Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bringing Baby Home: The Training Program

Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we announced the relaunch of the Bringing Baby Home program and shared the date of the first Educator Training, which will take place on October 26th and 27th in Seattle, WA. This week, we will explain the training's curriculum, share what skills attendees will gain, and discuss what knowledge they will be able to impart to others. We would like to start today by introducing you to the basic structure of the training.

Our newly designed, research-based training prepares participants to independently teach pregnant and parenting couples how to successfully prepare for the transition to parenthood.

Participants will learn to teach couples how to:
  • Strengthen their relationship
  • Effectively manage stress and conflict
  • Recognize and respond to postpartum depression
  • Meet the emotional and psychological needs of a child
  • Keep both parents involved in parenting 

By popular demand, we’ve reduced the workshop to 2 days from 3 to maximize your time. Educators from around the world are already signed up to attend! Join them and learn how to present this valuable and much needed work in your neighborhood.

Who is the training for?
Educators, nurses, social workers, child and family therapists, birth and postpartum doulas, midwives, childbirth educators, professors, parent coaches and clergy - all have taken the Bringing Baby Home Training and become Gottman Educators. The Educator Training program is designed for professionals who work with expectant parents and families with young children.

What can you do with this training?
The training provides the tools and know-how to facilitate couples’ small groups and classes at your church, community center, place of business, or home. Attendees learn how to teach pregnant and parenting couples the skills needed to encourage healthy, supportive family relationships while decreasing postpartum depression, relationship conflict, and hostility.

What can I expect from the training?
The BBH Training is a high quality program that combines lecture, multi-media presentations, interactive exercise, hands-on “teach back” opportunities, discussion, and periodic quizzes. Your workshop includes a dedicated trainer to facilitate two days of research-based training and all workshop materials. Participants will be taught how to use the materials, content, tools and exercises, and will be able to teach the BBH workshop to parents immediately following the training.

During the Educator Training, participants will have the opportunity to: 
  • Attend insightful research-based and research-tested lessons
  • Participate in “teach-back” sessions with peers
  • Learn ways to market and promote the BBH program in your community
  • Participate in brown bag discussions that will help reinforce key topics or points of interest
  • Test their knowledge of what was learned over the course of the training. Periodic quizzes during the training and provided sample test questions help participants prepare for the final test. Passing this exam enables participants to teach the BBH Program in their community.

As a result of Educator Training, participants will be able to:
  • Independently teach and facilitate the 12 hour Bringing Baby Home Couples Workshop.
  • Independently teach and facilitate multiple authorized Sections of the Bringing Baby Home Couples Workshop. 
  • Use the Gottman BBH Educator title and distinction.

Each participant receives the following materials: 
  • One Training Manual: Gottman Educator Training Manual, 300 pages. Developed and written by Drs. John and Julie Gottman and Master BBH Trainers, it includes all the teaching tools, exercises and research for successfully teaching the Bringing Baby Home Workshop. 
  • One Couple’s Workbook: Bringing Baby Home Couple’s Workbook, 150 pages. Includes insightful research, key parenting tips, guides and information, resources and interactive exercises. This is the manual that couples receive when taking the BBH Workshop from Educators. 
  • Six Card Decks: These fun, interactive cards are used in the Bringing Baby Home Workshop with parents as interactive exercises. Titles include: Love Map Cards, Love Map Cards For Couples with Kids, Open-Ended Questions Cards, Father’s Cards, Expressing Needs Cards, Softened Start-up Cards. 

If you have any questions about the October 26-27 BBH Training or would like more information about its curriculum, please contact Alan Kunovsky at alan@gottman.com or 206-523-9042 x 108. As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Until next time,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bringing Baby Home: Interview

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are very excited to bring you an exclusive interview with two Bringing Baby Home Master Trainers. We recently sat down with Carolyn Pirak and Joni Parthemer to discuss the history of the BBH program and their work to re-launch it. As a reminder, The Gottman Institute will be sponsoring a BBH Educator Training in Seattle, WA on October 26 – 27 of this year. Click here for more information. Before we get to the interview, allow us to introduce you to these two wonderful women:

Joni Parthemer holds a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and is both a Master Trainer and Education Director for the BBH program. She also holds certification as a Childbirth Educator and International Childbirth Association Approved Trainer. 

Joni is a faculty member at the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Professions at Bastyr University as well as a Birth and Family Educator at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA. She has developed, published, and implemented a variety of training materials for educators interested in providing support and growth programs for families.

Carolyn Pirak holds a Master of Social Work and works with children and families in both medical and educational settings. She is the Founding Director of the Bringing Baby Home program, a Master Trainer, and the author of the Bringing Baby Home Sections: Curriculum, Emotional Communication, and Children. 

Carolyn is currently a consultant for a variety of organizations and Parenting Programs and works at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA in Birth and Family Education. he is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of children, couples, and families. She is married and is the mother of two children.

The Gottman Institute: How did you first hear about the Bringing Baby Home program?

Joni: I have worked as a professor, educator, and birth & family health care specialist for over 30 years. In my role as a birth and family educator at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA, I was approached by Dr. John Gottman, along with two other colleagues (Carolyn Pirak, MSW and Rosalys Peel, RN) to create, implement, and train couples and professionals in research-based information about what works and doesn't work in relationships - and pivotal to the Bringing Baby Home Program - the profound effects the transition to parenthood has on familial relationships. Our first meetings occurred in the late 1990's and fifteen years later the BBH journey continues! 

Carolyn: I have been involved with the BBH program since 1998. The Gottmans had identified through their couple's research that the arrival of a new baby caused couples to have increased challenges and conflict in their relationships. They believed that a psycho-educational program could help couples learn what to expect during the transition to parenthood and have tools to manage the changes and they wanted to test their hypothesis. They approached Swedish Medical Center, the hospital where I worked, to be a site for their research study. I was part of the team that designed and facilitated the workshop intervention for new parents. After seeing the data showing the success of the workshop, I was excited to make the program available to parents worldwide, increasing my involvement and commitment to the program. I have been a part of BBH for the past 15 years as a facilitator, trainer, and the Founding Director. Currently, I am a consultant for TGI overseeing the new curriculum for BBH and helping with program design, training, and marketing. 

The Gottman Institute: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement in the BBH program?

Joni: I can honestly say that I've followed my passions throughout my career and found a way to jive those into my professional endeavors. There are transformative touch points in our lives - the birth of a baby is the birth of a new family. Women have always been daughters, men have always been sons. What does it mean to be a mother, a father? Parents become grandparents and children become siblings. Family constellations morph. Core introspection about life goals and what "family" means - these are big philosophical questions of one's life that emerge and evolve, whether you are ready or not! The profound journey parents make as individuals, couples, and parents is life affirming. This program offers couples insights, reflection, and tools to navigate their new normal and weave their unique family tapestry.

Carolyn: Being involved with the Bringing Baby Home program has been rewarding on several levels. First, I have gotten to meet many wonderful, dedicated professionals who are working together towards a common goal to change the lives of children and families. Second, the opportunity to hear from couples about how their relationships changed once they incorporated concepts from the workshop has inspired me to keep the program going. New parents are "born" everyday so our work is never done. Teaching parents important concepts such as how to take a good break, how to play cooperatively with a baby, or simply how to express appreciation changes lives. My hope is that the material we have taught parents will make changes in families around the world so that children benefit from growing up in a sound relationship house. This will allow them to grow up and lead more happy, productive, and satisfying lives. That is rewarding!

The Gottman Institute: What is the most important takeaway that participants can expect to walk away from the BBH Educator Training with? 

Joni: Concrete, research-based, and research-tested tools for growing healthy parent-parent and parent-child relationships.

Carolyn: Professionals who take the October Educator Training will leave prepared to teach the BBH workshop to pregnant couples and new parents.

The Gottman Institute: What can participants expect to be new at the October Educator Training? 

Joni: The October Educator Training will use the newly revised BBH curriculum. While the research is the same, the presentation of the material is different. There are new teaching icons, new photos and graphics, a significant change in tone of voice, and recommended teaching activities throughout. 

Carolyn: There are also updated references and citations, updated material on fathers, a new connecting with kids chapter, and a newly designed couple's manual.

The Gottman Institute: How many people have been trained as BBH Educators?

Joni and Carolyn: 1,500 worldwide 

The Gottman Institute: How many couples have gone through the BBH curriculum?

Joni and Carolyn: It’s difficult to say exactly, but we know for sure that we have helped several thousands of couples worldwide through the Bringing Baby Home program! 


You can meet Joni and Carolyn at the BBH Educator Training this October! Questions? All inquiries about the training can be directed to Alan Kunovsky at alan@gottman.com or 206-523-9042 x 108. As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page

Have a great weekend,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bringing Baby Home: The Research

One afternoon in 1998, Dr. John Gottman received a call from a woman at Seattle Children’s Hospital on behalf of the newspaper Seattle’s Child. She wanted to know if John could give a keynote lecture about the effects of parenthood on marriage and relationships. Though he hadn’t performed research focused on early parenthood, he had collected data on new parents in his long-term study on newlyweds – interesting statistics that could be shared with the public. Together with his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, he began to search through the data describing the couples who had babies, and was stunned by what he found:

67% of couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.

Shocked by these numbers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman were compelled to perform further research on the subject. What was going on in these relationships? How did the happy couples remain happy when exposed to the same stressors that made the other couples fall apart? What differentiated the “masters” of transition to parenthood from the “disasters?"

In sixteen studies conducted on parents before and after their child’s birth, Drs. John and Julie Gottman and their associates discovered the following:

  • Though both parents work much harder after the birth of their child, they both feel unappreciated. 
  • In the year following the baby’s arrival, the frequency and intensity of relationship conflicts increases significantly. 
  • Mom’s sexual desire tends to drop considerably, normally staying low throughout the first year of baby’s life, particularly if she is nursing. As a result, frequency of sex declines dramatically. 
  • Moms usually get very involved with the baby, and are too fatigued to offer their partners much in the way of emotional connection. 
  • Moms and dads both undergo enormous changes in identity – thinking of themselves not only as parents and partners, but as members of a greater family: friends, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters. 
  • Parents often find their values changing vastly, along with their goals in life. 
  • Couples want to be better parents for their child than their own parents were with them. 
  • As the relationship changes, it begins to take on a different life: “Before Baby” and “After Baby.” 
  • As soon as Baby is born, Mom’s friends arrive on the scene – a society of women who have come to help. New dads can feel excluded and crowded out, and are likely to respond by removing themselves from the situation. They often withdraw from the baby and from Mom, working more, while trying to avoid conflict. 
  • When Mom is unhappy, her baby does not retreat. The same is not true for Dad. A child tends to withdraw emotionally from a father who is unhappy in his relationship with Mom – a tragic gulf grows between him and his child.

Masters of transition to parenthood were able to navigate the stressors and life changes accompanying the birth of their baby with success. They found ways of dealing with the normal challenges of new parenthood, while the unhappy “disaster” couples could not. They were overwhelmed.

The desire to answer the questions raised by this research led John and Julie Gottman to write their acclaimed book, And Baby Makes Three. In it, they show couples the way to smoothly navigate the transition to parenthood.

Along with the release of their book, Drs. John and Julie Gottman's research on parenthood gave birth to a new program: Bringing Baby Home.

In Friday’s blog posting, we will share an exclusive interview with the Directors of the program, our very own Joni Parthemer and Carolyn Pirak! We leave you with this clip of Dr. Gottman speaking about his research on the transition to parenthood: 

Stay tuned,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bringing Baby Home

We are very excited to announce the relaunch of the critically acclaimed Bringing Baby Home program! The first Educator Training has been scheduled and will take place in Seattle, WA on October 26 – 27, 2013. Over the course of the next few weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will explore the history of the program, explain its updated curriculum, and share our vision for its future. Without further ado, we would like to formally welcome you to the all-new Bringing Baby Home (BBH) program! 

The BBH program is a research-based, early educational prevention program for parents, designed to help promote the healthy social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children. Our aim was to promote social change by making the BBH workshop available as part of the standard birth preparation program offered to expectant couples in hospitals throughout the nation. This was accomplished first in the state of Washington, and is now being provided across the U.S. and worldwide.

The project began in 1999 as a small pilot study designed by Dr. John Gottman and Alyson F. Shapiro. This study later grew into a full-scale program enhancement project in 2001 and was concluded in 2005, when the youngest of our research participants reached two-and-half years old. Formerly sponsored by the Relationship Research Institute, which is in transition due to grant funding, the BBH program has been absorbed by The Gottman Institute.

The transition to new parenthood holds potential for great joy; yet research shows that soon after the birth of a child, approximately two-thirds of couples experience a significant drop in relationship quality. Furthermore, many parents experience not only the “baby blues,” but also postpartum depression and other mood disorders. The result of these changes is compromised parenting and decreased quality of parent-child interactions, which can have negative effects on infant development.

The first year of life is a crucial time in the healthy development of a child. A foundation of trust develops for children when they consistently experience that their world is safe and approachable. Effective parenting can help children build this essential foundation of trust. Experts have discovered that the relationships and emotions children are exposed to in their earliest years influence them for the rest of their lives. The early relationship established between parent and child lays the foundation for all of the child’s other relationships.

We hope you will join us on The Gottman Relationship Blog as we discuss the BBH Program over the next few weeks! Interested in the October 26 - 27 Educator Training? Click here for more information and to register. Space is extremely limited as attendance will be restricted to 90 participants. Are you already a BBH Educator? We would love to hear about your experience implementing the program is your community! Join the conversation on our Facebook page

Until next time,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Romance: Turning Towards

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our Summer Romance series by sharing a list of fun, summer-related date ideas for reconnecting with your partner this weekend. While seeing an outdoor movie together or going for a picnic is wonderful, we challenge you to take things one step further by actively turning towards each other throughout your outing. What does that look like?

One of the greatest predictors of your relationship’s success is your ability to turn towards each other, constantly developing your bond by making an effort every day to reach out to your partner and accept their bids for emotional connection. We have found that the majority of conflict in relationships is the result of turning away from and against these bids. Turning away and against are related to both suppressed negativity (sadness, self-pity, stonewalling) and being in the attack-defend mode (anger, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, belligerence). Playful bids and enthusiastic efforts to turn towards each other result in heightened levels of positivity during conflict discussions. They also help you to build up your emotional bank account, maintain a strong and healthy bond, and bring the fire back into your romance.

In his research, Dr. Gottman discovered that the “masters” of relationships display a way of scanning their environment to find ways of appreciating their partner. In other words, they “catch” their partner doing things right and compliment them on it. Just as building your Love Maps are a great way to strengthen your friendship system, as we discussed on Monday, making a conscious effort to turn towards each other’s bids for emotional connection will strengthen the emotional connection felt between the two of you. 

Now that you are informed about the benefits of turning towards your partner’s bids for emotional connection, here are some great ways to put it into practice this weekend: 

  • Go camping: Get away from the stress of work and retreat to the wilderness. Even if it’s just for one night, sleeping out under the stars with only the company of each other will remind you of what’s most important – your relationship. 

  • Go kayaking: Rent or borrow a couple of kayaks and spend the afternoon or early evening exploring local waterways. Moving slowly through the water in a wind or human-powered craft will reduce your stress level, give you and your partner a chance to ask each other open-ended questions, and increase your chances of spotting some wildlife.

  • Have a picnic: Pack a couple sandwiches, a bottle of wine, and a blanket and head to the nearest park. Even if it’s just around the corner from your house, the change of scenery will be a refreshing variation from your weekly routine. For more turning towards: Stop by your local grocery store and pick out picnic items for each other – do you know your partner’s favorite sandwich? Their favorite snacks? Their favorite drink? If not, here’s a great opportunity to learn! 

  • Attend an outdoor movie: Pack a blanket and get ready to watch some of your favorite films on a big, outdoor screen. Best of all, most screenings are totally free. Check your local listings.

  • Go for a walk/hike: It may sound simple, but a long walk is still one of the best summer dates you can have. Whether it’s a scenic weekend hike to a waterfall, a hilltop viewpoint or some other specific destination, or just an evening stroll through a favorite neighborhood, there’s something about taking a walk together that is guaranteed to bring you closer. For more turning towards: Bring your Love Map Card Deck and take turns asking each other questions.

  • Go for a bike ride: Take advantage of the nice summer weather to tune up your bikes, dust off your helmets, and get back out there. Make a date to do one of your favorite rides or try a new one that promises great scenery and enough challenge to get your blood moving. Pack a lunch and make a day of it!

  • Attend an outdoor concert: Great music sounds even better when you have the opportunity to hear it outside in the open air. Never heard of the group performing? Even better! Discover new music together, creating a lasting shared memory. Many parks, wineries, and even zoos now host outdoor concerts, and there are a number of major concert venues that are designed to take advantage of their natural settings and spectacular views (See: The Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State).

  • Attend a baseball game: Whether you are a fan of the game or not, the pace of baseball makes it the perfect spectator sport. Sit back, relax, and watch the game while engaged in deep conversation. For more turning towards: Share stories from your own athletic career. Did you play sports? What was your most proud moment? Your most embarrassing? 

  • Visit a farmers market: In many places, the return of summer also means the return of the local farmers markets. Go early to get the best selection of local fruit, vegetables, and other produce. While you’re there, sample local honey, preserves, and baked goods, and check out all the different crafts. 

We’ve said it before and we will certainly say it again: it is the small things done often that make the most difference in a relationship. Whether you are out on a bike ride or attending a baseball game, make it a priority to turn towards each other’s bids for emotional connection this weekend.

Have a great weekend,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Romance: Reconnecting on Summer Vacation

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our Summer Romance series with a special guest posting from our very own Laura Heck, LMFTA. In addition to her role as Director of Professional Development for The Gottman Institute, Laura is a licensed marriage and family therapist associate with a private practice in the Greater Seattle area specializing in pre-marital/pre-commitment counseling. In the following article, she shares insights on how to reconnect with your partner while on summer vacation. 

Reconnecting on Your Summer Vacation
Laura Heck, LMFTA 

Not only is it important for your own personal mental well being to take time off work and get away during the summer months, but it is also important for the health and stability of your relationship. Sometimes, however, summer vacations can often feel more like work and less like play.

The kids are home for the summer and nagging with boredom, your house is in a state of constant upheaval, and the aftermath of last week’s camping trip sits in your basement in a pile of endless laundry. What gives? If you don’t deliberately make it a priority to connect emotionally with your partner by spending time together this summer, your relationship can easily get swept under the rug.

Here is a quick story from my private practice of how one couple made time to connect while on vacation:

Paul and Erica (names changed for anonymity) packed the Salsa Card Deck and Love Maps Card Deck into their luggage while on their recent vacation to Hawaii. Once the kids were settled into their seats on the flight, Paul and Erica flipped through the Love Maps Card Deck, answering the open ended questions and exploring each other’s dreams, goals, likes, and dislikes. Both were surprised by the amount of new information they learned about each other, even after years of marriage together. Erica in particular felt a powerful emotional connection stirring while in flight and was eager to move onto the Salsa Card Deck.

The couple made an agreement that while on their weeklong family vacation, they would select one card daily from the Salsa Card Deck and try a new suggestion for spicing up their intimacy to create lasting memories from their trip. Their romantic adventures, both inside and outside of the bedroom, created a new meaning for their family vacation – it was no longer “all about the kids.” While sitting on the plane heading back to the mainland, Paul and Erica giggled quietly as they held hands and shared a deeper emotional bond.

Thanks for reading! 
Have a great summer.

Do you have summer vacation plans? If so, how do you plan to make time to connect with your partner? We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

All for now,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Romance: Love Maps

As promised in last week’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our Summer Romance blog series today with an exercise to help you build connection with your partner by updating your "Love Maps."

We’ve discussed Love Maps at length here on The Gottman Relationship Blog. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, or if you need to brush up, here is a refresher:

During the course of his research, Dr. Gottman learned that the "masters" of relationships have developed detailed maps of each other’s inner world that he calls Love Maps. We are very good at doing this in the beginning of a relationship. Do you remember staying up all night talking or finding it hard to get off the phone? During those conversations, you were building Love Maps. It can be easy to take for granted that we have to continue to do this as our worlds change over time. 

Love Maps entail how well you know one another. How well do you know your partner’s inner psychological world? Do you know his or her worries, stresses, joys, and dreams? Do you know what the biggest stressor impacting your partner at work is right now? Can your partner answer these questions about you?

In the following exercise, we will give you a launching pad from which to have your own Love Map conversations this Summer. Our goal is to give you at least one new way to move through time together that will strengthen your bond and make your relationship last. The beauty of this exercise is that it can be done anywhere: down at the beach on a hot afternoon, at the park on a warm evening, or late at night in the comfort of your own cozy living room.

Instructions: Sit facing each other, one of you asks the other the first question below. The listener than answers the question as it relates to your partner’s world. For example:

Speaker: “What is your partner’s favorite thing to do in their free time?” 
Listener: “I think you like to read in your free time.” – or- “I’m not sure, what is your favorite thing to do in your free time?”

Keep alternating, taking turns. This is a great way to get to know more about your partner. Remember to be gentle with each other and do not keep score. The following questions are just a place to begin. They were not picked for any particular significance and are only intended to get you started in building your Love Maps:

  •  Describe your partner’s vision for your life together over the next 5 years. 
  • With whom does your partner currently have conflict? 
  • Who is your partner’s favorite band or musician?
  • Does your partner have a secret ambition? What is it?
  • Which people does your partner most admire in the world? Name two.
  • What is your partner’s worst childhood experience? 
  • What is your partner’s favorite holiday?
  • What is your partner most afraid of?
  • What would be an ideal job for your partner? 
  • What are two of your partner’s aspirations, hope or wishes?
  • What are some of the important events coming up in your partner’s life and how does he or she feel about them?
  • What is your partner’s favorite movie?
  • Who is your partner’s greatest source of support (other than you)?
  • What is most relaxing to your partner?
  • What is your partner’s favorite way to spend an evening? 

Take turns going back and forth, offering gentle corrections. Do not give advice. These questions are not meant to lead to conclusive resolution. A committed relationship is a work in progress! For more questions like these, check out our Love Map Card Deck.

Until next time,
Michael Fulwiler
TGI Staff

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer Romance: A message from Dr. Julie Gottman

We are excited to announce a new series on The Gottman Relationship Blog! Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be sharing practical, research-based tools from The Gottman Institute to reinvigorate your relationship this Summer. We begin today with a special guest posting from our very own Dr. Julie Gottman: 

Summer Romance
Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D
President, The Gottman Institute

Now that summer’s here, what better time to heat up your relationship? No longer cooped up by cold dark days, it’s time to throw open the doors and together venture out. 

Since John’s favorite adventure is visiting a bookstore while mine is tramping up mountains, not surprisingly we differ somewhat about the virtues of summer. We’re like that movie, “The Odd Couple,” a 1960’s tale of two roommates who are total opposites of each other. Each summer John rails against that “yellow stuff” (sunshine) and wants to stay indoors, while I’ll do anything to stay outside. So how does this “odd couple” find summer romance? Thankfully, we both love the sea. John armors himself with a wide brimmed old straw hat and 50 SPF sunscreen, and together we jump into our double sea kayak and take off for far away islands. The secret to boating together? No criticisms or “corrections” allowed. Instead, in order to sync up we sing together and paddle in rhythm to our tunes. Only the seals can hear us, and so far they haven’t complained.

Here are some other ideas for summer romance: The tried-and-true picnic is standard summer fare. But make it special by taking along the Love Map and Open-Ended Questions Card Deck for updating your Love Maps. John and I recently sat out on our deck for three days taking turns answering every single card. Even after 25 years, we still had more to learn about each other. And if you’re so inclined, stash the Salsa Deck of your choice in your picnic basket for more "spicy" topics.

Setting up an air mattress outside and sleeping under the stars can sweeten your nights, too. Or hopping in your car with some weekend supplies and heading for the nearest campground! But if you’re one of the unfortunate couples sweltering in this year’s heat wave, try an all-weekend movie marathon. Just make sure the theatre is air-conditioning. Afterwards, there’s lots to talk about – which was your favorite movie and why - discussed over ice cream, of course.

And our favorite summer activity? Our annual honeymoon. Every year around anniversary time we ferry up to Salt Spring Island off the coast of B.C., our kayak in tow. Though married much longer, we discovered the joys of this annual Ritual of Connection 13 years ago, and we’ve been repeating it every year since. We always stay in the same B&B and visit the same restaurant where they know John will order only his favorite dish, weinerschnitzel, like his mother used to make.

By now we’ve also gathered a circle of friends, artists, and writers, who we look forward to seeing year after year. Best of all, there is no internet and no cellphone reception, leaving us with endless hours of nothing but each other. And that’s the sweetest of all.

Happy summer to you and yours!


Friday, July 5, 2013

Finding Common Ground: Weekend Homework Assignment

To our readers across the country - from Seattle to Texas to New York - we hope you’ve had a safe and lovely Independence Day. The 4th of July is a wonderful time to reconnect with friends, family, and neighbors. To our international readers, we would like to wish you a very happy friday! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’re excited to build on Wednesday’s posting by sharing an activity to help you find common ground in your relationship this weekend. However, before we explore Shapiro and Fischer's research on negotiation further, we'd like to explain what makes it so important.

As you undoubtedly know, we are all very good at noticing when we are upset. We often feel controlled by powerful emotions, as if they were literally holding us hostage. The activity below seeks to provide ways in which to take back control. Applying Fisher and Shapiro's work to your own intimate relationship can help you become more self-aware. If you can learn to identify the needs that lie beneath your in-the-moment feelings, you will be able to respond to yourself and to your partner more effectively.

Without further ado, your Weekend Homework Assignment is as follows:

Step 1: If you haven’t already, we encourage you to take some time this weekend answer the questions we posed on Wednesday about each of the five "core concerns." Make these answers simple and don't be afraid to write them down on paper! Keep them to a few words. If you like, you can ask your partner to join you in this exercise. If you decide to complete this activity together, be sure to keep your own list and to work through the activity independently.

Step 2: Prioritize your main concerns, and choose the one that is most important for each of you. Again, this is to be done independently.

Don’t try to find fault in all five areas, because all problems cannot be addressed at once, especially those that are this significant and complex. You may not have any issues in some areas, but bringing up more than one at a time can create risk of getting distracted and overwhelmed. W
hen you have decided which concern you want to focus on right now, think about what it would take for you to feel that this core need was being met. Make a list of ideas. Can you set a realistic goal for improvement in this area? 

Before you communicate about this with your partner,
make sure that you get to step 3!

Step 3: Focus on the times your partner
has met your needs in this area. Here are some examples, written from one woman to her husband:

  • Appreciation: I felt appreciated when you noticed my extra effort in planning our vacation!
  • Affiliation: It felt great when we came up with a joint plan for our finances. I was really glad I didn’t have to handle that craziness alone.
  • Autonomy: Thanks for supporting me in training for the marathon! All of that exercise made me feel great. 
  • Status: I really appreciated it when you told me I’d been working too hard and did the dishes every night last week! That was sweet of you.
  • Role: Thanks for hiring that housecleaner so that Naomi and I could have more mother-daughter time!  

When you approach your partner to talk about your area of concern this weekend, bring up a time in which it was addressed - when they made you feel good! Let your partner know how much you appreciated their actions or words, and explain how these actions or words made you feel.

Example (Affiliation): 

"It felt great when we came up with a joint plan for our finances. I was really glad I didn’t have to handle that craziness alone, and really appreciate the amount of time you spent working together with me. These days I’m having some trouble keeping track of our spending – it’s stressing me out, and it would be a huge relief if we could allocate some time this week to looking over our expenses together – so we can hopefully feel good about our budget!"

In this way, you can avoid approaching a difficult issue with a negative perspective. If you approach your partner with a laundry list of times that they failed to meet your needs, you will follow your laundry down the chute. But if your approach begins with turning towards your partner – communicating genuine appreciation and gratitude for a positive behavior, and letting them know that you believe in your joint ability to overcome the problem – you are much more likely to succeed in working together towards a solution.

Have a beautiful weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Finding Common Ground: The Harvard Negotiation Project

In our last posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we talked about finding common ground during a conflict discussion and shared an exercise to help you and your partner understand each other’s basic emotional needs. As Dr. Gottman says, “If you can remember just one word that might help you to focus on what the other person needs during these conflicts, you’ll have a better chance of finding common ground and connecting.” Just one word! 

In today's posting, we’d like to give you another tool to add to your relationship toolkit. It was designed by a team of experts: the late Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and his research partner, Harvard psychologist Daniel Shapiro. These two really know what they’re talking about. They spent years researching the emotional dimension of negotiation, and collaborted to write their book, “Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.”

We came across their studies through the work of Melissa Orlov, an expert on relationships and a consultant for couples and therapists who deals specifically with the effects of ADHD on marriage. Fisher and Shapiro’s studies on negotiation caught our attention, as they echo much of what we have learned in our own research, and support many of our methods in Gottman Couples Therapy.

Here is what Orlov writes of Fisher and Shapiro's research:
[These] authors point out that just telling yourself that you should shift your emotions from negative to positive, or trying to ignore emotions, are ineffective strategies for change. The emotions are there, you can’t just ignore them away. Another approach may be to ‘deal directly with all of your emotions,’ which is probably what you’ve been trying to do for quite some time now. But that’s hard, time consuming, and exhausting. Instead, they suggest that you focus on some “core concern” that underlie many human emotions and most of your marital negotiations.
The five "core concerns of negotiation," as defined by Fisher and Shapiro, include:

1. Appreciation (Validation, Empathy):
  • Ignored when your thoughts, feelings, or actions are devalued.
  • Met when your thoughts, feelings, or actions are acknowledged.
2. Affiliation (Turning Towards, Bidding):
  • Ignored when you are treated as an adversary and kept at a distance.
  • Met when you are treated as a partner.
3. Autonomy (Setting Personal Boundaries):
  • Ignored when your freedom to make your own decisions is impinged upon.
  • Met when others respect your freedom to decide important matters.
4. Status (Accepting Influence):
  • Ignored when your relative standing is treated as inferior to the other.
  • Met when you are given equal standing and recognition.
5. Role (Working Together): 
  • Ignored when others plays the role of an adversary (me vs. you). 
  • Met when others play the role of an ally. 

According to Fisher and Shapiro, these five concerns are what underlie and stimulate the emotions you feel when you negotiate with your partner.  

When negotiation is chronically toxic, and conversations about disagreements always ends badly, trust goes out the window. When negotiation is damaging to your individual and shared lives, and disrespectful of your personal boundaries, commitment meets the same fate. If you can’t talk about your concerns and reach mutually agreeable solutions, there is no room for
compromise! Briefly: if you cannot negotiate, your relationship is in serious trouble.

Here’s the good news:
Instead of suffering the loss of what is most important to you, or unknowingly putting your partner’s needs in jeopardy, you can use a simple approach to change the nature of negotiation. Take Fisher and Shapiro’s advice – focus on these five core concerns.

Go through them all:
Appreciation, Affiliation, Autonomy, Status, and Role. Do you feel that your needs are being met in all of these areas? Don’t worry if they aren’t. These are not easy concerns to address! Your level of satisfaction with each of them is a result of many complex and long-lasting dynamics between yourself and your partner.

Take a moment to think about these concerns, one at a time. How have recent events (in the last few days or weeks) colored your response to this question?
  • What kinds of situations made you feel appreciated? Which ones did not?
  • When did you feel close to your partner? When did you feel at odds or at a distance?
  •  When did you feel that you had the freedom to make your own decisions? When did you feel deprived of autonomy?
  • What feelings do you have about your relative status to your partner? Which events come to mind when you formulate an answer to this question? 
  • How do you feel about your role as a husband or wife? What does this role mean to you in your life? How would you like to change this role? 

On Friday, we will build upon these questions by applying skills from Gottman Couples Therapy, and share an exercise that will help you to use negotiation for its intended purpose: mutual gain.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, July 1, 2013

Give Me Just One Word

You know the feeling you get when you're engaged in a stressful conversation? That feeling when you realize that you truly cannot handle the conversation you're having, that you actually cannot stand to deal with it for one more moment?

That’s a pretty awful feeling. But it's also a very common one. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to give you a strategy to keep yourself sane when you have reached your emotional limit. This activity will allow you to reduce the frequency and intensity of these episodes, and give the gift of sanity to yourself and to your partner. If used effectively, it can teach the two of you to manage your conflicts as a team.

It may come as a surprise to think that a stressful problem involving such intensity of emotion can be addressed with a simple exercise. And you’re right – doing this exercise will not fix everything. Whatever you may be dealing with, you can’t possibly make the problem *poof* and disappear forever. It is natural and human to lose control of your emotions at times; however, you may be stunned to see how much this simple exercise can help.

According to Dr. John Gottman, "
If you can remember just one word that might help you to focus on what the other person needs during a conflict, you’ll have a better chance of finding common ground and connection."

Exercise: Give Me Just One Word

1. Read the list of words that follows. As you look at each one, think about what you usually feel you need during a typical conflict:

Empathize, Expand, Accept, Respect, Strength, Watch, Nurture, Cooperate, Tenderness, Defend me, Teamwork, Honesty, Cherish, Trust, Start over, Hold me, Listen, Talk, End the chaos, Connect, Compromise, Validate, Feel, Touch, Let me in, Include me, Know yourself, Stop, I was wrong, Courage, Assert, Cope, Stay, Follow through, Breathe, Ask questions, Accept influence, Say yes, Soften, Believe, Symbiotic, Forgive, Help, Feedback, Faith, Energy, Compassion, Explain, Heal, Boundaries, Honor

2. Choose the five words that best describe your needs.

3. Now share your list of five words with each other. Tell your partner what each word on your list means to 
you, and how you would like to see him or her display this behavior or characteristic during your conflicts.

4. Listen carefully as your partner describes the words on his or her list. Avoid getting into a debate about the correct meaning of a particular word. This is not a vocabulary lesson. Your goal is to try to understand what the word means to that person, and how you might personify it. Ask questions about any points that seem unclear.

5. Keep talking until you can determine together how each of you can best display the characteristics on each other’s lists.

6. Write all of the words down and keep them in a place that’s easily accessible to both of you.

7. The next time you get into conflict, remember the words that were on your list. Say the one that best describes what you need from this person in that moment (Remember: complain without blame by stating a positive need). Think of yourself as an encouraging coach who only wants the best for both of you.

8. When you hear your partner offer his or her word, stop and remember what he or she needs in the moment. Think of your partner as an encouraging coach who only wants the best for both of you.

9. Try to use this exercise consistently over a period of several weeks. The more you use it, the better you’ll learn it, and the more effective it will become.

By working together on exercises like this one, the two of you can greatly strengthen your relationship. Making the extra effort to build on your good intentions shows your partner how much you care, and visa versa.

When you recall steps from this activity and use them as your guide, you reassure each other of your top priority: your mutual desire to grow as a couple!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff