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Nominated by for "Relationship Blog of the Year" 2012 & 2013. The Gottman Relationship Blog provides practical tools and skills to strengthen relationships, all based on 40+ years of research performed by Dr. John Gottman.
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    O is for Opportunity
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC 

    Whenever I work with pre-marital couples, we spend a fair bit of time pondering whatever a marriage actually is. Is it a social contract? A political statement? A business agreement? A holy sacrament? Of course, it’s all of those things and they each have their own implications and consequences. More thematically, we explore whether marriage is a right, a privilege, a gift, a responsibility, a burden - there’s a reason the ball-and-chain metaphor exists. Mostly, we work on exposing the attitudes, biases, and expectations for the relationship. 

    If you’re a newlywed, or about to be, I encourage you to explore each of these ideas even if you don’t read another word of this column. Minimally, you need to acknowledge and talk about the fact that marriage is complicated. That said, if I were to argue for simplicity - which I am - I would say that marriage is, above all, an opportunity

    Dr. Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse is an allusion from book of Revelation - the last book of the bible. There is some ancient wisdom from the first book of the Bible as well. In the book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve are going through their pre-marital counseling, God basically says marriage is when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

    Leaving theology and gender issues aside for the moment, let’s take a look at the wisdom of this definition:

    1. Leave Home: One of the reasons that Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House metaphor is so effective is that it implies a structure that belongs to you and your spouse alone. The only way to build your Sound Relationship House together is to ensure that you’ve created healthy boundaries around your relationship. This starts with mom & dad. Marriage is an opportunity to declare that someone else is taking the role of “the man in your life” (or the woman, of course). Sometimes, it’s tough to “leave” your mother and father, especially if they are good parents, who have loved and supported you throughout your life. But I’ve actually found it’s tougher to “leave” parents who were less than perfect or even harmful.

    Leaving home isn’t just about your parents. It also includes your old boyfriends and girlfriends. Maybe the band you were in during college. Maybe it’s the fact that you usually spend every Saturday with your sister. It could be the actual physical structures that you are living in. Shirley Glass has famously noted that the healthiest relationships are the ones partners keep a window open between each other while erecting walls that protect their privacy from the outside world. Relationships get in trouble when walls and windows reverse and boundaries become messy. Think of your marriage as an opportunity to draw healthy boundaries and build a strong foundation for your very own home. 

    2. Seek Unity: Most of us want to find a compatible partner, someone who also likes chocolate and Ghostbusters and long walks on the beach. Personally, I think compatibility is overrated. What’s required is unity. Unity doesn’t mean you’re the same. It means you’re together. The top level of the Sound Relationship House focuses on creating shared meaning. Don’t underestimate the value of this opportunity. 

    With the confidence that comes from healthy boundaries, you can take creative risks in establishing new rituals. How will you make “The Holidays” uniquely your own? You can get ambitious about setting goals. Where will celebrate your 5th, 10th, and 50th anniversaries? You can get courageous about defining (and re-defining) your roles in the relationship. Who cleans this week? What happens when we switch the bread-winner role?

    Unity means defining together the ideas of “home” and “money” and “family” and “sex” and “autonomy” and even “unity.” This is hard work, because it means having to give up some of your own ideas in order to accept your spouses. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a whole bunch: The hardest lesson I learned during my first year of marriage was how selfish I was. Unity means letting go of your selfishness in order to become a better version of your self. Again, what a wonderful opportunity.

    3. Have Sex: This may seem like a no-brainer, and indeed, you may already be having sex, but I wisdom “becoming one flesh” is a specific invitation to have married sex. I’m not trying to spark a moral debate, but I do think there is something inherently different - and better - about married sex. Even Hollywood has figured this out. Think of all the times you’ve ever seen two people making love on screen. It can be explicit or implied. Probably hundreds, right? Now think of how many of all those hundreds depicted married people having sex with each other. Pretty small percentage, I bet. Hollywood is either implying that married sex isn’t sexy, or that it’s somehow too sacred to sell commercials with.

    The Gottmans have done a beautiful job advocating for married sex that is both sexy and sacred. They argue for “personal sex” by shifting the focus away from intercourse and toward intimacy. Dr. Gottman is a champion for erotic and emotionally connected sex that comes from a strong sense of trust and commitment. Indeed, you should practice the techniques of sex, but think of your marriage as an opportunity to have different - and better - sex by focusing on your long-term friendship and emotional connection. 

    NOTE: Many of my colleagues and friends encouraged (i.e. dared) me to write an “O is for Orgasm” column this week. I would have argued that a focus on achieving orgasm misses the point of married sex. The ability to talk about orgasm in a safe and curious is a much stronger indicator of sexual health for a couple.

    Regardless of how you feel about the Bible, there is some important wisdom about how we are meant to be in relationship with one another. Genesis gives us a glimpse of what a marriage should be. Revelation reminds us of what it shouldn’t.

    But let’s take the Bible out of it and weigh the opportunities available to anyone willing to commit to a long-term relationship. There’s a freedom that comes from leaving home and establishing healthy boundaries. There’s an exhilaration and maturation that comes from seeking unity by creating shared meaning and establishing new patterns. There’s an intimacy that comes from investing in emotional connection and prioritizing personal sex. 

    Every opportunity comes with a cost. In this case, it’s the work of exposing your attitudes, biases, and expectations for your relationship and then leveraging those things toward the construction of your very own Sound Relationship House.

    Happy to bat these ideas around with you, especially if you’re a recently or about to be married and need some help thinking through how to leverage your new opportunity. Feel free to email me at anytime.


    This is Zach's 15th 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 Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    In Monday’s post on The Gottman Relationship Blog, Zach Brittle explained that "O is for Opportunity." Marriage, as he described it, is an opportunity to build your own Sound Relationship House and create shared meaning. While any intimate relationship can become a wellspring of opportunity for inspiration and growth, these same relationships can also feel stifling!

    When we get into “official” romantic relationships, a shift in perceptions often occurs. Others may see us differently, and we may feel personally transformed. This can be a blessing and a curse. The burden of expectations - both internal and external pressures - can make us feel trapped. Forced to behave in certain ways, we are left despairing and mourning (or cursing) our loss of autonomy.

    Today, arguably more than ever, we value our independence. We balk at any perceived threat, highly aware and protective of our rights to be ourselves and follow our dreams. And while we truly deserve to live on our own terms, things can go terribly wrong when we get confused about terminology.

    To avoid confusion, let’s clarify our definitions. 

    Autonomy is the freedom of self-determination. Too often, the overzealous pursuit and protection of personal space (head-space, or our “personal bubbles”) leads somewhere completely different: self-isolation. When we are stressed out, instead of exercising autonomy to achieve actualization or happiness – to become “more ourselves” – we end up in self-imposed alienation. Paradoxically, it is this isolation that poses a real threat. In this position, we truly stand a chance of “losing” ourselves!

    The uncertainty and loneliness we may experience in this state is dangerous for many reasons. It may distract us from both short-term goals and long term projects. It may distance us from ourselves and from our loved ones, and cause us to lose sight of our values and dreams. When the fear of being prevented from pursuing independent self-actualization, happiness, and freedom catches up to us, it often backfires. As many of us know all too well, building walls for the sake of “autonomy” often creates the misery, anxiety, and insecurity we originally feared. This isolation makes daily stressors more difficult to handle. What do we need most in these moments? A friend! A partner! A support network!

    We are social animals. We need community. To achieve long-term happiness and self-actualization, we may need to reconsider our notion of “freedom.” Most of us need to feel “a part of something” – a wolf pack, a tribe, a family, or any other intimate, supportive relationship – in order to feel fulfilled.

    Look forward to a hands-on follow-up in our next posting, your Weekend Homework Assignment!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    PS: The Siegel-Gottman Summit with Dr. Dan Siegel begins tomorrow in Seattle, WA. You can join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #SGSummit in your tweets and Facebook postings. Follow us on Twitter: @GottmanInst.

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    Relationships are vital to our health and happiness. With that said, our relationships with ourselves are no less important than our relationships with others.

    As we discussed on Thursday, autonomy is necessary for personal growth. It’s great to have time and space to ourselves. There are moments in which we all know that ignoring the need to recharge would be a terrible idea!

    Moreover, taking time to do our “own thing” once in a while can actually benefit us and make us appreciate our relationships with our partners more! If we work or play apart for a bit, we have a chance to miss each other and feel extra glad to reunite. (Added bonus: something new to talk about!)

    On the other hand, as we all know, too much space can be destructive. And a sign of underlying problems. Whether space is created out of fear of losing ourselves or each other, out of mistrust or insecurity about our relationships, self-isolation rarely ends well, and the barriers we build to protect ourselves usually end up hurting everyone involved.

    The fear that we can’t provide our partners with all that we “should” is another common source of barrier-building. Rifts are made out of guilt and resentment, which in turn spring forth from misconception. 

    Remember: No one can provide their partner with everything. A single person can’t fulfill another’s every need.

    Rather than distancing ourselves from one another in hard times, acknowledging that we are all human (with natural strengths and limitations) and reaching out to each other in our communities will naturally grow and strengthen relationship intimacy.

    It makes sense that unhappy couples are typically isolated, cut off from friends and family. Their relationships have grown either codependent or overly distant, and when the going gets rough, the echo-chamber in which they have become trapped may exacerbate problems. Detachment and a lack of support from others often limits perspective and feels destabilizing and alienating. 

    Happy couples, “Masters of Relationships,” often have supportive circles of friends who recognize, affirm, and celebrate their bond.

    Escaping from the false dichotomy of independence vs. dependence – and reaching a happy state of interdependence in the context of a larger, supportive community – allows couples to experience growth: to encourage one another to explore and follow personal dreams. 

    To reach this happy realm, couples must build a strong, secure sense of shared trust.

    Today, we’d like to share an activity that may help you build this trust, lending strength and stability to your relationship.

    Though you may have some difficulties forming new patterns in your communication about certain topics, the results will pay off enormously. To begin with, try the following simple changes. You know the drill - these are just examples. Every relationship is unique! Feel free to improvise:

    • When your partner says, “I’m feeling so stressed! I'm going to go on a run,” try this: “Great, I’ll watch the kids! When you’re back, I’ll take my turn?” 
    • When your partner says, “I’d like to go see Mike tonight, he’s been asking me to get drinks with him for a while,” say, “Sure! I’ll hold down the fort, maybe do some of that laundry. Could I see Linda tomorrow?”
    • When your partner asks, “Could we go to that BBQ for Tess’s birthday tomorrow?” take the time and go – the two of you deserve a break. If you’d like, you can add, “That sounds wonderful. Could we work on the taxes later this weekend, though?”

    Try it this weekend!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Ask parents what their favorite part of summer is and you’re likely to hear "having fun with the kids!" Building that connection can be a blast with the sun out and freedom in the air. Today, we’d like to offer you support in this pursuit, the most worthwhile of goals.

    Below, we present a list of activities that can help you take advantage of the free time you have together by identifying opportunities to turn towards. This list is brought to you from the pages of The Relationship Cure. It has two parts: things you can do for your child and things you can do with your child.

    Read over these suggestions and consider those you arrived at on your own in the past week! Are there some you’d like to try in the weeks ahead? Are there some you’d like to make a part of your daily interactions together? 

    Jot 'em down, try 'em out, and then look back over your notes to see how you did! 

    Consider how new efforts to turn toward your child affected your feelings of emotional connection with him or her.

    Things to do for Your Child
    • Pay attention to what’s going on in your child’s day-care center or school. Talk to teachers. Read newsletters. Show interest.
    • Attend your child’s sports activities, performances.
    • Sit down with him or her at mealtimes, including breakfast. Turn off the TV and talk.
    • Pack your child’s lunch. Include healthy treats and a funny note.
    • Take photos of your child.
    • Show affection by touching your child gently and often – cuddle and stroke smaller children. Offer your hand to bigger kids as long as they’ll take it. Make hugs a habit. 
    • Offer choices whenever possible. Within reason, let your child decide what to wear, what to eat, what activities to pursue.
    • Pay attention to your child’s likes and dislikes. If she likes crunchy peanut butter better than creamy, buy crunchy.
    • Take interest in your child’s friends. Ask questions about them. Be kind to them.
    • Show interest in your child’s creative projects. 
    • Express gratitude.
    • Ask your child what she wants to be when she grows up. Listen.
    • Ask your child about his fears. Listen.
    • Apologize when you’re wrong. This teaches kids that it’s okay to make mistakes and admit to them.
    • Monitor activities. Always know where your child is.
    • Keep asking questions about your child’s experiences and thoughts.

    Things to do With Your Child

    • Play games.
    • Go for a walk.
    • Take a nap.
    • Make up stories.
    • Cook a meal or bake a treat.
    • Have a “grug” – a group hug.
    • Share “butterfly kisses” (with your eyelashes) or rub noses.
    • Tickle, wrestle, or horseplay (but be careful with small children).
    • Look at your child’s baby pictures. Tell your child happy or funny stories about her birth and infancy. Let your child know how glad you are that he was born.
    • Read the newspaper, watch TV, or laugh at the funnies together. Talk about them.
    • Read books aloud – even after your child is old enough to read by themselves.
    • Go to their favorite restaurant.
    • Go to a children’s play or a movie. Talk about it.
    • Play catch, shoot baskets, kick a soccer ball around. Practice conditioning.
    • Plan and take a vacation. Make a scrapbook of memories when you get home.
    • Plant a garden and designate one part as theirs.
    • Sing. Play music. Dance.
    • Do craft projects.
    • Play make-believe.
    • Camp out in the backyard, or, on a rainy day, build a pillow fort.
    • Provide homework help when appropriate.
    • Make packages of letters, drawings, and audio/videotapes for out of town friends and relatives.
    • Research the family tree.
    • Do a jigsaw puzzle.
    • Go to the park or a playground. Crawl around on the equipment together.
    • Plan birthday celebrations. Make plans for the holidays.
    • Go to “story hour” at the local library or bookstore.
    • Share an activity like swimming, skiing, hiking, camping, or bowling. 
    • Go to an art fair. Make up stories about the pictures.
    • Make a growth chart and check it often.
    • Do community volunteer work together.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    P is for Problems
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    John Gottman’s research revealed that about ⅔ of relationship problems are unsolvable. One of my favorite questions for couples is whether that statistic is discouraging or encouraging. Think about that for a second. Does the idea that 69% of your issues are not going away bum you out? Or does it give you hope?

    Dr. Gottman calls these perpetual problems. They’re the ones you’ll likely still be fussing about five years from now even though you were fussing about them five years ago. The easiest example from my own marriage is the fact that one of us is an extrovert, lights up a room, and all that. The other is an off-the-charts introvert. We still haven’t figured out how to make the other one go to a party the right way.

    Most couples I know are frustrated by the fact that most of their problems are unsolvable. It’s hard to have the same battles over and over again. My personal bias, however, is that I’m glad to know that we’re normal. My wife and I spent way too much time arguing over the fact that we were having the same fight that we ultimately forgot what we were fighting about in the first place.

    Dr. Gottman has said that the number one thing that couples fight about is nothing. I can vouch for this. This past weekend, my wife and I got into an argument over fruit flies. It was really stupid. Later, when our older daughter (age 11) was explaining the argument to her sister (age 7), she said, “It’s never about the fruit flies.” Indeed. What’s it about then?

    I think it’s about perspective (bonus p-word). If you can accept that many of your problems aren’t going away, then you can focus on what to do about those issues when they come up. As a first step, quit trying to solve the problem. It’s wasted energy. Instead, focus on achieving perspective, empathy, and, ultimately, dialogue.

    Think of the problem as a third thing, trying to distract and disgust you - kind of like fruit flies. That third thing is designed to disrupt the comfort of the home, literally bugging you with the accumulation of small annoyances that become an infestation. In the case of fruit flies, there are a bunch of home remedies. We use a glass of red wine covered in Saran wrap. But what’s required is that you find the nest and remove it. Best if you do that together - with one another..

    That’s what dialogue is. It’s a conversation with one another - rather than at one another - that is designed to reveal the deeper meaning of a particular conflict. Dr. Gottman refers to this as the “dream within conflict.” Whenever the dream or hope or aspiration for the relationship is ignored, problems arise. But when those dreams are revealed and understood and respected, it creates space for the relationship to become more meaningful than the problem. 

    Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “Dream Detective.” Try this exercise: think through some of your perpetual problems. See if you can recognize the patterns within the conversations that you’ve been rehashing over and over without progress. Next, make up a brief - but new - story that may explain your own dream or position within that particular conflict. What hidden meaning are you trying to express? Is it connected to something in your childhood? Is it rooted in anxiety or fear? Does it stem from a previous relationship expectation? Once you’ve crafted your own narrative, try doing the same for your partner. Get curious about their dream or position. See if you can articulate what deeper meaning may be there for them. Try comparing notes after you’ve both done the exercise and see if it doesn’t create new dialogue around an ancient issue.

    This process, called Overcoming Gridlock, is one of the 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. It bears noting that we’ve only addressed perpetual problem solving and that we’re still left with another ⅓ of all problems. These qualify as “solvable problems” and Dr. Gottman recommends, simply, that you solve them. There is, of course, a science and an art to this, but knowing which problems you can solve and which require more patience is a great first step. Read more about solvable vs. perpetual problems here

    I’ll let you guess which one of us is the extrovert and which one is the party-pooper. Suffice to say, we gave up trying to convert one another many years ago. Now we can go out with friends and each settle into our respective roles. We’ve learned to accept and appreciate that we each get something different out of the same environment and that’s okay. By choosing to appreciate our differences - and our dreams - we’ve been able to eliminate the fussing. 

    Head’s Up: My next column, due on Aug 18th, is the letter Q. I've decided that "Q is for Questions." Please send me your relationship questions anytime between now and August 15th. I’d like to dedicate my Q column to whatever is on your mind. I’ll do my best to field all questions, so ask me anything at


    This is Zach's 16th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    The Relationship Between LeBron James and The Cleveland Cavaliers
    By Michael Fulwiler

    "We had five great years together and one terrible night," Gilbert told James, and so started the process of reconciliation on Sunday night in Miami. "I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back."

    Sound familiar? The relationship between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers is not unlike a marriage. Four years after taking “his talents to South Beach” and crushing the collective heart of Cleveland, LeBron is coming home. What would Dr. John Gottman say about the complicated, off-and-on romance between the NBA superstar and NBA franchise? Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will analyze their relationship – through the lens of Gottman research – to explain how to overcome a betrayal and rebuild trust.

    Marriage #1 (2003-2010) 

    According to Dr. Gottman, one of the best predictors of a couple’s future is how they view their past. Let’s start from the beginning. When the Cavaliers selected LeBron James as the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the city of Cleveland had already fallen in love with “The Chosen One” from nearby Akron, Ohio. According to author Ryan Jones, James left high school as “the most hyped basketball player ever.” The relationship between the hometown kid and the Cavaliers flourished as James took the team to the NBA finals in 2006 and won back-to-back MVP awards in 2009-2010. He tossed chalk (below), adorned larger-than-life billboards, and organized regular charity events in the Cleveland-Akron area. He was “King James," Cleveland's homegrown superstar. 

    However, James failed to deliver a championship to the city and faced heavy criticism for his poor shooting and costly turnovers, especially late in games. He became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2010.

    The Betrayal (2010) 

    Everything changed the night of July 8, 2010. On a nationally broadcasted television special dubbed The Decision, Lebron James announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat.” The public breakup was a devastating emotional blow to the city of Cleveland. According to the AP, fans “could not understand why James, Akron born and bred, would embarrass the people who say they loved him most.” Within an hour, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an angry letter on the team’s website to reassure the fanbase. In it, he mocked the "King" and his nicknames, referred to his leaving as a “shocking act of disloyalty” and “cowardly betrayal,” and promised Cleveland would win a championship before James did. Fans burned his number 23 jersey on national television and greeted him with venom in his first game back the following season. It wasn’t pretty. However, James did not retaliate. “I have the utmost respect for this franchise, the utmost respect for these fans,” he told reporters after the game.

    The Other Team (2010-2014)

    James would go on to win an NBA Championship in his second season with the Miami Heat while the Cavaliers went 40-108 in their first two seasons without him. James and Gilbert did not speak. "I'd sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He'd look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look,” Gilbert later told USA Today. James would take Miami to the NBA Finals for four consecutive years, winning back-to-back MVP Awards and NBA Championships in 2012-2013. While the Cavaliers floundered in mediocrity, LeBron James became the most successful basketball player on the planet. 

    After losing the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs earlier this year, James opted out of his contract with the Heat on June 25 and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Rumors began to swirl that the Akron native was considering a return to his hometown. Would he get back together with the team that he had broken up with? If so, how would he be received by the fanbase that he betrayed? 

    Marriage #2 (2014 – current) 

    On July 11, James shocked the sports world by publishing a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated. In it, he revealed his intentions to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now,” he explained. If he had to do it all over again, yes he still would have left, but he would have done things differently. He addressed Gilbert’s letter, the booing of the Cleveland fans, and the burning jerseys. “My emotions were mixed… Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?” King James was coming home.

    In an exclusive interview with USA Today, Gilbert explained his first meeting with James, a scene Mitch Albom described as “every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce.” The two had not spoken in four years. According to Gilbert, “The first thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that's good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.’”

    "On this planet," Gilbert said, "there is no perfection. If you chose to end relationships because of one mistake, you're going to be alone."

    The Future

    Will it be possible for both parties to regain trust in one another? As Dr. Gottman explains in What Makes Love Last?, our system for healing after a betrayal is founded in our 40+ years of scientific research and clinical experience. “The Gottman Trust Revival Method” is separated into three phases.

    Phase 1: Atone
    Rebuilding cannot begin without the betrayer’s expression of remorse, even in the face of profound skepticism. This is the confession. However, confession is not enough. The commitment to honesty must extend into the present. This is the verification. Then, both partners need to grasp why betrayal occurred in their relationship in the first place. This is understanding. The betrayed partner needs a clear explanation of why the deceiver wants back in. If the reason isn’t made clear, the partner will remain wary that the new commitment will be short-lived. It is then that the betrayed partner can begin to forgive, the last step in the atonement phase. 

    LeBron James’ essay in Sports Illustrated addresses all steps of the atonement phase. Why did he leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat? “I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two.” Why does he want back in? “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.” Dan Gilbert has forgiven James. The city of Cleveland should too. 

    Phase 2: Attune
    After the couple emerges from the atonement phase with tentative forgiveness, they come together to build a new relationship. This is attunement. As part of this new commitment to each other, the couple goes public with the “new normal” in their relationship. Getting the word out helps to establish this new relationship as “real” and garners support from the people who are closest to them. It is important that the betrayer refuses “CL – ALT,” which stands for “comparison level for alternatives.” Couples must relearn how to handle conflict so that it doesn’t overwhelm them. For this purpose, we use the Gottman-Rapoport Blueprint and the Aftermath of a Fight Intervention from Gottman Couples Therapy. 

    James and the Cavaliers are currently in the Attune phase. While they are primed to regain trust in one another following the Atone phase, their “new” relationship has not yet begun. There is still work to be done. 

    Phase 3: Attach 
    Following the Attune phase, couples can complete the Gottman Trust Revival Method by expressing fondness and admiration, using rituals of connection, and turning towards one another. This is attachment. The couple builds a “new” shared meaning system so that forgiveness has existential meaning to each partner. If there are remaining gridlocked conflicts, we use the Dreams Within Conflict Intervention from Gottman Couples Therapy. 

    The success of the Attune phase will determine the success of the Attach phase. Once James and the Cavaliers begin their "new" relationship this season, will they be able to create a "new" shared meaning system? Time will tell, but it certainly wouldn't hurt if James brought home an NBA Championship to the city of Cleveland. 

    Albom, Mitch. "Dan Gilbert Tells How He and LeBron James Mended Fences."USA Today Sports. 13 July 2014. 
    Gottman, John M., and Nan Silver. What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. 
    James, LeBron. "I'm Coming Home." 11 July 2014.
    Reynolds, Tim. "Reunion? LeBron James' Relationship with Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert Could Be Homecoming Hurdle."Fox News. 07 July 2014. 
    Wojnarowski, Adrian. "How LeBron James Forgave Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert and Returned to Cleveland."Yahoo Sports. 11 July 2014.

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    In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers*, a highly acclaimed guide to stress (for humans), Dr. Robert Sapolsky speaks about the latest discoveries in the field of stress physiology. From this wise and witty offering, scientists and nonscientists alike can learn the ways in which chronic stress – the twenty first century's black plague – has become one of the leading proximal causes of death, leading to strokes and heart attacks along with a variety of other sub-optimal outcomes, from decreased immunity to insomnia, anxiety, depression, addiction, obesity, heart disease, and serious memory loss. 

    But there's good news too. We can also discover the ways in which certain lucky critters – from lab rats and monkeys to our fellow human beings – have adapted to living marvelously well under pressure and avoided developing these afflictions, even in their old age! An exploration of how these lucky buggers cope can help us learn to take control of stress in our own lives.

    According to Sapolsky, these lucky buggers tend to have the following in common: 

    1. An outlet for frustration
    2. A sense of predictability
    3. A feeling of control
    4. An optimistic outlook 
    5. Social support

    If a tiny sarcastic voice in your head is grumbling, “Oh good, glad we’ve got those all sorted out,” remember this: 

    • Knowing the destination is more than half the battle. The rest is one part perspective, and one part knowing how to get there.
    • Luckily, if you’ve been following the blog, reading Dr. Gottman’s books, or seeing a CGT (Certified Gottman Therapist), you've got some perspective, and already know a lot about how to get there.
    • Sapolsky’s ideas overlap significantly with GMCT (Gottman Method Couples Therapy). Particularly in the realm of stress and conflict mangement. So, dear reader, you and your wisdom are ahead of the curve!

    Relationship problems can be a significant stressor, but our approach to love matters enormously. Believing that “Love is a battlefield,” or, even more dangerously, that “All’s fair in love and war” may not be the best strategy. 

    By approaching our relationships from a different perspective – with a desire to overcome challenges by working together – we may achieve a far more satisfying outcome.

    When we consider the parallels between Dr. Sapolsky’s research and GMCT, this makes a fantastic amont of sense. In GMCT, problems are divided into solvable, perpetual, and gridlocked. Getting a better feel for how our problems fit into these categories can help us enormously, as we can identify those we can solve easily and those we need to approach in a different way. While perpetual problems are clearly predictable, they don’t have to raise our blood pressure – we can use models like GMCT to reach mutual understanding.

    When we truly listen to each other, we hold the key that unlocks potential in conflict discussions. We gain insights that grant us access to each other’s inner worlds,and also activate protective factors against illnesses caused by chronic stress. 

    Your Weekend Homework Assignment:

    This weekend, build emotional attraction through a heart-to-heart, stress-reducing conversation with your partner.

    Actually understanding why we’re having the same arguments over and over can safeguard us from unnecessary stress, providing anenhanced sense of control and making room for a more optimistic outlook.

    From this position, we may begin to see alternate ways to approach perpetual problems in the future. By building Love Maps, we learn about each other’s histories and potential triggers, so that the ways in which our words and actions affect each other become clear. We can predict what will happen. This is especially helpful in overcoming gridlock and stress from within our relationships.

    Finally, the social support we give each other in a heart-to-heart is a true source of vitality – making an impact far beyond our in-the-moment emotional state. Rather than bottling up our frustration until we feel hopeless, helpless, and totally haywire (see: NSO), we can reach out to each other to gain access to those outlets, a feeling of control, and an enduring positive outlook. 

    When we feel truly seen, heard, and understood, we are soothed, lowering each other’s levels of stress hormones and cortisol, working together to weather any storm. 

    In this way, we can live and love, enjoying not only radically improved relationships, but longer, healthier, and happier lives.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    *Why, indeed? As it turns out, stress triggers a fight-or-flight response in both zebras and humans. However, as zebras don’t usually worry about social and psychological stressors (like in-laws, the Middle East, dress sizes, or the stock market), and focus solely on physical stressors (like lions and twigs snapping suspiciously in the distance), they don’t suffer the same chronic activation of stress response we do. Our inability to turn off the stress-response is what gives us our highly evolved ability to be “worried sick.”

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    6 Arguments All Married Couples Have
    By Michael Fulwiler 

    In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lists the 6 most common areas of marital conflict. He explains that, “even in very happy and stable marriages, these issues are perennial.” We will touch on these six hot spots, the task they each represent for a marriage, and offer practical advice for addressing the solvable disagreements they often trigger. 

    If you need to brush up on the difference between solvable and perpetual problems, Zach Brittle wrote about unsolvable problems last week here. Remember that all couples argue, and that’s okay. We grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences. That's how we become more loving people and truly experience the fruits of marriage.

    1. Work Stress


    The Task: Make your marriage a place of peace.
    The Solution: Acknowledge that at the end of a long, stressful day you may need time to yourselves to decompress before interacting with each other. If you bring your work stress home, it will sabotage your marriage. Build time to unwind into your daily schedule. Once you’re both feeling relatively composed, it’s time to come together and talk about each other’s day. Have a stress-reducing conversation.

    2. In-Laws


    The Task:Establish a sense of “we-ness,” or solidarity, between partners.
    The Solution: Side with your spouse. Establish your own family rituals, values, and lifestyle and insist that in-laws respect them. An important part of putting your spouse first and building this sense of solidarity is not to tolerate any contempt toward your spouse from your parents.

    3. Money


    The Task: Balance the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes.
    The Solution: What’s most important in terms of your marriage is that you work as a team on financial issues and that you express your concerns, needs, and dreams to each other before coming up with a plan. You’ll each need to be firm about items that you consider nonnegotiable. Itemize your current expenditures, manage your everyday finances, and plan your financial future. If you’re having trouble, see a financial planner.

    4. Sex


    The Task: Fundamental appreciation and acceptance of each other.
    The Solution: Learn to talk to each other about sex in a way that lets you both feel safe. The goal of sex is to be closer, to have more fun, to feel satisfied, and to feel valued and accepted in this very tender area of your marriage. A major characteristic of couples who have a happy sex life is that they see lovemaking as an expression of intimacy but they don’t take any differences in their needs or desires personally

    5. Housework


    The Task: Create a sense of fairness and teamwork.
    The Solution: The simple truth is that men have to do more housework. Maybe this fact will spark a husband's enthusiasm for domestic chores: Women find a man's willingness to do housework extremely erotic. When the husband does his share to maintain the home, both he and his wife report a more satisfying sex life than in marriages where the wife believes her husband is not doing his share. However, the quantity of housework is not necessarily a determining factor in the housework = sex equation. Two other variables: whether the husband does his chores without being asked, and whether he is flexible in his duties in response to her needs.

    6. A New Baby


    The Task: Expand your sense of "we-ness" to include your children.
    The Solution: In the first year after baby arrives, 67% of wives experience a precipitous plummet in their marital satisfaction. Lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated, juggling mothering with a job, economic stress, and lack of time to oneself, among other things. Why do the other 27% sail through the transition unscathed? What separates these blissful mothers from the rest has everything to do with whether the husband experiences the transformation to parenthood along with his wife or gets left behind. 

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    Marriage Requires Being Intentional 365 Days a Year 
    By Casey and Meygan Caston

    Between our parents and step-parents there are 11 marriages that have ended in divorce due to lying, affairs, addictions, mental illness, or simply just giving up. Because of this, we have a total of 9 siblings, yet only one is fully blood related. The baggage we brought into our marriage was immense. It’s taken us years to work through the trauma and abandonment issues of watching our family break apart, many times over.

    It didn’t take long for problems in our own marriage to set in. They started on our wedding night when we got in a fight and Casey slept on the couch, and everything went down hill from there. Our early years of marriage were horrible because we were both deeply wounded and had no idea how to communicate and respect each other. We both got married to be happy, but no one ever told us it would require so much work.

    It was the pain of watching our own relationship crumble that fueled our desire to learn how to succeed in marriage. We quickly realized it wasn’t just our marriage at risk. It was all around us. Our friends were quitting on their marriages too. Many of them would find their way to our couch, where we would listen to the pain, confusion, and regret of their recent divorce. They thought that leaving was the easy way out – that the grass was greener – but soon realized that it was even worse on the other side.

    That’s when we turned the corner. Deep down inside we wondered, if we continued the way we’re going, would we be sitting on someone else’s couch saying the same thing? It seemed that we weren’t just courting the Four Horsemen. We had built stalls for them in our living room. Things got so ugly in the early years of our marriage that we weren’t sure if either of us were going to make it out alive.

    In our eagerness to learn about marriage principles, we got our hands on Dr. Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. We discovered the wealth of resources offered by his team at The Gottman Institute and found ourselves watching his videos on YouTube together. We thought that we were doomed and destined for divorce, but then we heard Dr. Gottman say something really amazing.

    Conflict is inevitable and it’s a mechanism for learning how to love each other better.

    Those words went straight to our hearts and our minds in a significant way. We discovered that we needed to go back to the roots of our friendship and start using Love Maps to spark conversation and build connection.

    Conflict cannot be managed without a strong friendship in the marriage. Of course we are going to disagree on where that picture should be hung up, or which restaurant we should eat at, but focusing on our friendship has allowed us to use conflict to better understand each other and love more effectively. We became good at asking each other questions, we listened more, and we even began sharing the same goals and dreams for our future together.

    Three years ago, we created Marriage365 as a channel of hope to other struggling couples. Through our daily Facebook and Instagram feed, we provide practical advice to help these couples get back on track. And it’s working. We have gathered almost 40,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 19,000 on Instagram. The positive response is giving us the courage to spend our lives gathering resources for couples that will reach the next generation.

    We are continually faced with the challenges of making our marriage a priority. Some days we win, some days we lose. We discovered that great marriages don’t happen by accident, but require being intentional 365 days a year. We want to see marriages thrive. We want to see marriages last a lifetime. We want to be part of the solution. We’ve enjoyed playing the role as coach and mentor for couples in the early stages of marriage and when they hit the rough patches. The influence of Dr. Gottman’s research runs deep in our work, and it has provided a proven framework for us to give help to couples in need.

    The legacy of the Love Lab lives on in Marriage365 and we are so grateful for that.


    You can learn more about Casey and Meygan Caston at their blog at They live in Southern California with their 2 kids, one with special needs. Like Marriage365 on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

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    Q is for Questions
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    I have to confess, when I opened up my column to your questions, I was really hoping to get a bunch of benign inquiries like: What’s your favorite novel? Where did you honeymoon? Cats or dogs?

    But your questions were not benign. They were filled with pain and longing and betrayal and confusion. I am grieved for you. I am sorry that your relationships are struggling. I’m sad that you’re not enjoying the fruits of intimate, trusting, joyful relationships.

    Peter* laments, “Affection, touch, sex. I want it. She does not... almost never. 1-2x a year at best. No kissing, no touching, I've pretty much given up after years of rejection.” Then he asked, simply, “Why?”

    An almost identical question came from Annie, “My spouse has put me in the Friend Zone - wants to be friends, co-parent, cohabitate, hang out - but without romance, passion, or even lovemaking. We're only 40!” She asks, “What can we do to ‘fall in love’ again?” 

    Why? What can we do? Simple questions. Powerful. Devastating.

    The honest truth is that there aren’t simple answers to these questions. Part of what makes satisfying relationships so rewarding is that they’re hard to create and maintain. And when you lose focus on the relationship, even for a moment, you can slide into habitual patterns of disconnecting pretty easily - even without noticing.

    No couple ever woke up one day and decided to stop being affectionate. They accepted, sometime much earlier in the relationship, that intimacy wasn’t a priority. This is super subtle and can be seen in Dr. Gottman’s theory of bids and turning towards.

    Both Peter and Annie are describing relationships where at least one partner has stopped making bids, likely because the other partner stopped turning toward previous bids. Why? Who knows. That’s part of why therapy is really helpful. What can we do? Start by focusing on bids.

    First focus on turning toward your partner’s bids. Let them know that you’re paying attention to them. That you think they’re interesting. Funny. Attractive. Prioritize intimacy, even if it’s not sex. Become an expert at turning toward the bid. Then re-evaluate the strategy for your own bids for affection and attention. Get really good at holding hands, then hugging, then the six-second kiss.

    The relationship got knocked off-track way back when. It’ll take hard work and patience to get back to where you deserve. But it’s the tortoise’s work, not the hare’s.

    If there was one dominant topic in your questions, it was jealousy and betrayal. Specifically, how to avoid jealousy and recover from betrayal. This issue, just like the intimacy questions above, ultimately boil down to how well a couple can make and respond to bids for affection and attention. When you do that well, you will protect yourself from the perils of infidelity. When you don’t, you sow the seeds for the small betrayals that can lead to the eventual affair. But what about after the affair?

    Sarah wrote about how well she and her husband have been doing in the aftermath of his affair. They’ve both done a great job taking responsibility and re-investing in their friendship. They are talking together and working through conflict and distress more and better than before. Still, they’re having a hard time trusting in the “new norm.” “How long,” she asks, “does it take to create lasting overall confidence and trust?”

    Of course it would be silly to try and offer a precise timeline, but I tend to think it boils down to perspective. The further away you get from the incident, the more it fades into the distance. It’s natural to have some post-traumatic stress in the wake of an affair and to continue to struggle with confidence and security. But at some point, the perspective (and the story) will shift away from the affair and toward the recovery. The Gottmans refer to a process of Atonement, Attunement, Attachment. Trust that process and continue to lean into the new norm. At some level, simply committing makes it so.

    Secure attachment goes a long way toward mitigating jealousy even when infidelity has never been an issue. Justin asks, “How do I lovingly connect to my jealous wife while not giving up who I am and what I enjoy?” I suppose it really depends on “who you are” and “what you enjoy.” Certainly some things are inappropriate. The best way to lovingly connect with your wife is to discover your wife’s dream and honor it. Her jealousy is attached to some portion of her dream that has not been heard or respected. If you want to mitigate betrayal in your relationship, focus on atonement, attunement and attachment.

    The final theme that came up in your questions, and perhaps the most telling, is how important it is for you to be heard. More than a few of you sent me paragraphs about your relationship. I imagine it must have felt good to believe, if only for a moment, that someone was willing to hear your story and offer empathy and insight. Or maybe just the act of writing your story down helped you make sense of it. In any case, I want to encourage you to consider therapy as a means to understand your struggle. A good therapist is infinitely more effective than some guy sitting at a keyboard.

    Cheryl wrote, "My husband is so controlling, at this present moment he hasn't been talking to me for two weeks now. He even moved out of our bedroom and stopped eating my food. The only time he talks to me or things are normal is when I compromise my happiness and do what he wants, and I am tired of living my live through making him happy at the expense of my happiness."

    Ashley said, "My husband and I have been married for 15 years and been experts in the four horseman since we walked down the aisle. We've lived parallel lives for most of our marriage. Lately, we’ve been trying to stop the four horseman cycle, to nurture our fondness and admiration and turn toward each other. It's not working well enough (yet) for me to imagine staying in this marriage much longer."

    Cheryl and Ashley are asking the same questions: Can my marriage be saved? When is enough enough? Are my expectations too high? Help.

    Sometimes, the answer is “No, your marriage cannot be saved. ‘Enough’ was a long time ago. Yes, your expectations are too high.” Most couples are unhappy for an average of six years before they seek help. Even then it could be too late. Dr. Gottman often refers to the “Story of Us.” If your “Story of Us” is fraught with contempt rather than admiration, more “me” than “we,” and more disappointment than satisfaction, it may be time to try telling a different story.

    Dr. Gottman says, “If there is clear compelling evidence that your relationship is already over or unsalvageable, and you want to move on, I believe it’s okay to let it go.” I agree. Even as a relationship therapist, I’m not in the “Stay Married At All Costs” camp. But I’d urge you to get some help before you decide to walk away. A good therapist will help you identify the strengths in the relationship that may simply be hiding in the midst of some present chaos. Minimally, it’ll be a good opportunity to tell your “Story of Us” and get some insight and empathy. Check The Gottman Referral Network to see if there’s a good Gottman trained therapist in your area.

    I can tell you this for sure: you are not alone. I get questions like yours all the time. I hear stories of pain and longing and betrayal and confusion. But I also see couples recover and reclaim the best of themselves and their relationship. Again, it’s the tortoise’s work, not the hare’s.

    By the way, my favorite novel is The Brothers K by David James Duncan. My wife and I honeymooned in Bermuda. And I don’t have the pet gene, so my preference with regard to cats and dogs is “neither.” Thanks for asking.

    *NOTE: The questions and quotes in this column are submitted directly from readers. All names and identifying information have been changed. Some questions have been edited for brevity.


    This is Zach's 17th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    5 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship This Labor Day Weekend
    By Michael Fulwiler

    In the United States, Labor Day weekend is a time for fun, friends, and family. It’s a time for camping trips, barbeques, and the kickoff of the college football season. Celebrated every year on the last weekend in August, it symbolizes the end of summer and the beginning of autumn – whether you’re ready for it or not.

    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we share five ideas for using the upcoming three-day weekend to strengthen your relationship with your partner. 

    Examine Your Rituals 
    Creating informal rituals when you can connect emotionally is critical in a relationship. How did you spend Labor Day weekend as a kid? How did your partner? Do you know?

    Most of us were raised in families in which some rituals were considered important. By making them a part of your life (or coming up with your own new ones together), they become your rituals as well and further your identity as a family. Click here for some great ideas.

    Update Your Love Maps 
    When is the last time you sat down and had a real conversation with your partner? Do you know what stressors they are facing at work? Do you know what their biggest accomplishment has been this month? What are their goals for the next year? Have they changed?

    Set aside time this weekend to update your Love Maps. No cellphones or television allowed. Click here for some questions to get you started, and don’t be afraid to come up with a few of your own.

    Accept Your Partner’s Influence 
    You want to go hiking this weekend, but your partner wants to stay home and make those repairs around the house that you’ve both been putting off. What to do? Why not both? If you have differing opinions of how you want to spend your three-day weekend, then we encourage you to accept each other’s influence. Get that housework done on Saturday so you are free to hike on Monday!

    Accepting influence is extremely important, especially for men. In a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, we found that, even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct. Click here to read more about the importance of accepting influence.

    Express Appreciation 
    Have you told your partner how much you appreciate them lately? If not, use this long weekend as an opportunity to do so. Write down five positive qualities about your partner. For each item, think of an actual incident that illustrates this characteristic. Then share it with them! This is called the “I appreciate…” Exercise and you can read more about it here.

    Expressing appreciation is a great way to build the fondness and admiration system, which is crucial to the long-term happiness of a relationship because it prevents contempt – the most dangerous of The Four Horsemen – from becoming an overwhelming presence in your life. The better in touch you are with your deep-seated positive feelings for each other, the less likely you are to act contemptuous of your partner when you have a difference of opinion.

    Share a Six-Second Kiss 
    You should already be doing this daily, but if you aren’t, use this weekend as an excuse to start. See if you can share a kiss each day this weekend that lasts at least six seconds, then carry it over into next week! 

    Long enough to feel romantic, the six-second kiss serves as a temporary oasis within a busy day and creates a deliberate break between the on-the-job mentality (i.e., going to or from work) and a couple’s one-on-one time together. It releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that is secreted when breastfeeding. Oxytocin is responsible for the comfort and connection that forms between mother and child and may explain the way kissing bonds us to another. A six-second kiss also releases dopamine, which triggers the same part of your brain that is stimulated by cocaine. Those butterflies in your stomach, they come from epinephrine and norepinephrine, which increase your heartbeat and send oxygenated blood to your brain. Some studies have even shown that kissing can cause a reduction in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, so a daily six-second kiss could help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart attacks. Click here to read more about the importance of kissing.

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    R is for Repair
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    Repair is easily my favorite concept in the entire Gottman encyclopedia. Typically, we think of repair in terms of what we have to do to a car or a washing machine or a botched haircut. As in, it’s broken, it needs repair. But in relational terms, repair is less about fixing what is broken and more about getting back on track.

    Masters of relationships repair early and often. And they have lots of strategies for how to repair. Gottman describes a repair attempt as “any statement or action - silly or otherwise - that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” The reason I love the concept so much is because of that word “any.” It leaves a ton of room for creativity. And because every relationship is different, finding the repair strategies that work for you can actually be a unique game that belongs to just the two of you.

    But of course, you have to be in the right frame of mind to play. Whenever our family has an especially long, stressful, tiring day - the kind of day where nothing goes right and we’re all about to tear each others’ heads off - my seven year old will, without fail, ask to “play a family game.” It’s her own attempt at repair I guess, but man those games are tough. And sometimes it’s hard to rally.

    There’s a book I love that was given to me by one of my favorite therapists. (As in, one of my favorite therapists that was actually my therapist.) The book is called Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. You could and should buy and read it, but in case you don’t, I’m going to give you the central thesis now.

    Carse argues that human beings are constantly playing one of two kinds of games, finite and infinite. In a finite game the boundaries are really clear. The rules are predetermined and when a player violates the rule he is penalized. The game has a specific time limit and the object of the game is to win. It’s football. American Ninja Warrior. And the stock market. 

    In an infinite game, there is no time limit and the boundaries are fluid. The rules are made up by the players and can change at any time. The goal is not to win, but instead, to prolong the game. It’s the game of life, or for our purposes, the game of relationships. Carse also suggests that, “if you must play, then you cannot play.” This notion speaks to the value of cooperation, intentionality, and agreement. Players (partners) can’t be forced to conform to unknown or unstated set of rules, but instead must work together to draft rules that ensure the continuation of the game (the relationship).

    Repair is ultimately about rules. More specifically, it’s about making rules together. The Gottman library of interventions include a Repair Checklist. It’s a list of phrases clustered into different categories including I FEEL, SORRY, GET TO YES. The idea is that as conversations escalate, you can turn to the list and identify which phrases will and won’t work. 

    I especially like the category called STOP ACTION which is designed to interrupt the escalation of an argument before one or both partners gets flooded and redirect the conversation. There are a dozen or so phrases to choose from and the “game” is looking at the list together and deciding what might work and what might not. You might decide together, “I really like #3, #6 and #11, I think those will help me calm down. But I do not like #10. If you use that phrase with me it’ll only make it worse.” (It should be noted that “calm down” is not an option on the list of suggestions because “calm down” never works for anyone ever. Don’t use it.) This process of engaging the Repair Checklist is a great example of shaping and prolonging an infinite game by making rules together. 

    But you’re not limited to the list. I have a couple in my practice that met at a Super Bowl party. One of their stop action techniques is to “throw a flag.” They literally have a yellow flag like the ones football officials use and either partner can throw the flag at any time to keep an argument from escalating. The reason that it works is because they agreed to create and follow that rule. 

    No matter what strategies you choose, it is absolutely critical that you master the art of making and receiving repair attempts. In Dr. Gottman’s research, the consistent failure of repair attempts is a sign of an unhappy future. Statistically, a marriage can survive The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but only if partners learn to repair effectively. Without that, you get stuck in a finite game where even when one partner wins, you both end up losing. 

    Playing the infinite game is complicated because creativity is always complicated. But start simple. Remember that a repair attempt is any statement or action - silly or otherwise - that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. So, have fun brainstorming what will work for you. Is it ironic that play is the real work of the relationship? Maybe. But if you relish the game, you can prolong the relationship and ultimately reap the the mutual benefit of increased trust and intimacy. 


    This is Zach's 18th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    As Zach Brittle explained in his “R is for Repair” column on Tuesday, in relational terms, repair is less about fixing what is broken and more about getting back on track. Dr. Gottman refers to repair attempts as “the secret weapon” of emotionally intelligent couples, even though many of these couples aren’t aware that they are doing something so powerful. Are you effectively utilizing repair attempts in your relationship? 

    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we provide a questionnaire to assess the effectiveness of your repair attempts. Take some time this weekend to complete it with your partner. 

    Repair Attempts Questionnaire: 
    Read each statement below and choose T for “true” or F for “false.”

    During our attempts to resolve conflict: 

    1. We are good at taking breaks when we need them. T F
    2.  My partner usually accepts my apologies. T F
    3. I can say that I am wrong. T F
    4. I am pretty good at calming myself down. T F
    5. We can maintain a sense of humor. T F 
    6. When my partner says we should talk to each other in a different way, it usually makes a lot of sense. T F
    7. My attempts to repair our discussions when they get negative are usually effective. T F
    8. We are pretty good listeners even when we have different positions on things. T F
    9. If things get heated, we can usually pull out of it and change things. T F
    10.  My partner is good at soothing me when I get upset. T F
    11.  I feel confident that we can resolve most issues between us. T F
    12.  When I comment on how we could communicate better my spouse listens to me. T F 
    13. Even if things get hard at times I know we can get past our differences. T F
    14. We can be affectionate even when we are disagreeing. T F
    15. Teasing and humor usually work to get my partner over negativity. T F
    16. We can start all over again and improve our discussion when we need to. T F
    17.  When emotions run hot, expressing how upset I feel makes a real difference. T F
    18.  We can discuss even big differences between us. T F
    19. My partner expresses appreciation for nice things I do. T F
    20. If I keep trying to communicate it will eventually work. T F 

    Scoring: Give yourself one point for each “true” answer
    6 or Above: This is an area of strength in your relationship. When conflict discussions are at risk of getting out of hand, you are able to put on the brakes and effectively calm each other down.
    Below 6: Your relationship could stand some improvement in this area. By learning how to repair your interactions when negativity engulfs you, you can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your problem solving and develop a more positive perspective of each other and your relationship.

    What separates stable, emotionally intelligent couples from others is not that their repair attempts are necessarily more skillful or better thought out, but that their repair attempts get through to their partner. Because repair attempts can be difficult to hear if your relationship is engulfed in negativity, the best strategy is to make your attempts more formal and deliberate in order to emphasize them. Talk to your partner this weekend about repair attempts. If you need a place to start, check out the Gottman Repair Checklist here. What works for you? What doesn't? Don't be afraid to get creative.

    Have a great weekend,
    Michael Fulwiler
    TGI Staff

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  • 09/10/14--16:32: The Four Parenting Styles

  • The Four Parenting Styles 
    By Michael Fulwiler

    With school starting up again, we would like to turn our attention to the relationship between parent and child. As Dr. Gottman explains in Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, "good parenting involves emotion." Dating back to the 1990s, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. For parents, this quality of “emotional intelligence” means being aware of your child’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them.

    When it comes to raising children, what parental behaviors make the difference? As a research-psychologist studying parent-child interactions, Dr. Gottman has spent much of the past forty years looking for the answer to this question. Working with research teams at the University of Illinois and the University of Washington, his studies involved lengthy interviews with parents, talking about their marriages, their reactions to their children’s emotional experiences, and their own awareness of the role emotion plays in their lives.

    The results tell a simple, yet compelling story. We have found that most parents fall into one of two broad categories: those who give their children guidance about the world of emotion and those who don’t. We call parents who get involved with their children’s feelings “Emotion Coaches.” 

    We have identified four types of parents and the effects of this parenting style on their children: 

    The Dismissing Parent 
    • Treats child’s feelings as unimportant, trivial 
    • Disengages from or ignores the child’s feelings
    • Wants the child’s negative emotions to disappear quickly
    • Sees the child’s emotions as a demand to fix things
    • Minimizes the child’s feelings, downplaying the events that led to the emotion
    • Does not problem-solve with the child, believes that the passage of time will resolve most problems 

    Effects of this style on children: They learn that their feelings are wrong, inappropriate, not valid. They may learn that there is something inherently wrong with them because of the way they feel. They may have difficulty regulating their own emotions.

    The Disapproving Parent 
    • Displays many of the Dismissing Parent’s behaviors, but in a more negative way 
    • Judges and criticizes the child’s emotional expression
    • Emphasizes conformity to good standards of behavior 
    • Believes negative emotions need to be controlled 
    • Believes emotions make people weak; children must be emotionally tough for survival 
    • Believes negative emotions are unproductive, a waste of time

    Effects of this style on children: Same as the Dissaproving style.

    The Laissez-Faire Parent
    • Freely accepts all emotional expression from the child 
    • Offers little guidance on behavior
    • Does not set limits
    • Believes there is little you can do about negative emotions other than ride them out
    • Does not help child solve problems 
    • Believes that managing negative emotions is a matter of hydraulics, release the emotion and the work is done 

    Effects of this style on children: They don’t learn to regulate their emotions. They have trouble concentrating, forming friendships, and getting along with other children.

    The Emotion Coach
    • Values the child’s negative emotions as an opportunity for intimacy
    • Is aware of and values her or her own emotions
    • Sees the world of negative emotions as an important arena for parenting 
    • Does not poke fun at or make light of the child’s negative feelings
    • Does not say how the child should feel 
    • Uses emotional moments as a time to listen to the child, empathize with soothing words and affection, help the child label the emotion he or she is feeling, offer guidance on regulating emotions, set limits and teach acceptable expression of emotions, and teach problem-solving skills 

    Effects of this style on children: They learn to trust their feelings, regulate their own emotions, and solve problems. They have a high self-esteem, learn well, and get alone well with others. 

    The concept of Emotion Coaching is a simple one that’s rooted in our deepest feelings of love and empathy for our children. Unfortunately, however, Emotion Coaching doesn’t come naturally to all parents. Rather, Emotion Coaching is an art that requires emotional awareness and a specific set of listening and problem-solving behaviors – behaviors Dr. Gottman and his colleagues identified and analyzed in their observation of healthy, well-functioning families. The path to becoming a better parent, like almost every road to personal growth, begins with self-examination. On Friday, we will share an assessment to help you determine what style of parent you are.

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    What Style of Parent are You? 
    By Michael Fulwiler

    As promised on Wednesday, today on The Gottman Relationship Blog we provide a self-assessment to determine your parenting style. Are you a Disapproving parent? A Dismissing parent? An Emotion Coach? 

    This self-assessment written by Dr. Gottman comes from Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. It asks questions about your feelings regarding sadness, fear, and anger – both in yourself and in your children. For each item, please select the choice that best fits how you feel. If you’re not sure, go with the answer that seems the closest. While this test requires you to answer a lot of questions, try to stick with it. The lengthy design ensures that we cover most aspects of each parenting style. 

    1. Children really have very little to be sad about. T F

    2. I think that anger is okay as long as it’s under control. T F

    3. Children acting sad are usually just trying to get adults to feel sorry for them. T F

    4. A child’s anger deserves a time-out. T F

    5. When my child is acting sad, he turns into a real brat. T F

    6. When my child is sad, I am expected to fix the world and make it perfect. T F

    7. I really have no time for sadness in my own life. T F 

    8. Anger is a dangerous state. T F

    9. If you ignore a child’s sadness it tends to go away and take care of itself. T F

    10. Anger usually means aggression. T F

    11. Children often act sad to get their way. T F

    12. I think sadness is okay as long as it’s under control. T F

    13. Sadness is something one has to get over, to ride out, not to dwell on. T F 

    14. I don’t mind dealing with a child’s sadness, as long as it doesn’t last long. T F 

    15. I prefer a happy child to a child who is overly emotional. T F 

    16. When my child is sad, it’s a time to problem-solve. T F

    17. I help my children get over sadness quickly so they can move on to better things. T F 

    18. I don’t see a child’s being sad as any kind of opportunity to teach the child much. T F

    19. I think when kids are sad they have overemphasized the negative in life. T F

    20. When my child is acting angry, she turns into a real brat. T F

    21. I set limits on my child’s anger. T F

    22. When my child acts sad, it’s to get attention. T F

    23. Anger is an emotion worth exploring. T F

    24. A lot of child’s anger comes from the child’s lack of understanding and immaturity. T F

    25. I try to change my child’s angry moods into cheerful ones. T F

    26. You should express the angel you feel. T F

    27. When my child is sad, it’s a chance to get close. T F

    28. Children really have very little to be angry about. T F

    29. When my child is sad, I try to help the child explore what is making him sad. T F

    30. When my child is sad, I show my child that I understand. T F

    31. I want my child to experience sadness. T F 

    32. The important thing is to find out why a child is feeling sad. T F

    33. Childhood is a happy-go-lucky time, not a time for feeling sad or angry. T F

    34. When my child is sad, we sit down to talk over the sadness. T F

    35. When my child is sad, I try to help him figure out why the feeling is there. T F

    36. When my child is angry, it’s an opportunity for getting close. T F

    37. When my child is angry, I take some time to try to experience this feeling with my child. T F

    38. I want my child to experience anger. T F

    39. I think it’s good for kids to feel angry sometimes. T F

    40. The important thing is to find out why the child is feeling angry. T F

    41. When she gets sad, I warn her about not developing a bad character. T F

    42. When my child is sad I’m worried he will develop a negative personality. T F

    43. I’m not really trying to teach my child anything in particular about sadness. T F

    44. If there’s a lesson I have about sadness it’s that it’s okay to express it. T F

    45. I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done to change sadness. T F

    46. There’s not much you can do for a sad child beyond offering him comfort. T F

    47. When my child is sad, I try to let him know that I love him no matter what. T F

    48. When my child is sad, I’m not quite sure what she wants me to do. T F

    49. I’m not really trying to teach my child anything in particular about anger. T F

    50. If there’s a lesson I have about anger it’s that it’s okay to express it. T F

    51. When my child is angry, I try to be understanding of his mood. T F

    52. When my child is angry, I try to let her know that I love her no matter what. T F

    53. When my child is angry, I’m not quite sure what he wants me to do. T F 

    54. My child has a bad temper and I worry about it. T F

    55. I don’t think it is right for a child to show anger. T F

    56. Angry people are out of control. T F

    57. A child’s expressing anger amounts to a temper tantrum. T F

    58. Kids get angry to get their own way. T F

    59. When my child gets angry, I worry about his destructive tendencies. T F

    60. If you let kids get angry, they will think they can get their way all the time. T F

    61. Angry children are being disrespectful. T F 

    62. Kids are pretty funny when they’re angry. T F

    63. Anger tends to cloud my judgment and I do things I regret. T F

    64. When my child is angry, it’s time to solve a problem. T F

    65. When my child gets angry, I think it’s time for a spanking. T F

    66. When my child gets angry, my goal is to get him to stop. T F

    67. I don’t make a big deal of a child’s anger. T F

    68. When my child is angry, I usually don’t take it all that seriously. T F

    69. When I’m angry, I feel like I’m going to explode. T F

    70. Anger accomplishes nothing. T F

    71. Anger is exciting for a child to express. T F

    72. A child’s anger is important. T F

    73. Children have a right to feel angry. T F

    74. When my child is mad, I just find out what is making her mad. T F

    75. It’s important to help the child find out what cause the child’s anger. T F

    76. When my child gets angry with me I think, “I don’t want to hear this.” T F

    77. When my child is angry I think, “If only he could just learn to roll with the punches.” T F

    78. When my child is angry I think, “Why can’t she accept things as they are?” T F

    79. I want my child to get angry, to stand up for himself. T F

    80. I don’t make a big deal out of my child’s sadness. T F

    81. When my child is angry I want to know what she is thinking. T F


    Dismissing: Add up the number of times you said “true” for the following items: 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 28, 33, 43, 62, 66, 67, 68, 76, 77, 78, 80. Divide the total by 25. This is your Dismissing score.

    Disapproving: Add up the number of times you said “true” for the following items: 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 20, 21, 22, 41, 42, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 63, 65, 69, 70. Divide the total by 23. This is your Disapproving score. 

    Laissez-Faire: Add up the number of times you said “true” for the following items: 26, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53. Divide the total by 10. This is your Laissez-Faire score. 

    Emotion Coaching: Add up the number of times you said “true” for the following items: 16, 23, 27, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 51, 64, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 79, 81. Divide the total by 23. This is your Emotion Coaching score.

    Compare your four scores. The higher you scored in any one area, the more you tend toward that style of parenting. Then look back at the bulleted lists from Wednesday’s posting, which summarizes behaviors typical of each parenting style and explain how each style affects children.

    If, after reading about the different styles of parenting, you identify aspects of your relationship with your child that you’d like to change, you’ll find the Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting video program helpful. It offers detailed information and exercises about the five steps that constitute Emotion Coaching.

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    S is for Sex
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    The idea of me writing about sex is kind of comical. My wife will be the first to tell you that I don’t possess any kind of particular expertise. It’s not a criticism. It’s just part of the simple truth that despite seventeenish years of practice, we simply haven’t mastered what Drs. John and Julie Gottman have dubbed The Art and Science of Lovemaking.

    In their Gott Sex? Series, the Gottmans have suggested that the best sex tends to be a result of the strongest friendships. In preparing to write And Baby Makes Three, Dr. John Gottman and his research team interviewed couples about sex and intimacy shortly after they had their first baby. I was fortunate enough to be part of this team which ultimately confirmed the hypothesis that good sex is very much interrelated with intimate trust, friendship, and conversations that create emotional connection.

    This doesn’t seem like earth shattering information, but it also doesn’t necessarily line up with the thousands of contrary messages we are receiving about sex each day. I don’t know about you, but my sex life doesn’t look anything like the stuff I see on HBO or even the commercials during the Seahawks game. I call that “sexy sex” and it’s too simple. Most of the actual sex I’m familiar with is complicated. It’s risky. But, ultimately, it’s more rewarding than anything on TV.

    With apologies to any of you looking for advice about how to have more "sexy sex," here are some thoughts on actual, real life lovemaking.

    Talking about sex is more intimate than having sex.

    Turns out, the most important part of cultivating a healthy sex life is talking about a healthy sex life. Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.

    But have you ever tried talking about your sexual preferences, your fears, your hopes? Have you ever told your partner your sexual story? Do you know your sexual story? Not the story of your triumphs. Rather, the story of how you learned about sex, how you became aware of your sexuality, how you experienced the pain and shame, but also the joy and beauty of sex.

    It’s tough. It’s not typical dinner table conversation, especially if your kids are around. And it’s not something you can check off the list while running errands. I don’t recommend texting or instant messaging about these most intimate details. However, probably the worst time to attempt this kind of conversation is during sex. Talking about sex deserves an intimate time and space. 

    And it should be a priority. The Gottmans recommend creating Love Maps of your partner’s sexuality. If you’re new to this concept, start simple. You don’t have to go straight to questions of technique. Try this one:

    There is an old saying that some partners want sex to feel close, but others only want sex when they already feel close. Does that fit us in any way? Do you think that’s true? Is it true of us? Is that a problem? If so, how can we make that better?

    Do the work of cultivating intimacy in order to increase the quality of your intercourse. That said…

    Intimacy is more important than intercourse.

    We’ve somehow been conditioned to think about sex in terms of quantity and quality of intercourse. At the micro level, we’re primed to think about quantity and quality of orgasm. This emphasis misses the mark in both cases. Sex isn’t about the act. Or rather, sex isn’t only about the act. It is also and primarily about the connection.

    There are seasons of life when capacity and tolerance for sex fluctuates. The mark of a healthy sex life cannot be measured by a number. If it were, then post-partum moms and men with erectile dysfunction (to name just two categories) would be in big trouble. Not to mention the depressed, the distracted, the deployed, etc. Even when sex (or orgasm) is impossible, intimacy is critical. 

    This is where talking about sex comes in handy. But not just that, hugging, holding hands, snuggling, kissing all foster intimacy. So does conflict and resolution. So does growing old together. A commitment to intimacy can yield more frequent and more satisfying sex, but even when it doesn’t, intimacy remains and ultimately trumps intercourse. 

    Impersonal sex is more fun than personal sex.

    Wait. What did he say? I said, impersonal sex is more fun, but only in the way that a roller coaster is more fun than a hot-air balloon ride around the globe. (The latter may not seem like fun to you, but you get my meaning, I’m sure.) Impersonal sex, or, “erotic activity not founded on emotional connection and adoration of the partner” is always more fun. But, only because it doesn’t involve the hard work of intimacy building.

    Much has been said about the perils of pornography, perhaps the most accessible example of impersonal sex. And there are no shortage of arguments against it: It promotes objectification of and violence towards women. It causes changes in the brain that lead to addiction. It’s immoral. It’s illegal. It’s pervasive. Whatever your objection, it seems to me that the biggest problem with pornography is that it has convinced men and women around the globe that sex is easy. That it’s “fun.” 

    By now you know, I don’t think fun is the point. The point - in committed relationships - is sharing both the body and the mind and, I dare say, the soul. That’s not fun. It’s difficult and risky and also better. Personal sex isn’t easy. It’s hard work. Learning how to initiate (and refuse) sex is work. Getting to know your partner’s dreams, preferences, and body is work. Overcoming resistance, fear, and shame is work. Improving your technique is work.

    Personal sex is work. It’s harder. It’s messier. It’s riskier. But it’s better. And couples who are committed to improving their intimate, passionate, romantic, and sexual lives with one another don’t have to settle for fun sex. 

    So, back to the idea of me writing about sex. Believe it or not, it was pretty risky for me. I really wanted to write about Stonewalling, but I know that my ongoing sexual journey requires me to continue to do the work of leaning into intimacy and making personal sex a priority. Sometime this week, my wife will read this and shortly thereafter, I suspect we’ll be having a talk. But I’m ready, and looking forward to reaping the benefits of our hard work together.


    This is Zach's 19th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    Meet Jeremy Cowart, the Most Influential Photographer on the Web
    By Michael Fulwiler 

    Jeremy Cowart is having a good year. Recently named the most influential photographer on the web by Huffington Post, he launched a new social network/community called OKDOTHIS in June and celebrated his 15th wedding anniversary with his wife Shannon in August. We caught up with Jeremy and asked him about his first date with Shannon, the secret to his happy marriage, and his favorite part about being married. Learn more about Jeremy on his website here

    Q. We loved your photos that you shared on your 15-year wedding anniversary, especially the one of you and Shannon on your first date in 1996. What do you remember about that first date, nearly 20 years later? What stands out to you? 

    A. I just remember that I loved being with her. It wasn't a typical teenage love thing. It felt more like a best friend for life kind of thing. Two weeks after that date, I started telling friends and family that I'd marry her. 2 years later, I did. I had good instincts! I also remember noticing how she cared for others and had a big heart for the homeless. She was very different from all the other girls.

    Q. You say that a secret to the success of your marriage has been that you and your wife have "never taken ourselves or life in general too seriously." Can you talk about that? What role has humor played in your marriage? 

    A. Yeah, we have a very funny, goofy marriage. If you've ever seen Anchorman where Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone talk smack back and forth, then you've seen my wife and I talking smack. We do it all the time. And strangely enough, it works in terms of ending conflict. Not all the time but a lot of the time. She can be genuinely mad at me for something and threaten me by saying, "I will hit this eject button and eject you out of the car." I'll respond with, "Oh yeah? I'll eject your face." We basically start one-upping each other and the serious moment changes to us dying laughing. So that's a good example of how we don't take things too seriously. And we're just dead honest with each other. Yesterday, she was telling me that I'm getting a little thick and need to hit the treadmill (laughs). We can have those honest conversations without getting too offended.

    Q. What one piece of advice would you give to a couple getting married tomorrow? This can be something you've learned in your own marriage, or advice that was once given to you. 

    A. Gosh, this is a long list, but I'd say let go of expectations. There's going to be an endless list of faults in your spouse that you didn't see coming. Then another endless list of faults with the spouse’s family (laughs). So, keep your expectations low and let everything be a pleasant surprise. Also, in this day and age, unplug from social media and the internet as often as possible. Don't let your phone time be your marriage. Don't take your phones to dinner. Keep technology out of the bedroom and just get to know each other. My wife and I spend a lot of time on our phones, but we didn't have them 15 years ago obviously and I'm really thankful for that. They can be a massive distraction from each other.

    Q. What has your career as a photographer taught you about how to have a good marriage? 

    A. I'd say it's taught me about trust. My wife has an immense trust in me. Not every wife would allow their husbands to photograph beautiful people and beautiful women for a living, or go on tour for 3 months with Britney Spears. In fact, it would really be hard for most women to allow that of their husbands. But she trusts me. And the funny thing is, that trust only makes me want to further that trust. It's the most attractive thing in the world. Trust is beautiful and jealousy is ugly. It's as simple as that.

    Q. With such a busy schedule, what strategies do you have to make time for your marriage? Do you schedule regular rituals of connection? 

    A. I think it's pretty simple. You just choose family every chance you get. When I fly to an event in another city to speak on Friday, I don't hang out all weekend. I fly back home as soon as I can to spend the rest of the weekend with my wife and kids. I go home at 5:00 every day and take my kids to school in the mornings. I'm just there every chance I can be and I know my wife appreciates that.

    Q. What's your favorite part about being married to your wife? 

    A. It goes back to the friendship I felt on day one. We're still best friends after 18 years of knowing each other. She gets me, I get her. We've never had "the bad year" and never really fought either. As my wife once said, "Our lives are not perfect but they're perfect for us."

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                  Via Matika Wilbur

    Reflections on Doing Gottman Method Couples Therapy with a 
    Native American Population
    By Michael Brown, Certified Gottman Therapist 

    I have often been asked by colleagues and peers: Is Gottman Method Couples Therapy culturally-appropriate for Native Americans? Does it fit the experience and reality of Native American couples? Having done Gottman Method Couples Therapy on the White Mountain Apache Reservation for almost five years, I believe that it is culturally-appropriate and effective with White Mountain Apache clients. In order to demonstrate this, I will first briefly describe the White Mountain Apache Reservation, my professional experience there, and Gottman Method Couples Therapy. I will then give specific examples of why I think that Gottman Method Couples Therapy works well with the White Mountain Apache population and, in the end, I will provide a caveat.

    The White Mountain Apache Tribe

    The White Mountain Apache Reservation is located in east-central Arizona, consisting of 1.67 million acres (over 2,600 square miles). There are approximately 15,000 tribal members living on and off the Reservation. The majority of the population lives in Whiteriver, the seat of the Tribal government. Culturally, there is a clan system and extended families are extremely important and tend to be matrilineal. Like in other parts of Native America, there are very high indices of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, substance abuse (primarily alcohol), suicide attempts and completions, juvenile delinquency, and violent crime.

    My Professional Experience With the White Mountain Apache Tribe

    I have worked with and for the White Mountain Apache Tribe for the past five years: three in suicide prevention and intervention with Apache Behavioral Health Services, and almost two with Rainbow Treatment Center, where I coordinate family-centered substance abuse treatment programs. I came here shortly after earning my Masters of Science in Counseling in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy and obtaining my associate license. I obtained my independent license here and earned my certification as a Certified Gottman Therapist here.

    Between single-couple therapy and multi-couple therapy, I have probably done more than 400 hours of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with White Mountain Apache tribal members. In addition to my job-specific duties in suicide prevention and intervention, I did over 60 hours of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with couples while at Apache Behavioral Health Services. Many of these couples were in acute distress and identified intimate partner conflict as a precipitating factor in their suicidal ideation or attempt. At Rainbow Treatment Center, I helped organize and facilitate the first-ever couples (6-week) day treatment cycle using Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Twice a day we did couples therapy with the group: an hour in the morning on building friendship and intimacy and an hour and a half in the afternoon on managing conflict. I also designed and facilitate a multi-couple outpatient treatment program for substance abuse and domestic violence using Domestic Violence-Focused Couples Therapy (Stith, McCollum, & Rosen, 2007) and Gottman Method Couples Therapy. I also presented on Gottman Method Couples Therapy at the 2012 Rainbow Treatment Center Couples Retreat (as a guest speaker), facilitated Gottman Method Couples Therapy at the 2013 Couples Retreat, and coordinated with Dr. Bob Navarra to launch the maiden voyage of “A Roadmap for the Journey: A Gottman Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery” at the 2014 Couples Retreat.

    Gottman Method Couples Therapy

    Gottman Method Couples Therapy is based on the 40 years of breakthrough research of John Gottman, Ph.D., on marriage and relationships with more than 3000 couples, including one group for more than 20 years. John Gottman’s research has focused on relationship stability and divorce communication and involved the study of emotions, physiology, and communication.

    In the process, John Gottman observed what he came to call the Masters and Disasters of Relationship. He defines Masters of Relationship as two people who stay together, who report high relational satisfaction, and who like and enjoy one another. These relationships are suffused with a much higher percentage of positive interaction, even when discussing a conflict, than a couple in distress (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2013, p. 2).

    Through multi-dimensional, thorough, and extensive research, John Gottman was able to decipher what strengthens relationships; that is, what keeps a relationship stable and vibrant. He learned that couples who stay happily married have everyday interactions with one another that are very positive. Secondly, the couples who stay happily married are far less negative and more gentle in the ways they handle conflict. Through intervention studies, he learned that these were not only the effect of happy relationships, but also the causes (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2013, p. 2).

    The results of John Gottman’s studies form the basis of Gottman Method Couples Therapy and the workshops.

    The basic assumptions of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are as follows:

    1.  Couples therapy is primarily dyadic. In this therapy it is the goal to move the therapeutic context to a dyadic context in which the therapist acts as a coach.
    2.  Couples need to be in emotional states to learn how to cope with and change them. Much of the emotional learning in marital therapy may be state-dependent. This means, unless we allow individuals to become as emotional in therapy as they do at home, they may not have access to important learning we have offered once they leave the therapy session.
    3.  The therapist should not do the soothing. Partners should learn how to self-soothe and even to soothe one another.
    4.  Interventions should seem easy to do. Interventions should not seem costly psychologically or appear foreign to people.
    5.  Marital therapy should be primarily a positive affective experience.
    6.  I [John Gottman] am not idealistic about marriage and it’s potential. The goal is fostering a “good enough marriage.” (Gottman, 1999, pp. 179-185)

    Why I Think That Gottman Method Couples Therapy is a Good Fit

    Based on my experience, I think that Gottman Method Couples Therapy works well with White Mountain Apache clients because of the assumptions behind it, the metaphors used in Gottman Method Couples Therapy are easily accessible and have resonance, and the interventions respond to the particular relational needs and dynamics of White Mountain Apache couples.

    First, in my experience, Gottman Method Couples Therapy fits well when working with White Mountain Apaches because of the assumptions above. The dyadic focus gives the clients the skills that they need to improve their friendship and intimacy and manage conflict on their own. Since most therapy here is very brief and the more concrete the better, the focus on skills and on the dyad is very instrumental. The assumption of state-dependent learning is also very helpful since, in my experience, many of my clients have poor emotion regulation skills. Allowing them to experience emotional states in session and teaching them how to cope with and change them at the same time, helps them to better access their learning while under stress outside the therapeutic context. Helping partners to self-soothe and to soothe one another is critical, since flooding and diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) are very common, in my experience.

    The assumptions that the interventions should be easy to do and that marital therapy should primarily be a positive affective experience are equally important because, in my experience, many clients are afraid of and reluctant to participate in marital or couples therapy. In order for them to stay engaged in and benefit from marital therapy, the interventions need to relatively easy and the affective experience positive. Finally, the goal of fostering a “good enough marriage” is a worthwhile and achievable goal. Expecting a “perfect” marriage would be unrealistic and, very possibly, harmful.

    Second, in my experience, the metaphors of Gottman Method Couples Therapy, particularly the Sound Relationship House and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (I.e. Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling) are easily accessible to and resonate with my White Mountain Apache clients. Everyone understands about building a solid house. My clients easily grasp the Four Horsemen and become quite adept at identifying when they are occurring.

    Third, the interventions of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are very helpful for my White Mountain Apache clients, particularly the Gottman Love Map Exercise, the Aftermath of a Fight Questionnaire, teaching Softened Startup, Self-Soothing, and the Dreams Within Conflict Intervention.

    Many of the couples that I see had a very brief courtship period before “getting together” and that period was often dominated by the mutual abuse of alcohol. As a result, they did not build Love Maps (I.e. a cognitive map of their partner’s inner psychological world, his or her worries, stresses, joys, and dreams). However, if there is just a speck of fondness and admiration between them, Love Maps can still be built. The Love Map Cards provide couples with a structured and enjoyable format for building Love Maps. We have used the Love Map Cards at the annual couples retreat, in the couples day treatment cycle, and in the multi-couple treatment program and it has been a pleasure to see how much our couples enjoy the exercise.

    The Aftermath of a Fight or Regrettable Incident Questionnaire is probably the intervention that I have used most with couples. The purpose of the Aftermath of a Fight Intervention is to help couples process their last fight without entering back into the fight. The couple that I worked the longest with worked primarily on this skill. When they completed therapy, they told me: “We still fight, but not like we used to and we come back together sooner and process the fight on our own.” This is a couple that used to stonewall each other and go their separate ways for days; now they process their fights the same day, usually within a matter of an hour or two. That, in my book, is progress and, for them, is a “good enough marriage.”

    Teaching softened startup is critical for my clients. Startup, the way a topic of disagreement is broached, is critically important in predicting marital outcomes. How a conflict discussion begins usually determines how it ends. If it starts harshly, it will end harshly. If it starts softly, it is more likely to end better. Harsh startup by the female partner is associated with relational or marital instability and divorce or separation (Gottman, 1999, p. 41). Women are consistently more likely to initiate conflict discussions and to use harsh startup. In my experience, startup in the couples that I have worked with is very harsh, so teaching couples how to initiate conflict discussions with softened startup is very helpful and effective for them in terms of managing conflict.

    Teaching clients to soothe themselves and their partner is equally important. I have observed that when emotions and conflict are involved, my clients become quickly flooded and experience diffuse physiological arousal (DPA), which is to say that the body’s general alarm mechanism is activated and individuals experience physiological changes which make it harder to problem solve. Individuals in DPA only hear and see signals of danger; nothing else. They are more likely to attack or be defensive verbally. Empathy and creative thinking fly out the window; along with positive communications skills (Gottman & Schwartz Gottman, 2013, p. 37). With my clients, this usually results in domestic violence, a drinking binge, and/or a partner leaving for days or weeks. Therefore, it is important to teach couples to recognize when they are getting flooded and how to take a break and soothe themselves. A pulse rate above 95 beats per minute is a good indicator that someone is flooded. I once had a client that got up to 140 bpm in session. After doing a relaxation exercise with him, his pulse rate was 55, below the average rate of 60. He now uses the relaxation exercise to soothe himself when he is becoming flooded.

    Finally, the Dreams Within Conflict Intervention is most useful in helping couples move from gridlock to dialogue on perpetual issues. The idea behind the intervention is that most gridlocked, perpetual conflict results from life dreams in conflict and the goal is to help couples dialogue about the conflict without getting back into gridlock. I have found that once couples understand the life dreams behind their partner’s position, there is a great softening that occurs. For example, I worked with one couple that, whenever they would argue, he would try to leave and she would try to retain him, and that is where the domestic violence would often begin. He grew up in a home where he witnessed his father brutally beat his mother and swore that he would not be like his father. Therefore, when he and his wife start to fight, he immediately starts to leave to avoid violence. She grew up in a home where her father abandoned her and her mother frequently and, eventually, all together, so she would try to retain her husband because his wanting to leave triggered her abandonment issues. Once they understood each other’s experience, they were able to soften their approach to each other in conflict and to take a negotiated time out instead of one wanting to leave and the other trying to retain the other.

    One Caveat: The Uninvited-Invited Guest

    There is one caveat or reservation to the effectiveness of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with a Native American population: the uninvited-invited guest of substance abuse (a concept that I will explore in a future essay). Any couples therapy approach with a Native American population has to take in account and address the high rates of substance abuse and the high correlation between substance abuse and intimate partner conflict on most reservations. In truth, most of our couples do okay as long as they are sober, but intimate partner violence on the Reservation almost always occurs in the context of substance abuse. I once asked our first responders what percentage of domestic violence calls involved substance abuse. Unofficially, they told me that substance use is involved in 90 to 95 percent of the domestic violence calls that they receive.

    When people are intoxicated or under the influence of a substance, they cannot use the conflict management skills that they learn in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Sobriety is a pre-condition for the effectiveness of Gottman Method Couples Therapy. However, I believe that sobriety and the relationship can be worked on simultaneously and that the triggers and skills (I.e. stress reduction, managing conflict, creating a sober-supportive environment, etc.) for both overlap.


    Gottman, J.M. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

    Gottman, J., & Schwartz Gottman, J. (2013). The Art & Science of Love: A Weekend Workshop for Couples. Seattle: The Gottman Institute.

    Stith, S.M., McCollum, E.E., & Rosen, K.H. (2007). Domestic Violence Focused Couples Treatment: Multi-Couples Treatment Manual. Falls Church, VA: Virginia Tech.


    This article originally appeared on the Happy Couples Happy Communities blog here. With 10 years of experience working with couples and families in community mental health and substance abuse treatment, Michael's mission is to bring quality, research-based couples workshops to non-profit organizations and communities with high needs.

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    Announcing The Gottman Relationship Checkup
    By Michael Fulwiler

    After years of planning, writing, coding, and troubleshooting, we are excited to announce that The Gottman Relationship Checkup will launch to the general public on Monday, October 6, 2014. Created by Drs. John & Julie Gottman in collaboration with The Gottman Institute, The Gottman Relationship Checkup supports couples and clinicians by providing in-depth, scientific evaluations of a relationship's strengths and challenges.

    Fully HIPPA compliant with 480 questions in 5 unique sections, our assessment not only accurately evaluates a relationship's strengths and challenges, but also provides personalized feedback. Here’s how it works:

    Clinicians must first apply to become a member of The Gottman Relationship Checkup. Once approved, they can invite their couples to complete the questionnaire. Before the couple can start the assessment, each partner must create a personal profile that requires them to have a unique login and password. This password is specific to their information and responses. Neither partner can access the other’s information at any time, and we encourage that they not share their information with each other. 

    When both partners have completed their individual assessments, a notification will be sent to the clinician that the scores, areas of concern in the relationship, and suggested treatment options are available on the clinician's dashboard. This information is not shared with The Gottman Institute. After receiving the scores, the therapist will be able to review the analysis with the couple and discuss any suggested steps for improving their relationship.

    If you are a clinician and have used or are currently using the standard Gottman Assessments, this online tool has been adapted from the paper version and has been revised with the addition of new questionnaires for the online format. The online version provides you, the clinician, with a comprehensive assessment, automatic scoring, and a recommended comprehensive treatment plan for your clients, saving you time and effort while improving accuracy.

    We will continue to share more information about The Gottman Relationship Checkup as it becomes closer to launch on October 6th. Until then, be sure to “Like” The Gottman Institute on Facebook for updates and announcements.

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    T is for Turning 
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    I have this picture in my brain. It’s kind-of a flowchart for conflict. Maybe it’s a Venn diagram. It might just be a napkin scrawl that I’ve not yet drawn. In my mind, it’s a pretty clear pathway from relationship stability through conflict and ultimately to intimacy. I’m going to try and explain it in writing. See if your brain can picture it too. Here it goes.

    We’ve already established that all relationships are going to have Problems. We’ve also explored the concept of Repair, which is the key to addressing the Conflict that arises from your Problems. In my picture, Problems simply exist. A couple can respond to Problems with Conflict or with Dialogue. Dialogue is good. It helps you avoid Gridlock. Conflict is not good, but it’s also not deadly. A couple can respond to Conflict with Escalation or Repair. 

    In the picture, that whole paragraph is to the right of, or maybe it's below, Problems. So far what we’ve got is a notion of how Repair helps return the relationship to stability. I’ve already stated that Repair is my favorite concept in the Gottman lexicon. My second favorite concept is Turning. If Repair is the tool for diffusing Conflict, Turning is the tool for avoiding it. Turning is on the left side of the picture. 

    To understand Turning, you have to first understand Bids. A Bid is any gesture - verbal or nonverbal - for some sort of positive connection with your partner. Bids can be simple or complex and can represent a request for conversation, humor, affection, support, or simply for attention. Most are actually pretty easy to spot and respond to: “How do I look?” “Can you pass the guacamole?” “Will you help me change the bedspread?” Other bids are more complicated: “Want to go to yoga with me?” “Let’s learn how to play the guitar.” “Do you feel like fooling around?” 

    No matter the nature of the Bid, it is critical to learn to recognize and Turn Toward your partner. Dr. Gottman’s research revealed that Masters of relationships turn toward their spouses approximately 20x more than couples in distress. In a newlywed study, newlyweds who were still married six years after their wedding had turned towards each other 86% of the time; while those who were divorced within six years only turned toward each other 33% of the time.

    Turning Towards is clearly best, but it can’t be assumed. The picture of Turning is fraught with its own complexities. In addition to Turning Towards, partners can Turn Away or Turn Against. Both are equally damaging to the relationship. Turning Away generally ignores the Bid. It can be a literal Turning Away, by rolling over in the bed perhaps, or symbolica, by disappearing into the newspaper or, more likely, the nearest screen. Turning Against is much more violent. We can turn against by mocking the Bid or punishing the Bidder. “What do you want? Can’t you see I’m just trying to watch the game! Ugh!” Both are equally damaging. The difference is that Turning Against leads into Conflict. Turning Away leads to Disengagement

    So get good at Turning Towards. It takes practice, but the good news is the research shows that Turning Towards leads to more Turning Towards. It’s a positive feedback cycle. And practically, there’s really no difference between Turning Towards and Enthusiastically Turning Towards. That means, you don’t have to say, “Yeah sure! You betcha! You look amazing! I’d love to pass the guacamole! Let’s get busy with the sexytime!” It’s simply means you have to be attuned to your partners Bids and respond with a kind awareness.

    I have to confess, I’m not that great at Turning Towards. Or at least I didn’t use to be until I started practicing. For me, I started by just hearing the sound of my wife’s voice. Not listening, just hearing. I’d hear the sounds and then realize I needed to pay attention. I’d literally take a moment or two remember the sounds I heard and then reassemble them in my brain so that I could actually understand them. Then, I’d formulate a response, any response, that indicated that I was interested in loving my wife.

    You’ve learned by now that my brain works in odd ways, but the point is that it works. Feel free to start anywhere. Again, you don’t have to have a complete strategy mapped out. Turning Toward fuels Turning Towards and keeps you on the left side of the picture. When you get good at Turning, you’ll spend a lot more time in the realm of stability and intimacy. To be sure, sometimes you have to go through Conflict to get there, but you can save yourself a lot of grief by building up the kind of positive sentiment that leads to relationship satisfaction. 

    I’d love to hear about your experiences with and strategies for Bids and Turning. And I’d be curious to hear your ideas about how to bring clarity to the lifecycle of relationship conflict and repair. Bonus points to anyone who emails me a coherent drawing of the picture in my brain. As always, you can reach me at or on Twitter at @KZBrittle.


    This is Zach's 20th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    Weekend Homework Assignment: Turning Towards
    By Michael Fulwiler 

    On Tuesday, Zach Brittle wrote about Turning Towards and asked readers to send him a picture of the "flowchart for conflict" through bids and turning that he describes in "T is for Turning." This is what we think it may look like:

    He received many excellent (and creative) submissions from readers, and has selected his two favorites to share with you: 

    via Erin M. 

    via Melanie J.

    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue the discussion of Turning Toward by providing an exercise written by Dr. Gottman for what to do when your partner doesn’t Turn Toward you. 

    If one of you is feeling rejected by the other lately, or overwhelmed by your partner’s need for closeness, you should both take some time this weekend to review the exercise below and then share your answers. There is no answer key for these questions – they are merely a point of departure for discussions with your partner. The bottom line of this approach is that there isn’t one reality when a couple misses each other in little ways. There are two equally legitimate perspectives. Remember: couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice. Once you understand and acknowledge this, you’ll find that reconnecting just comes naturally. 

    During this week I felt:

    1. Defensive.                        A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    2. Hurt.                                 A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    3. Unappreciated.               A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    4. Unattractive.
                       A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    5. Sad.
                                       A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    6. Lonely.                             A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    7. Criticized. 
                           A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    8. Worried. 
                             A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    9. Misunderstood.
                  A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    10. Like leaving. 
                     A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 

    What triggered these feelings?

    1. I felt excluded.                           A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
    2. I felt that my partner               A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
        was not attracted to me. 
    3. I was not important                 A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
        to my partner.
    4. I felt no affection
                          A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 
        toward my partner.
    5. I definitely felt
                               A Great Deal    Definitely    A Little    Not at all 

    Now that you know what triggered this episode, it’s time to see whether your emotional reaction is rooted in your past. Were there any connections there between earlier traumas or behavior and the current situation? Use the following list to facilitate this search for links between the past and present.

    These recent feelings about my relationship come from: 

    • The way I was treated in my family growing up
    • A previous relationship
    • Past injuries, hard times, or traumas I’ve suffered
    • My basic fears and insecurities
    • Things and events I have not yet resolved or put aside
    • Unrealized hopes I have
    • Ways other people treated me in the past
    • Things I have always thought about myself
    • Old “nightmares” or “catastrophes” I have worried about

    After you’ve discussed each other’s answers above, you will come to see that many of your differences are not really matter of “fact.” We are all complicated creatures whose actions and reactions are governed by a wide array of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories. 

    As you work through this exercise, you’ll become more adept at turning toward each other regularly. When you honor and respect each other, you’re able to appreciate each other’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. 

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    The 6 Things that Predict Divorce
    By Michael Fulwiler 

    The first step toward improving or enhancing your marriage is to understand what happens when relationships fail. This has been well documented by Dr. John Gottman’s extensive research into couples that were not able to save their marriages. Learning about the failures can prevent your relationship from making the same mistakes – or rescue it if it already has.

    In The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lists the 6 things that predict divorce. His ability to predict divorce is based in part on his analysis of the 130 newlywed couples who were observed at his “Love Lab” apartment at the University of Washington. Among other things, he asked these couples to spend fifteen minutes in the lab trying to resolve an ongoing disagreement they were having while he videotaped them. As they spoke, sensors attached to their bodies gauged their stress levels based on various measurements of their circulatory system. This is what he found.

    1.  Harsh Startup
    The most obvious indicator that a conflict discussion (and marriage) is not going to go well is the way it begins. When a discussion leads off with criticism and/or sarcasm (a form on contempt), it has begun with a “harsh startup.” The research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Statistics tell the story: 96% of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.

    2. The Four Horsemen
    Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that we call them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Usually these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling. Read more about The Four Horsemen and their antidotes here.

    3. Flooding 
    Flooding means that your partner’s negativity – whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness – is so overwhelming, and so sudden, that it leaves you shell-shocked. A marriage’s meltdown can be predicted, then, by habitual harsh startup and frequent flooding brought on by the relentless presence of the four horsemen during disagreements. Although each of these factors alone can predict a divorce, they usually coexist in an unhappy marriage.

    4. Body Language 
    When Dr. Gottman monitored couples for bodily changes during a conflict discussion, he could see just how physically distressing flooding was. One of the most apparent of these physical reactions is that the heart speeds up – pounding away at more than 100 beats per minute – even as high as 165. Hormonal changes occur, too, including the secretion of adrenaline. Blood pressure also mounts. The physical sensations of feeling flooded make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.

    5. Failed Repair Attempts 
    It takes time for the four horsemen and flooding that comes in their wake to overrun a marriage. And yet, divorce can so often be predicted by listening to a single conversation. How can this be? The answer is that by analyzing any disagreement a couple has, you get a good sense of the pattern they tend to follow. A crucial part of that pattern is whether their repair attempts succeed or fail. Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to deescalate the tension during a discussion. The failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future. Read more about repair attempts here.

    6. Bad Memories
    When Dr. Gottman interviews couples, he asks them about the history of their relationship. In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. Conduct your own Oral History Interview here

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    U is for Understanding
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    There are about a half-dozen primary sound bites that frame Gottman Method Couples Therapy. One is Small Things Often. Small Things Often is the idea that it’s the small positive things done often that make the difference in relationships that thrive. Small things - a wink, a compliment, a car wash - add up and create a surplus of good-will and affection that make it easy to ignore some of the very many mundane trials that couples face every day. Small things often can create big changes over time.

    Another soundbite is Process Is Everything. This means that how you talk through those very many mundane trials is what matters. Your ability to treat one another with kindness and respect is more important than your need to solve the problem. Couples who process well know how to repair and reflect. They know that it’s not what they say, but the way they say it that matters. They know that all of their feelings and emotions are allowed, but that some of the ways they express those feelings and emotions are not. Process is everything means the relationship is more important than the issue. 

    A third soundbite, and one of my favorites, is Understanding Must Precede Advice. This, of course, is ancient wisdom that could have come from Buddha or Gandhi. More recently, it’s entered popular consciousness in the form of Steven Covey’s 5th Habit for Highly Effective People:“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Even more recently, Jason Headley and the guy who invented the internet have brought us this video.

    Understanding Must Precede Advice is a difficult premise to uphold. In part, it’s because we want so desperately to be understood. It’s the way we’re wired. Human beings have been trying to express themselves since the beginning of time. I recently read about a sculpture of two reindeers carved into a mammoth tusk. The carving is nearly 13,000 years old and is part of the collection at the British Museum. What’s fascinating about the sculpture is that it is one of the earliest known expressions of art and historians suggest that the capacity - and indeed the drive for art - is evidence that humans have an innate desire to make their inner world known. The impulse to be understood is deeply ingrained. And it’s hard to suppress what is, essentially, our humanity.

    The second reason that Understanding Must Precede Advice is so hard is that it’s so easy, and comforting, to give advice. Especially for men. “It’s Not About the Nail” is funny because it’s true. As a man, I love solving problems. And, if I’m honest, I’d rather solve your problems than my own. Because if I can fix you, then I can feel good about myself without having to look at my own stuff. (SIde note: Whether you’re a man or a woman, this is an especially present challenge for a mental health therapist. But I am convinced that we serve our clients better when we avoid the temptation to give advice and instead offer understanding.) I’m actually convinced that’s true no matter what role you play. But again, it’s hard, so how do you avoid the trap?

    Think of a cue ball. You can probably imagine the heft, texture, and color in your hand pretty simply. Not much to consider, amiright? I once read, however, relative to the surface of the earth, the ridges and valleys on a cue ball were higher than the highest mountains and deeper than the deepest oceans on our plant. I think that’s kind of wild. Now imagine a conversation (or a conflict) where the topic was a cue ball being tossed back and forth. All too often, we fail to consider what is actually being said. In part because we think we already know. That cue ball isn’t really all that interesting if you’re not paying attention. It’s certainly not as interesting as the thing I want to say, so I’m going to toss that ball right back. 

    But consider if that cue ball was a globe. Go ahead and imagine a regular desktop globe and imagine the conversation involves tossing it back and forth. Have you ever noticed how much bigger the Pacific Ocean is than the Atlantic? Do you know close Alaska and Russia are? How far do the Rocky Mountains run north to south? What’s the quickest way to fly to from Kansas City to Greenland? How far north is Rome compared to Miami? Which is bigger, Germany or Chile?

    You have to look. You have to consider. You have to take that globe that’s been tossed at you and roll it around. Look at it from different angles. You have to marvel that the cue ball you had before is actually more textured than the detailed map you’re holding in your hand. That means entertaining the possibility than you might not have complete clarity about the situation, the conversation, the complication.

    Understanding requires looking, considering, examining, comparing and contrasting. It requires more curiosity than certainty. And more safety than solution. Ideally, you’ve done a good job with Small Things Often and Process is Everything. Then you can confidently do Understanding Must Precede Advice. The first step is to set aside the impulse express yourself and your temptation to solve. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a much better chance of discovering what that cue ball, or globe, or conversation or conflict is really all about. Because most likely, it’s not about the nail.

    Special Note I Promised To Include: 
    My daughter and I took a walk the other day when, during our conversation about “understanding,” it started to rain. Being from Seattle, I take a special sort of pride in not owning an umbrella. Being 11 years old, my daughter takes a special sort of pride in being fancy. She had an umbrella and was serious about using it. I refused, for whatever 41 year old reason I could conjure, to take shelter with her when she said, “You know dad, if you were standing under my umbrella, you wouldn’t be so wet and miserable. Understanding protects you from the storm.” Linguistically, it’s a stretch, but I think the insight is pretty sound. Sometimes 11 trumps 41 when it comes to wisdom.


    This is Zach's 21th posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.

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    5 Strategies for Being a Better Parent
    By Michael Fulwiler

    In How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child, Dr. John Gottman explains the five steps of Emotion Coaching, which you can read about here. He also provides a list of strategies that may prove helpful when – no matter what you say or do – you can’t seem to get your message across to your child. They are based on what Dr. Gottman and his colleagues have learned through parent groups, clinical work, and observational studies. 

    1. Ignore Your “Parental Agenda”
    Although emotional moments can be a great opportunity for empathy, bonding, and coaching, they can also present a real challenge for parents who have what Dr. Gottman calls a “parental agenda.” That is, a goal based on a particular problem the parent has identified as interfering with the child’s best interests.

    We applaud mothers and fathers who share their values with their children. Dr. Gottman believes such teaching is an extremely important part of parenting. Parents need to be aware, however, that unless parental agendas are communicated sensitively, they can get in the way of a close parent-child relationship. For one, the parental agenda prevents parents from listening empathetically to their children. Avoid negative labeling by steering clear of global, enduring critiques of your child’s personality traits. When correcting kids, focus instead on a specific event that happened. 

    2. Empower Your Child by Giving Choices, Respecting Wishes
    Children need practice weighing their options and finding solutions. They need to see what happens when they make choices based on their family’s value system, and what happens when they choose to ignore family standards. Such lessons are sometimes painful, but with Emotion Coaching, they can also be powerful opportunities for parents to offer guidance. 

    The earlier a child learns to express preferences and make wise choices, the better. In addition to a sense of responsibility, giving children choices helps them to build self-esteem. The next time your child makes a small request – no matter how silly or trivial it may seem to you at the time – try not to perceive it as a battle of wills. The results may benefit your child, who uses such interactions to develop a sense of self. 

    3. Share in Your Child’s Dreams and Fantasies
    This technique is a great way to get on your child’s emotional level, making empathy and understanding easier. It’s particularly helpful when children express desires that are beyond the realm of possibility. 

    Remember: All wishes and emotions are acceptable. All behaviors are not. Whatever your child’s dreams are, the important thing is that they know you have heard them and that you think their desires are okay. 

    4. Read Children’s Literature Together
    From infancy through adolescence, children’s books can be a great way for parents and kids to learn about emotions. Stories can help children build a vocabulary for talking about feelings, and illustrate the different ways people handle their anger, fear, and sadness. 

    Age-appropriate books can provide a way for parents to talk about subjects they may find difficult to address. TV programs and movies can also be a fuel for family discussions, but Dr. Gottman recommends books because the reader and listener can stop at any point to discuss what’s happening in the story. Reading aloud also gives children a better sense that the family is participating in the storytelling, and so they may feel a greater investment in the narrative. 

    5. Don’t Try to Impose Your Solution on Your Child’s Problems
    One of the quickest ways to sabotage Emotion Coaching is to tell a child who’s sad or angry how you would solve the problem at hand. To understand why, just think about the way this dynamic commonly occurs in marriage. Zach Brittle wrote about Understanding Must Precede Advice here.

    Parents may feel frustrated with their child’s unwillingness to take unsolicited advice, especially considering the relative amount of wisdom and life experience parents have to share with their kids. But that’s not the way children learn. To propose solutions before you empathize with children is like trying to build the frame of a house before you lay a firm foundation.

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    V is for Violence
    By Zach Brittle, LMHC

    In case you missed it, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m not really sure how you could have missed it, however. Presumably you have access to the internet which has lately been saturated with messages like this and this and this. If you’re a sports fan (like me) you’ve been attuned to stories of Ray Rice and Slava Voynov and Hope Solo. If you’re a therapist, you’ve seen it in your office more often than you’d care to admit, and not just in October. Even if you’re not paying attention, you must know that domestic violence awareness isn’t important simply because the media says so.

    It’s a tough topic. Not for the faint of heart. And I fear that I won’t be able to bring the proper gravitas to the stories of the one in three American women who are abused each year. In the time it takes me to write this sentence, another woman will be assaulted or beaten in the US. Just typing those words makes me feel powerless, but not nearly as powerless as the 1.3 million women who will be assaulted by a partner in 2014. 

    The observant reader will note that I haven’t even scratched the surface with regard to violence perpetrated against women and children worldwide. You might also be inclined to remind me that 85% of adult domestic violence victims are women. I could, and maybe I should should, dedicate 15% of my word count to the plight of abused men. But it’s not really the point, is it? The point is that these statistics - these stories - are tragic. And perhaps we’re not as powerless as we think.

    As a therapist, I find the question of how to assess violence a tricky one. Research suggests that 50% of couples seeking therapy have experienced violence in their relationship, whether they are telling you or not. In some cases, when there’s violence in the relationship, therapy can do more harm than good. In any case, it is important to distinguish between violence and battery:

    Battery is a form of abuse where the primary aggressor employs violence ranging from pushing to relationship rape, to homicide, to enhance the aggressor’s control over their partner, leading the partner to modify their behaviors in daily life. It is meant to instill fear and intimidation.
    - Ann Ganley

    When battery is present, couples therapy is inappropriate.
    Identify and provide appropriate referrals for your client(s). Battery is evidence of what Dr. Gottman calls
    Characterological Violence, where one partner clearly demonstrates controlling and dominating behavior. In this case, refer to a treatment center, hotline, shelter, specialist, or the police. If you suspect battery is present but one or both partners are denying it, refer. If you’re not sure, refer. It’s irresponsible, unethical, and likely even illegal for you to begin couples therapy when Characterological Violence is present.

    But what about when violence is more subtle, what Dr. Gottman call Situational Violence? Situational violence occurs most often with couples who lack conflict resolution skills. Generally both partners feel remorse, understand the impact, and internalize the blame. In this case, treatment for the couple prioritizes conflict management, with an emphasis on flooding and repair. The couple must also learn to recognize and reign in the Four Horsemen so that conflict does not escalate. Eventually the therapist should help the couple replace toxic conflict patterns with a deeper sense of friendship and shared meaning. I have intentionally not gone into detail here because my goal is not to train therapists as much as to raise awareness. Also, therapists aren’t necessarily my audience just now. If you are a therapist and do want to talk about this, send me an email at

    Many of you reading this are wondering what to do about your own relationship. Wondering if there’s hope or help. There is. No doubt your community has resources available to you. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You may be wondering if you’re experiencing Characterological or Situational Violence. If you’re not sure, I suspect it’s more severe. It may not make a difference and it may not matter. Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault. Seek help. 

    If you’re certain that you and your partner are simply bad at conflict, then get better at it. Remember that you are adults. You have a responsibility to behave like adults. When conflict escalates in your relationship:

    • Self-Soothe When Flooded: This is the first step to conflict regulation. Check your pulse. Is it racing, like 95 beats per minute or higher? If so, take a break. Try 10-15 deep breaths. Go for a walk. You simply cannot engage your partner in a meaningful way when you are flooded. Give yourself time to calm down.

    • Identify your Common Enemy: Situational Violence occurs when partners identify one another as the enemy. This is a bad strategy. You need to define your common enemy. In this case, it could be the violence itself. When negativity rises up, remember, you have a response-ability to deny it access to your relationship. By identifying a common enemy, you can become more attuned and attached to one another. Fight with, not against, each other.

    • Practice Repair: Repair, any statement or action - silly or otherwise - that prevents negativity from escalating out of control, is an advanced skill for couples. But skills can be learned. You’ve heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect.” I actually disagree. Practice makes permanent. If you practice poor conflict management, it’ll become permanent. Practicing repair shifts the balance away from the conflict and toward the couple. Get creative.

    Whether you are a therapist or a client. A victim or an abuser. A running back or a goalkeeper. No matter who you are, you can do something about domestic violence. It’s a solvable problem. It begins with awareness - thanks October - but it requires attention and action. Pay attention. Act. Ask for help. Respond. Help.

    You are not powerless.


    This is Zach's 22nd posting of his Relationship Alphabet column on The Gottman Relationship Blog. If you missed a posting or are reading for the first time, you can catch up on his column here. Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at Follow Zach on Twitter @kzbrittle.