.
Couples who turn to excuses for their lack of integrity quickly find the trust and passion they once shared eroding beneath their feet. They find reasons for their shortcomings, infidelities, unkind words, impatience, and their selfishness. They can provide lists of explanations for their lack of integrity. They seek validation for our reasons. They get their friends to support them, justify them and cheer them on as they avoid accountability, and preserve their sense of pride, and rightness.
A lack of integrity eats away at every good thing that is necessary for building a happy, healthy, long-lasting relationship.
But there is another way.
When MeiMei or Kiran say something, they do it.
When Kiran commits to MeiMei to make her the most important thing in his life, his actions back it up.
When MeiMei commits to helping Kiran fulfill one of his dream projects, it’s not just lip service, she fights beside him to make it happen.
And when couples like MeiMei and Kiran come face-to-face with a lack of integrity (as all of us do), they own it. They look each other in the eyes, and with honesty they admit to their shortcomings and recommit to each other with a renewed sense of love.
They don’t make excuses. They don’t come up with reasons. They don’t place the blame on each other, or anything else. They recognize that the only person responsible for their personal integrity is themselves.
What truly separates the average couples from the most amazing couples is not knowledge. It’s integritous action.
Think about the commitments you’ve made to yourself and to others. In which areas of your life are you lacking integrity? Make the decision to fix that now by first, taking ownership of how you’ve lacked integrity, then making the commitment to do better and be better.
This is the true source of deep love, adventure, and even self-confidence.
Nate Bagley has traveled over 20,000 miles and documented over 100 stories of true love across America in the hopes that he will find out what separates the happiest couples from those whose relationships fail, or suffer from mediocrity and insufferable stagnation. He is documenting the stories and his findings in a podcast and blog called The Loveumentary. He has been featured by GQ Magazine and Business Insider, among others. Follow Nate on Twitter: @loveumentary.
This week's posts on The Gottman Relationship Blog have addressed the importance of integrity and the place for judgment in relationships. If they have you alarmed about the present state of your partnership, you may be experiencing something Dr. Gottman calls "Negative Sentiment Override."
If you are experiencing Negative Sentiment Override (NSO), do not be alarmed. It does not necessarily spell doom for your relationship. Our research has allowed us to devise tools for combating NSO, helping thousands of couples find their way back to a positive view of their partners and to stability in their relationships! (You can find a great number of these tools in Dr. Gottman’s books, such asThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, The Relationship Cure, and What Makes Love Last?)
We would like to share one of these tools with you today. Below you will find one of the many exercises Dr. Gottman has designed to help you work towards Positive Sentiment Override from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. When you and your partner have some free time this weekend, follow these instructions:
Exercise: I Appreciate…
From the list below, choose three items that you think are characteristic of your partner. If there are more than three, still select just three (you can choose another three if you decide to do this exercise again). Even if you can recall only one instance when your partner displayed this characteristic, you can choose it.
Loving, Sensitive, Brave, Intelligent, Thoughtful, Generous, Loyal, Truthful, Strong, Energetic, Sexy, Decisive, Creative, Imaginative, Fun, Attractive, Interesting, Supportive, Funny, Considerate, Affectionate, Organized, Resourceful, Athletic, Cheerful, Coordinated, Graceful, Elegant, Gracious, Playful, Caring, A great friend, Exciting, Full of plans, Shy, Vulnerable, Committed, Involved, Expressive, Active, Careful, Reserved, Adventurous, Receptive, Reliable, Responsible, Dependable, Nurturing, Warm, Virile, Kind, Gentle, Practical, Lusty, Witty, Relaxed, Beautiful, Handsome, Rich, Calm, Lively, A great partner, A great parent, Assertive, Protective, Sweet, Tender, Powerful, Flexible, Understanding, Totally silly…
For each item you chose, briefly think of an actual incident that illustrates this characteristic of your partner. Write about it in your notebook or journal as follows:
Now share your list with your partner. Let him or her know what it is about these traits that you value so highly. Build your Emotional Bank Account! Wash behind your ears! Have a great weekend!
Have a great weekend,
Guest blogger Nate Bagley and Relationship Alphabet columnist Zach Brittle joined us last week to discuss the roles integrity and judgment play in healthy, supportive relationships. Getting a firm grip on integrity and judgment in the course of a single blog post can be a tricky operation, so this week we dig a little deeper!
As we burrow our way under these heavy concepts, we hope to hollow out a channel of understanding that you may follow to achieve long-lasting health and happiness. Spoiler alert: "[It] is a road, no simple highway — that path is for your steps alone!" Listening to the tune may help.
So let's begin with the familiar: Judgment of others usually comes from self-judgment. After all, who do we judge most often? Ourselves!
Led astray by a bombardment of misleading media messages, we often plummet down a crazy rabbit hole in which self-worth is based on external markers of achievement. We're taught to appraise ourselves and others based on recognizable status markers (degrees, promotions, fancy titles) and material possessions (classy clothes, cars, cosmetics, coffee-table books, castanets, capybaras, whatever).
It's too easy to be caught up, and we toil away endlessly, unquestioningly, jumping through hoops so that we may someday pass someone's examination and be judged worthy. For a tender and insightful treatment of the topic, see Yann Dall'Aglio's brilliant TED Talk, "Love - You're Doing It Wrong."
We are made to feel that we are what we own. Instead of turning towards each other for fulfillment, we turn towards comparisons, measurements, and scores.
We fear that we'll never be enough — strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough. We practice restriction and self control, suffering over and coveting stuff and status. We collect material proof of our worth, straining towards the perfect moment when we have enough to be adequate. In this moment, amid our dazzling array of beautiful things, our fantasy will be realized, we will finally be complete, and we will breathe easy.
The truth, as we know deep down, is that none of this lets anyone breathe easy — not even supermodels, geniuses, or the millionaires and billionaires with their gazillions of pounds of stuff. These are counterproductive distractions. Until we can find another way to see ourselves, we will be weighed down, and we will never be free.
Here's the thing, though — we can be free. We know what freedom feels like.
Let's do a simple mental exercise:
Take a moment now and think of the person — perhaps a sibling, a friend, or your significant other — that makes you feel deeply happy, someone in whose presence you feel most uninhibited, most able to truly be yourself.
Now think about the way you see yourself on a daily basis. What does your self-talk (inner dialogue) sound like? Is it different from the way this person talks to you? If they could hear the inside of your head, how would they respond? What would you say to a friend if you could hear them talking to themselves in this way?
Getting tripped up in the world of relationships can be a nasty side-effect of our skewed perspective. In a culture where possession of symbols and objects is used avoid pain, we are perversely taught to desire ownership of people: our partners. We want to own and be owned by them. "But come on, isn't this just a harmless romantic fantasy?" Not really. By viewing ourselves and others as property, we walk straight into one of the oldest and most dangerous traps in history. See Toni Morrison's artful depiction of it below, using the common case of the unhappy lover:
“You think because he doesn’t love you that you are worthless. You think that because he doesn’t want you anymore that he is right — that his judgment and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Don’t. It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn’t be like that. Did you ever see the way the clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can’t even see the mountain for the clouds. But you know what? You go up top and what do you see? His head. The clouds never cover the head. His head pokes through, because the clouds let him; they don’t wrap him up. They let him keep his head up high, free, with nothing to hide him or bind him. You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you? And neither does he. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.”
Wow. Sound familiar? Interested in an alternative? You've probably figured it out by now...
Freedom comes in admitting what matters, and acting accordingly (that is to say, with integrity). It comes in admitting that self-satisfaction and connection are achieved not in the passionate accumulation of stuff but in seeing the world clearly: loving yourself and sharing love with those around you — not owning them, not being owned by them, not devoting every last bit of energy to self-assessment and the judgment of others — simply enjoying the joy of a shared existence.
Of course, in marriages and long-term relationships, we hope to be able to rely on each other! This is where trust comes in, and working through our enduring vulnerabilities. It's also where we'll pick up next time on The Gottman Relationship Blog!
All for now,
Did you enjoy Toni Morrison's no-nonsense advice about love in our last post? Did you come away feeling ready to make some changes in your own life but uncertain how to begin? Read on!
Today, as promised, we extend our discussion of self-judgment into the realm of relationships, examining its connections to vulnerability and trust.
As Toni Morrison implied on Monday, those who seek happy, healthy romantic relationships must first love themselves, and take a good, hard look at their dreams. Here's why:
The stories lovingly read aloud to us as children often have an unintended side-effect: in combination with other culturally-transmitted fairytales, storybooks confound our expectations of reality, and warp our personal narratives. They make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
This might seem like a cute problem. It isn't. An inability to see ourselves or our partners clearly, or to picture the reality of a healthy or unhealthy relationship, poses a very real threat to our personal lives.
As fairytale logic deprives us of agency and individuality, it leaves us suspended in a state of anticipation, in which our only job is to construct elaborate fantasies of romantic resolution, redemption, and bliss. This bliss, of course, arrives as soon as our fundamentally inadequate selves finally come into contact with another who judges us worthy and completes us.
As long as we see ourselves in this way - in need of universal and unconditional approval by others, in need of perfection, in need of "another half" - our relationships with ourselves and with others will suffer.
Luckily, our awareness of this phenomenon gives us the power to avoid it!
Understanding that neither happiness nor strong relationships are built through seeking others' approval, we can make a different choice.
We can make a commitment to belong to ourselves first. We can take back agency, and follow our own dreams. We can commit to treating ourselves with compassion and acceptance despite human imperfections. After all, we are consistency-loving creatures, and the way we see ourselves roughly translates into the way we perceive others and their judgments! We can even get to know ourselves, so that we can answer the questions in the Love Maps exercise!
Having done this, we can trust ourselves to do the same for others. We can commit to treating our partners with compassion, learning about their vulnerabilities, their values, and their dreams, building strong Relationship Houses, and enjoying the consequences of acting with purpose and integrity.
By making these choices, confronting these misconceptions, and getting to know ourselves and each other more deeply, we grow better equipped to build strong, healthy bonds. As Dr. Gottman explains, the presence or absence of trust in your relationships may have a greater literal impact on your life than you ever imagined:
For everybody, a stable, trusting relationship is linked to relatively high survival rates from cardiovascular disease, cancer, surgery, and other illnesses. Love increases the odds of living a long life and having good health... [High trust] partners benefit each other by 'co-regulating' their physiologies. Put simply, they calm each other when they are unable to calm themselves.
Their willingness to share vulnerabilities with each other strengthens the couple's bond and actually enhances their physical health. Pretty ideal, huh? (On the other hand, couples in low trust-relationships have higher death rates!) For more fascinating tidbits and an extensive discussion of the research and its applications, check out Dr. Gottman's recent release, What Makes Love Last?.
Stay tuned for a hands-on application of these ideas in our next post on The Gottman Relationship Blog!
All for now,
In our last few posts on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we've explored the connections between trust, judgment, and vulnerability. Today, as promised, we'll help you apply what you've learned!
Happy relationships are built on the basis of shared understanding, mutual affection, empathy, and support. They grow from a foundation of trust. As you may recall from our last post, the presence or absence of trust in your relationships may even determine your physical health. As Dr. Gottman explains in What Makes Love Last?, "For everybody, a stable, trusting relationship is linked to relatively high survival rates from cardiovascular disease, cancer, surgery, and other illnesses." Low-trust couples literally have higher death rates!
Clearly, we need to cultivate trust. But trust requires vulnerability, and in a world that endlessly encourages us all to be our own harshest critics, vulnerability can be a real struggle. It's even more difficult to open up when you've been hurt badly before. But according to Brene Brown's famous TED Talk, vulnerability is, beyond a doubt, absolutely necessary for happiness.
So, how should we proceed?
First of all, it's important to recognize that trusting our partners is not the same thing as giving up all control. We retain control over our choice of partner (at all times!) and can always decide to alter our own behavior throughout our relationships. We can choose to connect with – or disconnect from – reliable and unreliable people, and we can choose to learn – or avoid learning – strategies for self care. (These are rather useful in those times when others can't provide support).
To reap the benefits of vulnerability and trusting others, we must first learn to trust our own judgments. As we all know, this is a lifelong process involving entirely too much trial-and-error. But there are steps we can take to set ourselves up for success! One of the most important steps is learning compassion.
As Brene Brown explains, we can't treat others with compassion if we can't be kind to ourselves first. And it is only when we commit to taking care of ourselves that we can count on ourselves to make safe choices.
So, with further ado, here are a few healthy choices you can start choosing today:
Make me-time. It won't magically appear on its own! This might be easier if you create a daily routine, committing to a short break, perhaps at lunch-time on weekdays and on weekend mornings. Put this me-time on your list of non-negotiables. You'll thank yourself for it.
Don't waste your me-time! Go for a walk, a bike ride, meditate, practice yoga, or find a way that works for you to take yourself into a quieter head-space (we recommend at least 15 minutes per day). Use this time to clear your mind and you’ll be surprised at how a brief foray into tranquility can carry peace and clarity into all parts in your life. According to a study run by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, "mindfulness improves reading ability, working memory, and task-focus." See the research here.
Do things that bring you pleasure. Catch up with friends and family. Play with your pet. Read a book, listen to music, or watch your favorite show. Relax and unwind. Think some interesting thoughts.
Devote time to your hobbies. Whether you write, knit, play board games, cook, drink coffee, dance, run, sing, bird-watch, star-gaze, or whittle tiny figurines for pleasure. Whether you seek serenity or release of energy, and whether you do this in your me-time or your we-time is up to you – both can make lasting, powerful changes in your relationship with yourself and with your partner.
Go into nature. Alone or together. It’s probably the most direct and effective way to take a break from the daily grind and reconnect deeply and profoundly with the living, breathing world, yourself, and your partner. Nature has even been demonstrated to have a regenerative effect on our ability to exercise our working memory and directed attention. See one of the many fascinating studies done on this phenomenon here.
If you have limits in time or mobility, try a walk in the park, a trip to the beach, a jaunt into the woods! You don’t have to travel far from home to go on an adventure in the great outdoors. If you’re lucky and can get away for the weekend, consider making that happen! Chances are that you (and your partner, if this is a joint venture) will benefit enormously from the trip. Get out of town and explore somewhere beautiful. If you'd like, bring the kids! We highly recommend that you leave your laptop, smart-phone, and all of your other pocket-computers behind. If you take a break from the tiny virtual world that usually lives in your pocket, we promise that you will be able to more fully enjoy the world in all of its glory. Tromp around in a field, look at some old tree stumps, skip some rocks, and celebrate your ability to enjoy this beautiful planet.
Whatever you do, find some peace. Finding balance and developing your attunement to the world around you can increase self-confidence, improve your mood, and allow you to bring harmony into many areas in your life. Your mind, your body, and your partner will very likely thank you for it. Remember to build trust by creating a culture of mutual support - show your love by helping each other stay sane and healthy enough to pursue personal and mutual dreams both today and in the years to come!
All for now,
K is for Kissing
By Zach Brittle, LMHC
My first kiss was with an older woman. Older at least in the sense that she could drive and I couldn’t. It was after a football game one Friday night. We’d enjoyed a post-game meal at Arby’s. Loitered with friends at the firehouse. Drove around, and then around some more, and finally...we parked. I was terrified. All of my practicing with a Dixie cup hadn’t prepared me for this. Tentatively, we leaned into the center of that 1990 Honda Accord and eventually, miraculously, we found each other’s lips. What happened next was awkward and sloppy and gross and magical. I’ll never forget it.
When was the last time you told the story of your first kiss? I bet you had a smile on your face. Kisses do that. They make us smile and swoon. They put butterflies in our stomach. They make our hairs stand up a little taller and our blood run a little faster. Simply put, kisses have a special kind of power.
A kiss can turn a toad into a prince. It can wake a princess from eternal slumber. A kiss is art. It’s poetry. It’s candy. It’s life. It’s death. A kiss is the only appropriate response to finally lifting the Stanley Cup or finally returning to earth after a terrifying flight. A kiss inspired one of the all time greatest lines of film dialogue from Crash Davis: I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last for three days. And one of the most annoyingly catchy jingles in the history of advertising: Every Kiss Begins with Kay! (You’re welcome.) A kiss seals the deal. That’s why we end weddings with a kiss, as of to say, “Okay, now it’s official.”
Where does the power of a kiss come from, I wonder? Maybe hormones. Kissing releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that is secreted when breastfeeding. Oxytocin is responsible for the comfort and connection that forms between mother and child and may explain the way kissing bonds us to another. Kissing also releases dopamine, which triggers the same part of your brain that is stimulated by cocaine. Those butterflies in your stomach, they come from epinephrine and norepinephrine, which increase your heartbeat and send oxygenated blood to your brain. Some studies have even shown that kissing can cause a reduction in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so kissing could help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart attacks.
So, kissing is great because of science. But that can’t be it, right? I actually think it would be really sad if science explained the magic of the kiss. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be an accepted system for how to define, collect, classify, and interpret the data of kissing. Sheril Kirshenbaum explores this in her book The Science of Kissing and ultimately suggests that, for the most part, scientists aren’t exactly sure why we kiss. I’m glad they haven’t figured it out. Perhaps the power comes, at least in part, from the mystery.
Surely you remember your first kiss. Do you remember your last kiss? Do you remember it with the same kind of nostalgia? Unlikely. For all the magic and art and poetry that's wrapped up in a kiss, I fear that in most long term relationships, the kiss has become mundane. I know I take for granted the kisses I give and receive at the end of each day. And it’s been way too long since I’ve simply made out with my wife. I need to change that. Do you?
Too many couples come into my office lamenting that the passion is gone from the relationship. That the fire has died. It’s a common story: Life gets hectic. Work is stressful. The kitchen is a mess. Kids. I get it. But I don’t think we have to become victims of that story. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we have to stop kissing. It’s time that we reclaimed the kiss from the domain of parking teenagers and put it back into its rightful place as the official symbol of marriage.
Start simple. John Gottman suggests that couples share a six-second kiss each day. He likes to say, “A six-second kiss is a kiss with potential.” But you don’t necessarily have to attach it to sex. In fact, don’t. Let the kiss speak for itself. I mean, if it leads to sex, great, but don’t make that the goal. Just try connecting with your partner with a long, slow, deep, soft, wet kiss. What if you tried it for two weeks?
In fact, I’m going to go on record: For the next two weeks, I’m going to kiss my wife for at least six seconds each day. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you accept the challenge, and if you’re willing to share, I’d like to hear how it goes for you too. Send me your story at email@example.com by June 13th (a little over 2 weeks from now) and I’ll try to include some of them in an upcoming Relationship Alphabet post.
This is Zach's eleventh posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.
Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we share an article written by Theo Pauline Nestor of Match.com that offers to help you "find out how just a few minutes a day doing little things differently — like saying 'hello,''goodbye' and sharing a kiss — can change the course of your relationship for the better." We hope that you'll find it enlightening and thought provoking! For more insight, get your hands on a copy of Dr. Gottman's latest, long-awaited book, What Makes Love Last?.
6 Seconds to Happy Couplehood!
By Theo Pauline Nestor
These scenarios that come along with a busy lifestyle are familiar to most of us: When your date arrives at your place while you’re in the middle of an important phone call, you gesture for this person to come in and finally get around to greeting each other 10 minutes later, still feeling a bit frazzled from your conversation. Or maybe you just spent a great weekend together, but when it’s time to say goodbye, you realize that you’re running late for an appointment — so you rush out the door in a hurry, barely kissing your date goodbye.
These rushed instances are as understandable as they are commonplace, but they inevitably take a toll on relationships, because these transitional moments often set the tone for both a couple’s time together and their time spent apart. Dr. John Gottman, a leading relationship researcher and the author of What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, asserts that our “rituals of connections are crucial,” because they serve not only to re-establish the connection with our partners, but also to protect our relationships from betrayal. “The parting and reunion [moments] turn out to be really important,” asserts Dr. Gottman. Attention spent on each other in transitional junctures communicates that “you’re important to me, and when you come back at the end of the day, it’s an event. You matter to me.”
How momentary transitions can safeguard your romance from betrayal
Being present for each other and asserting the importance of the relationship during these transitional moments is part of how couples establish what Dr. Gottman refers to as “attunement” — i.e., a deep level of understanding that couples both possess and lovingly express to each other. In his book, What Makes Love Last?, Dr. Gottman asserts that this level of attunement with each other is a way for couples to inoculate themselves against falling down the slippery slope of negative thinking about their relationship that can ultimately lead to betrayal. “One of the other important things we discovered about betrayal was not only about turning away from one another, but it’s also about this negative comparison where one partner is saying in [his/her] mind, ‘Who needs this crap? I can do better,’” Dr. Gottman explains. “And that negative comparison gets people to start detaching from the relationship.”
Six seconds to a better relationship
The “six-second kiss” is one simple and fun activity that Dr. Gottman advocates couples incorporate into their everyday moments of transition. Described by him as “long enough to feel romantic,” the six-second kiss serves as a temporary oasis within a busy day and creates a deliberate break between the on-the-job mentality (i.e., going to or from work) and a couple’s one-on-one time together. In fact, the six-second kiss makes up just a fraction of what Dr. Gottman has dubbed the “magic five hours,” which is the amount of extra time he’s found that the most successful, happiest couples began devoting to their relationships each week after completing his workshops together. Time spent intentionally focusing on their partners during “reunions” and “partings” also comprise an important component of the “magic five hours” that these couples invest into their relationships on a weekly basis.
Reunited, and it feels so good...
We’ve all heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The same could be said for the moment when you’re reunited with your date. Those first few moments set the tone for your time spent together — either positively or negatively. Greeting your sweetheart with affection communicates this person’s importance to you while reminding your partner of the good feelings you share when you’re in each other’s company, and trigger reciprocal feelings of his or her own.
A number of small gestures can be combined in order to ensure that your reunion goes well:
- Make sure to set aside your phone and any other distractions first, and then give your partner your full attention as you exchange greetings.
- Share a six-second kiss.
- Say that you’re happy to see your partner again.
If you’re used to a more casual way of saying “hello” and “goodbye,” these seemingly simple gestures of affection might feel awkward at first, but letting your partner know that you’re happy to see him or her creates an important, positive transition between your time apart and the time you spend together.
In a long-term relationship, Dr. Gottman says that having a “stress-reducing conversation” is a great way to kick off a couple’s reunion time together. “The one thing research has discovered,” says Dr. Gottman, “is that if they take 15 minutes apiece to talk about what’s stressful about the day, and their partner is an ally in listening — without giving advice or problem-solving — that can be very important. You have to have a time when you really have your partner’s ears; it’s a time when you really can connect.”
How to make saying “goodbye” even sweeter
Setting a few minutes aside to properly say “goodbye” to each other can make a dramatic difference in a couple’s thoughts about the relationship during the time they spend apart. So before you zoom off into the world going different directions, take a minute to communicate how much you enjoyed your time together — and maybe touch base about when you’ll be getting together again in the near future. If you don’t have a plan for your next date, just establishing when you’ll be talking to each other next (“I’ll call you tomorrow”) can help a couple maintain their feelings of connection with each other.
You should also make a point of asking what’s ahead for your sweetie so you can provide the right kind of support later on. “One of the most important things to do in parting is to find out what your partner’s day is going to be like,” Dr. Gottman says. “Find out about anything that is important that’s going to happen to your partner that day. If she’s going to have lunch with a friend or he has a critical phone call or important meeting scheduled, know about that and what it means to her or him.”
And yes, before saying goodbye to your partner (for now, anyway), don’t forget to savor that six-second kiss!
You can read the original article here. Have a lovely and loving week.
All for now,