Friday, March 30, 2012

Dreaming of Mega Millions: How Dreams Play a Part in Your Finances

      We’re proud to announce the unveiling of our redesigned Gottman Relationship Blog! Instead of solely concentrating on love-making, we will be broadening our focus to include a wider range of topics and issues concerning all aspects of relationships researched by The Gottman Institute.

      Americans are buzzing about the record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot that has grown to an almost unimaginable $640 million. Though not everyone plays, most people have imagined what it would be like to win the lottery. Reality, however, can be sometimes harsh in squashing our dreams of private yachts, personal islands, and mega mansions displayed on ocean cliffs in Malibu. Instead it leaves people with thoughts of bills, groceries, and soaring gas prices. Because practicality often wins out over unrealistic fantasies, you may not know what desires or childhood dreams your partner would live out if they had no financial restraints. So while they say money can’t buy happiness, try asking your partner, what are the dreams that they would buy with $640 million dollars?

      You may be surprised at what they would do with nearly unlimited resources, and you might learn something new about them that you didn’t know before. In “The Relationship Cure”, Dr. John Gottman finds that “my research also shows that people form much more positive emotional connections when they encourage one another’s dreams and aspirations." One exercise to build emotional connections with your partner is to create “Love Maps” in which you map out the important details of your partners life. Keep in mind that learning the day-to-day details of their life concerning who their best friends are and their current stresses are not the only way to map out your partner’s life. Unrealized dreams are also important to understanding their inner psychological world. Showing interest in your partner’s dreams and responding with your own dreams builds trust, intimacy, and emotional connection that help to strengthen a relationship.

      Understanding the underlying values and approaches you and your partner have towards money that may appear in dream sharing can also help you to understand each other’s positions better when it comes to your real financial situation. If when it comes to money you “find yourselves having the same arguments over and over, rehashing the same tired issues without ever reaching a satisfying resolution," the solution may be in exploring the underlying dreams that create your respective positions. Progress becomes possible when you focus less on the problem, and more on “uncovering the dreams hidden within it." Negotiations can be more positive and meaningful when both partners understand the agendas and hopes of the other.

      So while you may not have the Mega millions winning number, you can win the jackpot in other ways by exploring the dreams of your partner in order to build emotional connections and to build a foundation of support and understanding to encourage meaningful solutions to your financial issues.

Other Financial Love Map Questions:

  • What is the first thing you would buy if you won the lottery? 
  • What is your biggest financial stressor? 
  • What do you wish you could treat yourself to more often?
  • Where do you see yourself financially in five, ten, fifteen years? 
  • What is one thing that you wish you had more money to spend on? 
  • How do you think your lifestyle reflects your financial situation, is it different from the lifestyle you would want if your financial situation was different? 
  • How do you think retirement will affect your lifestyle? 
  • What do you think are the three most important areas to spend your money on?

Have a great weekend,
K. Peterson
TGI Staff

Gottman, John. "The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships" . New York: Three rivers Press, 1999. 209-211. Print.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The New Gottman Relationship Blog

        When we launched the Gottman Sex Blog last fall, we couldn’t have predicted the overwhelmingly positive response that we have received from our readers. In only a matter of months, we have already been nominated by for 2012 Marriage Blog of the Year! With that said, we are proud to announce that we will be completely overhauling the Gottman Sex Blog in order to better meet the growing needs of our users. 

        The all-new Gottman Relationship Blog, which will launch next week, will provide practical, research-based tools and strategies to strengthen and repair marriages and relationships. Our postings will no longer be limited to topics of intimacy and sexual health in committed relationships. Instead, we will be opening up the conversation to all aspects of Dr. Gottman’s 40 years of groundbreaking research with couples. 

        The Gottman Relationship Blog will be a virtual reflection of the “Gottman Theory for Making Relationships Work.” Research shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other's hopes for the future. Drs. John and Julie Gottman have shown how couples can accomplish this by paying attention to what they call the Sound Relationship House, or the seven components of healthy coupleships: 

  • Build Love Maps: How well do you know your partner’s inner psychological world, his or her history, worries, stresses, joys, and hopes?
  • Share Fondness and Admiration: The antidote for contempt, this level focuses on the amount of affection and respect within a relationship. (To strengthen fondness and admiration, express appreciation and respect.)
  • Turn Towards: State your needs, be aware of bids for connection and turn towards them. The small moments of everyday life are actually the building blocks of relationship.
  • The Positive Perspective: The presence of a positive approach to problem-solving and the success of repair attempts.
  • Manage Conflict: We say “manage” conflict, rather than “resolve” conflict, because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. Understand that there is a critical difference in handling perpetual problems and solvable problems.
  • Make Life Dreams Come True: Create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her hopes, values, convictions and aspirations.
  • Create Shared Meaning: Understand important visions, narratives, myths, and metaphors about your relationship.

        As we transition from the Gottman Sex Blog to the Gottman Relationship Blog, we are recommitting ourselves to strengthening and repairing your relationships. In order to do this, we need your help. We want the Gottman Relationship Blog to be an open forum. Help us to help you by engaging with us, as well as with other couples and therapists, by responding to our postings with your thoughts, concerns, and questions. If you are uncomfortable commenting publicly, you are welcome to privately message us. We encourage you to share with us what works and what doesn’t. 

        We will be expanding our weekly Featured Blogger Series to include postings from experienced Certified Gottman Therapists (CGTs). We hope that you have found the distinct perspectives of our Featured Bloggers so far to be both interesting and beneficial to your relationship or clinical practice. If you are interested in being featured, please do not hesitate to contact us about the exciting opportunity to become part of the conversation. 

        Thank you for your patience during this period of expansion. This is a very exciting time at the Gottman Institute, and we hope that you will join us as we transition from the Gottman Sex Blog to the Gottman Relationship Blog. 

Have a great weekend!
M. Fulwiler
The Gottman Institute

Monday, March 19, 2012

Featured Blogger: Christopher Ryan, Ph.D.

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is a psychologist, teacher, and author. Together with Cacilda Jethá, M.D., he is a co-author of the New York Times best seller, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. He received a BA in English and American literature in 1984 and an MA and Ph.D. in psychology from Saybrook University, in San Francisco, CA. Christopher regularly contributes to both  Psychology Today and Huffington Post. Follow him on twitter @ChrisRyanPhD

7 Things Bonobos Can Teach Us About Love and Sex
Christopher Ryan, Ph.D.

        We've known for some time that bonobos (previously known as "pygmy chimpanzees") are among the most sexual of all living animals - besides of course, humans. Frans de Waal dubbed them the "make love, not war" species, since they seem to resolve the majority of conflicts through sexual activity. Back in February, the lovely Cara Santa Maria, sexy neuroscientist and editor at Huffington Post, asked me if I could come up with seven things we could learn about love from bonobos, for a Valentine's Day piece. So, without further ado, here are seven things we can learn about love from bonobos:

1. More sex = less conflict. As the great primatologist, Frans de Waal put it, "Chimps use violence to get sex, while bonobos use sex to avoid violence." While chimps victimize each other in many ways—rape, murder, infanticide, warfare between groups—there's never been a single observed case of any of these forms of aggression among bonobos, who are much sexier than chimps. As James Prescott demonstrated in a meta-analysis of all available anthropological data, the connection between less restrictive sexuality and less conflict generally holds true for human societies as well.

2. Feminism can be very sexy. When females are in charge, everyone lives better (including the males). While male chimps run the show, among bonobos, it's the females who are in charge, with much better quality of life for everyone involved (see #1).

3. Sisterhood is powerful. Although female bonobos are about 20% smaller than males - roughly the same ratio as in chimps and humans - they dominate males by sticking together. If a male gets out of line and harasses a female, ALL the other females will gang up on him. This sisterly solidarity, combined with lots of sex, tends to keep the males behaving politely.

4. Jealousy isn't romantic. While bonobos no-doubt experience unique feelings for one another, they don't seem to worry much about controlling one another's sex lives. Nor do bonobos seem to gossip much...

5. There's promise in promiscuity. All the casual sex among bonobos is arguably a big part of what has made them among the smartest of all primates. Until human beings came along and messed things up for them, bonobos enjoyed very high quality of life, low stress, and plenty of social interaction in hammocks. In fact, of the many species of social primates living in multi-male social groups, not a single species is sexually monogamous. Each of the arguably smartest mammals--humans, chimps, bonobos, and dolphins—is promiscuous.

6. Good sex needn't always include an orgasm, and "casual" doesn't necessarily mean "empty" or "cheap." Most bonobo sexual interactions are nothing more than a quick feel, rub, or intromission—a "bonobo handshake," if you will. (See Vanessa Woods's excellent book by that name for a personal story of living with bonobos while falling in love.) But bonobos are very romantic: like humans, they kiss, hold hands (and feet!), and gaze into one another's eyes while having sex.

7. Sex and food go together better than love and marriage—at least for bonobos. Nothing gets a bonobo orgy started faster than a feast. Give a group of bonobos a bunch of food and they'll all have some quick sex before very politely sharing the food. No need to fight over scraps like a bunch of uncouth chimps!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Continuing the Conversation: Talking During Sex

        In addition to nurturing sexual intimacy in your relationship by talking openly about sex, it is just as important to communicate during sex. At first, talking during sex might seem awkward and strange, especially for couples who are uncomfortable talking about sex outside of the bedroom. But have you ever wanted your partner to do something specific while you were having sex, yet were too embarrassed to ask? Did you feel like it would be selfish or that it would hurt your partner’s feelings? Have you ever wanted to ask your partner what they wanted but didn't, just to save face? These are all very common anxieties when it comes to talking during sex. In this post, we are going to help you break down these barriers by giving you specific, targeted phrases to say to your partner during sex that will turn mediocre sex into hot, passionate lovemaking. 

        How often do we share our feelings, ideas, and fantasies during sex? Surprisingly, not that often. In a recent study, researchers Hatfield and Rapson interviewed a large number of married couples about sexual intimacy and found that while both men and women wished their partner would be more brave and tell them exactly what they wanted sexually, these same men and women were reluctant to tell their partners what they wanted. 

        Letting your partner know what you’re thinking and feeling in the bedroom, while you’re making love, especially by paying close attention to their bids to connect emotionally, will enhance the experience for both of you. You will not only get what you want, but you will also have the satisfaction of satisfying your partner in a way that you have never been capable of before. You will be more sexually aroused by your partners heightened arousal – especially because you were the one who caused it. 

        It is important to remember that everyone has different sexual desires and fantasies. What turns one woman on might turn another woman off. That said, there is no 'one size fits all' guide for how to improve the sex in your relationship. The most important aspect of turning towards your partner and talking during sex is listening to them. By entering their inner-most world, you will be able to satisfy them in ways you never thought possible. 

        There is a common misconception that talking during sex is dirty and inappropriate. This could not be further from the truth. By turning towards your partner and talking during sex, we are referring to a method of emotional communication which will increase the intimacy and passion in your lovemaking. By focusing on the emotional instead of the physical, you will actually improve the physical experience without even trying! 

        Here are some examples of phrases you can use to increase your communication during sex. Try ours out, or feel free to use some of your own creation. While this may seem awkward and forced at first, once the initial barrier is broken down you will be able to comfortably communicate with your partner during sex, to tell them exactly what you want and how you want it. 

Romantic Things to Say to a Man During Sex: 

· I could kiss you like this for hours
· You taste so good right here.
· It feels so good being with you this way.
· Feel what my heart does when you touch me like that.
· I want no one but you.
· You are so masculine.
· Nothing pleases me more than touching you here.

Romantic Things to Say to a Woman During Sex: 

· I remember the first time we kissed.
· I love it when you put your head on my chest.
· I love being inside you.
· No one is more beautiful to me than you.
· I love kissing you here.
· Don’t stop what you’re doing.
· I'm going to make you orgasm.

        Try to keep an open mind. Think of talking during sex as just a fun flirty way to give someone instructions. Lack of communication is the only thing coming between you and coming. Over time emotional, not just physical communication is essential to maintaining a satisfying sex-life. It’s a fact of life that people change. Interests, likes, and dislikes are in constant flux - nothing should be assumed. By focusing on each other, and respecting each other as evolving beings in an evolving relationship, passion is much less likely to wane. 

        According to Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., a well known sociologist and sex expert, couples who communicate openly, in an egalitarian partnership, “share more positions and experiment more…because they have a relationship in which both partners have the power to suggest, innovate, and break out of role expectations.” Talk as much as you play. Talk while you play. By expanding your erotic vocabulary you’ll also be tapping into your erotic imagination—bringing fantasies and previously hidden or unknown aspects of your sexual self to light.

All for now,
M. Fulwiler

Monday, March 12, 2012

Featured Blogger: Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW

Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW is a clinical social worker in private practice in Chicago, IL, and has over ten years of experience in providing individual, couples, and family therapy, and specializes in the treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and the impact of depression and anxiety on partner and parent-infant relationships. Nikki received her training at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration from which she holds a Masters degree in Social Work. You can learn more about Nikki and her practice at

Communicating about Sex: 
Continuing the Conversation 
Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW

        We all know that sexual intimacy is an important part of a committed relationship, and we also know that this aspect of our relationship needs nurturing and support in order to thrive. Part of nurturing sexual intimacy is to have conversations about sex which has been discussed in past blog posts on the Gottman Sex Blog. However, what if talking about sex is extremely difficult for you? What if you quite literally do not have a language to give your partner feedback about what you like or don’t like? What if thinking about and talking about sexuality brings up decidedly “unsexy” feelings for you?

        In the Gottman method, couples learn a concept called “releasing the dreams” which is an exercise to promote deeper conversations about ongoing and important issues in their relationships (and sexual intimacy certain qualifies as one of these issues!). The trick to this exercise is to adopt a speaker/listener format where you take turns in each of these roles, and in the role of “listener” you ask your partner open-ended questions from a place of curiosity and interest. In the role of “speaker” you do your best to speak openly and honestly about your experience. Luckily, this is a trick that you can try at home! Here are some ideas for open-ended questions that might help you take a step back to explore your sexuality with your partner, and build a trusting connection that can help you both grow more comfortable with the topic of sex and exploring your own sexuality:
  1. What messages did you receive about sex when you were younger?
  2. Were these messages influenced by a certain religious background? If so, how?
  3. What messages did you receive about masturbation when you were younger, if any?
  4. How did your parents talk to you about sex?
  5. What did you think about sex before your first sexual encounter?
  6. How did you feel about sex after your first sexual encounter?
  7. What are your thoughts about the role sex should play in a committed relationship?
  8. What were your expectations or thoughts about what sex would be like in a committed relationship? 
        This is not an exhaustive list by any means so allow your curiosity to unfold naturally and to ask any questions that might help you understand your partner more fully. I recommend setting aside at least 40 minutes total for this exercise so that you each get 20 minutes in each role. Most couples are surprised by the ways this simple exercise helps them get to know each other better. Even though you may have been together for years, this exercise helps remind us that there are always things that we don’t know about each other and that continued interest and curiosity about each other fosters both emotional and sexual intimacy!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Politics and Marriage

        With the results of Super Tuesday in and the 2012 presidential campaign kicking into high gear, politics are once again on the forefront of Americans’ minds. Politics have a way of bringing likeminded people together, but also of tearing people with opposing viewpoints apart. There is a reason it’s considered “impolite” to discuss religion and politics.

        This risk of disagreement is too high for many couples. A recent poll conducted by the New York Times best-selling authors of “Crucial Conversations” and VitalSmarts found 77 percent of people avoid discussing politics and 10 percent say they avoid political banter at all costs. Nearly half of the respondents have had bad experiences when sharing their political views. However, talking about politics is crucial for all married couples and those in long-term relationships. Many new couples do not view political differences as a concern, but it can become a major force that pulls couples apart if not properly addressed.

        Depending on your individual level of political enthusiasm, political differences might not play a huge role in your relationship. Real problems arise when two very passionate people on opposite ends of the party spectrum decide to make a life together. Overcoming political differences is a process and above all relies on communication and open dialogue.The first step is to understand your partner’s viewpoint. Find out how your partner’s childhood, life experiences, and personal values influence their political leanings. You will probably learn something new about the way your loved one analyzes the world. Like we discussed last week in our post about compromise, the next step is to find common ground. It is unlikely either of you will change the other’s mind, but there are issues both of you can agree on. You would not be together unless you share some basic values. The final and most important step is to agree to disagree. Even with effective communication and active listening, you will still disagree on some issues. Acknowledge these differences and move forward. 

        If necessary, make subtle changes in your daily activites to keep the peace. Maybe the two of you will decide radio broadcasts and television programming that focus on political commentary are not suitable to view as a couple. It might be best to agree upon a list of touchy subjects that you should avoid. Be aware of social situations with your friends where your partner is the only one of a certain political view. Maintain open dialogue that allows you to talk about situations like these that make you uncomfortable, and how to make them better. Thoroughly discuss areas of your life affected by politics: jobs, parenting, residence, volunteering, etc. Do not be afraid to ask tough questions.

        Watch for warning signs that your relationship is in trouble over politics such as frequent arguments, a lack of respect for one another’s opinions, and intense disagreements. These could indicate underlying hostility and in some cases, a lack of long-term compatibility. Political differences will not dissipate over time so act now; discuss the important issues before they overwhelm your relationship.

J. Fuller
TGI Staff

Monday, March 5, 2012

Featured Blogger: Stephen Snyder, MD

        Dr. Snyder is a sex and relationship therapist and psychiatrist in New York City, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and author of the cutting-edge sexuality blog
        He writes, “Not many sex therapists are MD’s, and not many psychiatrists still do much psychotherapy. So I’m somewhat of an anomaly on both counts. My blog at is my attempt to reconcile my medical, psychiatric, psychological, and sexological selves – sort of a one-man group therapy, as it were. I look forward to learning and sharing with the Gottman team and its readers.”

Some Open Secrets About Sexual Arousal
Stephen Snyder, MD

        The secrets of sexual arousal are hidden in plain sight. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

        Physical sexual arousal – the sexually aroused body – has been endlessly studied, most famously by Masters and Johnson in the 1960′s. And less rigorously but no less intensely by every sexual couple since the dawn of human self-awareness.

        Most couples study the male partner’s erections and the female partner’s state of lubrication carefully, for reassurance about their respective states of sexual arousal. Urban legends rise and fall concerning other putative guides to one’s partner’s level of sexual arousal (see “nipple erection,” “pupil dilation”). But through all of this, we’re in the realm of the sexually aroused body.

        The sexually aroused mind has proved harder to study. Research on mental sexual arousal continues to await its Masters and Johnson.


        When we’re aroused, sex grabs our attention. We stop thinking about bills, worries, responsibilities — our entire portfolio of ordinary concerns. Our time sense typically becomes impaired. (People tend to arrive late to meetings when they’re aroused).

        If someone gave us an IQ test during peak sexual arousal, we wouldn’t do very well on it. The tester might have a difficult time getting us to pay attention to the questions. Good sex makes us definitely dumber. And great sex can make us downright stupid.


        Arousal reduces us to an infantile level. We become, if all goes well, as naturally selfish as a small child. We don’t tolerate frustration very well.

        If the phone rings during lovemaking, we get upset. We don’t care who’s calling — or what they want.

        When we’re aroused, we don’t want to be bothered by anything — except our sexual needs. We may be deeply absorbed in passionate feelings towards our sexual partner, but we might at that moment not want to hear all about their day. We just want to be treated very nicely and told that everything will be fine.


        There are no words for it. Arousal just feels special. And uniquely validating. Sexual arousal appears to evoke our earliest physical and emotional partnerships with the first people who held us, rocked us, pleasured us, and told us we were wonderful.

        Maybe that’s why we crave it so much. Maybe it’s a homecoming.

        The infantile part of sexual arousal is a complex, contradictory, and sometimes volatile thing. It can be healing, and can also cause much grief. But wouldn’t that just about fit our ordinary experience of what sex is like?

        When couples come to see me complaining of a sexual symptom, such as lack of sexual desire, or sexual boredom, or some other dysfunction — I always try to find out whether they’ve been getting aroused. Not just hard – or lubricated. But really aroused. Captivated. Self-absorbed. Infantile. I like to see a few giggles.

If the arousal isn’t there, then where did it go?

        Sometimes a couple has been too preoccupied with the physical aspects (for instance, trying to make lubrication or erections occur), and simply never knew to pay attention to the mental aspects of sexual arousal.

        But more often, at some point early in the sexual relationship, amidst all the complex and vulnerable feelings stirred up by sexual arousal, someone’s infantile feelings got hurt. And arousal took flight, and never returned.

        What does it take to bring it back? It’s not always possible. Sometimes the heart has its reasons for staying away.

        But sometimes simple acts of peace – such as listening to each other, being curious about each other’s experience, and daring to be vulnerable again — can make arousal, like Noah’s Dove, return bearing an olive branch.

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2012