Friday, December 28, 2012

Weekend Homework Assignment: Repair Attempts



Ideally, successful conflict management in your relationship ends with both of you hearing each other's positions and understanding the dreams hidden beneath the surface of your disagreement. 

Realistically, without repair attempts in your conflict discussions, this seamless ending is often impossible to reach. This Friday, your Weekend Homework Assignment focuses on practicing the repair attempts we discussed in our last blog, so that you will be prepared for next week’s discussion of the last two skills of Dr. Gottman’s 6 Skills for Managing Conflict.

As we’re sure you've noticed, the language that we've been using in the blog this week for discussing repair attempts and de-escalation has been rigid, maybe seeming inauthetic or uncomfortable. When trying to put the brakes on what feels like a train-wreck of a discussion with your partner, using such formal terms may seem like the worst move you could make, as your attempts to stop its motion appear awkward and forced. 

While these feelings are natural, Dr. Gottman makes a very good case for conquering these doubts and sticking with these outlined repair attempts. We suggest that you attend to his reminder that repair attempts are often missed in arguments because they are hidden in a whirlwind of escalating negativity. Focusing on their wording, and making sure that they are clearly recognizable, is vital for successfully managing conflict.

According to Dr. Gottman's research, "Formalizing repair attempts by using these scripted phrases can help you defuse arguments in two ways: First, the formality of a script ensures that you will use the type of words that work well for putting on the brakes, and second, these phrases are like megaphones—they help ensure that you pay attention to a repair attempt when you’re on the receiving end.”

This weekend, try keeping these words in mind while putting together the steps we explored this week in our Managing Conflict postings. It is best to start practicing with low-intensity topics, and to take the training wheels off gradually as the two of you begin building confidence in your approach to conflict. Start using the phrases and methods of communication we provided you with in Wednesday's blog post, and when you notice your partner making a repair attempt, accept it and acknowledge it clearly.

Though conflict discussions have the potential to throw us into a negative place, ranging from frustration to great distress, practicing the exercises we described on Monday may have an unforeseen benefit: Using new (and potentially foreign sounding) terminology may be a source of amusement in the midst of a stressful conversation. If the two of you feel the urge to interrupt your conversations with “This is repair attempt #735!,” don’t fight the urge to laugh. After all, these exercises are intended to bring the two of you some relief in the midst of what is otherwise an incredibly draining activity. Moments of affection and laughter in the midst of the storm bring warmth and light into even the most difficult conversations!

Remember to practice the first four skills of Managing Conflict in your conversations with your spouse (and others!). Don't feel discouraged if they don’t immediately succeed in entirely transforming your social interactions—these are tools that have the potential to help you navigate difficult conversations enormously, but, as with anything else, they require patience and practice. 

Next week, look forward to the completion of our short tour through Dr. Gottman’s 6 Skills for Managing Conflict with the last two skills: Physiological Self-Soothing and Compromise. Have a relaxing weekend!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Manage Conflict: Repair And De--Escalate


In the entry on “Making Up” in Greenburg and O’Malley’s tongue in cheek handbook for avoiding love and marriage, the following points to consider when resolving a fight are given: 

  1. The person who started the fight must be the one to end it.
  2. The person who was wrong must be the one to end it.
  3. If the person who started the fight and the person who was wrong are not the same person, the fight can never be ended.
For those of us who do not want to be stuck in a cycle of negativity, Dr. Gottman’s words from Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work may be more useful: 

“Your future together can be bright even if your disagreements tend to be very negative. The secret is learning the right kind of damage control. You may discover that your partner is more conciliatory during arguments than you realized—once you know what to listen for!” 

Though we all naturally attempt to repair our interactions with our partners when the conversation careens off the tracks and into negative territory, our attempts to de-escalate these conversations often fail without us knowing why.

Dr. Gottman's scientific studies involving thousands of couples have revealed the usefulness of several constructive steps to making and receiving repair attempts!

Here are a few examples of phrases that you can use to get your message through. If they feel awkward or forced, use language that you feel more comfortable with:

I Feel… 

  • I am getting scared 
  • Please say that more gently
  • That felt like an insult 
  • I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now

I Need to Calm Down… 

  • I just need this to be calmer right now 
  • Can I take that back? 
  • I need your support right now 
  • Can we take a break?

Sorry… 

  • Let me try again
  • I’m sorry
  • I really messed up, I can see my part in this
  • I want to say this more gently but I don’t know how

I Appreciate… 

  • I know that this isn’t your fault
  • Thank you for...
  • I understand
  • I love you

Try to find a way to resolve disagreements
 by asking your partner about their concerns by finding common ground, stating that their point of view makes sense. It also helps to share when you feel persuaded or that you feel that you both are moving towards a solution.

Remember to take a break if you really need to calm down or feel flooded with emotion, feel that your conversation has become entirely derailed, or feel that your partner’s emotional state (or your own!) is impeding the ability of the two of you to have a constructive conversation. To “
Stop Action,” as Dr. Gottman calls this in his Weekend Workshop for Couples, you can simply ask to stop, ask for a break, ask to change the subject, or observe that you are getting off track. Make sure that you both agree on a time when you will return to the discussion after you have both calmed down.

We hope that you can use Dr. Gottman’s third skill of Managing Conflict in your own disagreements with your partner in two ways: to exercise better judgment in interpreting your partner’s statements (and their possible implications) before your disagreement escalates, and to limit the damage that such disagreements can create in your relationship by directing your conversations into positive territory. Practice these skills along with those from our blog entries last week, and look forward to Friday's Weekend Homework Assignment, in which we will share an exercise to help you practice repair attempts. Have a great week!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, December 24, 2012

Manage Conflict: Using Compromise as an Opportunity to Build Intimacy



Today on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we are excited to feature a guest posting from Jennifer Bingaman, M.A., LMHCA. Jennifer is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate in private practice offering individual and couples therapy in the Greater Seattle Area. Jen specializes in couples therapy and individual therapy for depression, anxiety, and work burnout. In addition to her private practice, Jen is also a member of the TGI staff. In her role as Project Coordinator for TGI, she will be bringing Level 1 trainings to advanced-level university programs in 2013 through the Gottman University Outreach Program.


Using Compromise as an Opportunity to Build Intimacy
Jennifer Bingaman, M.A., LMHCA


As a young girl, growing up with media like Disney movies and the celebrity culture of our country, I had a very idyllic idea of what a romantic relationship is supposed to look like. While I was realistic enough to not expect my future partner to stride up on a white horse, I did have some misguided notions about what a healthy relationship should look like. One belief I picked up was the expectation that well-suited couples didn’t argue with one another. A sign of a good relationship would be one where there was no conflict and everything was beautifully resolved before I even knew there was an issue.

As a grown woman and a therapist, I know better. All couples disagree and those that say they don’t are likely bluffing. As Dr. Gottman discovered, all couples fight, but it’s how they fight that distinguishes whether they will be dubbed “masters” or “disasters” of relationships.

So when a couple walks in my office door for counseling, I always turn to the Sound Relationship House to assess where they are at in their relationship. When we arrive at the Manage Conflict level of the Sound Relationship House and we begin to dialogue about issues, the concept of compromise, and its role in the couple becomes apparent instantly.

You see, Dr. Gottman found that compromise is essential to managing conflict in relationships. If you think about it, the idea makes sense. While two people may each have an idea of how a problem should be solved, at the end of the day they cannot take two separate approaches if their goal is to function as a team. If one person gets all of what they want, and the other doesn’t get their needs met at all, then that’s not teamwork. Plus, in a couple, we ideally want our partner to feel they were heard and understood. If we’re too busy thinking our way is the best way, then we’re not showing a lot of respect and love to our partner, are we?

Which is why compromise is the way to go. If my partner isn’t willing to agree that my way is the way for both of us, I might as well accept getting some of my needs met instead of none.

So this is where I encourage my clients to think about what their needs are in this disagreement. If they walked away from the disagreement feeling satisfied with the outcome, what needs would absolutely have to be met? From here, everyone speaks to what they feel they are inflexible on in the disagreement, sharing the values and thoughts behind why their inflexible areas are so important to them. Knowing those values, we then acknowledge what pieces of the outcome we’d be willing to budge on for the sake of everyone getting a bid for their needs.


What’s wonderful about this activity, besides finding a resolution to conflict, is the opportunity you get to know your partner better. If you can look at these conversations as opportunities to get to know your partner’s love maps - their values, their desires, and their priorities - I have a hunch these conversations will go a lot more smoothly and end with a greater intimacy between partners.

Rather than dreading the next disagreement, I encourage you all to see it as a chance to learn more about your partner, while also giving them something they want in the process. I don’t know about you, but I’m more concerned about walking away from an argument feeling understood than feeling like I won. If I can make my partner feel understood, well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Happy Holidays,
Jen Bingaman, M.A., LMHCA

Monday, December 17, 2012

Manage Conflict: The Six Skills


 

Today on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue the discussion of Manage Conflict by introducing Dr. Gottman's six skills of conflict management. Many of us connect all too well with comedian Mitch Hedberg’s feelings when he quips, “I got in an argument with a girlfriend inside of a tent. That's a bad place for an argument, because I tried to walk out, and had to slam the flap!”

While his commentary on the frustrations all couples feel in the face of conflict may hit close to home, or deeply amuse us, we know that problems in real relationships are rarely solved through stand-up comedy. In the interest of finding more constructive solutions, we would like to direct you to a different quote, that lovely old adage: Love is saying "I feel differently" instead of "you’re wrong."

Dr. Gottman has discovered that in all conflict, the creation of constructive conflict management includes the development of the following six skills:

  1. Soften Startup
  2. Accept Influence
  3. Make Effective Repairs During Conflict
  4. De-escalate
  5. Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner
  6. Compromise

As his research has revealed, discussions invariably end on the same note they begin. If you start an argument too harshly by attacking your partner verbally, you will end up with at least as much tension as you began with. What we will share with you today will give you a few tools to avoid falling into this trap.

Soften Startup, which involves how a partner raises an issue in the first three minutes of the conversation, is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. If most of your arguments start softly, your relationship is far more likely to be stable and happy:

Complain but don’t blame. No matter how "at fault” you feel that your partner is, approaching them with criticisms and accusations is not productive. According to Dr. Gottman, it’s all about approach! 


  • Instead of blaming your partner with “You said you would clean the backyard today and it’s still a mess,” try a simple complaint: “Hey, there are still some fallen leaves in the gutter and tennis balls everywhere. We agreed you’d rake and clean up after Buster. I’m really upset about this.”

Make statements that start with "I" instead of "You." When you start sentences with "I" you are less likely to seem (or be!) critical, immediately putting your partner into a defensive position. Instead of saying “You are not listening to me," you can say, "I don’t feel like you are listening right now.” Instead of "You’re so careless with money," say, "I think that we should try to save more.”
  • Focus on how you’re feeling, not on accusing your spouse! Both of you will stand to gain something from the conversation – the two of you will likely feel that you are hearing and understanding each other more.

Describe what is happening, but don’t evaluate or judge. Instead of accusing or blaming your partner, simply describe what you see in the situation. Though you may be at the end of your leash, keeping yourself in check will be worth it in the end! Instead of violently attacking with accusations, such as “You never watch the baby,” try saying, “I seem to be the only one chasing after Charlie today. I’m really exhausted – could you help out with him?” 

  • Instead of lashing back out at you, your partner is more likely to consider your point of view and deliver the results you are hoping for with this approach. Be clear. No matter how long you have been with your partner or how well they know you, no matter how convenient it would be, you cannot expect them to read your mind.

Be polite and appreciative. Just because you are in conflict with your partner, does not mean that your respect and affection for them has to diminish! Adding phrases such as “please” and “I appreciate it when you…” can be helpful to maintaining warmth and emotional connection even during a difficult conversation. Which is, of course, exactly where you need it most.

Don’t store things up! We've all been there: exhausted and overwhelmed, feeling like we are drowning in a whirlpool of problems... in this state, one issue leads to another, and we suddenly find ourselves bringing up a laundry list of issues (which all somehow feel related!)

Generally, the issues we bring up in such conversations don't feel so related to our partners.
Flooded with emotion, both partners are entirely incapable of reaching a resolution. As we all know, not doing the laundry regularly leaves you with an enormous mess. Don’t wait forever to bring up an issue with your partner, and your conflict discussions will be far more productive. Don't let the situation escalate!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The 12 Year Study



Today on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we break from the Sound Relationship House Series to recognize all of the happy couples in our home state of Washington (as well as Maryland and Maine!) who have been able to take advantage of the passage of a referendum approving same-sex marriage.

In separate lines of research, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman have observed the strength and resilience of same-sex couples, even in the midst of the cultural and social stresses to which same-sex couples are uniquely vulnerable. Together, the Gottmans have made a commitment to assuring that lesbian and gay couples have resources to help strengthen and support their relationships.

Using state-of-the-art methods while studying 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Robert Levenson (University of California at Berkeley) were able to learn what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail in The 12 Year Study.

One key result: Overall, relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same across all couple types (straight, gay, lesbian) that Dr. Gottman has studied. This result supports prior research by Lawrence Kurdek and Pepper Schwartz: They find that gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to straight relationships in many ways. 
According to Dr. Gottman, "gay and lesbian couples, like straight couples, deal with every day ups-and-downs of close relationships. We know that these ups-and-downs may occur in a social context of isolation from family, workplace prejudice, and other social barriers that are unique to gay and lesbian couples." The research uncovered differences, however, that suggest that workshops tailored to gay and lesbian couples can have a strong impact on relationships.
Gay/lesbian couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict. Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive in how they receive it. Gay and lesbian couples are also more likely to remain positive after a disagreement. "When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples. Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships," explains Dr. Gottman. 
Gay/lesbian couples use fewer controlling, hostile emotional tactics. Gottman and Levenson also discovered that gay and lesbian partners display less belligerence, domineering and fear with each other than straight couples do. "The difference on these ‘control’ related emotions suggests that fairness and power-sharing between the partners is more important and more common in gay and lesbian relationships than in straight ones," Gottman explained. 
In a fight, gay and lesbian couples take it less personally. In straight couples, it is easier to hurt a partner with a negative comment than to make one’s partner feel good with a positive comment. This appears to be reversed in gay and lesbian couples. Gay and lesbian partners’ positive comments have more impact on feeling good, while their negative comments are less likely to produce hurt feelings. "This trend suggests that gay and lesbian partners have a tendency to accept some degree of negativity without taking it personally," observes Gottman. 
Unhappy gay and lesbian couples tend to show low levels of "physiological arousal." This is just the reverse for straight couples. For straights, physiological arousal signifies ongoing aggravation. The ongoing aroused state—including elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and jitteriness—means partners have trouble calming down in the face of conflict. For gay and lesbian couples this lower level of arousal shows that they are able to soothe one another.
In a fight, lesbians show more anger, humor, excitement and interest than conflicting gay men. This suggests that lesbians are more emotionally expressive—positively and negatively—than gay men. This result may be the effect of having two women in a relationship. Both have been raised in a society where expressiveness is more acceptable for women than for men, and it shows up in their relationships. 
Gay men need to be especially careful to avoid negativity in conflict. When it comes to repair, gay couples differ from straight and lesbian couples. If the initiator of conflict in a gay relationship becomes too negative, his partner is not able to repair as effectively as lesbian or straight partners. "This suggests that gay men may need extra help to offset the impact of negative emotions that inevitably come along when couples fight," explains Gottman. 
How did Drs. Gottman and Levenson study same-sex couples? Gottman and Levenson recorded gay and lesbian couples interacting and coded partners’ expressions to learn more about their emotions. They also used more common self-reporting and interview methods, in detail and over time. The combination of these measures provided a thorough assessment.
See the Chicago Tribune's article here for a description of recent happenings at Seattle City Hall. 
Have a wonderful weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Manage Conflict: The Four Horsemen Continued



The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.

The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, we are dismantling his or her whole being when we criticize.

  • Complaint: "I was scared when you were running late and didn't call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other."
  • Criticism: "You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don't believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don't assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean - treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

  • "You’re ‘tired’?! Cry me a river… I've been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid… just try, try to be more pathetic…"

In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner - which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority.
Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated.

The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.

  • She: "Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?"
  • He: "I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn't you just do it?"

He not only responds defensively, but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been: 

  • "Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now."

Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. 

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. When we stonewall, we avoid conflict either because we are unconscious of our own feelings or because we are afraid. Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. We simply stop engaging in the business of relating to another person. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable "out," but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit. 

In developing ways to predict divorce through scientific research, Dr. Gottman discovered that the key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not the way in which the two of you handle disagreements, but the ways you interact are when you're not fighting. Allocate fifteen extra minutes each day this week to work on your friendship with your partner, build up your Emotional Bank Account, and work on creating Positive Sentiment Override. You'll be amazed at how much of a difference such changes can make to the overall strength of your relationship. 

Have a great week,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, December 7, 2012

Weekend Homework Assignment: Build A Culture Of Appreciation



As we described in a previous blog posting on The Three Boxes this summer, Negative Sentiment Override will cause your relationship to slide slowly but surely into a valley of darkness. You can read more about this movement out of “The Nice Box,” through “The Neutral Box,” and finally into “The Nasty Box” here.

If you feel that you are experiencing Negative Sentiment Override, do not be alarmed! This does not necessarily spell doom for your relationship. Our research has allowed us to devise tools for combating NSO, the findings of which have helped thousands of couples find their way back to a positive view of their partners and stabilize their relationship! You can find a great number of these tools in Dr. Gottman’s books, such as
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage WorkThe Relationship Cure, and What Makes Love Last!

We would like to share one of these tools with you today. Below you will find one of the many exercises Dr. Gottman has designed to help you work towards
Positive Sentiment Override from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. When you and your partner have free time, follow these instructions:

Exercise: I Appreciate…

From the list below, choose three items that you think are characteristic of your partner. If there are more than three, still circle just three (you can choose another three if you decide to do this exercise again.) Even if you can recall only one instance when your partner displayed this characteristic, you can circle it.

Loving, Sensitive, Brave, Intelligent, Thoughtful, Generous, Loyal, Truthful, Strong, Energetic, Sexy, Decisive, Creative, Imaginative, Fun, Attractive, Interesting, Supportive, Funny, Considerate, Affectionate, Organized, Resourceful, Athletic, Cheerful, Coordinated, Graceful, Elegant, Gracious, Playful, Caring, A great friend, Exciting, Full of plans, Shy, Vulnerable, Committed, Involved, Expressive, Active, Careful, Reserved, Adventurous, Receptive, Reliable, Responsible, Dependable, Nurturing, Warm, Virile, Kind, Gentle, Practical, Lusty, Witty, Relaxed, Beautiful, Handsome, Rich, Calm, Lively, A great partner, A great parent, Assertive, Protective, Sweet, Tender, Powerful, Flexible, Understanding, Totally silly…

For each item you chose, briefly think of an actual incident that illustrates this characteristic of your partner. Write about it in your notebook or journal as follows:

1. Characteristic ___________________________________________

Incident: ___________________________________________

2. Characteristic ___________________________________________

Incident: ___________________________________________

3. Characteristic ___________________________________________

Incident: ___________________________________________


Now share your list with your partner! Let him or her know what it is about these traits that you value so highly. Build your Emotional Bank Account! Wash behind your ears! Have a great weekend!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa

TGI Staff

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Positive Perspective: More on the 5:1 Ratio


In 1974, an important book was published by Harold Raush. It was the first observational longitudinal study to use sequential analysis of interaction in relationship conflict styles. Raush divided his couples into three groups: Harmonious, Conflict Avoiding, and Bickering. He suggested that the two extreme styles of conflict (avoiding and bickering) were dysfunctional. However, in our own research we found that all three styles (which we called 
Avoiders, Validators, and Volatiles) were functional - stable and happy - if and only if the ratio of positive to negative interaction during conflict was greater than or equal to 5:1.

As we move into Conflict Management next week, we urge you to keep this in mind! The key to accepting your partner’s influence in conflict discussions - a crucial part of reducing their negativity - is the willingness to compromise, or, as Dr. Gottman calls it, yielding to win. This willingness grows enormously as you build
Love Maps, share Fondness & Admiration, Turn Towards Instead of Away, and bring your relationship into Positive Sentiment Override. However, these skills alone will not help you to improve your conflict discussions. In difficult conversations, compromising or yielding to win is no easy task. If your conflict discussions end up overrun by the 4 horsemen, they pose a serious threat to the future of your relationship. Fighting each of the horsemen with their antidotes is vital to maintaining the 5:1 ratio - their triumph would make the maintenance of this ratio impossible! By virtue of its construction, all levels of The Sound Relationship House are interdependent. Think of all of the skills you have learned so far as building up savings in your Emotional Bank Account. Even if your savings don't stop you from having conflict discussions, the mutual goodwill you have built up will make these discussion both easier and more productive.

Challenging though it may be, keep this is mind: as we work up to higher levels of the Sound Relationship House, the supporting lower levels must stay in place! If using the Gottman Method makes your relationship feel uncomfortably similar to a game of Jenga, take a deep breath, and slow down! Take your time. The skills that Dr. Gottman has found to be vital for keeping relationships stable and healthy are, as all things, mastered through practice, and change doesn't happen overnight. The good news is that putting the levels of the house together will, over time, build intimacy, strength, and stability in your relationship! Your hard work will pay off.

For more on the 5:1 ratio, see Dr. Gottman’s video below:





Look forward to Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, an exercise that you and your partner can use to build a positive perspective!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Positive Perspective: Dr. Gottman's Magic Ratio!



The presence of positive affect during everyday interaction is crucial. However, for a relationship to be healthy, both positivity and negativity are necessary. Dr. Gottman's balance theory of relationships implies the unusual point of view that negativity is important in healthy partnerships. Negativity plays many pro-social functions, such as allowing couples to identify and work out interaction patterns that don’t work, and alerting partners to the differences in each other’s perspectives. Our research indicates that couples (and couples therapy) should not declare war on negativity! A relationship without conflict would not be able to move forward. As time passes and each partner's goals, feelings, and perspectives change, it is important to discuss the issues that arise and address the ways in which you can interact more positively in the long run. In "Manage Conflict," the next level of the Sound Relationship House, you will learn proven strategies for effectively managing conflict in your relationship. Today, however, we focus on maintaining the Positive Perspective. 

Research suggests that what really separates the happy couples from the miserable is a healthy balance between their positive and negative interactions. All couples have different styles of approaching conflicts – some yell and slam doors, while others retreat into separate corners of their home and fume quietly. Neither style necessarily spells relationship doom.
Volatile couples can stick together when their frequent arguments are conducted in the context of mutual love and passion - when their disagreements are had in a state of Positive Sentiment Override. As we mentioned in our last blog, PSO establishes the presence of positive affect in problem solving discussions and transitively determines success of repair attempts during conflict resolution.

However, balance does not mean a fifty-fifty equilibrium. Dr. John Gottman charted the amount of time couples spent arguing versus interacting positively - touching, smiling, paying compliments, laughing, etc - and found there is a very specific ratio that exists between the amount of positivity and negativity in stable relationships. 

The magic ratio is 5:1. In other words, as long as there are five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative, the relationship is likely to be stable. It is based on this ratio that Dr. Gottman is able to predict divorce! Very unhappy couples tend to have more negative than positive interactions. The bottom line: even though some level of negativity is necessary for a stable relationship, positivity is what nourishes your love. On Wednesday, we will investigate further into Dr. John Gottman's "Magic Ratio" that has received national attention

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff