Friday, May 31, 2013

An Introduction to the Gottman Method of Relationship Therapy

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we'd like to share an article from our friends at, an organization dedicated to "Helping People Find Therapists & Advocating for Ethical Therapy." The following article does an excellent job summarizing our research and approach to couples therapy. Embedded within the article, we have provided links to previous blog postings so that you can refer to our prior writings and navigate specific topics we have discussed with ease. We hope that today's posting can serve as a resource for you to refresh your memory as we move into new territory next week! See the original article here.

An Introduction to the Gottman Method of Relationship Therapy
By Kate McNulty, LCSW, Gottman Method Topic Expert Contributor
May 30, 2013 

John Gottman, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, entered the field of psychological research with a background in advanced mathematics and statistical analysis. In the course of his 40+ year career he has developed mathematical models, scales, and formulas to identify the elements of stability in relationships and the interactive patterns that cause couples to divorce. Gottman was drawn to this research topic due to his own puzzlement at how people develop happy relationships.

Gottman’s studies pointed to relationship difficulties caused by the “Four Horsemen,” named after the famous Albrecht Durer engraving Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

These factors predictive of divorce include: 

1. Criticism of the partner’s personality
2. Defensiveness
3. Stonewalling, or refusing to interact
4. Contempt

Couples who function effectively treat each other with consideration, and are supportive of each other.

The goals of the Gottman Method include increasing closeness and friendship behaviors, addressing conflict productively, and building a life of shared meaning together. The Gottman Method involves customizing principles from the research to each couple’s particular patterns and challenges.

The Seven Principles include the following concepts:

Build Love Maps: This refers to an ongoing awareness of our partners’ worlds as they move through time: how they think and feel, what day-to-day life is like for them, and their values, hopes, aspirations, and stresses.

Express Fondness and Admiration: Couples who function well are able to appreciate and enjoy most aspects of each partner’s behavior and learn to live with differences.

Turn Toward One Another: Conversational patterns of interest and respect, even about mundane topics are crucial to happiness. Couples who turn toward successfully maintain a 20:1 ratio of expressing interest or acknowledgement vs. ignoring conversational gambits. This is referred to as the “Emotional Bank Account.” Couples who are highly successful keep a 5:1 ratio in conflict discussions, even Turning Towards while arguing.

Accept Influence: Members of a couple who take the other partner’s preferences into account and are willing to compromise and adapt are happiest. Being able to yield and maintain mutual influence, while avoiding power struggles, helps couples keep a balance of power that feels reasonable and builds trust.

Solve Problems That Are Solvable: Couples who can find compromise on issues are using five tactics. They soften start up so the beginning of the conversation leads to a satisfactory end. They offer and respond to repair attempts, or behaviors that maintain the emotional connection and emphasize “we/us” over individual needs. They effectively soothe themselves and their partner. They use compromise and negotiation skills. They are tolerant of one another’s vulnerabilities and ineffective conversational habits, keeping the focus on shared concern for the well-being of the relationship.

Manage Conflict and Overcome Gridlock: The Gottman Method helps couples manage, not resolve, conflict. Conflict is viewed as inherent in relationship and doesn’t go away. Happy couples report the majority of their conflicts, 69% are perpetual in nature, meaning they are present throughout the course of time and are dealt with only as needed. These recurrent themes become part of the couple’s shared landscape and are kept in perspective, not dwelt upon.

Create Shared Meaning: Connection in relationship occurs as each person experiences the multitude of ways in which their partner enriches their life with a shared history and helps them find meaning and make sense of struggles.

Gottman is profiled in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink for his ability to predict a couple’s likelihood of divorce with 94% accuracy after just a few minutes of observation. Psychotherapy Networker, a professional journal, recognized Gottman as one of the ten most influential therapists of the past 25 years.


In the spirit of our friends at, we'd like to share our own resource for finding a therapist trained in Gottman Method. To begin your search for a Gottman-trained therapist near you, follow the link below:

Find a Therapist!
The Gottman Referral Network (GRN) is the primary resource for couples worldwide who are seeking professional help from Gottman-trained therapists. GRN members have received training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, an approach based on 40 years of research with thousands of couples. Free to access, this database puts you directly in touch with experienced clinicians who use Gottman relationship-building techniques.

GRN therapists are equipped to provide support to couples, individuals, children and/or families on many issues in addition to couples therapy, including anxiety, depression, addictions, trauma, abuse, blended family issues, and more. Therapists listed in our network are licensed mental health professionals who work independently from their own private practice offices. 

Be sure to check out any and all of these great links! You can contact The Gottman Institute toll-free at (888) 523-9042 or call local at (206) 523-9042 if you have any questions. See all of our contact info here. As always, we invite you to join us on Facebook!

Have a great weekend!
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Gottmans are coming to the East Coast!

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to take the opportunity to inform you about some very exciting upcoming events. In less than two weeks, we will be packing our bags and boarding an airplane for Tampa, Florida! 

Tampa, FL
On Thursday, June 6, Dr. John Gottman will be presenting a 1.5 hour lecture entitled “How to Build Trust, Love, & Loyalty in Relationships” at The Tampa Convention Center. In this presentation Dr. Gottman will draw upon his four decades of break-through research with more than 3,000 couples and dispel myths about relationships. He will teach specifically what successful couples do to create a long-lasting relationship and what the benefits of a stable, committed relationship actually are.

In this presentation, he will discuss:
  • Relationship and divorce prediction: With a three-hour assessment, Dr. John Gottman has been able to predict with over 90% accuracy, which couples will divorce, which couples will stay together happily, and which couples will stay together unhappily.
  • The importance of nurturing friendship and intimacy in ones’ relationship.
  • Understanding that a positive perspective occurs when the friendship in ones’ relationship is strong.
  • The importance of managing conflict constructively.
  • The significance of creating shared meaning – building a shared sense of purpose and finding ways to make one another’s life dreams come true.
  • They key ingredients for building trust, loyalty, and commitment and making love last a lifetime. Our newest research reveals the dynamics of betrayal and how to safeguard (or heal) your relationship.

This presentation is for anyone who wants his or her relationship to attain its highest potential. The talk is based upon Dr. Gottman’s NY Times bestselling book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and has been presented as a keynote address at conferences and to international audiences. His style of presentation is clear, informative and full of humor and he is loved by audiences everywhere. He has appeared on Anderson Cooper, Oprah, Good Morning America, Today, CBS Morning News, and is often cited as "the" relationship expert in The New York Times, Time Magazine, and USA Today. Registration: $30. Click here for more information and to register for this lecture. 

On Friday, June 7th and Saturday, June 8th, Drs. John and Julie Gottman will be presenting a Gottman Method Couples Therapy Level 1 Training. In this workshop, Drs. John and Julie Gottman will provide you with a research-based roadmap for helping couples compassionately manage their conflicts, deepen their friendship and intimacy, and share their life purpose and dreams.

In this inspirational two-day workshop, you’ll learn:

  • Research-based strategies and tools to help couples successfully manage conflict.
  • Skills to empower couples to dialogue about their worst gridlocked issues by uncovering their underlying dreams, history, and values.
  • Methods to help couples process their fights and heal their hurts.
  • Techniques for couples to deepen their intimacy and minimize relapse.
  • New assessments and effective interventions to help understand couples struggles.

Participants will receive a 300-page clinical manual featuring new relationship assessment questionnaires and clinical interventions designed to help couples break the cycle of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Apply Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help couples strengthen:
  • The Friendship System: the foundation for intimacy, passion, and good sex.
  • The Conflict System: the basis for helping couples identify and address solvable problems, and understand and manage irresolvable differences.
  • The Shared Meaning System: the existential foundation of the relationship that helps couples discover their shared purpose for building a life together.

Registration: $399. Click here for more information and to register for the training event. We will then pack our bags (again) and fly to Washington, D.C.!

Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, June 13th, Dr. John Gottman will deliver the same “How to Build Trust, Love, & Loyalty in Relationships” address at The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Registration: $30. Click here for more information and to register for this speaking event.

On Friday, June 14th and Saturday, June 15th, Drs. John and Julie Gottman will be presenting a Gottman Method Couples Therapy Level 1 Training. Click here for more information and to register for the training event. 

These will be the ONLY Level 1 Trainings presented by the Gottmans in the United States this year. Do not miss this opportunity to train with the world’s leaders in couples therapy on the East Coast. Questions? Please do not hesitate to contact Lori Cambas at:

All for now,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Self-Soothing Weekend Homework Assignment

On Wednesday's posting, we promised to follow our cold, hard facts about stonewalling with a healthy alternative. The first step of overcoming stonewalling is to stop the discussion. If you keep going, you'll find yourself exploding at your partner or imploding, neither of which will get you anywhere other than one step farther down the relationship cascades that lead to separation. 

The only reasonable strategy, therefore, is to let your partner know that you're feeling flooded and need to take a break. It's crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation and innocent victimhood. Many people find that the best approach to self-soothing is to focus on calming the body through a meditative technique. Here's a simple one:

The Practice of Physiological Self-Soothing:

1.  Think of a neutral signal that you and your partner can use in a conversation to let each other know when one of you feels flooded with emotion (for more about flooding, refer to our March 1st post from The Research series on Physiological Self-Soothing.) This can be a word or a physical motion, e.g. "Collywobbles!" or "Hocus-pocus," or simply raising both hands into a stop position. Come up with your own! If you choose a ridiculous signal, you may find that the very use of it helps begin to diffuse tension.

2.  When you have moved apart to take your break, attempt the following: imagine a place that makes you feel calm and safe. A sacred space where nothing can touch you. It may be a place you remember from childhood - a cozy corner you read in, your old bedroom, or a friend's house. It may be a beautiful forest you explored on a trip. It may be a dreamscape. As you imagine yourself in this sanctuary, lose yourself in the peace of mind that it brings you. Meditating on a haven in your imagination can be a perfect, relaxing break from a difficult conversation.

3.  Practice focusing on your breath: it should be deep, regular, and even. Usually when you get flooded, you either hold your breath a lot or breathe shallowly. So, inhale and exhale naturally. As in Eastern practices - from yoga to contemplative meditation - you may find yourself calmer and more centered if you stop for a moment, and allow the noise around you to temporarily fade away. 

4.  Tense and relax parts of your body that feel tight or uncomfortable. Feel the warmth and heaviness flow out of your limbs. Take your time. This technique is similar to a focus on breathing, but you may find one or the other preferable. Work with either of these techniques to feel your stress flow away.

We think taking a break of this sort is so important that we schedule this exercise into the conflict-resolution section of every workshop that we run. Soothing themselves makes couples better able to work on their conflicts as a team rather than as adversaries.

Think of these as starting points for the creation of an island of peace within yourself. You can return to this place again and again, whenever you like.

Your (and your partner’s) mental health play a large role in determining the health of your relationship. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves! Devote enough time and energy to self-care (getting enough sleep, nutrition, exercise, time for pursuit of your passions), and watch the frequency and intensity of fights between the two of you drop dramatically.

Remember: the ability to self-soothe is one of the most important skills you can learn. Practicing it can help you not only in romantic relationships, but in all other areas of your life.

Wishing you a wonderful Memorial Day weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Stonewalling Part II

On Monday we introduced Stonewalling, Dr. Gottman’s fourth and final horseman. It is our goal this week to help you understand this particularly destructive communication style and learn to manage it. Today, we will begin by sharing some cold, hard facts. 

As we have written previously on The Gottman Relationship Blog, masters of relationships maintain a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflict discussions. Positive interactions include displays of interest, affection, humor, empathy, and affirming body language (like eye contact and head nodding). While it may be intuitive that negative exchanges outweighing the positive is a sign of relationship trouble, Dr. Gottman's 5:1 ratio also suggests that negativity is healthy as long as the ratio is maintained and the four horsemen are not present.

Cycles of non-constructive arguing and a lack of positive affect are major predictors of stonewalling, particularly predicative of stonewalling being used as an attempt to self-soothe or de-escalate, but backfiring and resulting in relationship deterioration. When these cycles  grow more and more intense, and physiological arousal begins to skyrocket, the following dynamics emerge:

  • For both partners, there is: (a) a decrease in the ability to process 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.
  • Men are consistently more likely to stonewall than women. They will withdraw emotionally from conflict discussions while women remain emotionally engaged.  85% of Dr. Gottman’s stonewallers were men.
  • When women do stonewall, it is quite predictive of divorce.
  • Men are more likely to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts than women, which may prolong their physiological arousal and hyper-vigilance, often causing their partners to flare up in response, until both are brought to a point of emotional detachment and avoidance.
  • Male stonewalling is very upsetting for women, increasing their physiological arousal (things like increased heart rates, etc.) and intensifying their pursuit of the issue.

(Note: Many of these findings come from a 1985 study by Drs. Gottman and Levenson, called "Physiological and Affective Predictors of Change in Relationship Satisfaction," which you can access here).

To summarize: stonewalling is bad! Here is a good rule: When the two of you are in conflict, and someone checks out, check in with them and take a break. In other words, when stonewalling starts, STOP. Attempts to continue will not make productive headway for either of you, but rather will intensify your shared conflict and emotional distress.

You’ve probably realized this by now. We’ve all had experiences trying (so hard!) to speak and not being heard. What’s important to take away from this posting is an awareness that stonewalling is both natural and deadly. It is a normal defense mechanism, and it goes something like this:

If I can just shut it out, if I can pretend not to see it or hear it, the problem won’t be there anymore. If I can just get through this, it will poof and disappear.

If you tend to avoid conflict by thinking along these lines, something else may poof and disappear: your relationship. But don’t panic! There’s no cause for alarm, because there will be no poofing or disappearing if you know just one thing: a healthy way to cope with the urge to stonewall and emotionally withdraw. That way is Physiological Self-Soothing, which we will explain in our blog post this Friday!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Stonewalling

Happy Monday! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our series devoted to Dr. Gottman's Four Horsemen with the last, but certainly not least, horseman: Stonewalling.

If you've completely forgotten about The Four Horsemen over the weekend, we have provided you with a short clip below for an explanation from Dr. Gottman himself: 

occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shutting down and closing themselves off from the speaker because they are feeling overwhelmed or physiologically flooded. Rather than confronting the issue, someone who is stonewalling will be totally unresponsive, making evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable "out," but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit.

Trying to communicate with someone who is acting in this way can be frustrating, and if the stonewalling continues, completely infuriating.

When you are making every effort to address a problem, whether you are attempting to talk about something that is upsetting you, explain your feelings about an ongoing area of conflict, or try to reach a resolution - 
 and your partner is pretending that you aren’t there - you are likely to reach a level of upset or anger so high that you psychologically and emotionally “check out” as well.

The first part of the antidote to experiencing this extreme unpleasantness is to

The second step is to practice
physiological self soothing.

If you learn to do these things when your conversations become fights and tempers flare, you can keep your relationship from experiencing repeated and deeply destructive stress and save yourself and your partner from going nuts.

Sound promising? Read on.

When to stop:
When things escalate to a level where you sense yourself reaching your boiling point (that feeling of a kettle whistling inside of you, and steam ready to come out of your ears), it’s time to take yourself off the flame! The same goes for your partner.

Let each other know when you're feeling overwhelmed, and say that you need to take a break. This break should last at least twenty minutes, since it will take that much time for your bodies to physiologically calm down.

How to self-soothe:

It is crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation ("I don't have to take this anymore!") and innocent victimhood ("Why is he always picking on me?"). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading a book, or taking a walk around the block.

The Four Horsemen typically come as a sequence of interactions that start with criticism and spill over into defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. As Dr. Gottman emphasizes in his New York Times bestselling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the really important thing to keep in mind is that even in happy, stable, and successful marriages and relationships, the four horsemen all occur. No couple is perfect! The difference is that in those marriages they don’t occur as frequently, and when they do, those couples are more effective at repairing them. 

Look forward to our posts this Wednesday and Friday, in which we will delve further into our discussion of stonewalling, flooding, and physiological self-soothing. In the meantime, join us on Facebook for daily relationship tips and reminders!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Contempt Weekend Homework Assignment

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue Wednesday's discussion on Fondness and Admiration, which are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. Remember: The antidote to contempt lies in building a culture of fondness and admiration.

Although happy couples may feel driven to distraction at times by their partner's personality flaws, they still feel that the person is worthy of honor and respect. Even though sharing fondness and admiration is crucial in a relationship, these positive sentiments often dwindle overtime through conflict, resentment, or simply the absentmindedness that can come as a result of life's many distractions.

Sharing fondness and admiration in your relationship is not complicated, and can be done even if you think those positive feelings are buried too deep beneath recent conflicts. Positive thoughts invoke positive feelings, and the goal is to turn both into positive actions that help to heal and bring companionship back in your relationship.

Showing your appreciation for your partner can be done in little ways throughout the day. In our research, we found that the masters of relationships displayed a way of scanning their environment to find ways of appreciating their partner. When you take the time to notice what your partner does that makes your life easier, makes you smile, or reminds you of why you were attracted to them in the first place, let them know! People seek validation for the things they do, because we love for our actions to be accepted and appreciated. Filling your relationship with fondness and admiration also goes beyond appreciation - it involves using the things you know about your partner to show that you care and want them to be happy.

Using Love Maps to express fondness and admiration shows your partner that you not only make the effort to know things about their life, but that you also love and admire them. Showing affection and appreciation through the use of your Love Maps can take many different forms. Here are some examples to help you understand the concept:

1) Mary knows that her husband Phil has been working on a very demanding and stressful project at work. Because of this, he has been coming home late and has been more tired than usual. One night as they’re getting ready for bed, Mary takes Phil’s hand and tells him how proud of him she is and how much she appreciates his hard working-nature and everything he does to support their family. Phil visibly relaxes and tells her how nice it is to hear her say that - he had been afraid that she would be mad that he hadn’t been around the house enough and that he is glad that she understands that he is doing this for his loved ones.

2) Earl has a favorite mustard potato salad recipe passed down from his mom, but his wife Peggy grew up with her mom always making traditional mustard potato salad. So every time Earl makes potato salad, he makes a special bowl of potato salad just for Peggy. This simple act means much more to Peggy than potato salad should, because it shows her that he knows what she likes and cares enough to continue this tradition just for her.

3) Fred has always been very self-conscious about his body, but in the past few months he has worked out really hard and is close to his goal weight. His girlfriend Suzie knows that weight is something Fred has struggled with for years. She has always loved his body, but she gives special attention to letting him know that. When she hugs him she makes remarks on how strong his arms are getting, when he’s walking around she lets him see her long glances and tells him how attractive he is to her, and when she sees him on the scale she tells him that he gets handsomer everyday regardless of what he’s gained or lost. Suzie’s affectionate remarks reassure Fred, giving him the confidence that his own self-esteem is lacking, as well as letting him know that she loves him no matter what his body looks like.

4)  Emma has wanted to spend more time with her husband Matt, but in his free time he’s been golfing a lot with his friends, something that Emma doesn’t know how to do. So one afternoon when they are both free, she asks him to take her to the driving range and show her proper form. He’s surprised at first because she has never expressed an interest in golf, but when she tells him that she knows how good of a teacher he is and that has always been impressed by his talent and his commitment and love for game. He is delighted to know that she wants to be a part of something so important to him. This show of admiration and affection fills Matt with good feelings for Emma and makes him excited to teach her.

Showing that you care is a simple and important part of sustaining friendship and positive emotions in a relationship. Each of us seeks to be understood and loved, and it is essential to a relationship to receive affection and appreciation from our partners. 

Letting your partner really feel your fondness and admiration for them takes a certain measure of selflessness, as well as a conscious effort to become truly involved in your partner’s life and to understand their needs. When your partner is worried about a personal situation at work, letting them know how proud you are of them and how much you support them will have a deeper effect than telling them how good they look in their new outfit. To build support and trust between yourselves, keep in mind that the two of you are a team. Show your partner that you are on their side! Use what you know about your partner in order to let them truly understand how much you love and respect them.

Making plenty of deposits into your emotional bank account by expressing fondness and admiration for your partner this weekend! Have a great one.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

PS: Don't forget to enter the "Let's Stay Together Giveaway" here by Sunday, May 19th. Win a copy of Dr. Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, an autographed copy of What Makes Love Last?, and more!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Four Horsemen: Contempt Part II

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue Monday's discussion on Horseman #3: Contempt. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Blink:
“If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the most important sign that a marriage is in trouble." Clearly, contempt is a serious problem.

We wish we could offer you a quick fix, but the truth is that fighting contempt is a difficult task. 
The antidote to contempt lies in building a culture of fondness and admiration.

If you feel that fondness and admiration are almost entirely gone from your relationship, we suggest that the two of you take more serious action – perhaps have a conversation (without criticism, defensiveness, and contempt!) about looking into couples therapy. If you would like a place to start, we have developed a referral network of wonderful Gottman-trained therapists called The Gottman Referral Network.

When your partner shows you contempt, they are communicating scorn, disdain, or disgust. They are communicating feelings of superiority by showing that they feel that you are inferior to them, below them, and undeserving of respect. No one deserves to be looked at or spoken to with contempt, so remember, when someone shows you contempt or disgust it says much more about them than it does about you!

However, if you feel that your relationship is far from being in serious trouble, but can still recognize yourself and/or your partner in our examples from Monday’s post, you’ll be glad to hear that  Dr. Gottman has developed a variety of tools that can help you to fight contempt by working towards building a strong foundation of Fondness & Admiration in your relationship. Today, we would like to teach you about "The Oral History Interview."

Dr. Gottman discovered in his research that, for couples in crisis, the best test to measure the strength in their fondness and admiration system is to focus on how they view their past. If your relationship is in deep trouble, you’re unlikely to elicit much praise from each other by asking about the current state of affairs. Talking about the happy events of the past, however, helps many couples reconnect. If you revive fondness and admiration for each other, you are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team, and the growth of your sense of “we-ness” as a couple will keep the two of you as connected as you felt when you first met!

Below is a questionnaire designed by Dr. Gottman to help you rediscover your fondness and admiration for each other. Completing this questionnaire will help you to remember the early years of your relationship - how and why you became a couple.

Note: Your marriage or relationship doesn’t have to be in deep trouble to benefit from this exercise. By focusing on your past, you can often remember and reconnect with your history of positive feelings! 

You will need a few hours of uninterrupted time to complete this exercise. You can ask a close friend or relative to serve as interviewer or you can read the questions out loud and talk about them together. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions - they are merely meant to assist you in recalling the love and perspective on the relationship you have had.

The History of Your Relationship:
1. Discuss how the two of you met and got together. Was there anything about your partner that made them stand out? What were your first impressions of each other?

2. What do you remember most about your first date and the period of your new relationship? What stands out? How long did you know each other before you got married? What do you remember of this period? What were some of the highlights? What types of things did you do together?

3. Talk about how you decided to get married. Who proposed and in what manner? Was it a difficult decision? Were you in love? Talk about this time.

4. How well do you remember your wedding? Talk to each other about your memories. Did you have a honeymoon? What was your favorite part of the wedding or honeymoon?

5. Do you remember your first year of marriage? Were there any adjustments you needed to make as a couple?

6. What about the transition to parenthood? What was this period of your marriage like for the two of you?

7. Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as the happiest period in your relationship? When was a good time for you as a couple? Has this changed over the years?

8. Many relationships go through periods of ups and downs. Would you say this is true of your relationship? Can you describe some of these low and high points?

9. Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as really hard times in your relationship? How did you get through these rough periods? Why do you think you stayed together?

10. Have you stopped doing things together that once gave you pleasure? Explore this idea together and discuss why you stopped.


Remember, this exercise is not meant to be a quick-fix, one-time solution to any problems in your relationship! Considering and discussing some questions in this exercise from time to time may be enough to salvage and strengthen your fondness and admiration for each other over time – to remind yourselves of the things you find wonderful about your partner, and to remember to cherish each other through the years.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Contempt

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue our series on Dr. Gottman's four horsemen with horseman #3: Contempt. If you are just joining us, or have forgotten what we have covered in this series so far, you can click the links below for a quick refresher. Links to more recent postings (on Criticism and Defensiveness) are also available on the right side of the page under "Blog Archive:"

Contempt is the worst of the four horsemen. In Dr. Gottman’s four decades of research, he has found it to be the #1 predictor of divorce.

When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean.  Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering. In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It's virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you're disgusted with him or her. 

Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner, in the form of an attack from a position of relative superiority. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation. 

Take Jan for example. Coming home from a long day with the children to find her husband on the couch, she asks him for help in making dinner. When he tells her he is tired, she snaps:

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

Or imagine Luke and Emma at dinner, after she tells him she’d rather he not go out with his friends that night, he lashes out: 

"You don’t want me to go out with my friends tonight? Surprise! When have you ever been okay with me going anywhere? Would you like to tie me to something in this living room to ensure that I never leave you?"

Dr. Gottman has found that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, and so on) than other people! Contempt is the most poisonous of all relationship killers – destroying psychological, emotional, and physical health. Anderson Cooper of CNN reacts to Dr. Gottman's findings on contempt in this short clip:

Don't be alarmed! The Gottman Institute has developed very effective skills and tools to combat contempt in relationships. We will show you the antidote to contempt on Wednesday, and give you the opportunity to practice in this Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment. Until then, join the conversation on our Facebook page!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Defensiveness & Blind Spots

Happy Friday! We hope you have learned a lot about Defensiveness (discussed on Monday here) and its antidote (discussed on Wednesday here) in this week's postings. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to take the opportunity to share an excerpt from an article which cites our research. It may be of interest to you in connection with our current series on Dr. Gottman’s Four Horsemen, especially this week's discussion of Horseman #2.

In the following interview from Forbes India, we hear from Professor Douglas Stone of Harvard Law, an expert on negotiation and difficult conversations, answering interview questions for Rotman Magazine at the University of Toronto. The topic is “blind spots.”


Q: We’ve all heard of literal blind spots, but what is a "behavioral blind spot?"  
A: These are things that we can’t see about ourselves, but which others do see.  When someone tries to give us feedback in a blind spot, we usually reject it as simply wrong - not because we’re being irrationally defensive, but because, to us, it actually seems wrong.  It leaves us feeling confused, because we wonder what would cause others to give us feedback that is so off target? Are they jealous, petty, na├»ve, or political?  As we sort through what would motivate the other person to give us such feedback, we move further and further from considering how the feedback might be useful to us.

Q: What causes blind spots?
A: There are two key causes.  The first is that we can’t see ourselves. We spend a lot of time with ourselves, so in one sense, we know more about ourselves than anyone else could ever know; but there are things about ourselves that we literally can’t see, such as our facial expressions and our body language.  Even our tone of voice is hard to judge.  So the very data that is most obvious and present to others is what is missing for us.  We communicate a tremendous amount through expressions and tone, especially regarding our emotional state.  The merest squint can communicate, “I doubt that,” even as we’re saying, “that sounds right.”

For example, John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington who studies relationships, found that eye-rolling correlates with a higher divorce rate.  Think about it: when you roll your eyes, you are aware that you’re frustrated or disgusted, but you are unaware that you are rolling your eyes.  You are unaware, then, that you are communicating your emotions to your spouse, but your spouse is quite aware.

A second kind of blind spot is our impact on others, which again, we cannot see, because these impacts occur inside the minds and hearts of the other person.  We have indirect evidence of it, but it’s easy to misinterpret.  “Surely, she knew I was joking,” we think;  or, “I can’t imagine what I said upset him; it wouldn’t have upset me.”  Sometimes we’re right, but often we’re wrong.


Stone makes some excellent points. 

When we become defensive in a conversation with our partner, we react to their words without listening to what they're saying. More often than not, we
 attempt to ward off the perceived attack by turning the tables on them. “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.” Well, that certainly escalated quickly.

Remember that non-verbal cues are constantly exchanged in conversation, often picked up subconsciously by our brains while we are busy processing something else in the interaction. Whether we realize it or not, they are vital to our interpretation of the speaker’s intent. Tone, body language, facial expression, and other external affectual signs are often internationally recognizable, not particular to any cultural or ethinc group.  We can all read eye-rolling as contempt, as Stone mentioned above, and feel a listener’s turned-away body language as a sign of withdrawal. However, other non-verbal cues are not as recognizable. You may not even be aware that you are doing it. 

We urge you to heed Douglas Stone’s words, and to take his message to heart in your future conflict discussions with your partner. We may have the best intentions when we come into a conversation, but even the most positive attitude cannot last in the face of serious misunderstanding. Though you may have your partner’s interests at heart, if he/she misinterprets your message, you’re likely on your way to Horseman Hell:  criticism can evoke a defensive response, followed by a contemptuous statement, leading to emotional withdrawal and stonewalling. Keep your focus on avoiding the first two, and you can hold off the rest more easily! Not to worry - we will begin our discussion of contempt on monday.

Practice paying attention to your responses and those of your partner this weekend. Take time to work through Wednesday’s exercise on accepting responsibility and see the benefits of your results - watch your relationship begin to feel safer, more stable, and more intimate than ever.

Until Monday,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Defensiveness Part II

In healthy relationships, partners don’t get defensive when discussing an area of conflict. According to Dr. Gottman, they instead take responsibility for their role in the issue and express an interest in their partner's feelings. They say, “You're right, I could have been more aware of how exhausted you were. What you are saying makes some sense, tell me more.” Having acknowledged that you have some role in the problem, you are accepting responsibility for a part of it. When you do this, you will find that you can have real dialogue with your partner – you become a team working through the problem together.

Let’s take the example from Dr. Gottman’s interview with Anderson Cooper that we shared on Monday:

She: You’re always watching TV!
He: What do you mean "I’m always watching TV?" I’m working! Can I watch the news?! You’re always watching TV, and the kids!

His defensive response to her criticism does nothing to help the situation. Instead, feeling attacked, he turns the tables and accuses
her,  to which she responds in kind – defensively! Off they go!

What is another way that they could have handled this exchange? The antidote to
Defensiveness is Accepting Responsibility. Here’s an example:

Accepting Responsibility:

She: You’re always watching TV!
He: I know you’re frustrated. I’m so tired when I get back from work that I just want to rest for a while. If it bothers you, let's find another relaxing activity that we can do together. What do you think?
She: Okay. I’m sorry, it just feels overwhelming when I’m trying to take care of the kids and you’re just sitting there.
He: How about if I help you and then we both go for a walk later tonight? We’ve both got to relax.
She: Sounds good! Thanks for understanding.

Here’s another example:


He: You always work so late.
She: I have a project to do for work, we’ve got a deadline.
He: You ALWAYS have a project to do for work. There is ALWAYS a deadline.
She: That’s not true.
He: Why don’t you just move into the office?!

Accepting Responsibility:

He: You always work so late.
She: I know. I’m sorry. I’ve got so much to do. What’s the matter?
He: You haven’t noticed that we never spend any time together anymore?
She: I know it's been hard. I miss you. I’ll try to talk to my boss about these deadlines.
He: I would really appreciate that.
She: I’ll try to take Friday off – maybe we can go to a show or something.
He: Sounds great! 

Think about perpetual problems in your relationship, those problems that come up often and never seem to go away. Do you feel that the TV is on too much? Do you feel that your partner is away all the time? Do you feel overburdened with housework? Do you feel like you spend too much time arguing about little things?

Imagine the conversations/arguments/fights you have about conflict areas going differently. If these discussions crop up all the time, you’ll be sure to benefit greatly from handling them in a healthier way. Think about a particular problem: What is your goal? What is the real problem underlying the conflict? In the first example, she wants more help and he wants them both to have a chance to relax. In the second example, he misses her, and she is stressed out at the office.

When you have time, make a list of the subjects you want or need to address - the ones that never seem to get resolved. Write down your desired way for the conversation to go. Using the examples above, try to replace defensiveness with taking responsibility the next time the subject comes up. Also, don't forget what you learned last week about criticism: complain without blame and express a positive need. You will be happily surprised with the results!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Defensiveness

Greetings from The Gottman Institute! We hope you’ve had a wonderful weekend. This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our series on The Four Horsemen with Horseman #2: Defensiveness.

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that its perceived effect is blame. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You're saying, in effect, “The problem isn't me, it's you.” As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late, it’s your fault.”
Antidote: “Well, you're right. Part of this is my problem - I need to do a better job managing my time.”

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

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

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

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

Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. He fails to solve the problem, and ends up introducing the second horsemen, his defensiveness adding kindling to the flame. Dr. Gottman talks to Anderson Cooper about defensiveness in the first half of this short clip: 

In our next posting on Wednesday, we are going to share an exercise to help you learn to fight off defensiveness and prevent the second horseman from stampeding through your relationship. Questions? Join the conversation on our Facebook page

Stay tuned,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Four Horsemen: Criticism Weekend Homework Assignment

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to give you the opportunity to practice what you’ve learned about criticism this week. On Monday, we explained the difference between a complaint and a criticism. Remember: a complaint is about a specific issue, while a criticism is an attack on your partner's character. On Wednesday, we discussed the difference (and importance) between criticizing expressing a negative need vs. complaining using a positive need. 

When you have time this weekend, try out the following exercise to practice fighting off the first horseman. Read the exchanges below and try to find a complaint to replace the criticism made by the first person in each pair. Come up with a statement they could make to express their feelings as a positive need. If you’d like, try this activity with your partner, and work together to save these couples from the arrival of the first horseman! Here’s an example:

Janine: "When I ask you to meet me, you’re always ridiculously late - don’t be so unreliable and insensitive!"
Greg: "I’m not insensitive or unreliable. Stop overreacting."

Alternative for Janine: "I wish that when we made plans to meet somewhere, you would make it more of a priority effort to make it on time."

Now it's your turn! We have provided sample responses at the bottom, which you can refer to after you complete the activity on your own. (no peeking!)
  1. Phoebe: "You never call me back or respond to my text messages."
    Brent: "Tell me about a single time this has happened!"
  2. Ben: "You’re always bossing me around and you never let me make decisions."
    Rory: "I do too! Last night, you got to pick the show we watched."
  3. Marshall: "You’re so demanding. I can’t always be at home on time when I’m this busy at work!"
    Holly: "I’m not demanding, I barely ever ask you for anything."
  4. Karen: "You never clean up after yourself. You’re so careless!"
    Jim: "Yes I do! You're the one who always leaves the dishes in the sink."
  5. Linda: "You’re always going out with your friends when I ask you for help."
    Wesley: "What are you talking about? I do everything around the house because you're the one who’s out all the time."
  6. Loren: "You never take me out dancing like you used to. You used to be so fun. What happened?"
    Hayden: "I don't have time for this right now."

Here are some sample responses:

  1. Phoebe: "It would mean a lot to me if you took a moment to respond to me when I call or text you, even if it's to tell me that you are busy and will call me later."
  2. Ben: "I would really like it if I could choose the show we watch tonight."
  3. Marshall: "I know it sucks, but I have a huge deadline coming up at work, and I may have to stay at the office late some days this week. After this is over, I will take an afternoon off next week and we can go for a drive." 
  4. Karen: "I’m feeling really stressed and would really appreciate it if you helped me clean up tonight."
  5. Linda: "I would really appreciate it if you spent some time here with me and helped with some projects we need to get done tonight."
  6. Loren: "I would love it if you took me out sometime soon - maybe we could see a show or go dancing?"

We hope that this exercise is helpful to you. If you can begin to identify ways in which to convert critical statements into complaints using a positive need, you will be able to practice communicating with your partner you in a healthier manner!

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff