Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Committing to Friendship & Family

Happy husband and wife, each with a child on their shoulders, playing outside on a sunny day.
        In today’s post, we want to continue this week’s theme of commitment by discussing the importance of committing to your friendship with your partner. When you really break it down, better friends make better lovers. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of nurturing your friendship in maintaining a lasting and fulfilling sexlife, especially after the birth of your first child. 

        We know that sex, romance, intimacy, close friendship and emotional connection are all of the same fabric. We know, from a study by our late friend Bernie Zilbergeld, that couples who have a satisfying sex life do two things:
  1. They stay good friends.
  2. They make sex a priority. 
        We know from our studies that we conducted on partners who were expecting that babies have a big and very negative effect on intimacy, passion, courtship, and sex. However, there were significant differences between the parent couples who continued to have a great sex life compared to those whose sex life wasn’t good enough. 

        The great sex life couples stayed good friends, and made sex a priority, just like Bernie discovered. However, they also were very flexible. They had a good way of asking for sex, a good way of saying “no,” and they were able to talk to one another about sex. That ability to talk to one another about sex is very important. In the couples’ area it’s probably the most reliable finding of all about what makes for great sex. 

Husband, wife and baby sleeping peacefully.

        In our own studies, even three years after the baby was born, men wanted sex (meaning intercourse) on average about 3 times a week, whereas women wanted sex on average about once every two weeks. On average, men and women differed by a factor of six. That meant that the typical young couple with babies had a problem they had to deal with: horny guys whose libido never changed at all as they became fathers, paired with women whose libido was greatly reduced. Of course, this is a special population. 

        For many couples both people were sleep deprived, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the transition to parenthood. Fun had come here to die. Life was an infinite To-Do list. Women in particular did not feel very attractive or seductive. They were businesslike, determined, efficient, and constantly on edge.

        Compared to other couples, great sex couples were very varied in what they did sexually. Since sex was a priority, the women often tended to go along with their men’s requests and do something sexual even when they weren’t in the mood. Not that they didn’t say no. They did. But they also had quickies, as well as occasional gourmet sex that was more like making love than a physical release. They were accepting of masturbation, and these women gave their men hand jobs as well as blow jobs sometimes even when they weren’t in the mood for intercourse but not too tired to even think of sex. They were often “convince-able,” meaning that they said “okay, let’s cuddle, embrace, kiss and see where this goes.” 

        Also, both men and women did a very interesting thing. They communicated (occasionally) that their partner was very attractive to them, handsome or beautiful, and at times irresistibly sexy. We were surprised to find that men who were having great sex had been communicating to their pregnant women that they thought that they were incredibly beautiful when they were pregnant. Our “pregnancy oral history interview” in the last trimester had revealed that the men who found their pregnant wives beautiful and sexy had great sex and romance during the pregnancy and great sex later. Clearly, these were emotionally-intelligent men. 

         The other finding that was very important in our studies was that the parents who had great sex lives were nurturing their friendships. They were staying good friends, specifically by staying emotionally connected. How were they doing that? What they were doing was very interesting. As scientists and workaday clinicians, we have to be very precise about what “nurturing their friendships” means:
  • They were talking to one another. They were having interesting and very personal intimate conversations, taking one another’s emotional temperature by asking questions. These questions were open-ended questions, like, “How are you doing, honey? How is life treating you? Talk to me.” Of course, a lot of their conversation tended to be about the baby. They were changing as people since they had become parents, and there was a lot to talk about. As a result they stayed emotionally connected.
  • They noticed when their partner needed something without having to be asked, and they stepped up to the plate to meet these partner needs, even if it was at their own expense. In other words, they became a team, and they sacrificed for the relationship. They were in fact each moving dramatically from a “me” to a “we.”
  • They allowed themselves to become very dependent on the family for their happiness. The family became the place they went to for getting their needs met, for fun, playfulness, adventures, sex, conversation, cuddling, socializing, and so on.
  • They were building a culture of appreciation of one another as parents, and as partners. Their habits of mind were very positive rather than critical. They seemed to search their world together for things to appreciate and admire about one another. They were building an emotional bank account in the relationship.
  • They repaired emotional injuries quickly when they hurt one another’s feelings.
  • Probably the most important factor was that they were both very involved with the baby. These fathers were not excluded, they were welcomed by their women and by the in-laws to be an active part of the baby’s life. Men learned that ordinary moments like soothing, feeding, bathing, or diapering a baby are moments of potentially great fun and intimacy. As a result, both partners were making a philosophical transition together, asking deep questions about their cultures, their separate family histories, the legacy they wanted to give their children, and so on.
        There is a lot packed into this concept of staying good friends. These differences became the basis of a very effective two-day workshop we designed called “Bringing Baby Home.” If you’re interested in reading more, check out our book, And Baby Makes Three.

All for now,
The Gottman Institute 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Committing to Each Other

Couple discussing financial obligations.
        Last week, we discussed the importance of building trust with one another in your relationship and gave you strategies to help strengthen your emotional connection through intimate conversation. This week, we want to help you improve the lovemaking in your relationship by focusing on commitment.

        We have seen many couples in our research who are married and who have a home and children together, but who never truly married.  Earlier we were talking with John about this subject and he recalled this one couple, Jane and Harry, who were married for 7 years and had two young children. After a few sessions the husband announced to John that this would be their last session. Since they had already paid for the session, John asked them if they would be willing to stay and talk to him about why the therapy wasn’t helpful to them. They agreed, and started talking about a fight that they had had in the past week.

        They had been at a party and he was engrossed in conversation with a woman when his wife said that she was tired and wanted to leave. As they drove home he told her that he found the woman at the party not only more attractive than her, and but also that he had enjoyed the conversation a lot more than talking with his wife. She became furious, telling him that he was immature and irresponsible for not realizing that they had two young children, and that the reason she was tired was because she had to constantly care for the two young kids.

        John then told them that he now understood why his therapy wasn’t working, and they could go now. They wanted to know what John had observed. He told them that, although they had married, their commitment to one another was conditional.

        When they were unhappy in their relationship, they engaged in negative comparisons of their partner with real or imagined other people. Those negative comparisons lead to a cascade of unfortunate events. Here are some examples of the cascade following the pattern of using negative comparisons when thinking about our partner’s traits, leading to conditional commitment:

Picture of couple cut in half, separating the couple.

  • Trashing Your Partner and Nurturing Resentment.  This is often the first step towards conditional commitment. Trashing and resentment start when the individual dismisses their partner’s negative feelings and begin to emphasize (in their minds) their partner’s negative qualities, gathering evidence that these negative characteristics overweigh their partner’s positive traits. They focus on these negative thoughts, finding “evidence” everywhere to support them. They begin “trashing” the partner in their mind, emphasizing what is missing in the partner and nurturing resentment about what he/she doesn’t have. 
  • Trust Erodes. Mutual trust means that each partner is looking out for the other’s interests. In lay terms, with mutual trust they each “have each other's  back.” Instead, when trust erodes, they begin negotiating with their partner for the best deal they can get, regardless of the impact that deal has on the partner. They also see their partner as selfish, which is the most common first negative attribution people make about their partner in every laboratory that has studied couples. 
  • Caring Crodes. Over time they invest less and less in the relationship; less time, energy, money, interest in the other person, they turn away from their partner’s needs more often, become less vulnerable, invest less empathy, and become even more impatient and dismissing of their partner’s negative emotions.
  • Dependency Crodes. Over time they become less dependent on thinking that they can get their needs met within the relationship; instead, they start exploring alternatives for meeting their specific needs.
  • Self-Disclosure Erodes. They begin hiding their negative feelings and their needs in order to avoid starting that horrible absorbing-state conflict; they then start having secrets from their partner. 

        It is not hard to see how sex also suffers from negative comparisons and conditional commitment. If a couple loses trust and mutual respect for each other in their relationship, their lovemaking will be impersonal and unsatisfying. On the other hand, consistently making positive comparisons in a relationship leads to an entirely different cascade of events. It leads to real commitment instead of just conditional commitment. These are examples of the elements in the cascade toward trust and loyalty:

Couple turning towards each other and embracing in bed.

  • Cherishing the Partner and Nurturing Gratefulness. People begin to emphasize (in their minds) their partner’s positive qualities, gathering evidence that these positive characteristics overweigh their partner’s negative traits. They begin “cherishing” their partner in their minds, emphasizing what they have, and nurturing gratefulness for what they have with their partner. They have cherishing thoughts even when they are not together. They feel so lucky to have this special person in their lives; cherishing may become ritualized so it becomes articulated and a regular part of the couple’s interactions.
  • Trust Builds. Mutual trust means that each partner is looking out for the other partner’s interests. In lay terms, they each “have one another’s back.” As trust builds, each of them begins negotiating with their partner for the best deal that both of them can get, emphasizing the impact that deal has for the partner.
  • Caring Increases. They invest more and more in the relationship; they invest more time, energy, interest in their partner, turning toward more, and invest more empathy, and become more patient and try to understand their partner’s negative emotions, realizing that the goal in conflict is understanding.
  • Dependency Increases. They become more dependent on getting their needs met within the relationship, and the relationship becomes a safety net for getting all these needs met (like having the partner be a confidant); this implies that if the relationship is not meeting one person’s needs, that person will talk about it with the partner, and not to someone else about the partner.
  • Self-Disclosure Increases. They begin strongly expressing their negative feelings and their needs in order to get them met within the relationship; sometimes this is not pleasant, but these conversations lead to greater understanding about how to love one another better over time.

        There is therefore a distinct and deterministic pathway toward loyalty and a very different distinct pathway toward betrayal. Once we see these two pathways clearly we can both prevent betrayal and know how to heal a relationship after a betrayal. 

         If you would like to read more about the science and research behind this post, you can read John’s book, The Science of Trust. Improve the sex in your relationship this week by making the decision to fully commit to your partner.

The Gottman Institute  

Friday, November 25, 2011

3 Skills of Intimate Conversation

Couple embraces romantically on the beach during a beautiful sunset.
        Before we give you your weekend homework assignment, we want to recap this week's theme of building emotional connection through intimate conversation. Unfortunately, it seems to us that the art of intimate conversation is dying out in our culture. Sociologist Shelly Terkel says that our kids would rather text briefly than talk on the phone, or talk face to face. They may have 1000 friends on Facebook, but they don’t connect deeply with many of them very often. In our country teenagers talking in cafes touch themselves, whereas teenagers in Paris touch one another.

        Of course, intimate conversation is designed to touch one another deeply. It happens only when both people are willing to make themselves vulnerable and to listen non-defensively. In many ways the art of intimate conversation is not very difficult. We teach the three skills of intimate conversation to many people we see in couples’ therapy who don’t know the skills.

        There are three skills and one rule of an intimate conversation. The rule is that understanding must precede advice. In fact, in our workshops we tell people that the goal of an intimate conversation is only understanding, and we tell them that they are not allowed to try any problem solving. We say this because premature problem solving tends to shut people down. Problem solving and advice should only begin when both people feel totally understood. Here are the three skills: 

  • Skill #1: Putting Your Feelings into Words: The first skill is being able to put one’s feelings into words. This skill was called “focusing” by a master clinician named Eugene Gendlin. Gendlin said that when we are able to find the right images, phrases, metaphors, and words to fit our feelings, there is a kind of “resolution” one feels on one’s body, an easing of tension. This skill of focusing is our body’s GPS that guides us in life. In intimate conversations focusing makes our conversations about feelings much deeper and more intimate, because the words reveal who we are.

  • Skill #2: Asking Open-Ended Questions: The second skill of intimate conversations is helping one’s partner explore his or her feelings by asking them open-ended questions. This is done by either asking targeted questions (like, “What is your disaster scenario here?”) or making specific statements that explore feelings (like, “Tell me the story of that”

  • Skill #3: Expressing Empathy: The third skill is empathy, or validation. Empathy isn’t easy. In an intimate conversation the first two skills help one sense and explore another person’s thoughts, feelings, and needs. Empathy is then a genuine communication that it makes sense to you that this person would have these thoughts, feelings, and needs, that you get it. That does not mean that you necessarily agree with this person. You might, for example, have an entirely different memory of events, or a different interpretation of events. However, you are communicating that, given your partner’s perceptions, these thoughts, feelings, and needs are valid and make sense. You have your own perceptions. Both of your perceptions are valid.
        In an intimate conversation your job is to understand and validate, not to argue for your perception. Both partners take turns getting understood. In the early years of a relationship, questions of trust are paramount. These are questions like, “Will you be there for me when I’m upset?” and “Do I come first in your life?” and “Can I count on you to earn money for our family?” and so on.

        Set aside time this weekend to work on making your conversations with your partner deeper and more intimate. Try opening up an intimate conversation with an open-ended question. Examples of questions like these are, “How would you like to ideally change our life together in the coming year so it could be the best year ever?” or “What do you feel is going well for you these days?” or, “What do you feel is not going as well as you’d like?”  You can also begin a conversation by simply asking, “How are you doing, baby?” or “How is life treating you?  Talk to me. I’m listening.”

Putting Your Feelings into Words

        After you have started, take a look the skills below.  They are designed to help you explore and talk about your feelings as the conversation proceeds. If your partner asks you something about how you feel, but you’re not sure how to put feelings into words, look over the first list below, and say aloud which feelings are true for you.  It’s ok to name more than one, as people often do experience blends of feelings.

I feel...

  • uncomfortable.
  • like a failure.
  • unappreciated.
  • distant from you.
  • alone.
  • insulted.
  • like I am not accepted.
  • comfortable.
  • misunderstood.
  • special.
  • affectionate. 

Asking Open-Ended Questions
        After a conversation has begun, if you want to explore your partner’s feelings and thoughts, one of the best tools you can use is asking questions that open the heart. Here are some examples you can try.  Anytime during the conversation, look over the list below and read aloud a question that you’d like to ask your partner.   
  1. Do you think this has affected our relationship? If so, how?
  2. What do your values tell you about this?
  3. What would you really like to ask me?
  4. What specifically is upsetting you in this situation?
  5. Think of someone you really admire. What would he/she do and how would he/she view this situation?

Expressing Empathy
        To deepen the intimacy of a conversation, it really helps to give understanding and empathy to your partner. First, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and understand what they are saying or feeling. Then communicate to your partner that their thoughts or feelings really make sense to you.  Below are some great statements you can make that convey understanding and empathy.  Look them over and say aloud any that ring true for you, as a follow-up to what your partner has just said.  
  • I wish I would have known that earlier. I'm sorry.
  • You're making total sense.
  • That would have annoyed me too.
  • I'm on your side here.
  • You must feel so helpless. 

Once you start to practice them you will find that these skills really are not that complicated. Good luck and have a great weekend!

The Gottman Institute 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Building Trust, Sexless Marriages

Young, happy couple laughing romantically while sitting the hot tub outside in the winter.
        There is a specific way that love creates trust that relates to “being there” for one’s partner when the partner is in need. 

        We call the act of "being there" for one's partner the process of emotional attunement. Attunement means that one partner listens non-defensively to the other partner’s negative emotions (even if they are about you), and tries to understand their feelings and make an effort to empathize with them. 

        Attunement also means that one partner’s pain is not ignored, dismissed, or overlooked. This means the listening partner is communicating something like, “If you hurt, baby, then the world stops until we figure out how to change things so you don’t hurt anymore. I will listen and try to understand, and help you figure out what you need, and try to meet that need.” 

        Dr. Gottman recently saw a couple in therapy who had not made love in over 15 years! Neither of them had ever talked about the pain that this caused caused until they got to his lab. After some encouragement, the wife was able to tell her partner how lonely she felt, and how much she wanted him to touch her, hold her, and make passionate love to her.

        He listened and heard her tell him about the enormous psychological pain she felt, that she felt unattractive and ugly, and that she thought this was all his fault. When he heard this, he made a vow that he would touch and hold her and make love to her. He told her that in actuality, he was very attracted to her, and he apologized for making her ever doubt her own beauty.

        Then when it was the husbands turn to talk the wife listened to him tell her how he felt disrespected by her, and that his ideas felt like they not important to their family’s decisions. He told her that as a result, he felt lonely and excluded from the family, from her and their two daughters. She was able to listen to his enormous pain, and make an effort to understand what she did that made him feel disrespected. 

        He also told her about times when he did feel included and respected by her, and that he missed those times. It turns out that he had withdrawn from her because he felt she didn’t want him anymore. He said he felt like a paycheck with a heartbeat, that she seemed totally self-sufficient, and he felt she that didn’t need him.

        After 15 years of silence and pain, this couple was able to finally reconnect. This was because they were able to hear one another - truly hear one another - and attune to one another’s pain. This enabled them to moved toward one another, both emotionally and physically. They then began the joyous pathway toward cherishing one another and building a culture of appreciation and respect in their relationship.

        Trust is built in very small moments in which one person turns toward their partner when they're in need. When our partner responds positively, by “being there” for us, that builds trust. 

        In many cases couples will periodically take one another’s “emotional temperature,” by just genuinely asking, “How are you doing baby?” This honest inquiry needs to be followed by a targeted, open-ended question if the answer is, “not so good.” This bid for emotional connection offers an opportunity for initiating an intimate conversation to explore these feelings and connect.

       This week, show your partner that you are truly thankful for having them in your life by taking time for intimate conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving!
The Gottman Institute

Monday, November 21, 2011

Great Sex This Week

Middle-aged couple laughing and embracing in the kitchen.

        This week we are going to work with you on deepening the emotional connection in your relationship through intimate conversation. According to Tool 2 of the Gott Sex Series, The Three Skills of Intimate Conversation, the three skills of intimate conversation are putting your feelings into words, asking open-ended questions, and expressing empathy for your partner. 

        With Thanksgiving this Thursday, we thought a good way to initiate intimate conversation this week would be to focus on the skill of putting your feelings into words by expressing appreciation to your partner for all that you are thankful for. Whether it is the way your partner always takes the time to ask you about your day or the way they passionately make love to you, you have a lot to be thankful for in your relationship. Ensure this week that your partner knows how fortunate you feel to have them in your life. 

        Whatever it may be, make an effort to appreciate your partner then check out our top seven ideas for spicy sex this week. Feel free to try one or try them all:

1. Go to a movie this week, sit at the back of the movie theater, and make out as if you were teenagers again.

2. Surprise your partner this week at work with a bouquet of flowers and tell them how much you appreciate them.

3. One night this week, take time touching each other with the rule that there will be no intercourse, only pleasuring one another. See if you can resist your partner.

4. Make playful bets over the course of the week with your partner. The winners get exactly what they want from their partner.

5. Play a game of strip poker with your partner this week.

6. Watch a movie together this week that has a passionate sex scene. Half way through the scene, pause the movie and make love.

7. Unplug the phone for an evening this week and just talk to one another. Try to be a good listener. Remember, better friends make better lovers.

        For more great sex ideas like these, check out our newly released Gott Sex Series.

The Gottman Institute

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sexual Satisfaction After Kids

Young parents with two young children smiling happily.
        Happy Friday! We want to take time in today’s post for our readers out there with new children. The birth of your first child can be one of the greatest experiences of your entire life and is certainly a highlight of any relationship. However, there is an extremely common misconception out there that becoming a parent means giving up your sex life altogether. Is this actually true? Well, we don't necessarily think so, no. On the contrary, we think that becoming new parents can actually increase the passion and intimacy in your relationship. How is this possible? 

        In a study we completed for our Book 
And Baby Makes Three, we talked to couples after their babies were born and asked them what had gone well and what had not worked so well in their sex lives after the baby. We asked them things like how much how much sexual desire they felt for their partner and how interested they now were in one another. Here’s what we discovered.

        On average, women reported feeling sexual desire about once a week, while men said they felt desire about once a day. In addition, women said they wanted to be touched sexually on average, about once every two weeks, while men wanted sexual touch two to three times a week. 

        When we asked them about experiencing orgasm during sexual activity, men reported climaxing six times more often than women did! When we asked them to rate how sexual they felt (on a 5-point scale), women rated themselves a meager 2.95 on average (not very), while men rated themselves 4.25 (extremely). 

       While this divide amongst the sexes was true for almost all the couples in our study, some couples said they still experienced sexual satisfaction, even after the birth of their child. Even with when they were having less sex.

        What was the secret behind these successful couples who were able to balance sexual satisfaction with parenthood?  It turns out that the successful couples were able to resurrect their diminished sex lives through affectionate nonsexual touching. In other words, they continued touching one another even in those months after child birth when women said their sexual desire was low. 

        This touch was especially helpful for women. The women that we talked to said that they loved their partner’s physical affection, provided their partners were genuine about giving it. They felt that this really helped them connect in a powerful way. 

        And what about the men? What helped them to stay connected and feel satisfied with their diminished sex lives during these months of new parenthood? Their overwhelming answer was to see the gleam in their wives’ eyes that told them, “husband, you are gorgeous and desired.” In other words, after-baby sex satisfaction is high when men feel desired by their woman. Who knew that feeling attractive was as important to men as it was to women? Women transmit their desire through nonsexual touch and affection or golden compliments on how handsome their men look. 

        One husband articulated this really well when he said, “I can take not having sex for a while, as long as I know that I am still wanted. That works for me.” We want you to start thinking of every positive that you do in your relationship as foreplay.

        Here’s what we mean. When your partner looks tired, and you do the dishes even when its not your turn; that’s foreplay. When you take care of the baby so your partner can have some time alone; that’s foreplay. When you sincerely tell your partner how beautiful or handsome she or he looks; that’s foreplay. So, are you enjoying foreplay in your relationship? Or just expecting fireworks without a lit fuse?

        For your weekend homework assignment, we have developed a self-test to evaluate your sexual relationship after your baby. We suggest printing this portion of the post out for best results. Fill out this questionnaire separately and compare answers later, after you have scored your own. Each of you, read the items we have listed to indicate if this area is fine or if it needs improvement. Put a check mark in every box that you think applies to your relationship now.
                                                       Not a Problem       Problem

1. We are emotionally close.                         ___                    ___

Just simply talking to each other is…          ___                   ___

Staying emotionally in touch is…                 ___                   ___

Spending time together is…                          ___                   ___

My being emotionally disengaged is…        ___                   ___

                                                       Not a Problem       Problem

2. Our touching each other enough is…      ___                   ___

Our feeling very romantic is…        
              ___                   ___

Our having passionate moments is…           
___                   ___                           

My feeling attractive to my partner is…      ___                   ___                      

                                                     Not a Problem       Problem

3. Our sex life is…                                             ___                   ___

Wanting more sex than my partner is…     
___                   ___

My not being satisfied with sex is… 
            ___                   ___

My often feeling rejected sexually is…      
 ___                   ___

Being able to talk about sex  is… 
                 ___                   ___

My partner feeling sexually rejected is...    
___                   ___

Not enough love in our lovemaking is…    
 ___                   ___

My partner rarely having orgasms is…      
 ___                   ___

        For your score, add up all the times you checked that an area was a problem. If your score or your partner’s score is greater than or equal to 8, then you need to work on improving your sex life. Here’s how. The satisfied couples from our research shared ten secrets for having great sex after having children:

1. Accept that things have changed since the baby arrived.

2. Ask each other for sex.

3. Talk about what feels good sexually, and how to make it better.

4. Continue nonsexual affection, especially touch.

5. Realize that in most cases, he’s a microwave and she’s a dutch oven.

6. Accept that quickies are important as gourmet sex.

7. Accept masturbation to orgasm, and continue to have oral sex (if you’ve always liked it).

8. Share your sexual fantasies.

9. Discuss your innermost feelings and don’t avoid conflict.

10. Prioritize gourmet sex and make time for it.

        For more information and in-depth explanation about each of these 10 secrets check out our book, And Baby Makes Three

        Being a parent doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice having great sex. In fact, your lovemaking has the potential to become even more intimate after the arrival of your first child if you both work towards fulfilling each other's needs. 

Have a great weekend!

The Gottman Institute

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sharing Your Inner World

Young couple in bed sharing their inner thoughts.
        Our research has shown that couples who are satisfied with the sex in their relationship are intimately familiar with each other’s world. These couples have made plenty of cognitive room for their relationship. They remember the major events in each other’s history, and they keep updating their information as facts and feelings of their partner’s change. When she orders him a salad, she knows to ask for his dressing on the side. If she works late, he’ll tape her favorite TV show because he knows which one it is and when it’s on. So what does this have to do with sex? 

        The more you know about each other’s inner world, the more profound and rewarding your relationship will be, and the more passionate and intimate your lovemaking will be. We have designed a questionnaire in today’s post to guide you through some self-exploration and to help you share this exploration with your partner. Work on this exercise even if you and your spouse consider yourselves to be like open books. There’s always more to know about each other. Life changes us, so neither of you may be the same person that you were when you met five, ten, or fifty years ago. 

       Many of the questions in this exercise are powerful. It may be best to reserve this exercise for an uninterrupted stretch when you do not have work to do, deadlines to meet, phone calls to answer, or children (or anybody else) to look after. Most likely you won’t be able to complete this questionnaire in one sitting, nor should you try. Instead, break it up by section and do it slowly, over time together.

        Answer the questions in each section as candidly as you can. You don’t have to answer every aspect of each question – just respond to the parts that are relevant to your life. Write your answers in a private journal or notebook. When you’re ready, exchange notebooks and share with each other what you have written. Discuss each other’s entries and what this added knowledge implies for your marriage and the deepening of your friendship. Remember, better friends make better lovers. 

My Triumphs and Strivings: 

1. What has happened in your life that you are particularly proud of? What about your psychological triumphs, times when things went even better than you expected, periods when you came through trials and tribulations even better off.

2. How have these successes shaped your life? How have they affected the way you think of yourself and your capabilities?

3. What role has pride (that is, feeling proud, being praised, expressing praise for others) played in your life? Did your parents show you that they were proud of you when you were a child? How? How have other people responded to your accomplishments?

My Injuries and Healings 

1. What difficult events or periods have you gone through? Write about any significant psychological insults and injuries you have sustained, your losses, dissapointments, tials, and tribulations. Include periods of stress and duress, as well as any quieter periods of despair, hopelessness, and lonliness.

2. How did you strengthen and heal yourself? How did you redress your grievances? How did you revive and restore yourself?

3. How did you prevent and protect yourself against this ever happening again?

My Emotional World

1. What is your own philosophy about expressing feelings, particularly stress, anger, fear, pride, and love? Are any of these difficult for you to express or to see expressed by your partner? What is the basis of your perspective on this?

2. What differences exist between you and your partner in the area of expressing emotion? What is behind these differences?

3. During your childhood, did your family have to cope with a particular emotional problem, such as aggression between parents, a depressed parent, or a parent who was somewhat emotionally wounded? What implications does this have for your relationship and your other close friendships?

Who I Want to Become 

Take a moment now to reflect on what you have just written. We are all involved in becoming the person we most want to be. In that struggle we all have demons to fight and overcome.

1. Describe the person you want to become.

2. How can you best help yourself become that person? What are the small steps you need to take to get the ball rolling?

3. What would you most like to change about yourself?

4. What demons in yourself have you had to fight? Or still have to fight? 

        Again, do not rush through this exercise. If answered with care, these questions will help you develop greater personal insight and a more detailed map of each other's life and world. Getting to know your partner better and sharing your inner self with your partner will make your lovemaking much more personal and intimate.

The Gottman Institute  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gott Sex FAQ

Two hands pressed together to make a heart shape.

        We want to take a minute in today's post to respond to some feedback that we have received about the Gott Sex? Series, and hopefully, answer the most frequently asked questions that people seem to have. As the first completely online-based product from the Gottman Institute, the Gott Sex? Series has been an immediate success with everyone from regular couples to clinicians. Thank you so much for your support! However, because of the technology involved, we understand that there may be some confusion about how exactly our website works. Below are a selected list of questions and answers that have been taken directly from customer emails. We have done our best to cover as wide of a range of questions as possible:

Q: Can I share my Gott Sex membership with other people, i.e. with my spouse or with my friends?

A: You are encouraged to repeatedly watch this presentation and to share your log in information with your spouse or significant other.

However, sharing log in information with other people such as friends is not allowed. Accounts that have been shared among too many IP addresses and devices may be subject to deactivation for violation of the Terms of Use Agreement on our purchase page.

Q: Is there any nudity or explicit language in this presentation? Are these videos "racy" or "pornographic" in any way? 

A: There is no nudity or explicit language in the Gott Sex Series. The videos are purely educational in the PG-13 sense of the word.

Q: What sort of benefits can my partner and I expect to gain in our sex lives from watching and practicing the tools in the Gott Sex Series? 

A: The following 90 minutes will hopefully change your sex life drastically. You will find that the tools presented in the Gott Sex Series are not superficial; they really are about building deep fundamental processes that will allow you and your partner to better connect, both physically and emotionally. Not only can you expect to have better, more pleasurable sex, but you will be happy to find that your overall communication, trust and affection with your partner – inside and outside of the bedroom - will increase as a result. The more you and your partner work on practicing what you have learned, the bigger results you can expect.

Q: If I am a mental health professional can I share my log in information with my clients or colleagues for them to watch?

A: This is fine to do in therapy sessions when you are with your clients or colleagues, but again, please be careful! While you will find that can log into your account from multiple devices and watch the presentation as may times as you like, large amounts of suspicious login activity may result in your account being permanently deactivated for violating our Terms of Usage Agreement. That said it is 100% fine for licensed mental health professionals to have others watch with them in their practice; in fact, we encourage it!

Q: Is Gott Sex a valuable resource for both heterosexual and gay and lesbian couples? 

A: Absolutely. Gott Sex was designed for both homosexual and heterosexual couples to use. The skills and tools learned in this presentation will benefit the sex lives of all couples regardless of sexual orientation. This is because at the heart of Gott Sex is the idea that great sex really comes down to open and effective communication, great friendship, and intimate trust.

Q: Is Gott Sex totally online, or can I order physical DVDs and materials to be sent to my address?

A: As of now, Gott Sex is a completely online based experience. You can (and should) print off the exercises that come with each video. Our goal in not having a "physical" product is to be as green as possible in terms of mitigating our environmental impact. We understand the desire of some customers to have a physical copy of the materials, however, and will be working to provide a solution to this in the near future. 

Q: What is the total price of the Gott Sex Series?

A: As of now the total price of the Gott Sex Series – that is, the 9 video modules, the 7 printable exercises, the bonus materials, and everything else that comes with the product – is available at a launch special price of $49.95, plus WA State tax. Just a heads up, this initial price may increase in the future without prior notification.

Q: How does purchasing a membership work? 

A: Memberships can be purchased from our buy page. Membership to Gott Sex is a one-time fee of the abovementioned purchase price. Once you pay, you have lifetime access to the site for as long as it exists!

Q: Why did we create the Gott Sex Series?

A: As therapists and researchers, we are tired of seeing people constantly come up short of satisfaction in their sex lives. Unfortunately, there are very few research-based tools out there for people who are trying to improve their romance, passion and sex with one another. The short answer is we wanted to do something about that. In this presentation we are really interested in helping couples with their everyday relationships; that is, helping them enjoy all aspects of their relationship, from conversations over coffee at breakfast to creating satisfying and romantic sex. Truth be told, we are more like plumbers than philosophers. Therefore, the tools that we offer you in this series are designed to be useful and practical.

Q: Will this product help those couples that have stopped having sex altogether?

A: Why do couples stop having sex in the first place? Usually the answer has to do with the fact that they have stopped communicating or have unprocessed conflicts or issues… Or they feel embarrassed, or rejected or undesired by their partner. Gott Sex will give you tools to help you in taking the first steps toward fixing these problems. 

Q: Is Gott Sex a valuable resource for couples dealing with the issue of porn addiction?

A: Good question, and yes! At the heart of the Gott Sex Series is the idea that couples in committed relationships should have personal, loving sex, not impersonal pornographic sex. And once you’ve had personal loving sex with your partner, we think you’ll agree with us that it is much more exciting and fun than impersonal sex ever was. Learning how to make sex personal, and to re-ignite the passion, is all part of our program.

       Again, if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are excited about all of the positive feedback that we have been receiving. Keep it coming! Have a great week.

All for now,
The Gottman Institute 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Building Attraction: Weekend Homework Assignment

Close up image of the American flag blowin gin the wind.

            Happy Veteran’s Day! Before we get into this weekend’s homework assignment, we want to take a moment to thank the members of the United States Armed Forces for all that they have done and continue to do for our country. Today is the day that we pause to remember the sacrifices they have made, and continue to make, to protect and ensure our nation’s freedom. May these heroes feel the gratitude and warmth of our nation, not just today, but everyday. We are truly proud to have the US Military as one of our biggest clients and supporters. Thank you vets!

            Let’s now jump back into this week’s theme of building attraction. In our research, we found that high levels of physical and emotional attraction between two people in a relationship are directly related to a satisfying sex life. Couples that are able to feel this level of intimacy in their lovemaking have really figured it out. They have come to realize that a combination of physical and emotional attraction leads to great emotional connection. They take time in their everyday interaction to turn toward one another and accept bids for emotional connection. If you are not connecting in this way, or feel like attraction has decreased since you first starting dating, our aim is to try and help you change that.

            This weekend we want you to work on building attraction in your relationship by paying attention to both the physical and the emotional. A fun way to do this is to go shopping with your partner. While shopping with your partner might seem like the last thing that you want to do, it can be an extremely positive experience for your relationship.

Couple holding several packages after shopping together.

Whether shopping for clothes or for a new perfume/cologne, bring your partner along this weekend and let them pick out something for you. By doing this, you are showing them that I want to look good for you and only you. Have them pick out outfits that they think you will look sexy in and try them on for your partner. You don’t have to buy anything! Let your partner fantasize about you by playing dress-up for them. Spice things up even more in the dressing room by letting your partner pick out their favorite lingerie and then give them a private fashion show.

Shopping with your partner will not only allow you to see what your partner likes, but it will also give you the opportunity to show them what you like. With the holiday season coming up, this is a great opportunity to explore gift options for your partner. Pay attention to what they are interested in but do not purchase. You can always come back and get it for them later. The gift will be that much more meaningful to them because it shows them that you are really paying attention to their interests. 

If shopping isn't your thing, you can create physical and emotional attraction by trying one of the following ideas:

1. Taking your partner out dancing or taking a dance class with your partner.

2. Going on a walk in the park with your partner and telling your partner three things that you like about them and their appearance. 

3. Plan a weekend getaway, even for a day, where you take the time to focus exclusively only on one another. Try to rediscover the initial spark that attracted you to your partner.

Trust your imagination. Though taking a walk in the park with your partner may feel like a small step, that small step will help create a positive momentum toward a healthier and more fulfilling sexual relationship.

All for now,
The Gottman Institute

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emotional Attraction

        In Monday's post, we introduced the idea of building physical attraction in your relationship as a way of increasing the level of emotional connection and passion in your lovemaking. This can be done in a variety of ways, the most simple being making an effort to look good for your partner by wearing nice clothes and taking care of your body.

        Today however, we want to talk to you about creating a different kind of attraction: emotional attraction.

Woman hugging man from behind while smiles and does the dishes.

       When you are emotionally attracted to your partner, you value them for more than just their physical appearance. For example, you might find it incredibly sexy that your partner can carry out an intellectual conversation with you, and talk about a novel that you've both read or a current news story. 

        The kind of attraction we are talking about here goes much deeper than the physical. Think of it as an expansion of the idea, "looks aren't everything" in a mate. Emotional attraction means being attracted not just to our partner's hot body, but also being attracted to their aspirations, goals, and dreams. You value them for who they are and what they stand for. While you may already be naturally sexually attracted to your partner because of their physical appearance, developing an emotional attraction for them will make these feeling much more pronounced. 

       Your emotional attraction to your partner is largely determined by the ways in which you communicate. If you are communicating well, you are most likely comfortable opening up to your partner about your opinions without having to worry about being judged for them. This high level of intimate trust is reaffirmed in daily conversation, specifically the conversation that we call the, “How was your day, dear?” conversation. While it is a conversation that we all have, it is not necessarily always a positive one in relationships. 

        What this conversation does (or ought to do) is to help each of you manage the stress in your daily lives, stress that is not caused by your relationship, so it doesn't spill over into your relationship. According to Dr. Gottman’s University of Washington colleague Neil Jacobson, Ph.D, one of the key reasons that couples relapse after solving their problems in marital therapy, is that stresses from other areas of their lives affect their relationships. In other words, stress that is caused in outside environments such as work, often ends up coming in fueling the fire of conflict between couples.

        Couples who are overrun by stress and who don't talk about it with their partner see their level of emotional attraction drop and subsequently see their relationships and sex lives suffer. On the other hand, those who talk about the stress of daily life with one another and help each other cope with it keep their relationships strong. 

        Many couples automatically have this sort of calming down conversation, perhaps at the dinner table or while they are undressing for bed. Sadly however, this discussion does not always have the desired effect – instead of decreasing stress, it actually increases your stress levels. While there is a time to talk about relationship 'issues' with your partner, this is not the time to do so, especially if you are already feeling stressed after a long day at work.

       Do these conversations stress you out? If this is the case, you need to change your approach to having these,“How was your day, dear?” conversations to make sure they are helping to actually calm you down. 

        For starters, think about the timing of the chat. Some people want to unburden themselves when they’re barely through the door. Others need to decompress on their own for a while before they’re ready to discourse. Talk to your partner and see if you can find a solution that is convenient for both of you.

        The cardinal rule in having this conversation is that you talk only about what is stressing you out outside of your relationship. This is not the time to play the blame game and discuss areas of conflict between you two. It’s an opportunity to support each other emotionally in other areas in your lives.

        However, even though you are not talking about your relationship, you are improving your relationship by connecting with your partner on an intimate level. You will be more emotionally attracted to your partner because they are listening to you and genuinely caring about what you have to say. This heightened level of emotional attraction will translate into improvement the bedroom.

Couple sitting on the couch emotionally connecting through conversation.

        We have created a quick exercise that focuses on active listening to help you build emotional attraction in your relationship. The goal of active listening is to hear your partner’s perspective with empathy and without judging them. That’s all well and good. But this approach usually fails because couples are asked to use it when they are airing their gripes with each other. You certainly will not be feeling emotionally attracted to your partner if you feel like they aren't listening to you. 

        We have found that this same listening technique can be extremely beneficial if you use it during discusssions where you are not your partner’s target. In this context, you’ll feel far more free to be readily supportive and understanding of your partner and vice versa. This can only heighten the love and trust you feel, thus also increasing your emotional attraction for each other. Here are instructions for having this discussion:

1. Take Turns. Each partner gets to be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Don’t give unsolicited advice. The major rule when helping your partner de-stress is that understanding must precede advice. 

3. Show genuine interest. Don’t let your mind or eyes wander. Try to stay intently focused on your partner.

4. Communicate your understanding. Let your partner know that you can and are empathizing with what they are saying. 

5. Take your partner’s side. This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable. 

6. Express a “we against others” attitude. Let him or her know that the two of you are in this together. 

7. Express affection. Hold your partner, put an arm on his or her shoulder, and say “I love you.” 

8. Validate emotions. Let your partner know that his or her feelings make sense to you by telling them just that. 

        Emotional attraction is just as important as physical attraction in having great sex. If you are not feeling emotionally attracted to your partner, chances are you will not be in the mood to make love. Try this active listening exercise tonight and see how it affects the level of emotional attraction you feel for each other. You'll thank us for it. Good luck! 

All for now,
The Gottman Institute