Friday, September 28, 2012

Weekend Homework Assignment: Stress From Within Your Relationship

Our recent postings on stress have been dedicated to helping you use Dr. Gottman’s research to deal with stressors, form goals, and find balance in your life so that both you and your partner may grow closer in your relationship. In today's posting, we would like to bring it all together by discussing how to handle stress from within your relationship. Building trust through stress management is one of the greatest gifts you can give each other. With that said, Dr. Gottman understands that your relationship may be a massive source of stress as well. If this is the case, you are certainly not alone, and his advice may come as a great relief! 

If you have been meaning to change something about your relationship, but just haven’t had the time to get around to it, now is the time. Remember that your relationship is constantly evolving as you and your partner spend more and more time with one another. Your individual likes and dislikes may change more than you think. Reassess the state of your relationship, paying particular attention to how you both felt about your relationship over the past year. What aspect of your relationship was most satisfying? Most frustrating? Have you been sexually satisfied recently? If not, what would you like to see changed? What does your partner feel about each of these topics? Don’t have this conversation all at once to avoid making it a source of stress! Be open to talking about these issues regularly. Make it a habit.

Communication is extremely important when discussing these topics, as feelings of discontent may elicit a defensive response. Take turns letting each other speak, uninterrupted. Once you have each had a chance to voice your opinions, respond to each other’s comments. Do not make targeted suggestive attacks like “I don’t like the way you…” or “You need to...” Instead, make the conversation about your relationship as a whole by using positive statements like “I think we could…” or “We need to...” When “you” is changed to “we,” the conversation involves both parties. You become a team. When you are a team, and you don’t attack one another, you learn to trust each other. 

Before making goals for your reducing the stress caused by your relationship, here are three tips to consider: 

  1. Set realistic expectations: Do your best to think about the things you'd like to change as well as what a realistic change would look like. If you and your partner have been struggling, don’t expect change to happen overnight. However, making a long-term commitment to each other is the first step in getting your relationship to where you want it to be. Talk to each other about where you want your relationship to be in two months, six months, and by the end of the year
  2. Set both specific and holistic goals: Good resolutions focus on specific details as well as the bigger picture. While having a stronger relationship may be your ultimate goal, improving the way in which you communicate about your day at work or the way that you decide which TV show to watch at night make for specific goals that are extremely attainable. Relationships are already incredibly complex. Break your resolution down into smaller goals and it will seem a lot less daunting.
  3. Focus on the means, not just the ends: One of the best ways to set goals is to focus on the means of getting to where you want to be, not just focusing on where you want to be. Improving your relationship is a constant process! Enjoy the process of getting to know your partner on a more intimate level.

Now that you’re prepared to make resolutions for your relationship, what exactly do you want to change? How will you reduce the stress in your life that is caused by your relationship? Here are five resolutions from the Gottman Institute designed to improve the overall experience of your relationship, with an emphasis on improving your sexual happiness and healthiness. Choose some of these or develop some of your own this weekend - simply apply these ideas to the areas you feel are in need of change! Whatever your decision, what is most important is that you are both equally committed to achieving the same end goal.

  • Make it a priority to nurture the fondness and admiration in your relationship. Fondness and admiration are crucial to the long-term happiness of a relationship because they prevent contempt - one of the four horsemen - from becoming an overwhelming presence in your life.
  • Make it a priority to talk openly about sex with your partner. Intimate conversation builds emotional connection, leading to more passion in your lovemaking.
  • Make it a priority to communicate more openly with your partner about your sexual needs and desires, specifically the way in which you communicate during sexual intercourse.
  • Make it a priority to pay more attention to your partner’s bids for emotional connection.
  • Make it a priority to develop love maps of your partner’s erotic inner world. What really sends them through the roof?
  • Make it a priority to develop effective strategies for initiating and refusing sex so that neither partner feels rejected.

Have a great weekend,
E. Lisitsa and M. Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Monday, September 24, 2012

James Sheridan on Generosity

In a momentary interlude from our regular posts on the Gottman Relationship Blog, today we’d like to share an article by James Sheridan of the News Sentinel. In his piece, he discusses generosity in relationships, alluding to Dr. Gottman’s research on Turning Towards Bids in a quote from The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. Intimately tied to our recent blog posts about Dr. Gottman’s research on Bids And Trust and Sliding Door Moments, Sheridan illuminates Dr. Gottman’s research in the context of our general views on generosity. Read his article below!

Marriage Advice: 
Generosity Helps Build a Healthy Marriage
A column by James Sheridan
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Americans are known for their generosity. We give enormous amounts of time and money to charities and civic organizations.

As a nation, we help many countries around the world. When natural disasters strike, we're among the first to provide assistance. Unfortunately, we often forget the importance of also showing generosity at home to our spouse and our marriage.

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox defines generosity as going beyond what's required or expected. In marriage, we expect fidelity, good communication, the giving and receiving of affection, and work supporting the household.

Generosity goes the next step with constant attention to the details of both the physical and emotional side of marriage. Generosity involves willingly sacrificing time and emotional energy on behalf of your relationship. It gives more than is expected, without expecting anything in return.

Marriage provides countless opportunities for generosity. We all make huge mistakes. A generous dose of forgiveness heals the hurts.

University of Denver researchers report that a danger sign for relationships is “score keeping,” i.e. keeping track of every time your spouse does that thing that irritates you. Routine forgiveness is so important for marriage that Wilcox includes it as an element of basic generosity.

Generosity also includes giving the benefit of the doubt. Your husband unexpectedly brings home a bouquet of your favorite flowers or your wife makes your favorite meal. Is your first thought to accept it as a loving act or to wonder what they're up to?

Constant negative interpretation makes it impossible for your spouse to please you, since you attribute a bad motive to every kind act. Generously interpreting your spouse's actions in positive ways opens up a panorama of wonderful possibilities to show love for both of you.

Generously passing an opportunity to take offense is also a gift to both your spouse and your relationship. Expert John Gottman gives the example of you asking where the napkins are. Your spouse snaps back angrily, “They're in the cupboard!"

Do you take it as a personal attack, go into a sulk or snap back; or do you accept the information and let their tone of voice slide, realizing your spouse may simply be having a bad day?

It is also important to be generous with your compliments. Researcher Emerson Eggerichs explains that women need unconditional love, and men need unconditional respect.
Women may be loved by their co-workers, their family and their neighbors. But, there's a hollow space in her heart if she's not loved by her husband. Likewise, men may be roundly respected by all, but if he's not respected by his wife, his world is bleak.

As author Sherry Holetzky advises, don't hold back with your compliments. “Be generous and let your mate know how wonderful, smart, talented,” and attractive you think they are. She explains that your spouse needs “to hear pride in your voice, to be praised and reassured.”

And, be generous with romance and intimacy. Hugs, kisses and caresses make both of you feel better and help bring you closer. Go out of your way to romance your wife or seduce your husband. Your generosity in these areas will add a major boost to your marriage.

Don't wait for your spouse to ask or just “go along” with their suggestion. Instead, take the initiative, plan something that your spouse enjoys or finds exciting. This is the hallmark of generosity.

Generosity gives without expecting anything in return. But generosity tends to cause your spouse to want to give back, not as a required payback, but, because … well, because you're just so dog-gone nice and they love you for it.

©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

Read the article on the News Sentinel website here.

All for now,
E. Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, September 21, 2012

Weekend Homework Assignment: Goal Setting In Self-Care

As we’ve discussed in the blog this week, self-care is one of the most critical tools we have at our disposal in maintaining healthy relationships. In the words of William Shakespeare, “Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.” Furthermore, in the words of Marcel Proust, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” This weekend, we offer you a few of Dr. Gottman’s tips for goal-setting as you work to create a healthier lifestyle, both for yourself as well as for your relationship.


  • Make your goals specific and measurable. Rather than telling your partner that you would like to talk more, suggest that you go on a date every other Saturday. Leave the kids with the babysitter and find some time for just the two of you.
  • Think about the pros and cons of making healthy changes. If we stick with the example above, we could imagine that a pro would be the ability to feel closer to each other and relax (at a favorite dinner spot, on a jaunt through a beloved park, in a cozy cafe), and a con could be the price of the babysitter.
  • Break big goals into little ones! If you want to get in shape, don’t go crazy – this will only add to your stress. You know how much your butt is going to hurt after your first day running two hours on the treadmill. Go slow. Start with smaller increments. Apply the treadmill example to everything.
  • Ask for support! If you want to take care of yourself, remember the people closest to you – the ones you can count on. Call them if you want a boost of encouragement!
  • Anticipate obstacles and have a backup plan! If you take a moment to be honest with yourself and realize that your new self-care plane might be as fleeting as a New Year’s Resolution, don’t feel defeated! You are in control. Imagine the difficulties you may face in accomplishing your goal. For example, if going on a run every morning is going to be unrealistic once your kid starts school, try to come up with a solution that you feel confident will work. Could you work out a carpool with other parents so you have more time to yourself? Could you run in the evenings?
  • Make a daily plan and track your progress! Ask yourself the following questions frequently: What are my intentions today? (“I’ll go on a run tonight” or “I’ll stay away from the croissants at our staff meeting today” or “We’ll talk over dinner tonight, no more TV for a little while”)
  • Reward yourself for short-term and long-term successes! (“Yay! I ran!” or “Yay! I didn’t eat a croissant!” You get the idea…)

Play around with these ideas this weekend. Enjoy taking time for yourself. Remember, these are tools that are meant to be practiced far beyond the next couple of days. If you get into a healthy, stable regimen of self-care, you will be re-energized and strengthened - and your relationship will too!

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Quiz: How Much Stress Have You Been Under Lately?

As we promised in Monday’s blog, today we offer you a test developed by researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe and used by Dr. Gottman to measure your current stress level. The tools for couples that Dr. Gottman provides in his recently released book on trust are most effective if they are used by partners whose connection is based on a foundation of teamwork!  Couples who communicate about stressors and work together to fight stress build a culture of trust and mutual appreciation by supporting each other in tough times.

Note: Not only can stress have a disastrous impact on your relationship - it can also be detrimental to your health. Just as we discussed Dr. Gottman’s research on flooding and its detrimental effects on physiological health, any long-term stress is debilitating to our bodies. Decrease your level of stress and reduce the likelihood of damage both to your relationship and to your physical health!

The following quiz is designed to be taken by each of you individually to give both of you an idea of your starting point with regard to stress. Just like the trust-metric quiz we showed you last week, your results are likely to improve vastly when you practice Dr. Gottman’s research-based exercises from his long-awaited book What Makes Love Last? If you retake this quiz upon completion of the activities in his most recent book, expect improvement in your scores!

Circle the events you've experienced in the past year. Then, total the number of points assigned to the items you've circled:

  • Death of a spouse - 100
  • Divorce - 73
  • Marital separation - 65
  • Imprisonment - 63
  • Death of a close family member - 63
  • Major personal injury or illness - 53
  • Getting married - 50
  • Dismissal from work - 47
  • Marital reconciliation - 45
  • Retirement - 45
  • Major change in health of family member - 44
  • Pregnancy - 40
  • Sexual difficulties - 39
  • Gain of new family member (birth, adoption, elderly relative moving in) - 39
  • Major business readjustment (merger, re-organization, bankruptcy) - 39
  • Major change in financial state - 38
  • Death of a close friend - 37
  • Change to a different line of work - 36
  • Change in the number of arguments you have with a spouse - 35
  • Major mortgage - 32
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan - 30
  • Major change in responsibilities at work - 29
  • Son or daughter leaving home - 29
  • Trouble with in-laws - 29
  • Outstanding personal achievement - 28
  • Spouse begins or stops work outside of home - 26
  • Beginning or ending formal schooling - 26
  • Change in living conditions - 25
  • Revision of personal habits  24
  • Trouble with boss - 23
  • Major change in work hours/conditions - 20
  • Change in residence - 20
  • Change in schools - 20
  • Major change in recreational activities - 29
  • Major change in church activities - 19
  • Major change in social activities - 18
  • Minor mortgage or loan – 17
  • Major change in sleeping habits – 16
  • Major change in number of family get-togethers – 15
  • Major change in eating habits – 15
  • Vacation – 13
  • Christmas season – 12
  • Minor violation of the law (traffic ticket, etc.) – 11

Less than 150 points =  low risk of developing stress-related illness
150-300 points =  medium risk of developing stress-related illness
More than 300 points =  high risk of developing stress -related illness

Remember – this score is just a baseline estimate of your stress levels! Keep in mind that a great deal of the stress that you are experiencing may not be caused by your relationship. However, it may very well have enormous impact on your relationship if you let it build! If you use Gottman’s methods of stress-reduction, your stress levels are bound to decrease. On Friday, look forward to the first in a coming series of Dr. Gottman’s simple stress-reduction exercises.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, September 17, 2012

Building Trust In Stressful Times

If you are reading Dr. Gottman’s new book on trust and catch yourself thinking this is all well and good, but totally impossible to apply in my own relationshipyou are not alone. There are reasons for which our last blog entry focused on what may feel like the strangely foreign concept of Taking Time For Yourself. This week, we want to focus on those reasons.

If you have been reading our blog entries on Expressing Compassion and Empathy and Mindfulness in Emotional Moments between endless cups of coffee, a stressful commute to work, and delivering the kids around to their weekly activities, chances are that you may feel like you are on the verge of losing it. As you cope with what feels like your own personal brand of crazy at home, on top of which you have to somehow balance insanity in the workplace, getting enough sleep, staying healthy, participating in community life, and having the time to pursue your own interests, reading Dr. Gottman’s book on improving trust in your relationship may feel like an unrealistic excursion into theory – one impossible to implement in daily life. Luckily, Dr. Gottman understands these difficult realities and can offer you a great deal of help. 

Do yourself a favor. Do your partner a favor. Allow us to introduce you to Dr. Gottman’s methods for bringing the (hopefully no longer foreign concept!) of Taking Time For Yourself into your relationship. Though you may have some difficulties forming new patterns in your communication about these topics (especially if this has been an issue in the past), the results will pay off enormously.

To begin with, try the following simple changes. You know the drill - these are just examples. Every relationship is unique! Feel free to improvise:

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

This kind of communication is invaluable in any relationship. If you establish this kind of positive rapport (closely linked to Turning Toward Bids), you and your mate will gradually begin to make enormous leaps and bounds towards the establishment of trust. Your friendship will increase as you begin to bond as a team, and your stress will cease to become such an obstacle to romance!

Look forward to our blog on Wednesday, a quiz employed by Dr. Gottman to measure the amount of stress you’ve experienced lately. As you follow his advice and use his research-based tips to lessen your stress level, we hope that you will see your results improve enormously. Try today’s suggestions out this week, and look forward to more on managing stress in our coming posts on The Gottman Relationship Blog!

Have a wonderful week,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Calculating Your Trust Metric

Trust in a romantic relationship is a complicated animal. We all know this. If you find yourself convinced that you can’t trust your partner, the future of your relationship feels totally precarious. As you and your partner are jolted about by your own constantly changing feelings about each other’s trustworthiness and commitment, your relationship becomes a leaf in the wind. Luckily, we are here to help. 

The following is an exercise developed by Dr. Gottman for determining your relationship’s trust metric. This evaluation is meant as a starting point, one which will likely improve greatly upon your completion of the research-based trust enhancing exercises and activities that Dr. Gottman provides in his book What Makes Love Last?. Re-take this test after reading the book, and marvel at your achieved results!


For the following items, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each item by circling either SD for Strongly Disagree, D for Disagree, N for Neither Agree nor Disagree, A for Agree, and SA for Strongly Agree. Note: If you and your partner don’t live together or don’t have children (separately or together), answer questions about these topics based on how you think your partner would react if you did.

1. I feel protected by my partner. SD D N A SA
2. My partner is faithful to me. SD D N A SA
3. My partner is there for me financially. SD D N A SA
4. Sometimes I feel uneasy around my partner. SD D N A SA
5. I don’t think my partner has intimate relationships with others. SD D N A SA
6. From now on, my partner wouldn’t have children with anyone but me SD D N A SA
7. My partner loves our children/is respectful of my own children. SD D N A SA
8. I believe that you can trust most people. SD D N A SA
9. My partner helps me to feel emotionally secure. SD D N A SA
10. I know my partner will always be a very close friend. SD D N A SA
11. My partner will commit to help provide for our children. SD D N A SA
12. When the chips are down, I can count on my partner to sacrifice for me and for our family. SD D N A SA
13. My partner does housework. SD D N A SA
14. My partner will work hard to increase our financial security. SD D N A SA
15. My partner doesn’t respect me. SD D N A SA
16. My partner makes me feel sexually desirable. SD D N A SA
17. My partner takes my feelings into account when making decisions. SD D N A SA
18. I know that my partner will take care of me when I’m sick. SD D N A SA
19. When we’re not getting along, my partner will work with me on our relationship. SD D N A SA
20. My partner is there for me emotionally. SD D N A SA
21. My partner doesn’t overuse alcohol and drugs. SD D N A SA
22. My partner acts romantically towards me. SD D N A SA
23. My partner is kind to my family. SD D N A SA
24. I can rely on my partner to talk to me when I’m sad or angry. SD D N A SA
25. My partner belittles or humiliates me. SD D N A SA
26. There’s at least one person who comes first to my partner rather than me. SD D N A SA
27. My partner will work with me as part of a financial unit. SD D N A SA
28. I have power and influence in this relationship. SD D N A SA
29. My partner shows others how much he or she cherishes me. SD D N A SA
30. My partner helps carry the load of child care. SD D N A SA
31. I just can’t trust my partner completely. SD D N A SA
32. My partner keeps promises. SD D N A SA
33. My partner is a moral person. SD D N A SA
34. My partner does what he or she agrees to do. SD D N A SA
35. My partner will betray my confidences. SD D N A SA
36. My partner is affectionate towards me. SD D N A SA
37. In arguments I can trust my partner to really listen to me. SD D N A SA
38. My partner shares in and honors my dreams. SD D N A SA
39. I fear my partner could stray. SD D N A SA
40. My partner’s words and deeds reflect values we say we agree on. SD D N A SA
41. My partners makes love to me often. SD D N A SA
42. I can count on my partner to build or maintain a sense of family and community with me. SD D N A SA


Step 1: Score your answers to questions 4, 15, 25, 26, 31, 35, and 39 using the following scale. Then add them up:

Strongly Agree: 1
Somewhat Agree: 2
Neither Agree nor Disagree: 3
Somewhat Disagree: 4
Strongly Disagree: 5
Subtotal _____

Step 2: Score your answers to the remainder of the questions using this scale:

Strongly Agree: 5
Somewhat Agree: 4
Neither Agree nor Disagree: 3
Somewhat Disagree: 2
Strongly Disagree: 1
Subtotal _____

Step 3: Add your two subtotals to calculate your trust metric.

Total ______

What does your score mean?!

You have a low degree of trust in your partner and your relationship. Not all couples are meant to be together forever, but even matches with serious trust issues can work things out if both partners make a strong commitment to doing so.

Your trust level is moderate. You have some trust in your partner—but uncertainty as well. The foundation of trust in your relationship needs strengthening for you to attain a happy and long-lasting relationship.

Your trust metric is high! You have a deep sense of trust in your partner. Such a sturdy foundation improves the likelihood that your relationship will remain happy in the long-term, but if you have scored in the bottom half of this range, you still have work to do to maintain and reaffirm your happiness in the long term.

Remember, whatever the trust-metric score,
you are in control. Dr. Gottman offers you both explanations of phenomena determining the levels of trust you feel in your relationship and research-based tools for increasing your confidence in maintaining and building trust in the future. We hope that Dr. Gottman’s long-awaited book What Makes Love Last? shows you the truth about trust - your potential is limitless. Find it on bookshelves everywhere!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, September 10, 2012

Avoiding Loss Aversion In Arguments

A few days ago, the following article came to our attention. Posted by James Sheridan of the News Sentinel, it discusses the impact of behavioral economics on relationships, particularly between married couples. While citing research conducted by Szuchman and Anderson on the phenomenon of loss aversion in the field of behavioral economics, he commends Dr. Gottman for his insights into ways for vanquishing our cognitive demons. Our maladaptive human tendencies to allow loss-aversion and similar cognitive phenomena to chip away at our relationships are unavoidable. However, we do not have to accept the stress and tension that they create, or allow them to continue destroying our abilities to clearly see what truly matters to us! In the following piece, Sheridan describes the cutting edge of relationship research, the scientifically proven models and methods of fighting loss-aversion identified independently by Dr. Gottman, Szuchman, and Anderson. Take a glimpse into the fascinating confluence of their research below!

Marriage Advice: 
Avoid Loss Aversion In Arguing
A column by James Sheridan
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
No one likes to lose.

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson explain in “Spousonomics” that research demonstrates “our aversion to loss is so intense it leads us to behave in strange, often destructive ways.” In our minds, “losing hurts twice as much as winning thrills.” We “have to win $200 to make up for the pain of losing $100.”

Loss aversion can be a problem in marriages. Szuchman and Anderson explain that spouses will invest so much into their disputes that neither one can stand the thought of losing.

Even when spouses know they're repeating themselves and no progress is being made, 53 percent kept arguing anyway. Amazingly, 34 percent said they kept fighting even after they couldn't remember what they were arguing about. And 34 percent also said they kept fighting “even after they know they're wrong.” The fear of losing ends up compounding long-term losses in marriage.

The key to avoiding loss aversion is recognizing your marriage is more valuable than the issue you are arguing about. But we forget this in the heat of the moment, when we're obsessed with not wanting to lose.

Expert John Gottman reports arguments that aren't going well after 3 minutes probably won't be going any better after 3 hours, unless something changes. Loss aversion has probably already set in. Szuchman and Anderson, as well as Gottman, suggest the change should involve taking a “time-out.”

The rules of a time-out are simple. First, either of you can call a time-out. Second, the person calling the time-out has to set a time-in, never more than 24 hours later (even 20 to 30 minutes is often long enough). Time-outs aren't for practicing your arguments. Instead, think about the good in your marriage, what “led to all that anger” and how you might come to a solution with love and respect.

Another aspect of loss aversion is “the endowment effect.” Szuchman and Anderson describe this as our tendency to “put an irrationally high value on our own stuff.” Things we've had for years, we see as “priceless” and can't understand why our spouse wants it thrown out.

The answer for the endowment effect comes in “reframing the question.” Instead of focusing on what you're “losing,” consider what you're gaining. Are you losing something sentimental (that old chair) or gaining a chance to buy something new and strengthen your marriage?

Szuchman and Anderson also warn of another aspect of loss aversion, the “Status Quo Bias.” We're wired “to strongly prefer the known and familiar over the unknown and unfamiliar.” Moving away from the status quo typically makes us feel bad.

For example children begin arriving a few years after the marriage. Many couples look back on the “independent years” when the status quo meant being free to do as they wished when they wished. Now they're tied to the needs of their infant children.

One solution is what Szuchman and Anderson call “active decision-making” — taking “an active role in the decisions that affect your life.” This includes consciously deciding to “reset the status quo to the present time.”

Active decision-making makes it easier to accept the new “normal,” which includes the joys of parenthood or any other new reality, with less stress, less sense of loss and fewer arguments over “what we had and how we need to get back."

Your marriage will be stronger by avoiding the problems of loss aversion. Using time-outs, recognizing the problem of the endowment effect and making conscious decisions about life-changing events will reduce the risk of multiplying your losses in your marriage by excessive loss aversion.

All for now,
E. Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, September 7, 2012

Weekend Homework Assignment: Mindfulness in Emotional Moments

In the spirit of our release of Dr. Gottman’s long-awaited book on trust, What Makes Love Last?, we’d like to connect our recent discussion of emotional bidding with his discoveries on the subject. In his celebrated Relationship Cure, Dr. Gottman offers readers many ways in which to increase understanding and trust in your relationships, ending a section of his chapter on "Six Bid Busters and How to Avoid Them" with the exercise we share with you below. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity – its impact on your relationships may catch you off-guard! 

If you practice thinking about your daily interactions in the ways that Dr. Gottman suggests, you will find yourself not only becoming more mindful of the connections that mean most to you, but also better equipped to process emotional moments as they come and go. Whether you are at home, in the office, with your kids, or on some adventure, these are skills you can use to connect with yourself and others. Most of all, remember that an increase in mindfulness allows you the priceless opportunity of strengthening the most cherished friendships and relationships in your life. Try it when you have a moment to yourself, when you can relax, and if you feel the urge, grab a pen and paper!

Exercise: Mindfulness in Emotional Moments
  • Was there a bid for an emotional connection? What need was being expressed behind the bid?
  • How did you read between the lines in answering the previous question? How did you first notice the emotion the person was feeling – was it in their words? Facial expressions? Gestures? 
  • What emotion did you perceive in the other person? Happiness? Sadness? Anger? Fear? Contempt? Something else?
  • What did this person need from you? (Examples: To just be there with them, to listen, emotional support, understanding humor, a bit of fun, conversation, etc.)
  • How did you communicate to this person that you understood what he or she felt or needed in the moment? If you used words, what did you say?
  • Did this person react to your acknowledgment of his or her feelings? Do you feel like this interaction had an effect on this person or on your relationship?
  • Did this interaction have any effect on you or your feelings and cognitions about yourself? Did it bring you any other insights?

You may find yourself immediately thinking of certain moments to examine - exchanges you recently had with others which provoked an intense emotional reaction or were particularly confusing to you. Whether or not specific moments come to mind, don’t feel pressured to search feverishly for "good subject matter" to work with! Anything that you can think of is fair game. Try this exercise at home this weekend, and play with it throughout the next week. But don't stop there! Remember: you can practice asking these kinds of questions at any time. The more frequently you do this, the more naturally they will come to you, until the skills that they teach you become a natural part of your thought process. Watch how mindfulness allows you to increase your attention to mechanisms underlying the formation of stable, satisfying relationships. In the words of Virginia Woolf's famous epigraph, "Only connect!" 

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Problem of Fuzzy Bidding

Welcome back to the Gottman Relationship Blog! From all of us at the Gottman Institute, we hope that you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend to the fullest and were able to enjoy some well-deserved time off! We have been overwhelmed by all of the positive feedback following the release of What Makes Love Last? yesterday and would like to take this opportunity to thank you. 

In the next couple weeks on The Gottman Relationship blog, we will be exploring Dr. Gottman’s discoveries about bidding. In writing about his studies about the mechanics of bidding and primary causes for bid-rejection, Dr. Gottman hits upon the very important phenomenon of “fuzzy bidding.” What is “fuzzy bidding” and why is it so important? It goes a little something like this:

Lucy: We should get coffee sometime.
George: That’s a great idea, but you know, I’m absolutely swamped these days.
Lucy: I totally understand, give me a call?

George: Great, I’ll do that.

Though the exchange seems casual, Dr. Gottman’s research shows him that the situation between Lucy and George is deeply problematic. It is more likely that Lucy’s bid is being (and will continue to be) rejected. Dr. Gottman explains that in such a case, Lucy can’t tell how George actually feels about her bid. Is George really that busy, or is he just saying it to avoid getting coffee with her? Will George ask her to get coffee when he is less busy or decides to go on some kind of pity date? Her fuzzy bidding in such situations leads her to become completely overcome with misgivings, filled with paranoia and may even, in the natural course of such things, make her so paralyzed by doubt that she can’t function in her daily life. This seems to be a common theme among many of us. Our lives are being taken over by fuzzy bidding! It may come as a relief to hear Dr. Gottman’s advice for avoiding such disaster.

Here’s the way an accepted, successful bid would look according to Dr. Gottman:

Lucy: We should get coffee sometime.
George: That’s a great idea, but you know, I’m absolutely swamped these days.
Lucy: I totally understand. Do you know when you’ll be free?
George: Let me see – Next Friday the project will be due, and the deadline should free me up!
Lucy: Saturday morning?
George: Perfect, see you then!

The difference is that in the second conversation, Lucy and George don’t dance around the issue! We know that open bidding - the kind where we feel vulnerable - has the potential to hurt us. We learn this as children. It seems safer to send out what Dr. Gottman calls “trial balloons.“ When a child says, “Annie’s mom fixes Annie’s hair in French braids every morning!” what she may really be trying to say to her harried mother is, “I wish you’d pay more attention to me in the mornings.”

Practice avoiding fuzzy bids in your own life by increasing the clarity of your intent in bidding situations. Chances are, your successes will bring you the confidence you need to continue getting into this habit, making your connections with others much stronger! We wish you luck, and to remember – as with most of Dr. Gottman’s skills, practice makes perfect. Look forward to more about bidding on Friday!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff