Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Research: Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction Part II

In relationships that are working well, the couple's interaction style is constructive, affirming, and enjoyable. In unhappy relationships, the interaction style may be destructive, defeating, and dismal. Over time, a couple develops a set of expectations about the prospect of interacting that is grounded in their past experience. In happy relationships, there is an expectation of pleasure and a sense of optimism that becomes associated with the anticipation of interaction, whether it is sharing the events of the day after a period of separation or working on a problem that needs to be solved. In unstable relationships, an expectation of displeasure, dread, and pessimism may evolve, because past interactions, whether they be over mundane or profound issues, have been experienced as highly punishing.

Dr. Gottman and Dr. Levenson believed that it was these pleasurable or unpleasurable expectations that accounted for the differences in physiological arousal they observed during the periods of their study they used to measure “baseline” - when couples sat facing each other for 5 min in silence, knowing that they would soon be engaged in interaction. Couples’ expectations were then carried over into the interactions themselves, which the subjects had consistently indicated were prototypical of the kind of interactions they’d had in the past.

This perspective led the researchers to hypothesize about several distinguishing characteristics of the couples observed in 1980 whose marital satisfaction declined most over the 3 year study: these couples would have had the most punishing interactions in the past, and the least hope of improving these interactions in the future. 

For them, the interaction required by the study’s experimental procedures would have been troublesome, then unsettling, and ultimately, highly physiologically arousing. These couples were experiencing the negative affects of fear, anger, and sadness— fear of the impending interaction, anger toward each other, and sadness about the bleak prospects for their marriage.

The physiological measures used in the study confirmed this hypothesis. As we mentioned on Monday, a broadly based pattern of physiological arousal (in both spouses) in 1980 was found to predict decline in marital satisfaction - the more physiologically aroused the couple was during the 1980 interactions, the more their marital satisfaction declined over the following 3 years.

As our research shows, when one partner experiences hypervigilance (an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats), it is because they have developed this response to an interaction with their spouse through repeated experience. When time passes and this response is triggered over and over again, their physiological arousal may throw them into fight-or-flight mode, or, when completely overwhelmed, to shut down the system completely – to stonewall (see The Four Horsemen).

Men are more likely to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts than women, which may prologue their physiological arousal and hypervigilance, often causing their partners to flare up in response, until one by one, each partner is brought to a point of emotional detachment and avoidance.

When physiological arousal accompanies relationship conflict, it may lead to: (a) a decrease in one’s ability to take in information (reduced hearing, reduced peripheral vision, problems with shifting attention away from a defensive posture), (b) an increase in defensiveness, (c) a reduction in the ability for creative problem solving, and (d) a reduction in the ability to listen and empathize.

If you take a moment to think about it, you can probably remember instances in which you’ve experienced or observed this kind of thing – being handicapped in all of these ways does not exactly make for healthy or productive interactions. We all know how it feels to be overwhelmed, but don’t all have the tools to fight this feeling. As promised, we will end this week on the practical application of our research findings. This Friday, we will share some of the tools Dr. Gottman’s years of research have uncovered for avoiding this problem entirely!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Research: Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction

From 1980 to 1983, Dr. Gottman and his close friend and colleague Dr. Robert Levenson worked together to study the physiological and affective predictors of change in relationship satisfaction. Physiological predictors (like heart rate, pulse transmission, and skin conductivity) were observed and measured as levels of physical arousal in subjects, while affective predictors were observed in behaviors indicating the presence of various emotions and mood states. In this study, Drs. Gottman and Levenson sought to discover which physiological and affective cues could be used to predict the change in a couple’s relationship satisfaction over a span of 3 years.

In 1980, 30 married couples were recruited by newspaper advertisement and were scheduled for three laboratory sessions. The first session was scheduled for a time when the couple would not have spoken to each other for at least 8 hours. This session consisted of two 15-min conversations, each preceded by a five minute pre-interactional baseline during which they sat in silence. In the first conversation, the couple was asked to discuss the "events of the day" as if they were home alone at the day's end. 

In the second conversation, they discussed a conflictive problem area in their marriage. In the second and third sessions, each spouse returned separately to view the videotape of the first session's interaction. A continuous rating of affect was obtained by having the spouse manipulate a rating dial that traversed a 9-point scale (anchored by very negative and very positive on the extremes and by neutral at the center). Spouses were instructed to adjust the dial as often as necessary so that it always reflected the way they felt during the interaction. A laboratory computer monitored the position of the dial continuously and calculated an average every 10 seconds.

Four physiological measures were obtained from each spouse during the first session's baselines and interactions: (a) heart rate, measured by the interbeat interval (IBI); (b) pulse transmission time (PTT) to the finger; (c) skin conductance level (SCL); and (d) general somatic activity (ACT), a global measure of bodily movement. The laboratory computer monitored these physiological variables continuously, averaging them every 10 seconds.

In 1983, the researchers were able to make contact with 19 of these couples to determine the change in their relationship satisfaction over the preceding 3 years. 

Their Findings:

A broadly based pattern of physiological arousal (in both spouses) in 1980 was found to predict decline in marital satisfaction - the more physiologically aroused the couple was during the 1980 interactions, the more their marital satisfaction declined over the following 3 years.

Several affective variables also predicted decline in marital satisfaction, including a pronounced gender difference in negative affect reciprocity: Marital satisfaction declined most when husbands did not reciprocate their wives' negative affect, and when wives did reciprocate their husbands' negative affect.

In other words, couples grew less satisfied in marriage if wives responded to their husbands being upset, and their husbands DID NOT respond to their wives being upset.

Wait, what?

Drs. Gottman and Levenson discuss these surprising findings at length in their study, which you can read for yourself here.

To save you some time, we have summarized their thoughts below. The evidence points to the following reasons for such results:

  • In dissatisfied marriages, husbands tend to withdraw emotionally (stonewall) in negative interactions while wives remain emotionally engaged. Men also show less affection while women continue to demonstrate affection.
  • The experimental data indicates that a husband’s emotional withdrawal in dissatisfied marriages is pervasive. As the husband begins to become withdrawn from his wife, she shows more negative affect. One might consider this dichotomy to be a sign of his wife’s initial attempts to coax her husband back into the relationship.
  • The wives in the study appeared to be more attuned to the quality of emotional interchange. As marital satisfaction declined, the interaction between the couple appeared to reinforce the behaviors specific to each partner. The husband’s stonewalling made the wife more dissatisfied, her negative affect increased, in turn making her husband feel less satisfied with the relationship. 

Once this vicious cycle has begun, it is difficult to stop. This all sounds pretty bad. We know. But there’s no cause to fret! Fortunately, Dr. Gottman’s decades of research following this study have allowed him to develop methods that you can use to avoid this cycle entirely. Whether you feel free of its clutches or trapped in its endless downward spiral, this cycle can be vanquished for good through the practical skills of Gottman Method Therapy. Check out Dr. Gottman’s bestselling book, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, and head over to our Facebook page to learn more about the powerful tools we have developed to help couples like you maintain strong, healthy bonds.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Levenson, R.W., & Gottman, J.M., (1985). Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 85-94.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Research: Predicting Divorce from an Oral History Interview Part II

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to give a warm shout out to all the readers who sent us positive feedback on Facebook about The Research series, and also recognize those who have shared our blog with others! Thank you! We are delighted to hear that you’re finding the postings both insightful and understandable - we will continue to share about the science behind the headlines for the next several weeks.

We’ve received a number of requests to go into more depth on the study we shared on Monday. See more of Dr. Gottman’s findings below, and look forward to Friday’s blog posting, in which we will share the practical implications of this groundbreaking study on divorce prediction.

In Predicting Divorce from the Oral History Interview (1992), Dr. Gottman and his colleagues found that the Marital Disappointment/Disillusionment dimension was the most powerful single predictor of divorce. This dimension attempts to capture how depressed, hopeless, or defeated a spouse may sound when talking about his or her marriage (or about marriage in general). In the interview, people who scored high in Disappointment/Disillusionment sometimes said that they didn’t know what makes a marriage work because all they’d seen or experienced were bad ones!

While other couples were less blunt about their disappointment with marriage, they instead sounded disappointed or sad about specific aspects of their relationship. Some couples mentioned that they had unrealistic expectations about what marriage would be like. A number of participants in the study actually attempted to advise the interviewer about marriage, revealing their regret and displeasure with their own union.

Both husbands' and wives' presence or lack of “we-ness” during an oral history interview is a strong indicator of whether a couple will divorce or not. The husbands and wives who are low on this dimension may not feel connected or intimate with their spouses. These couples are probably living parallel lives, in the same home, but never really deeply joining together any more. In extreme cases, spouses may blame each other for problems in their marriage to escape responsibility or to avoid talking about the problem as a couple.

Many of those couples who score low in the “we-ness” dimension also admit to not being able to communicate with their spouse about their problems because they have such different viewpoints or perceptions. Many of these spouses will appear lonely or isolated because they are not able to receive support from their partners or from others (or feel that way). Sometimes one member of the couple being interviewed will score higher on “we-ness,” while the other emphasizes differences and and separation – a state of affairs implying lack of communication and mutual understanding dangerous to the future of the relationship.

We hope that this has been thought provoking! Rest assured - at one time or another, all of us experience phases in our relationships in which we feel disappointed or disillusioned. This is normal. The key to addressing these feelings is communication and a mutual desire to make an effort to manage these problems, as well as the knowledge necessary to address the problems in a healthy, productive way. On Friday we will share some of these ways!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Research: Predicting Divorce from an Oral History Interview

In 1992, Dr. Gottman and two of his colleagues, Kim Buehlman and Lynn Katz, conducted a clinical research study which was to astonish the world of relationship psychology. Interviewing 52 married couples about the history of their relationships allowed the researchers predict which couples would separate or stay together 3 years later with over 94% accuracy. So, how were they able to do this?

In the interviews, the couples described their first meetings, courtship, decision to get married, the good and bad times, their philosophy of what makes marriage work, and the way that their marriage has changed over the years. Afterwards, they made a brief visit to the lab, to have a 15-minute discussion about an area of conflict in their marriage, so that the researchers could see an example of the couple’s conflict style.

The researchers focused on a particular a set of 7 variables in this study, to determine which were predictive of the success or failure of the relationships they observed. These variables were:

1. Expression of fondness/affection
2. Expression of negativity towards spouse
3. Expressiveness vs. withdrawal
4. We-ness vs. Seperateness (how much they identify as part of the couple)
5. Level of traditionality regarding gender roles
6. How couple reported dealing with conflict: Volatility, Chaos, or Glorifying the Struggle
7. Marital Disappointment or Disillusionment

Variables increasing likelihood of a couple staying together:

  • A husband’s expression of fondness towards his wife
  • Both the husband’s and the wife’s expression of we-ness
  • Expression of positivity or happiness in their marriage, especially on the part of the husband 

The single most powerful predictor of divorce in this study was the husband's disappointment with the marriage, which, at the time of their interview, was significantly correlated with both his own and his wife's marital unhappiness, his belligerence towards his wife, and his wife's contempt and anger towards him. The husband's disappointment in the marriage was also correlated to his wife's faster heart rate during the marital interaction (increasing the likelihood of flooding).

Couples who score high in the Chaos dimension may end up divorcing because of their approach to the continual unforeseen circumstances they find themselves in. Couples who score high on this dimension feel out of control of external events and usually do not know how to problem solve or get back on their feet. Instead, they just accept that life is hard and they continue to struggle to survive instead of growing closer or learning new ways to deal with life's problems. Unfortunately, the philosophy of passive endurance, that life is hard and there is nothing a person can do about it, does not help their marriage survive.

On the other hand, couples who Glorify the Struggle have a better chance at staying together than couples who do not. These couples may be in the same turmoil as the couples who score high in chaos, but the difference is their perception of the hardships. Quotes like "Marriage is the hardest job in the world, but it is well worth it" demonstrate the couples' feelings of hopefulness and togetherness ("we-ness" in Gottman-speak). Glorifiers go on to tell in detail how certain traumas and intense experiences made them feel closer to one another. Hence marriages with this outlook on hardships grow stronger and get better as time goes on. Glorifying the Struggle correlates negatively with divorce because hope and commitment towards the other is stressed.

This is a lot to think about. Luckily, you don’t have to slog through a slew of research studies in order to learn how to strengthen your own relationship! Our work at The Gottman Institute allows us to share the conclusions that Dr. Gottman has reached - so that we can give you the tools to create and maintain healthy, happy, and long-lasting relationships with your loved ones!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, February 15, 2013

Apply The Research: Building Your Emotional Bank Account

Hollywood has dramatically distorted our notions of romance and confused us entirely about what makes passion burn. While watching Ryan Gosling pour his heart out in "The Notebook" may make your heart pound, real-life romance is fueled by the ways in which you interact with each other in the little moments that make up your day. It is kept alive through a joined effort to stay connected. It is created each time you let your partner know that he or she is valued and loved by you.

Romance does not have to grow in a boat carrying Ryan Gosling through tumbling waves and sea spray. It can also grow in a supermarket. It grows when Becky asks, “Are we out of bleach?” and instead of shrugging, her husband says, “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case!” It grows when Eric wakes up in the morning to say, “I had the worst nightmare last night,” and his girlfriend responds, “I’m sorry honey – I’ve got to run to work, but tell me a little bit about it now so we can talk about it more this evening!” instead of “I don’t have time, I have to go.” In one case, the partners respond to a bid with "turning towards," and in the other, they "turn away" - a choice that sends their mate a message about whether or not they are attentive, caring, supportive. These everyday moments can either be a source of stability or a source of stress. 

In relationships, these seemingly unimportant moments are the ones which are most important of all. They force you to make a quick decision, often entirely unaware that it may play a role in determining the strength or weakness of your emotional connection! If you don’t pay attention to these little moments, your failures to turn towards each other build up, and you risk undermining the strength of your bond. Luckily, our research provides a strategy to avoid putting your relationship in jeopardy.

We have discovered (from the research study discussed on Wednesday) that a major indicator of a couple's overall happiness is what we’ve come to call their Emotional Bank Account
. Partners who characteristically turn towards each other rather than away are putting money in the bank. They are building up emotional savings that can give them a sense of peace and security when they go through hard times. Because they have stored up so much mutual goodwill, they are better able to make allowances for each other when conflicts arise. 

Though it is challenging to always notice when your partner does turn towards you, out research has shown that taking the time to see the benefits of your work will pay off. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman describes a study in which couples were observed at home, noting that "happily married couples noticed almost all of the positive things the researchers observed their partners do for them...unhappily married couples underestimated their partners' loving intentions by 50 percent!"  

If you regularly contribute to your Emotional Bank Account, you and your partner will both understand each other's intentions much better when conflict arises! Rather than interpreting each other's words as intentionally aggressive or negative, even when they are not meant that way, you will hear each other's message loud and clear: Though at the moment you may be arguing, you both know that you love each other, and that this momentary conflict is much, much less important to each of you than your relationship.

Here’s Dr. Gottman on building an Emotional Bank Account:

In Monday's posting, we will continue The Research series by offering an in-depth analysis of a groundbreaking research study on divorce prediction performed by Dr. John Gottman. 

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Research: Behavior Exchange Theory and Marital Decision Making

Today we kick-off The Research series on The Gottman Relationship Blog with a study from 1976. Nearly 37 years ago, 
Dr. John Gottman, Cliff Notarius, Howard Markman, Steve Bank, and Bruce Yoppi conducted a series of studies that investigated behavior exchange theory and reciprocity in positive and negative behaviors expressed between partners in distressed and non-distressed marriages.

Exchange theory proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process. The purpose of this exchange is to maximize benefits and minimize costs. According to this theory, people weigh the potential benefits and risks of social relationships. When the risks outweigh the rewards, people will terminate or abandon that relationship.

The researchers gathered two groups of couples – distressed and non-distressed, the former having rated their marriages as “experiencing difficulties” while the latter whose marriages were “mutually satisfying."

In the studies, distressed and non-distressed couples made decisions on high and low-conflict tasks. They continuously coded both the intended impact of their own behavior on their spouse and the impact of their spouse's behavior on themselves. In Study 1, distressed couples did not differ from non-distressed couples on how they intended their behavior to be received. However, the behavior of distressed spouses was received more negatively by their partners than the behavior of their non-distressed counterparts. The couples in Study 2 also behaved in a way consistent with a communication-deficit explanation of distressed marriages; that is, distressed couples' behavior was likely to be coded by their partners as far more negative than they intended.

In the end, the researchers concluded that the reciprocity hypothesis did not hold, reporting the data from the present investigation support a "bank account" model of non-distressed marriage rather than a reciprocity model. In a bank account model, a non-distressed marriage differs from a distressed marriage in that there are more positive "deposits" than negative "withdrawals” from the emotional bank account. In a non-distressed marriage, the consequent positive impact codes are not contingent upon the spouse's antecedent coding. Perhaps it is precisely this lack of reciprocity in a context of high positive exchange that characterizes stable positive interaction in non-distressed couples.

The results of this study (along with many, many others), gave Dr. Gottman the tools with which to create the world-renowned Gottman Method Therapy, and to help couples to build their own
Sound Relationship House. This particular study directly relates to building an Emotional Bank Account by taking the opportunity to Turn Towards your partner's bids for emotional connection in Sliding Door Moments. Look forward to Friday’s blog where we will show you how! 

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, February 11, 2013

Announcement: The Research

We are excited to announce a brand-new series from The Gottman Relationship Blog! Over the next six weeks, The Research will chronicle the four decades of clinical research performed by Dr. Gottman with over 3,000 couples. While The Sound Relationship House Series offered you insights into Dr. Gottman’s theoretical models and gave you research-based skills to incorporate into your own relationships, The Research will examine exactly how these skills were developed. We will be selecting Dr. Gottman’s most influential studies from the past 40 years, explaining their hypotheses, procedures, and results in a comprehensible, easy-to-understand way.

The Gottman Institute, The Relationship Research Institute, Gottman Method Couples Therapy, and Dr. Gottman’s numerous best-selling books all exist because of Dr. Gottman’s 40-year career as a research scientist whose methods and standards are as rigorous as those used by medical science. The data generated by Dr. Gottman’s research offer a scientifically-based glimpse into the anatomy of marriage and couples relationships. Most importantly, they provide us with factual, objective information that has contributed to the development of tools, methods, programs, products, and services dedicated to helping couples build stronger, happier relationships. 

The Gottman Institute welcomes the opportunity to share the insight Dr. Gottman's research can provide the field of relationship study, and we hope this blog series will provide a greater level of detail and depth to your understanding of our work. In today’s posting, we would like to begin The Research by answering Frequently Asked Questions about Dr. Gottman’s research on couples:

Q: Is Dr. Gottman really able to predict whether a couple will get divorced with 94% accuracy?

Statements about the 94% accuracy rate of divorce prediction have become a source of confusion. People hear Dr. Gottman’s prediction rate is 90 or 85 or 94 percent accurate (depending on the study) and find it amazing, unbelievable, and downright scary. (He often tells his wife that this is why they don’t get invited to more dinner parties!) What Dr. Gottman is able say is that a particular couple is behaving like the couples that were in the group that got divorced in his 1992 study (Buehlman, K., Gottman, J.M., & Katz, L.), a study in which Dr. Gottman predicted with 93.6% accuracy which couples would divorce. Look forward to an in-depth explanation of this study in the coming weeks. 

Altogether, Dr. Gottman has completed seven studies that explored what predicts divorce. These studies included three groups: 1) couples that divorced 2) couples that stayed together and were happy and 3) couples that stayed together and were unhappy. Dr. Gottman’s research helped him identify specific behavior patterns in couples that he later termed the “Masters” and “Disasters” of relationships.

Although the predictive studies have been touted in the media, Dr. Gottman believes that it’s much more important to understand why certain actions increase divorce risk rather than to predict it. This enables Drs. John and Julie Gottman to design successful interventions. Their very high prediction rate suggests that they’ve hit upon a type of interaction or pattern of behavior that can make a couple vulnerable to divorce – and this sheds light on how best to intervene. 

Q: How many divorce prediction research studies and general relationship studies has Dr. Gottman conducted with couples? 

Dr. Gottman’s research work with couples started in 1972 and continues today. So far, he has completed 12 studies with more than 3,000 couples. Dr. Gottman’s divorce prediction research specifically (seven of the 12 studies) included 677 couples. These studies were completed at Indiana University, University of Illinois, and University of Washington. 

Q: What research methods does Dr. Gottman use to study couples? 

Dr. Gottman and his colleagues brought a multi-method approach to the measurement of couple processes. Methods include: 
  • Interactive behavior (Coding partners’ behavior and emotions as couples interact in various contexts) 
  • Perception (Self assessment through questionnaires, video recall, attributional methods and interviews) 
  • Physiology (Measuring autonomic and endocrine systems) 
  • Interviews (Oral history, meta-emotion, attunement) 
  • New questionnaires. 

For more Frequently Asked Questions, please visit our FAQ page here. If you would like to research Dr. Gottman’s work for yourself, you can access all of his published articles here. Is there a specific study that you would like to see us highlight? Connect with us on Facebook and let us know! This will be our biggest undertaking to date on The Gottman Relationship Blog - we hope you'll join us.

All for now,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Friday, February 8, 2013

Valentine's Day: The Gottman Way

As we are all quite aware, Valentine’s Day has developed a negative (and controversial) reputation as an American holiday for its sentimentalism and commercialization. It is an especially sensitive topic in the field of relationship psychology. Despite its reputation, we at The Gottman Institute feel that it’s a great day to do something a little special with your partner, if you do it The Gottman Way! 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day “right” is a source of stress for many couples. A deluge of advertisements pours down on us, beginning weeks before the holiday - many of them creating guilt-avoidance incentives for men to spend as much money as possible on their female partners. All of this marketing has made us feel that we suddenly need to conjure bouquets of roses, diamond rings, and “steak dinner with extra shrimp!” Unfortunately, the media attention grows over time, so that most of us end up feeling under a great deal of pressure by the time February 14th rolls around. 

After much debate and consultation, we have developed "The Gottman Way" for celebrating Valentine's Day. We believe that the best gift you can give your partner is a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship. To help you do so, we have made our wide arrange of products (card decks, books, DVDs, and more) more affordable. Head over to our Facebook page for more information. Instead of dining at the most expensive restaurant in town, cuddle up on the couch with our Love Map and Open Ended Question Card DeckIf you wish to do something special, that's fine too! Most importantly: relax. This is the first step to enjoying the day. High expectations on Valentine’s Day are a source of conflict in many relationships, so if you wish to celebrate, do it in a way that is comfortable for both you and your partner.

Reserve a table for two at an affordable restaurant, stay in with a much-loved movie and a bottle of wine, spend time asking each other open-ended questions, or do something else with your partner that the two of you can enjoy. Valentine's Day presents a perfect opportunity to establish a ritual of connection in your relationship. By returning to the same restaurant year after year, or by watching the same movie, you will form a lasting tradition that you look forward to. This tradition will also give you the opportunity to look back on your relationship and reminisce about years past, reminding you of how strong your bond has become.

Visit our Pinterest account for other simple, cheap date ideas. Most of all, remember that Valentine’s Day is not about buying an expensive gift or planning the most extravagant date. These gestures are not only unnecessary, but are also likely to create a great deal of discomfort due to financial expectations. Valentine’s Day should not have you automatically reaching for your pocketbook – it should be a time to celebrate love with your partner. There’s no price tag on that.

With that said, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the most important moments in a relationship do not occur on a single day. The real romance comes during the everyday, seemingly insignificant moments. Dr. Gottman speaks about these "sliding door moments" in this clip:

Do you read the Sunday paper together or silently alone? Do you chat while you eat dinner? Romance grows when you know that your partner is having a bad day at work, and you take sixty seconds to leave words of encouragement on their voice mail. It is kept alive when your partner says, “I had the worst nightmare last night,” as you're heading out the door and you say, “I’m in a big hurry, but tell me all about it tonight,” instead of, “I don’t have time.” Couples who turn toward each other in these moments remain emotionally engaged and stay together. Work on the emotional connection every day, not just this Valentine’s Day, and your relationship will flourish as a result. 

Wishing you love this Valentine's Day and always,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Featured Blogger: Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D.

Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. Vagdevi has over 25 years of experience as a therapist, consultant, and educator. She has also been a certified Gottman Couples Therapist and a certified Gottman Workshop Leader since 2006. She offers the Art & Science of Love Workshop for couples twice a year in Austin and has presented clinical trainings in the US, Canada, and India. For more info, explore her website:

How I Integrate Gottman Method Therapy and Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy in My Work With Couples
By Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D. 

(Editor's Note: In July of 2013, Dr. Sue Johnson, Dr. John Gottman, and Dr. Julie Gottman will join together for the first time ever to offer a powerful clinical training in Seattle, WA. Registration for The Johnson-Gottman Summit is now open.)

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, two pioneers in marital research on far ends of this continent were quietly gathering data on how to create happy lasting relationships. John Gottman and Susan Johnson’s work was initially known mostly among academic circles because in the clinical arena, clinicians were still afraid of doing couples therapy (Young, 2005). Gottman and Johnson’s research brought an unprecedented empirical foundation to what was often considered chaotic, unpredictable and thankless couples therapy work. Today Gottman and Johnson are considered two of the most influential figures in couples therapy, not just for academics but for clinicians as well (Meunier and Baker, 2012).

The philosophical and technical differences between their approaches to relationship research and therapy have generated separate and passionate followers (Young, 2005). Both researchers have developed unique models of adult loving relationships, but from different points of view and different sets of data. As Johnson noted about Gottman’s research, “What I loved about it was that it stayed close to the data. It stayed close to the reality, the real reality.” (Young, 2005). Gottman gave us a science of healthy relationships from systematic longitudinal and observational research on couples not in therapy (Gottman, 2007). He focused on both couples in distress (the Disasters of Relationship) as well as couples in lasting, satisfied relationships (the Masters of Relationship). Susan Johnson, on the other hand, built her foundation of loving relationships on the theoretical framework of John Bowlby as well as thousands of hours of decoding and tracking couples therapy sessions (Johnson, 2008). So Johnson’s model is an empirical model of couples therapy. Gottman said of Johnson’s work, “This is it. This is really what is missing in cognitive behavioral therapy and behavioral marital therapy. It’s all so intellectual. It really isn’t looking at what is going on at a level of depth that really matters.” (Young, 2005).

Along with his wife and clinician Dr. Julie Gottman, key to the ideation and creation of the method, Gottman brings a relationship skill building and existential lens while Johnson is firmly grounded in Attachment Theory. There are also differences in their view of couples therapy and the role of the therapist. The Gottmans warn against therapists becoming indispensable to the couple and encourages them to coach couples to manage their own physiology, conflict, or intimacy system (Gottman, 2007). Johnson uses the therapist as a “secure base” and encourages them to build a secure container in which the anxiously or avoidantly attached partner can take the risk of expressing vulnerable feelings and needs. There may be other differences that are not being noted here. The exciting frontier is not in their uniqueness or differences but their growing confluence and the ability to integrate both approaches in a seamless couples therapy that can benefit both clinicians and couples.

Here is some of the common ground I see in Gottman and Johnson that allows me to flexibly shift from a relationship building to an attachment-oriented therapist as the couple’s emotional system requires.

When a couple enters therapy with me, I begin with the Gottman program. The Sound Relationship House is a simple, practical, and aspirational model that every couple can understand and adopt with little resistance. Who doesn’t want the relationship that has a wonderful friendship base, tackles gridlocked and perpetual conflict with ease and humor, and a shared meaning system that inspires the best in oneself? The structured process of the Gottman assessment is reassuring, straightforward, and transparent. Couples appreciate being able to tell the story of their relationship, being heard separately and together, and being able to (sometimes in the late night glow of their private desktop light) fill out the surveys and conduct a private review of their relationship strengths and growth edges. The contracting process inspires hope as each strength is highlighted and celebrated and growth edges are reassuringly connected with specific skills they will learn within a reasonable period of time. Couples feel a sense of promise and relief as they walk away with their SRH magnets and a map of the journey they are going to take with me.

And then the real work begins! Both Gottman and Johnson recognize the necessity of an emotional focus and the powerful influence of attachment histories, styles, and internal working models in adult intimate relationships. I might be helping the couple replace their four horsemen with the appropriate antidotes, but a part of me is tracking their negative emotional cycle. I watch the compelling, absorbing nature of negative emotions (Gottman, 2007) and the unresolved hurts and wounds (Johnson, 2008) that get in the way of being able to engage in respectful, mutually honest, and vulnerable conversations. I offer one spouse the practical information about criticism and contempt as he struggles to understand how to express his frustration while I simultaneously hear, validate, and explore the attachment needs and emotions of the other partner who is crying out to be acknowledged and connected with. I have the relationship science and simple language of Gottman in my right hand and a more emotion-focused dynamic and interpersonal toolbox in my left hand, and I weave both into the therapeutic process.

Similarly, I help couples process an argument with the Aftermath of a Disagreement form and help them learn how to make their dialogues just a little bit better than the last time. At the same time, I look for the anatomy of the fight. Why was this particular argument more painful for the wife? Does her attachment history shed some light on her ability to let go of her protest anger? As they process the clearly laid out exercise and take the steps one at a time, the structure keeps the conversation safe and manageable while I use my skills as an attachment-oriented observer to help the withdrawn spouse re-engage a little bit, share some risky emotions, or I help the blamer soften their internal dialogue and reach out with tenderness.

Sometimes the integration of Gottman and Johnson is more obvious as when I am working with bids and turns and helping a couple process failed bids. I know from both researchers that not all hurts are the same and that some emotional injuries can be traumatic when they trigger deeply held beliefs about the self, the other, and about intimate relationships. Gottman gives me the SRH theory to help the couple see the connection between the emotional bank account and the weather of the relationship and how the friendship base downregulates negativity, increases positivity, and increases intimacy, romance, and connection (Meunier and Baker, 2012). Johnson gives me the tools to repair a broken bank account, to take couples gently through the process of first acknowledging and then healing attachment injuries, and restoring the bond that once existed (Johnson, 2008).

I do have to confess that the Gottman Method is my first love. His hands rest lightly on my shoulders and he paints the relationship landscape for me in a way that fits smoothly with the way I work. Johnson’s methods draw me into the turbulent waters of primary emotions that require more effort from me in order to stay afloat. But I am hopeful that the future of couples therapy is in great hands. I am excited that Gottman and Johnson are in dialogue about their ideas and I hope we will all be part of this evolving conversation.

Gottman, J.M. (2007). Marital Therapy: A research-based approach. Training manual for the Level I professional workshop for clinicians. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute.
Johnson, S. (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little Brown and Company.
Meunier, V. and Baker, W. (2012). Positive Couple Relationships: The evidence for long lasting relationship satisfaction and happiness. In Roffey, S. (Ed.) Positive Relationships: Evidence based practice across the world. Sydney, Australia: Springer Publications.
Young, M.A. (2005). Creating a Confluence: An Interview With Susan Johnson and John Gottman. The Family Journal, 13(2), 219-225.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Johnson-Gottman Summit

Clinicians - listen up! Today on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to take the opportunity to highlight the upcoming Johnson-Gottman Summit. As announced earlier this year on our official Facebook and Twitter accounts, The Gottman Institute will be bringing Dr. Sue Johnson, Dr. John Gottman, and Dr. Julie Gottman together for the first time ever to lead a two-day clinical training. This is a rare opportunity to see a collaboration of minds from the most influential therapists in the field.

When couples enter the therapy office, they are filled with pain and despair. They look to you, the clinician, to address their conflicts, recover from distress, and help them repair their relationships. Learn how to overcome therapeutic barriers, increase your competence as a therapist, and integrate a toolkit of evidenced-based interventions from EFCT and GMCT into your practice. Leave this workshop feeling empowered to make lasting change in your clients’ lives. 

In this groundbreaking two-day training, you will:
  • Gain strategies for treating escalating, volatile, disengaged, shut down, sabotaging and resistant couples 
  • View videos of actual therapy sessions with Drs. John & Julie Gottman and Dr. Sue Johnson.
  • Experience interactive dialogue and dynamic presentations explaining the different approaches between EFCT and GMCT when treating complex issues 
  • Gain insights to therapeutic techniques for treating PTSD and Trauma 
  • Discover how research has impacted the quality and effectiveness of couple therapy 
  • Learn pitfalls that block therapeutic progress and gain strategies to overcome them

Workshop Date and Location: 
July 12 & 13, 2013 
Meany Theater at The University of Washington 
Seattle, Washington 

Workshop Objectives:
Following completion of the Johnson-Gottman Summit, participants will be able to: 
  • Summarize the research and clinical models of EFCT and GMCT
  • Apply efficacy-based approaches to treating PTSD
  • Describe interventions for treatment of the following: 
    • Escalation with Volatile couples
    • Shut down with Distant couples
    • Resistance with Sabotaging partners
    • PTSD with Traumatized partners
    • Affairs with Betraying partners
  • Compare other models of couple therapy to EFCT and GMCT

Continuing Education: 
This training is approved for 12 CE’s. Click here for more information regarding our Continuing Education.

Registration Fee: 
Early registration will end March 1st. Purchase your tickets before 3/1 to guarantee the lowest price! Priority seating is limited and will be sold on a first-come-first-serve basis. Upgrade option is available on the official registration page. 
  • General Admission: $325
  • Military or Student Rate: $295
  • Gottman Certified Therapists or EFT Certified Therapists: $295
  • Priority Seating Upgrade: $50

More to come...

Additional Resources:

This event will sell out its 1,200 capacity so be sure to reserve your spot through our registration page before it's too late. Also, be sure to join the official Johnson-Gottman Summit Facebook Event to receive up-to-date information and announcements. 

We hope to see you there,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Friday, February 1, 2013

Create Shared Meaning: Suggestions from Dr. Gottman

Instead of our usual Weekend Homework Assignment, today we would like to conclude The Sound Relationship House Series by sharing suggestions for Creating Shared Meaning from Dr. Gottman's celebrated book, The Relationship Cure. These ideas are ones that you can use in all your relationships, whether it be with your partner, children, siblings, extended relatives, and even friends! Try out a few of them over the next couple weeks, and see how your relationships grow closer and start to feel more connected:

Things to do for (and with) your friends and family:
  • Ask “How are you?” in a way that shows that you really want to know
  • Listen to stories and jokes, even when you’ve heard them before
  • Return things you borrow
  • Say thank you for favors, trade big favors (painting houses, building decks, etc)
  • Offer spur-of-the-moment invitations to go out for coffee, dinner, a movie
  • Accept spontaneous invitations (if you can!)
  • Ask for advice, give advice, don’t feel obligated
  • Know when what you are asking for is too much
  • Remember birthdays, give personalized gifts, don’t feel that you must overspend
  • Offer compliments
  • Accept apologies
  • Let them off the hook when they say “I can’t do it, I’m exhausted”
  • Let them be upset if they need to be
  • Ask for help
  • Let them help you
  • When they are stressed, try to help them (within your power)
  • Collaborate on projects
  • Talk on the phone
  • Host parties for mutual friends
  • Exercise together
  • Volunteer together
  • Celebrate each other’s successes
  • Show affection
  • Cry together
  • Laugh together
  • Share hugs

All of these activities are really ways of Turning Towards those who are near and dear to you. The 7 levels of The Sound Relationship House are all connected:

  1. Building Love Maps
  2. Sharing Fondness and Admiration
  3. Turning Towards
  4. Keeping A Positive Perspective
  5. Managing Conflict
  6. Making Life Dreams Come True
  7. Creating Shared Meaning

You can’t maintain a successful, healthy relationship without keeping these levels of the house stable – instability on one level can make the whole house fall down. But don’t panic! This will add to the instability! Relax. As you learn to apply Dr. Gottman’s research-based skills to your own relationships, the ways in which you interact with your loved ones will naturally become healthier and build stronger bonds – bonds that will last a lifetime.  

We leave you with this video clip from Dr. Gottman, in which he unveils the truth about great relationships: 

Have a wonderful weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff