Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TGI Couple's Newsletter: Making Love Last

We are excited to announce the publication of our brand-new Quarterly TGI Couple's Newsletter! The theme of this quarter's newsletter is "Making Love Last," which we hope will inspire you to make your relationship a priority this summer! Whether you are recently engaged or have been married for 35+ years, we have something to offer everyone in a committed relationship. In this issue, you will hear from Dr. Julie Gottman, our clinical director, as well as from Laura Heck, a clinican in our products department. You will learn about all that has been happening at the Institute as well as what is to come this summer. Enjoy!

Monday, July 30, 2012

What Makes Love Last?

We are excited to announce that in anticipation of the launch of Dr. Gottman’s new book What Makes Love Last? on September 4th, we will be spending the next five weeks exploring deeper into this long-awaited and much anticipated release from the nation’s pre-eminent researcher on marriage!

Dr. John Gottman has spent decades observing the conversational patterns and biorhythms of thousands and thousands of couples in his famous “Love Lab.” Now he applies this research to fundamental questions about trust and betrayal. Doubts are common in relationships. Partners often worry. Can I trust my partner? Am I being betrayed? How do I know for sure? Based on laboratory findings, this book will show readers how to identify signs, behaviors, and attitudes that indicate betrayal— whether sexual or not - and will provide strategies for repairing what may seem lost or broken. With a gift for translating complex scientific ideas into insightful and practical advice, Dr. Gottman explains how a couple can protect or recover their greatest gift - their love for one another.

In What Makes Love Last?, Dr. Gottman shows how trust can save and extend life by explaining the health implications of trust and distrust, including the way trust and distrust impacts the brain as well as the endocrine, cardiovascular, and automic nervous sytems. Readers will also learn that the dynamics of betrayal are quite separate from those of trust. Learn how betrayal happens, how to avoid it, and how to heal from it.

Readers will also gain tools for making conflict constructive and for building trust and intimacy. John demonstrates how our “sliding door moments” can either help couples build an emotional connection or make them turn away and create an emotional injury. By demonstrating how love is most commonly betrayed, he shows how to heal a relationship from betrayal and also helps readers to measure their own personal “Love Quotient.” These are all topics that we will be covering on the Gottman Relationship Blog in the coming weeks.

We are excited to share this early book review by Publishers Weekly:

"Gottman and Silver (coauthors of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) bring the quantitative, physiological metrics-based methods pioneered in Gottman’s “Love Lab” at the University of Washington to the topics of trust, betrayal, and infidelity. In an easy-to-understand format full of anecdotes, imaginary dialogues, and analogies to game theory, Gottman explains lack of trust in a relationship as a deficit of attunement, positing that once the body becomes “flooded” by physiological stress reactions, attempts to repair communication fail. He explains betrayal as a logical outcome of a pattern in which partners fail to communicate their discontent, one partner becomes untrustworthy and makes negative comparisons between the partner and some other person or situation, and the injured partner seeks solace elsewhere. Though clear that there are various types of betrayal (e.g., absenteeism, making coalitions against a partner, and lying), much of the book covers communicating about and renewing sexuality as both a method for and a result of better attunement between partners. The practical tools to evaluate current relationships and step-by-step methods for avoiding betrayal, repairing relationships heading toward crisis, or healing a relationship after a crisis will be useful to couples who want to look honestly at healing chronic hurts and improving the state of their relationship, and are ready for a system to help them."

On Wednesday, we will explain the work done by Dr. Gottman at famous his University of Washington “Love Lab.”

Countdown to WMLL Release: 36 days

Have a great week,
M. Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Monday, July 23, 2012

Managing Conflict: Accepting Influence

Congratulations to those of you who have been with us from the beginning and made it this far in our Managing Conflict Series! Welcome to Accepting Influence, a skill in which you may have to manage significant internal conflict before you can manage significant external conflict. If you have ever seen Mary Poppins, the following lyrics sung by the incorrigible Mr. Bank may hit home: stepping through the door and clutching his “slippers sherry and pipe, due at 6:02,” he intones:

“It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910, King Edward's on the throne; It's the age of men! / I'm the lord of my castle, the sov'reign, the liege! I treat my subjects: servants, children, wife with a firm but gentle hand: Noblesse oblige!”

Sadly for him and many other men, Dr. Gottman’s research leaves no room for debate: it is a scientifically proven fact that “relationships fare much better when a man accepts influence from his female partner.” To do otherwise is, according to Dr. Gottman, simply winning the battle and losing the war. The western world has come a long way from Britain of 1910, and being Master Of The House these days comes at a price. It is now widely accepted that the differences in male and female development, both in nature and nurture - ability to self soothe, motivation to discuss feelings and navigate emotional waters, and likelihood of being socialized in a way that increases emotional intelligence - have an enormous impact on later domestic life.

Naturally, both partners in a relationship have the right to be heard and respected. Unfortunately, so far it has been women who have not been given much of a voice in their families and homes by their male partners, and women who have often too willingly given up their dreams for the sake of their relationships. Today, things are changing, in both the worlds outside and inside the home. Men are beginning to realize the power of changing their approach. Research on families and couples supports their efforts, and Dr. Gottman’s findings are no different. In fact, respecting and loving one another by cherishing each other’s dreams is at the foundation of Dr. Gottman's teachings on conflict management.

In Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s collaborative Art & Science of Love workshops, husband and wife role-play the winning strategy known as the "The Akido Principle," or Yield To Win. To quote directly from the workshop’s manual, “one does not win an argument by countering everything [their] partner says. If you are a brick wall, things will only escalate. In fact, what you have to do to win is to get your partner to start saying
yes, and the only way to do that is to yield to those parts of your partner’s point of view and argument that seem reasonable to you.” In doing this, you achieve something powerful. The two of you become a team, working together to solve your shared problem!

On Wednesday, look forward to our last blog post in the Managing Conflict series on Compromise. On Friday, we will help you to put all of Dr. Gottman's skills together, with a variety of examples and exercises that you can practice with your partner, to let your natural love and admiration for one another show even in the most difficult, emotionally exhausting, and stressful conversations that the two of you have. 

All for now,

Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, July 13, 2012

Managing Conflict: Skill 1 & 2 Weekend Homework Assignment

In this week’s blog postings, we discussed Physiological Self-Soothing and Softening Startup, which are the first two of Dr. Gottman's 6 Skills for Managing Conflict. Before venturing into the four remaining skills for effectively managing conflict in your relationship, we’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to work on ways in which you can personally apply these two skills in your own lives. In the exercises below, we will show you some simple strategies for beginning to practice conflict management in your own relationship. This way, you can start getting into the habit of using these skills in the way that works best for you and your partner! With practice, the two or you will increase your ability to manage serious conflicts before they escalate.

We hope that the following activities will help you to explore the first two steps of conflict management and to figure out which methods of their use are most natural and helpful to you:

Physiological Self Soothing

  • Think of a neutral signal that you and your partner can use in a conversation to let each other know when one of you feels “flooded” with emotion (for more about flooding, refer to this Monday’s blog on Physiological Self Soothing!)
  • Try to think of a place that makes you feel calm and safe. As you imagine yourself in this sanctuary, lose yourself in the peace of mind that it brings you. Meditating on the beauty of a sacred haven in your imagination can be a perfect way to relax yourself in a break taken from a difficult conversation.
  • Practice focusing on your breath: it should be deep, regular, and even. Inhale and exhale naturally. As in Eastern practices, from yoga to contemplative meditation, we may find ourselves calmer and more centered if we stop for a moment and allow the noise around us to temporarily fade away.
  • Tense and relax parts of your body that feel tense. Feel the warmth and heaviness flow out of your limbs. This technique is similar to a focus on breathing, but you may feel that one or the other (or both!) are preferable to you. Work with either of these techniques to feel your stress melt away!

Think of these as starting points for your creation of islands of peace within yourself. Investigate these lands, and find a way in which you may ask your partner for a moment to clamber up onto the safety of your own haven in the course of a difficult conflict conversation. 

Softening Startup

Think of recurring areas of frustration or current problems that you would like to discuss with your partner. Make a list of your specific needs that you feel are not being fulfilled in these areas. Try to think of ways in which to express these needs to your partner in a manner following Dr. Gottman’s rules for Softening Startup, by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How can I rephrase my “You” statements into “I” statements? (see Wednesday's Softened Startup blog posting below for details!)
  • How can I describe what is happening without evaluation or judgment?
  • How can I express my needs to my partner in positive terms, in terms of what I would hope or want rather than what I don’t want or can’t deal with?
  • How can I show my partner appreciation for what I feel he/she has been doing in the past, or in the present with regard to this area?

Remember that the above exercises are not set in stone, or a part of some one-size-fits-all rulebook! Tailor them to your own relationship, your own needs, and your personal conversation styles. We hope that you will find them useful jumping-off points for cultivating your own sense of confidence in bringing peace and affection into your own conflict conversations. Play around with the ideas above, and let yourself be creative! Next week, look forward to the next two Skills for Managing Conflict as explained by Dr Gottman: "Repair and De-Escalate" and "Listen to Your Partner's Underlying Feelings and Dreams."  Have a glorious weekend! Enjoy the summer sun.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, July 6, 2012

Weekend Homework Assignment: Overcoming Gridlocked Conflict

According to Dr. Gottman, “Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.” We have found in our research that almost all gridlocked conflicts stem from unfulfilled dreams! 
In other words, the perpetual conflicts in your relationship may symbolize a profound difference between you and your partner's personality and lifestyle preferences. None of us want to feel that our most intimate relationships are keeping us from achieving our dreams.

Many of us find that, without exerting control over our freewheeling thoughts, our own dreams offer us new and exciting insights into our own lives. Unfortunately, it may be exasperatingly difficult to access our dreams when they are buried under enormous workloads at the office, missed hours of sleep, and stress in the real world. It is even more frustrating to analyze the ways in which our dreams conflict with those of our mate when we don’t even know what those dreams are! Using Dr. Gottman's research, we've found a simple (and enjoyable) way to help you navigate this problem.

As Dr. Gottman recommends in The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, “Keep working on your unresolvable conflicts. Couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations." He continues by explaining that the first step in overcoming gridlock is open communication with your partner about your hopes, aspirations, and life goals. 

In today’s post, we invite you to use his research to your advantage by embarking upon the following four exercises with your partner. With them, the two of you can become each other’s closest confidantes and supporters, both in your own dreams and in those you share!

1) Become a “Dream Detective,” and allow yourself to contemplate dreams you may have buried or ignored within the gridlocked issue. This will help you to understand the ways in which you feel that these wishes are not being addressed in your relationship.

2) Explain your position to your partner without criticism or blame. If it helps, write out such an explanation beforehand, focusing on what the two of you need or want out of the area of disagreement. Come to an understanding of the dreams that you and your mate have within the conflict, and dig deeper than the superficial issue to discover your feelings and hopes below the problem at hand. Suspend judgment. Relax. Give each other time, and do not attempt to solve the problem immediately. Ask questions!

3) Soothe each other. Gridlock is, by definition, stressful. If you feel like you are becoming flooded with emotion, or incapable of productive conversation, take a break either alone or with your partner. There’s no rush. According to Dr. Gottman's research, “if your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, you won’t be able to hear what your spouse is trying to tell you no matter how hard you try.”

4) Accept that some problems are unsolvable. Unfortunately, it is practically impossible to entirely resolve such a gridlocked conflict immediately. As per Dr. Gottman’s humorous observation, “your purpose is not to solve the conflict - it will probably never go away completely… instead the goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue, to try to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of great pain.” Here are a few steps that you can take to arrive at a temporary peace settlement in these treacherous lands:

  • Define the minimal core areas that you cannot yield on. 
  • Define your areas of flexibility. 
  • Devise a temporary compromise that honors both of your dreams. 

We hope that by going through these exercises with your partner,  the two of you will be able to make progress communicating about a perpetual issue in your relationship. Look forward to next week as we continue the Managing Conflict series with a discussion of Dr. Gottman's Six Skills for Conflict Management!

Have a great weekend,

Ellie Lisitsa 
TGI Staff

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Managing Conflict: Recognizing Gridlock

We hope that you had an incredible 4th of July! On Monday, we promised to show you some ways to determine whether or not you’ve arrived at gridlock in any of your perpetual relationship problems, and to give you a few ways to start communicating about them. In the spirit of fairness and decency, we will deliver on that promise today!

Our research has allowed us to determine a series of characteristics common to gridlocked problems. By using this simple checklist, you can determine whether or not you have reached total gridlock in any of those infuriatingly repetitive problems you may have in your relationship:

  • The conflict leaves you feeling rejected by your partner.
  • No matter how much you talk about it, you feel thwarted. Despite your best attempts, you are making absolutely no headway in the problem area.
  • You become so impossibly entrenched in your positions that neither you nor your partner plan to budge.
  • Anytime the subject comes up, you invariably feel frustrated and hurt.
  • Your conversations about the problem are unpleasant as can be, entirely devoid of humor, amusement, or expressions of affection.
  • Your inability to budge increases with the passage of time, leading the two of you to vilify each other when this conflict arises.
  • In an infuriating catch-22, the reverse also manages to occur: as you vilify each other, your inability to budge and polarization in your views increases, and your chances of reaching a compromise plummet. 
  • Upon traversing this delightful territory, the two of you end up in the land of total emotional disengagement.

If any of this sounds painfully familiar, you can take comfort in knowing that there is a way out of gridlock, no matter how entrenched in it you feel. As Dr. Gottman explains in The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, all you need is the motivation and willingness to explore the hidden issues that are really causing the gridlock. The key will be to uncover and share with each other the significant personal dreams you have for your life. We have found in our research that unrequited dreams are at the core of every gridlocked conflict! In other words, the endless argument symbolizes some profound difference between the two of you that needs to be addressed, before you can put the problem in its place by openly communicating about it. 

Look forward to tomorrow’s posting for skills we have developed to help you in overcoming gridlock in your relationship!

Until tomorrow, 
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, July 2, 2012

Managing Conflict: Solvable vs. Perpetual Problems

Brace yourselves, because over the course of the next two weeks, we are going to be talking about relationship conflict. All of us have conflicts in our relationships. Sometimes they’re just simple disagreements, while other times they’re awful battles. The Managing Conflict Series, which will kick off today, has been developed by The Gottman Institute to teach you six specific skills that will help you to manage your conflicts with your partner and transform them into opportunities for greater understanding, compromise, and compassion. As described by Dr. Gottman in his research, the six skills for Managing Conflict are: 

  1. Practice Physiological Self-Soothing
  2. Use Softened Startup 
  3. Repair and De-Escalate 
  4. Listen to Your Partner’s Underlying Feelings and Dreams 
  5. Accept Influence 
  6. Compromise 
When thinking about conflict in a relationship, it is important to ascertain whether a problem is solvable or perpetual. Our research has shown that 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them – these problems are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either 1) fundamental differences in your personalities that repeatedly create conflict, or 2) fundamental differences in your lifestyle needs. In our research, we concluded that instead of solving their perpetual problems, what seems to be important is whether or not a couple can establish a dialogue about them. If they cannot establish such a dialogue, the conflict becomes gridlocked, and gridlocked conflict eventually leads to emotional disengagement.

In today’s posting, we want to take the opportunity to explain the difference between a solvable problem, a perpetual problem, and a gridlocked perpetual problem. 

  • Solvable problems can be about housecleaning, disciplining children, sex, and in-laws. Solvable problems for one couple can be about the exact same topics that could be perpetual problems for a different couple. A solvable problem within a relationship is about something situational. The conflict is simply about that topic, and there may not be a deeper meaning behind the each partner's position. A solution can be found and maintained. 
  • Perpetual problems are problems that center on either fundamental differences in your personalities, or fundamental differences in your life style needs. All couples have perpetual problems. These issues can seemingly be about the exact same topics as what for another couple might be solvable; however, unlike a solvable problem, these are the problems that a couple will return to over and over and over again. 
  • Gridlocked perpetual problems are perpetual problems that have been mishandled and have essentially calcified into something "uncomfortable." When a couple tries to discuss a gridlocked issue, it can feel like they are “spinning their wheels” and getting nowhere. The nature of gridlock is that hidden agendas underlie the issue.

The Gottman Method focuses on building emotional intelligence and developing skills for managing conflict and enhancing friendship to help couples (like you!) create a system of shared meaning in your relationship. What matters is not solving perpetual problems, but rather the affect with which they are discussed. The goal should be to establish a dialogue about the perpetual problem that communicates acceptance of your partner with humor, affection, and even amusement, to actively cope with the unresolvable problem rather than allowing it to fall into the condition of gridlock. Gridlocked discussions only lead to painful exchanges or icy silence, and almost always involve the Four Horsemen (criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness). In Thursday's blog posting, we will explain how to recognize if a perpetual problem in your relationship has become gridlocked and begin conversations about it.

All for now,
M. Fulwiler
TGI Staff