Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekend Homework Assignment: Spring Cleaning

In Wednesday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we shared Lisa Brookes Kift’s excellent suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship in her article, “Get Out The Broom...8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” We also shared a helpful infographic on our Facebook page. In today’s Weekend Homework Assignment, we continue our discussion of spring cleaning your marriage by offering our own practical advice that you can try with your partner this weekend! As these have been drawn from Dr. Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and The Relationship Cure, we should note that there are many, many more activities like these available to you. Check out his many books on our website to gain access to a wealth of relationship knowledge. 

Below you will find Dr. Gottman's research-based suggestions for ways to build on Lisa's 8-step model. We have also provided methods (with helpful links!) to avoid experiencing such a deep clean altogether. 
As long as you regularly give it a gentle polish, your relationship will shine on its own! Take some time this weekend to try these activities with your partner: 

Take a walk down memory lane. 
Conduct your very own Oral History Interview!

Get back to checking in.
Check in with each other on a daily basis, and make time regularly for longer conversations about potential stressors in each other’s lives. Listen to your partner and be supportive. Here is an exercise that the two of you can try, which will help you to talk about the stress that is being caused within your relationship.

Look under the carpet for hidden resentments.
Though you may feel exasperated with each other at times (don’t worry, we all do), make sure that you don’t amplify the problem by attacking each other from the get-go. By approaching conflicts gently, you significantly increase the likelihood of resolving them healthily and productively. We call this Soft Startup.

Check your assumptions. 
Don't get tripped up in those frustrating mixed messages, don't jump to conclusions - see “Fuzzy Bidding” - and watch out for messages you may not even know you’re sending to your partner!

Create happy memories.
Every moment of emotional connection in your relationship can an opportunity to create a happy memory. From the little interactions we share daily with our loved ones (morning coffee, grocery shopping, driving to school, eating dinner) to important celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays) we can make each other smile.

Remember one of the most vital determinants of health in a relationship –
Turning Towards – and make sure to catch those Sliding Door moments. Create shared meaning in celebrating life in your own way

If you broke it, fix it. 
Remember to Repair and De-escalate! And when you are Moving Forward, ask yourself the following questions: How did I get into this muddle in the first place? Why didn’t our conversation go well? What is the meaning of the issue between my partner and I? What are the sources of our gridlock on this subject?

More gratitude, please. 
Share fondness and admiration, and your Emotional Bank Account will grow, strengthening your connection!

Take it up a notch if needed. 
Show your partner affection and appreciationIf you show your love, trust and intimacy will naturally follow!

Have a lovely weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Clean Your Marriage

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to share an excellent article written by our friend Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT, titled “Get Out The Broom...8 Ways To Spring Clean Your Marriage.” We love these suggestions for reinvigorating your relationship and putting the focus back on you and your partner this Spring! We’d like to add that it is absolutely possible (and realistic) to work on these things 365 days a year. We know that this sounds overwhelming. It doesn't have to be.

As our research shows, the happiest couples build romance everyday in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant moments. Keeping your romance aflame is not about dedicating all of your time to your partner. It is about nurturing a strong connection by turning towards each other, staying emotionally engaged, showing each other fondness and admiration, building bridges, and knowing and loving each other all year round. For more on staying emotionally connected, see our blog post, Magic Five Hours A Week! And now, we give the virtual floor to Lisa:

Get Out the Broom...8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Marriage 
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT
Tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.

Having an hour more day light and feeling spring in the air (in Northern California anyway), I can’t help but think about the meaning of spring. For many it’s a time of renewal and recharge, a sleepy-eyed yawn and waking up from a winter slumber of sorts. Many clean their homes, their cars and their work environments.

Marriages can also “fall asleep” and get into a rut. So let’s dust out the cobwebs and do some spring cleaning there too!

Take a walk down memory lane. Do you remember when you met? Can you recall what drew you to each other? Take some time to reflect upon this time. Research shows that happier couples are the ones who can recall pleasant earlier memories. It can be an anchor for the relationship, a reminder of what you might have forgotten. ”Oh yea, that’s what I fell in love with…”

Get back to checking in. At one time you likely talked a lot, especially in the early stages of your relationship. As time goes on and life gets peppered with kid related responsibilities, family, social obligations and work, it’s easy to let the communication between you and your spouse get tossed out the window. Re-prioritize a daily relationship check-in, even if brief. ”How are you?…How are we?…Is everything ok?”

Look under the carpet for hidden resentments. One problem that can be a consequence of insufficient communicating in marriage is the build-up of negative emotions towards each other. If anger, disappointment or sadness go unchecked they can become toxic. Resentment can undermine the very fabric of the relationship. If there is something bothering you, bring it up. It’s useful to begin with “I statements” rather than using attacking language.

Check your assumptions. What if what you were upset with your partner because you misunderstood what he/she said or meant? What if you never clarified this? Well, you’d be suffering for no reason. One of the best ways couples can avoid distress is to simply ask the other what they meant rather than assume you know. Otherwise, you will likely have a negative emotional response towards him/her, followed by a negative behavior – and all for nothing.

Create happy memories. If boredom, “same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” and a lack of fun has permeated your marriage, it’s time to have positive experiences together to lay down over the other. It’s kind of like the negativity bias of the brain; the more you internalize positive emotions, the more you can ease your brain away from the negative. Plan date nights, go out and play, take a walk or do something totally new and invigorating.

If you broke it, fix it. We all make mistakes and can inadvertently hurt our partners. The important thing for the health of relationships is taking ownership when it’s appropriate. John Gottman, PhD refers to successful repair attempts as “the happy couple’s secret weapon."

More gratitude, please. There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together. Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.

Take it up a notch if needed. If your marriage feels particularly “dusty” and in need of some TLC, get proactive and get access to the many tools available to help couples do just that; a local marriage weekend workshop or going through a marriage

It would be nice to imagine being able to do these things 365 days a year but this probably isn’t realistic for many. At the very least, adding your marriage to your spring cleaning to-do list every year is one consistent way to put the focus back on you and your partner again. If you’ve slipped up and “fallen asleep” during the winter, you can get back to prioritizing your marriage again…and maybe make up for some lost time.


If you have gotten in the habit of sticking a band-aid over problems that have built up over the Winter, now is your chance to heal any remaining wounds - to patch them up, make peace, and restore your relationship to health.

Remember that “Spring Cleaning” your relationship is a process – a deep clean, if you will. It requires patience, commitment, and hard work from both you and your partner. Don’t start wielding the feather duster to attack the cobwebs while looking under the carpet for hidden resentments, or make ambitious plans to renovate the entire house! Take your time. Know that “slow and steady wins the race.” Be gentle with each other.

If you are finding it difficult to get the conversation started, there is no better place to "Spring Clean" your marriage than our Art & Science of Love Couples Workshop. Learn how to foster respect, affection, and closeness; build and share a deeper connection with one another's inner world; keep conflict discussions calm; break through and resolve conflict gridlock; and strengthen and maintain gains in the relationship. If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with insights and tools to make it last. If your relationship is distressed, this two-day workshop will provide a road map for repair. Reserve your seat today here before it's too late.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Research: The Still Face Experiment

Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we discussed the relationship between parenting behavior (of both the mother and the father) and a child's ability to participate in high levels of engagement with their peers. We described a 1994 study conducted by Dr. Gottman which explored this topic, and furthermore provided in-depth explanations of the study's results. Today, we’d like to share another fascinating (and relevant) study with you conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick of UMass Boston.

Dr. Tronick is the Director of UMass Boston’s Infant-Parent Mental Health Program, where he conducts research on how mothers’ depression and other stressful behaviors affect the emotional development and health of infants and children.

Jason Goldman published a great writeup on Thoughtful Animal about Tronick's 1975 experiment, the impact it had in understanding child development, and how it’s being used, including to predict child behavior:

In 1975, Edward Tronick and colleagues first presented the “Still Face Experiment” to colleagues at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. He described a phenomenon in which an infant, after three minutes of “interaction” with a non-responsive expressionless mother, “rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get the interaction into its usual reciprocal pattern. When these attempts fail, the infant withdraws [and] orients his face and body away from his mother with a withdrawn, hopeless facial expression.” It remains one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology.
Once the phenomenon had been thoroughly tested and replicated, it became a standard method for testing hypotheses about person perception, communication differences as a result of gender or cultural differences, individual differences in attachment style, and the effects of maternal depression on infants. The still-face experiment has also been used to investigate cross-cultural differences, deaf infants, infants with Down syndrome, cocaine-exposed infants, autistic children, and children of parents with various psychopathologies, especially depression.

The fascinating video below portrays the natural human process of attachment between a baby and mother, and then the effects of non-responsiveness on the part of the mother:

As Rick Ackley suggests in this article from his blog The Genius in Children, "While the video shows the importance of mother-child attachment, it also reveals something else of vital importance to parents and all other educators. Watch it again. Is the baby experiencing a loss of attachment or a loss of agency?"

Agency refers to the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one's own actions in the world. When we "still face" our children by ignoring their expressions of emotion, for example, they may experience a loss of agency. Show your child respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Validate their emotions and guide them with trust and affection. Your child’s mastery of understanding and regulating their emotions will help them to succeed in life. Dr. Gottman calls this being an "Emotion Coach." The five essential steps of Emotion Coaching are as follows:

  • Be aware of your child’s emotion
  • Recognize your child’s expression of emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
  • Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
  • Help your child learn to label their emotions with words
  • Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately

The same can be said when we "still face" our partners by turning away from their bids for emotional connection. Michele Weiner-Davis of Divorce Busting said it best in a Facebook posting this morning:

Every time you turn away from your spouse or he/she turns away from you, whether you show it or not, your response is not dissimilar to the baby [shown above].

Turning towards means actively turning to your partner and replying to their small bids for emotional connection that they make throughout the day. This means being interested in what they are saying or doing and following up by responding to them in a way that shows you are listening. Validate their feelings and emotions. Ask questions. Be the support they need. Remember: understanding must precede advice. 

All for now,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Research: Linkages Between Parent-Child Interaction and Conversations of Friends Part II

As promised in Tuesday’s posting (in which we discussed this 1994 study by Drs. Gottman, Kahen, and Katz), today we will systematically take you through the researcher's findings about the roles of mothers and fathers in the social development of their children.

According to their published paper, “some differentiation in the roles of mothers and fathers in children's developing peer relations was seen. There were three important findings relating to this differentiation. First, when fathers were emotionally volatile, children's play with friends tended to be disengaged and involved more solitary activities. Second, mother's emotional communication was related to the degree to which children displayed positive affect with peers. Third, both mother's and father's parenting related to children's ability to engage in higher levels of engagement with peers.

Allow us to provide a more in-depth explanation for each of these findings: 

1) Children who remained at a low level of engagement (monologue) with a best friend had fathers who used derisive humor more, were low in engagement, and used more commands than fathers of children who were less likely to use monologue during play. Children frequently engaged in positive parallel play had fathers who were enthusiastic and affectionate!

2) Children who were more negative with a peer had fathers who were more intrusive and less engaged, and mothers who used derisive humor more. Children who showed more positive affect during peer play had mothers who used derisive humor less, and were less intrusive and critical.

3) Mothers’ emotional communication was related to the degree to which children displayed positive affect with peers: Mothers who were low in derisive humor, criticality and intrusiveness had children whose peer interaction tended to have higher levels of laughter and joy than mothers who were higher in these negative parenting behaviors.

4) The father's parenting was unrelated to positive affect during peer play, but instead it was related to children's engagement with peers. Indeed, the degree to which fathers' parenting is limited to positive interactions with their child appears to be related to their children's movement towards intimacy versus disengagement from others.

If fathers are highly positive and responsive to their children, children are able to achieve connected interaction through self-disclosure (sharing personal feelings and information with others). However, if this positive affect is combined with a tendency to respond to their child critically, then their children's play with peers tends to retreat toward more solitary side-by-side activities.

According to the researchers, a possible explanation of this phenomenon is that volatile fathers provide a constant backdrop of strong positive and negative judgments of their child's behavior. The display of intense negativity within the context of largely positive interaction may demonstrate to children that involved interpersonal interaction entails the possibility that negative affect will be directed toward them. Given the risk of conflict during coordinated play, these children may become fearful and timid and come to prefer solitary activities rather than engage in more connected interaction.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Research: Linkages Between Parent-Child Interaction and Conversations of Friends

In 1994, Drs. Gottman, Kahen, and Katz of the University of Washington conducted a study which examined how parenting behavior relates to a child’s ability to successfully interact with their peers. According to the researchers, pervious exploration on the subject had yielded the following results: “Children of warm, involved, and moderately controlling parents are popular and are more likely to be socially competent than children with unresponsive, uninvolved, overly permissive, or overly controlling parents."

Unfortunately, these previous studies failed to address several important questions: What are the different roles of the mother and father in the social development of their child? What is the relationship between specific processes in parent-child interaction and specific processes in peer interaction?

In this study, the researchers considered two categories of parent-child interaction: affect (positive vs. negative) and engagement (active engagement vs. withdrawal) in children between ages 4 and 6. 
Additionally, they considered two categories of child-peer interaction: Engagement in play and negativity or positivity of play. 

Engagement in play was measured by the amount of positive parallel play, collective monologue, and common ground activities established during peer interaction. The child's ability to exchange information and disclose thoughts and feelings were also examined as examples of peer engagement. 

To index negativity and positivity, the researchers examined the amount of negative parallel play (which is an index of side-by-side play with high levels of negative affect), out of room behavior (which was an index of noncompliance with the instructions of the home taping), crying, anger, laughter, and joy during peer play. Negative and positive parental affects have been found to relate to children's popularity among peers, pro-social behavior, and successful peer interaction.

This study consisted of a laboratory parent-child interaction session in which all three family members (mother, father, and child) were present, and a home visit with the child and a best friend in which peer interaction data was collected (best friends were chosen to estimate maximum social competence). It is interesting to note that, "for purposes unrelated to the present report," the laboratory sessions took place inside a mock-up of the Apollo space capsule. The researchers explain: 

“For purposes unrelated to the present report, a full-scale mock-up of the Apollo space capsule was constructed and astronaut space suits were made for the children for their laboratory visit. Parent-child interaction laboratory sessions took place with the child dressed in the space suit and seated in the space capsule.”

Prior to the 10-minute parent-child interaction, children were instructed to listen to a relatively uninteresting story read to them in a monotone voice. In the videotaped interaction, parents were instructed to question kids to obtain information about the story, and then asked to teach their kids to play a video game they had previously learned. The peer interaction home visit consisted of audio taping a 30-minute play session of the child and his/her best friend (no adults present).

Parenting styles were coded with the Kahen Engagement and Affect Coding Systems. Negative engagement codes were parental intrusiveness and command. Positive engagement was measured by high scoring in engagement (parental attention towards the child) and responsiveness to child’s needs. Negative affect was based on criticism (direct disparaging comments, put-downs), derisive humor (sarcasm or making fun at the child’s expense), and positive affect was based on codes for affection (praise, physical affection) and enthusiasm (cheering, excitement at child performance).

The researchers discovered that children whose parents display negative behaviors during parent-child interaction may not learn conflict management skills and often spend more time playing by themselves.

Both parents have a strong influence in determining their child's ability to engage in high levels of play with their peers. Children whose mothers abstained from criticism or derisive humor in the parent-child interaction were able to establish common ground activities and exchange information with their friends. Children whose fathers were affectively positive and responsive to their needs scored higher in self-disclosure (the most intimate level of play) during their peer play session.

In the parent-child play session, parent intrusiveness (physically taking over control of the video game they were trying to teach their child) and derisive humor (making fun of the child's performance, being sarcastic) communicated incompetence and a lack of respect for the child's efforts. Children whose parents were intrusive, disengaged, and used derisive humor were more likely to have negative peer play with their best friends (being angry, crying, making negative comments, not complying with task instructions). 

Here, we see what Drs. Gottman, Katz, and Kahen call the direct transfer of behavior displayed toward children to their child's interactions with peers, the hypothesis being that, “these children have more negative peer play because they are imitating their parent's tendency to convey that others are incompetent and unworthy of respect.”

The results of this study make it clear that, while both parents have a huge impact on the development of their child's interpersonal learning and behavior, each parent has a different role. One of the primary goals of the researchers in this study was to determine how mothers and fathers differ in the effects of their parenting behavior on children's peer relationships and social skills. On Thursday, we look forward to sharing some of their fascinating findings!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekend Homework Assignment: Softening Startup

In Wednesday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we introduced Dr. Gottman's 1999 study, Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion. Today, we will apply the findings of this study and teach you skills to soften your startup when bringing up a topic of conflict with your partner. But first, here is a recap of Dr. Gottman's longitudinal study on divorce prediction:

Drs. Gottman and Carrère discovered that they could predict the likelihood of a couple's divorce by observing just the first 3 minutes of a conflict discussion. The couples who divorced started their discussions with a great deal of negative emotion and displayed far fewer expressions of positivity than those who stayed together six years later. Not only were they negative, but they were also critical. 

As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, discussions invariably end on the same note they begin. If you start an argument harshly by attacking your partner, you will end up with at least as much tension as you began with, if not more. Softening Startup of your conversations is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts. If your arguments start softly, your relationship is far more likely to be stable and happy. Here are proven skills Dr. Gottman suggests for softening your startups when bringing up an issue of disagreement with your partner:

Complain but don’t blame. No matter how "at fault” you feel that your partner is, approaching them with criticisms and accusations is obviously not productive. What isn’t obvious, however, are the little things we say in arguments with our mate that make them feel criticized or blamed. Eye-rolling is a perfect example of this sort of unintentional, destructive behavior. 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 partner! Both of you will stand to gain something from the conversation - both you and your partner 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. 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.” Instead of lashing 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, you cannot expect them to read your mind.

Be polite and appreciative. Just because you are in conflict with your partner, it 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 during a difficult conversation. Which is, of course, exactly when 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, one issue just keeps leading to another, we are out of control! Suddenly we find ourselves bringing up a laundry list of issues we never intended to broach. 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 parties 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!

So you've approached your partner with a softened startup, but they respond with negativity. What do you do? Dr. Julie Gottman answers here.

This weekend, consider the ways in which you have experienced conflict discussions in the past. How did they start? How did they end? Can you think of examples of instances when  you could have changed your approach in the beginnings of these conversations? Try embarking upon your next conflict discussion with these Softened Startup techniques and you will be amazed by the productivity of your dialogue! Look forward to next week on The Gottman Blog, as we continue The Research!

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Research: Predicting Divorce Among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion

(Editor's note: The Gottman Relationship Blog needs your vote! Vote now:

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue The Research with a six-year longitudinal study performed by Dr. Gottman and fellow University of Washington researcher Sybil Carrère. Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion (1999) tested the hypothesis that the way in which a discussion of a marital conflict begins – in its first few minutes – is a predictor of divorce. 

The marital conflict discussions of 124 newlywed couples (married less than 6 months) were coded using the Specific Affect Coding System, and the data were divided into positive, negative, and positive-minus-negative affect totals for five 3-minute intervals. It was possible to predict marital outcome over a six-year period using just the first 3 minutes of data for both husbands and wives. Here’s how:

Earlier research from our laboratory indicates that women initiate conflict discussions nearly 80% of the time. In couples heading for divorce, the wife's opening statement is usually made in the form of a criticism (a global attack on the husband’s character such as, "You're lazy and never do anything around the house") rather than a specific complaint ("You didn't take out the trash last night"). The husband’s initial reaction to the wife’s opening is then either defensive (in marriages heading for divorce) or shows him not escalating her negativity. 

The marital interaction assessment in this study consisted of a discussion by the husband and wife of a problem that was a source of ongoing disagreement in their marriage. After the couple completed a problem inventory, the experimenter reviewed with the couple the issues they rated as the most problematic, and helped them to choose several issues to use at the basis for the discussion. Communication (they missed their partner emotionally, weren't being understood emotionally, or weren't feeling loved) was the most common theme of the marital discussions. Money and finances also were frequent topics. After choosing the topic for discussion, couples were asked to sit quietly and not interact with each other during a 2-minute baseline. 

The couples discussed their chosen topics for 15 minutes, and then viewed the video recording of the interaction. Both the husband and wife used rating dials that provided continuous self-report data. 

The researchers collected continuous physiological measures and video recordings during all of the interaction sessions. The tapes were coded using a computer-assisted system developed in our lab to index facial expressions, voice tone, and speech content to characterize the emotions expressed by each couple. Coders categorized affects displayed using five positive codes (interest, validation, affection, humor, and joy) and 10 negative affects (disgust, contempt, belligerence, domineering, anger, fear and tension, defensiveness, whining, sadness, and stonewalling). 

Drs. Carrère and Gottman found that the startup of the conflict discussion was key to predicting divorce or marital stability. Of the 17 couples who later divorced, all started off their conflict discussions with significantly greater displays of negative emotion and fewer expressions of positive emotion when compared with couples who remained married over the course of the 6-year study. In stable marriages, both husbands and wives expressed less negative affect and more positive affect at the first three minutes of such discussions. 

Dr. Gottman on his 6-year study: "The biggest lesson to be learned from this study is that the way couples begin a discussion about a problem - how you present an issue and how your partner responds to you - is absolutely critical.”

Look forward to Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, which will give you skills to soften your startup when bringing up a topic of conflict with your partner. 

All for now, 
Michael Fulwiler 
TGI Staff

Carrere, S., and Gottman, J.M., (1999). Predicting Divorce among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion, Family Process, Vol. 38(3), 293-301

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nominated for #1 Marriage Blog!

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to break from our regularly scheduled The Research series to make an exciting announcement:

The Gottman Relationship Blog has been nominated by readers of (one of the top 100 websites in the world with over 36 million visitors monthly) for #1 Marriage Website/Blog of 2013!

At the time of this blog posting, we hold a slim 2% lead over the second place nominee. We would LOVE your vote! It only takes seconds and you can vote once every 24 hours. To vote, click here. Select "The Gottman Institute Relationship Blog." Enter your e-mail address (you won’t receive spam!) and the two-word security code shown, and press submit. It’s that easy! If you voted for us, let us know on our Facebook page or Twitter account so we can express our appreciation to you personally. 

In addition to a huge thank you, a nomination for #1 marriage blog on the web calls for a "State of the Union" evaluation of our content. Whether you are a regular reader or a newcomer, we value your opinion and would love your feedback. In order to better serve you, we would like to know what your needs, desires, and expectations are. What has been your favorite posting topic? Least favorite? Are there topics that you would like to see discussed further in depth? A topic that has not yet beed addressed? Please submit your suggestions, recommendations, and questions to our Facebook page

We would also like to take this opportunity to make some other exciting announcements about upcoming workshops, professional trainings, and product launches: 

  • We recently surpassed 15,000 “Likes” on our Facebook page. Thank you to our followers, readers, and contributors! You inspire us each and every day with your commitment to creating and sustaining lasting love. We value your feedback and promise to do our best to respond personally. Keep it coming!
  • The Johnson-Gottman Summit is fast approaching and tickets are selling fast. This premier, two-day clinical training event with the world’s best in couple’s therapy will sell out. Reserve your seat today here before it’s too late. 
  • Become a Seven Principles Program Educator! We are excited to announce a brand new training opportunity. Learn how to lead The Gottman Seven Principles Program, based on Dr. John Gottman’s New York Times bestseller The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, in your community, church, school, hospital, or home. Only two live trainings will be offered: May 3rd and May 18th. Cost: $300/person. Click here for more information. 
  • Our May Art and Science of Love Couple’s Workshop is filling up fast! Learn how to foster respect, affection, and closeness; build and share a deeper connection with one another's inner world; keep conflict discussions calm; break through and resolve conflict gridlock; and strengthen and maintain gains in the relationship. If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with insights and tools to make it last. If your relationship is distressed, this two-day workshop will provide a road map for repair. Reserve your seat today here before it's too late. 
  • We recently leaked an image on our Facebook page of our brand-new Emotion Coaching program for parents. “The Heart of Parenting,” which will launch on April 1st, will be available online as a web-based video series and also as a physical product (DVD + Manual). Stay tuned for more information. 

As you can see, 2013 is shaping up to be a very busy year for The Gottman Institute. We hope that you will join us!

Warm Regards,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Friday, March 8, 2013

Weekend Homework Assignment: How Marital Conflict Affects Children

As we promised in Wednesday’s blog posting, today we will connect the dots, giving you ways to apply the research we’ve shared with you this week to your own life! First, allow us to recap the basic findings of Drs. Gottman and Katz’s 1993 study on how marital conflict affects children:

  • It is not the child’s temperament that predicts marital conflict, but rather the type of marital conflict that predicts a child’s temperament. To the extent that couples were hostile towards each other when resolving their marital disputes, 3 years later their children tended to be seen by their teachers as exhibiting mild forms of antisocial behavior. Parents whose conflicts are characterized by mutual hostility often produce children who are unable to wait their turn, tend to disobey or break rules, or expect others to conform to their wishes. Couples whose conflict styles involve a pattern of wife hostility met by anger and withdrawal or stonewalling of the husband tend to produce children who are shy, depressed, or anxious.

Conflict is a natural (and healthy) part of any intimate relationship. Dr. Gottman’s research on this subject may come as a welcome relief. He has discovered that as children grow up, their ability to cope with emotions is strengthened not by conflict avoidance between their parents, but rather by the example that their parents set in their healthy acknowledgement of negative emotions. 

The efforts that you make to work through inevitable differences with your partner in a loving and accepting way will strengthen your relationship with your child. In the most formative years of your children’s lives, exposing them to emotionally intelligent styles of conflict resolution is scientifically proven to do wonders for their future success. Once formed, the research shows that that the habits your children pick up from you really stick. 

Dr. Gottman’s research on the effects of healthy parenting has shown that an awareness of your own emotions and those of your children dramatically strengthens your connection as a couple too! Feelings of companionship, affection, fondness, admiration, and general happiness about their marriages were shown to increase for couples who taught their children to work out areas of conflict in a healthy way. These couples also showed less of a tendency to treat each other with belligerence, contempt, stonewalling, and other chaos-inducing behaviors. As those of you with children know, chaos is to be avoided at all times! There is always enough chaos.

If you and your partner become Emotion Coaches, Dr. Gottman’s term for couples who engage in healthy methods of problem solving, you stand to benefit enormously both in your own relationship and in your relationships with your children. Watching their parents treat each other with respect and understanding teaches children essential life-skills. From the sandbox to the classroom, they will have learned crucial skills in dealing with their own emotions and those of others in a healthy way.

This weekend, when your child expresses negative emotions about something, or misbehaves in some manner, try to figure out the underlying cause of their feelings. Discover the benefits of these proven strategies:

  • Show your child respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Talk through their feelings with them and try to understand their source.
  • Be aware of your child’s responses to your method of working through the moment with them.
  • In difficult interactions, make your child feels your empathy, by patiently validating their feelings and getting to the root of their expression.
  • Instead of focusing on your parental agenda in these situations, show your child that you respect their attempts to solve problems, and guide them with trust and affection. Work through these experiences together.

To read more about Dr. Gottman’s research on Emotion Coaching, check out his critically-acclaimed book, Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Research: Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors Part II

In the research study we introduced in Monday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, "Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors" (1993), Drs. Gottman and Lynn Katz found that a child’s temperament does not have a statistically significant affect on marital satisfaction, its change over time, or the style in which the couple engages in marital conflict.

It is not the child’s temperament that predicts marital conflict, but rather the type of marital conflict that predicts a child’s temperament.

To the extent that couples were hostile towards each other when resolving their marital disputes, 3 years later their children tended to be seen by their teachers as exhibiting mild forms of antisocial behavior. Below are aspects of conflict style found by Drs. Gottman and Katz to predict different child behavior outcomes.

When conflict style is Mutually Hostile (a symmetrical pattern of marital interaction in conflict in which each spouse directly attacks the other's fundamental beliefs, feelings, and character) it leads to higher likelihood of divorce and of child externalizing behaviors (aggression and hyperactivity). Here are a couple of theories explaining this phenomenon:

  • Children exhibiting externalizing behaviors may be sensing the instability of their parents' marriage and acting out their fears of a potential divorce.
  • Children fearing parental divorce may also show externalizing behaviors  to distract their parents from their marital problems. By focusing attention on themselves, children may encourage their parents to unite in their concern about their child's adjustment and detour attention away from a potential marital conflict or separation. Children do not have to initially understand the way this works consciously – they need only realize that this trick leads to a decrease in their parents fighting.
When husbands are belligerent and wives are angry, higher levels of internalizing behaviors (distress, shame, and self-blame) are found in girls than boys. For boys, wife's belligerence is associated with internalizing behaviors. These findings suggest that, to the extent that a husband or wife acts in a belligerent manner when resolving a marital dispute, their opposite-sex child will be rated by teachers as showing internalizing behaviors 3 years later. Although anxiety and withdrawal may be adaptive responses to the threatening nature of belligerence, the fact that children's behavior is related to that of their opposite-sex parents is interesting. 

One speculation stemming from family systems theory is that children may be allying themselves with or identifying with the same-sex parent and so are affected by the belligerent behavior of the opposite-sex parent.

Given the prospective nature of this study, it was possible to address whether having a temperamentally difficult child places a strain on a marriage. In our data, child temperament was not predictive of marital dissatisfaction at Time 2 or related to a decrease in marital satisfaction over time. 

Children whose parents showed marital interaction patterns predictive of divorce (see: Four Horsemen) exhibited externalizing difficulties, but actual divorce/seperation at Time 2 (3 years after the initial study) was not associated with externalizing behaviors at time 2. Thus, the behavior pattern seen in children of hostile couples cannot be attributed to parental divorce/separation. These findings support previous evidence suggesting that the behaviors couples engage in that are destructive to their relationship also have an impact on their children even before actual marital dissolution occurs. 

Children learn by imitating the behavior of their parents. We all know this. Among the many complexities of this study’s results, the simple theme repeats itself again and again. Learning more about the particular ways in which our behavior as parents sculpts our children's is critical for raising Emotionally Intelligent children. You can read more about this in Dr. Gottman's celebrated book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Childand learn ways in which to keep your marriage happy and healthy in his more recent release, And Baby Makes Three

On Friday, look forward to a Weekend Homework Assignment, which will provide you with proven ways to apply this study’s findings in your own family!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Research: Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors

In 1993, seeking to address the deficiency of research on the subject at the time, Drs. John Gottman and Lynn Katz performed a longitudinal study which examined the effects of marital interaction styles on children. The little research that had been done in this area had conceptualized marital quality too simplistically, defining it based on a single dimension - relationship satisfaction. This was not enough.

Reviewing the literature available on the association of marital distress and child outcomes, Drs. Gottman and Katz noticed some interesting trends, the exploration of which they felt could lead to a better understanding of the complex constructions of family dynamics. For example, Gayla Margolin of the University of California (1988) proposed that couples differ in the way in which emotions are expressed during conflict resolution. Although she was able to show that some couples express their negativity very openly and directly, while others keep the conflict silent and hidden, the consequences of these different affective patterns of conflict resolution for children's socio-emotional development had been largely unexplored.

Drs. Gottman and Katz set out to conduct a unique longitudinal study, one which would identify the particular styles of marital behavior predictive of specific outcomes in the behaviors of their children. They would focus on two marital conflict styles: "Mutually Hostile" and "Husband Angry and Withdrawn." The former was marked with mutually negative, contemptuous, and often belligerent exchanges, and the latter distinguished by a Demand-Withdraw pattern, the husband often responding to his wife’s demands with Stonewalling and evasions.

The researchers hypothesized that a couple whose conflict style was Mutually Hostile would lead children to display externalizing behaviors (aggression, hyperactivity) and that couples whose conflicts were marked as Husband Angry and Withdrawn would cause children to display internalizing behaviors (depression, anxiety, withdrawal).

They were right.

Here are the results of their study:

The researchers’ observational assessments of marital interaction during parents’ conflict resolution discussions obtained when children were 5 years old predicted teachers' ratings on a survey of child behavioral problems measuring levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors when the children were 8 years old. 

Two distinct and uncorrelated marital interaction patterns were related to specific forms of child outcomes. The Mutually Hostile pattern (which correlated with later marital dissolution) also predicted externalizing behavior patterns in children 3 years later. The Husband Angry and Withdrawn pattern predicted child internalizing behaviors. 

In other words, parents whose conflicts are characterized by mutual hostility often produce children who are unable to wait their turn, tend to disobey or break rules, or expect others to conform to their wishes. Couples whose conflict styles involve a pattern of wife hostility met by anger and withdrawal or stonewalling of the husband tend to produce children who are shy, depressed, or anxious.

Measures of marital satisfaction and child temperament did not relate to child outcomes, nor did they interact with marital patterns to produce deficits in children’s general adjustment.

Look forward to the next posting from The Research on Wednesday, as we will be going into more depth in our discussion of this study by looking at some of its odder and less expected findings. We will also explore gender differences in its outcomes, evaluate the likely psychosocial causes of such results, speculate on their impact on child emotional development, and share their many implications for families. 

On Friday, we will give you the opportunity to apply this study’s findings to your own life with a Weekend Homework Assignment. It is our goal to make The Research of Dr. Gottman and his colleagues understandable, applicable, and interesting to learn about. If our blog postings have been beneficial to you, we encourage you to share them with others. As always, we invite you to join the conversation on Facebook.

Until Wednesday,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Reference:Katz, L.F., & Gottman, J.M., (1993). Patterns of Marital Conflict Predict Children's Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors, Developmental Psychology, 29, 940-950.