Friday, August 30, 2013

The Digital Age: Building Intimacy

Happy Friday from all of us at The Gottman Institute! Having discussed some of the benefits that modern communication technology has to offer intimate relationships on Wednesday, particularly to those characterized by long distance, we’d like to continue today in the same spirit.  As your Weekend Homework Assignment, we give you this short and sweet list of ideas for building intimacy with your partner anywhere, anytime. Try one (or two, or more!) this weekend:

  • Check in regularly with your partner via text message. Show your interest in their daily activities and life. How did that presentation go? What did they have for lunch? Let them know how excited you are to share a 6-second kiss with them later! 
  • Send small, meaningful messages to cheer each other up, especially if your partner is stressed or having a hard day. Share funny things – text, pictures, videos – and make each other laugh. Send an inside joke. Send a funny video you found on Youtube. Send a SnapChat. Send a Lolcat. Be creative! Humor will bring you together. 
  • Share interesting things with each other – insightful articles you loved in the news, a piece of great writing that has been circulating through the office, a set of photographs someone found on BuzzFeed or StumbleUpon, whatever you think your partner would appreciate!

And particularly for those of you whose lovers are far away...

  • Play card games together via video chat. You can even watch movies or TV shows together! There are all sorts of activities that you can connect over online when you’re apart. If you can find something that you both enjoy, it can become a personal tradition for the two of you, an interest that regularly brings you closer.
  • Video-chat (Skype, FaceTime, etc) – see each other’s faces! If you are far apart, you can create a ritual – pick a time that works for both of you, and set it aside for Skype dates. The sense of continuity you can create by making your dates happen at regular times (say, agreeing to always connect at 8 pm on Saturdays) will give you and your partner something to look forward to. A stable, consistent connection you can rely on can overcome any distance.
  • Last but not least, remember that there are ways to connect without using the internet, even when you’re far apart – ways which trade convenience for charm, speed for sentimental value. You can’t go wrong by surprising your partner with something sweet and personal in the mail. Express your affection with a small, inexpensive gift like an inside joke, a silly handwritten poem or love letter, funny drawings, or flowers.

In this Digital Age, regardless of the distance between you, there’s something captivating and magical about receiving something by snail mail. To bake cookies and send them to your partner, for example, is to master the art of attraction. The sense of caring, time, and personal attention that is carried by these small gifts inevitably sparks romance and can strengthen your love and appreciation for each other enormously.

Technology can help couples to turn towards each other even when they are apart. Take advantage of this. Whether you are near or far away, take Mother Teresa’s advice: “Do small things with great love.” How do you use technology to turn towards your partner? Let us know on our Facebook page. 

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, 
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Digital Age: Long-Distance Relationships

Over the last couple of weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we have written much about the dangers of conducting intimate relationships in The Digital Age using modern communication technologies. This week, we’d like to share some of the benefits! (Hooray!)

We will begin with the intuitive and proceed quickly into the counter-intuitive.

Modern communications technology gives couples who are separated by distance the opportunity to share their lives with each other. In long-distance relationships, couples can now connect not only by phone, but also in video-chat by using services such as Skype and FaceTime, which provide access to their partner’s eyes, face, and body language.

We would like to turn your attention to an article in the Health section of US News, The Upside of Long-Distance Relationships, which tackles some issues directly related to our current series, and includes several important quotes from Robert Navarra, one of our very own Ceritifed Gottman Therapists. While the research cited in the article focuses on long-distance relationships, the results carry implications for all couples who use virtual communication technologies. We’d like to explore this US News piece as a way of sharing our own thoughts on the subject.

The article opens with a description of a study run by researchers in Hong Kong and at Cornell University. The reported results follow:

Long-distance lovers felt as much or more trust and satisfaction in their unions as "geographically close" partners…[and] those in long-distance relationships disclosed more personal details to their partner and also idealized each other more.

To clarify, the researchers did not find that idealization of partners improves all relationships. They found a correlation between idealization and greater trust and satisfaction in long-distance relationships. In truth, this makes perfect sense by virtue of a simple fact - idealization of one’s partner is a natural result of distance. We all know how easy it is to romanticize someone when they are away!

This is not to call into question the importance of “magic” and “special idealization” described by Suzanne Phillips as a benefit of long-distance, but to clarify something important. As Dr. Gottman discusses in his books (and as we’ve previously shared on our blog), remembering all of the beautiful, amazing things you saw in your partner when you first met is key to maintaining lasting love, especially during times of stress and conflict. The purpose of this is to avoid creating a false, negative perspective of him or her as a result of your current state.

Dr. Gottman writes about this in his books as a part maintaining a culture of fondness and admiration – the idea of which is not to idealize your mate as a “goddess” or a “genius," but rather to maintain a realistic image of your lover in circumstances which make it very easy to vilify or lose respect for them. The resulting positive perspective is about seeing each other’s real beauty and loving each other despite human imperfections, even when the going gets rough.

Now that we have clarified the results of the study and their implications, it's safe to say that the study does provide unqualified cause for celebration. It suggests that new communication technology, if used in healthy ways, can be wonderful for long-distance relationships - and that its existence may actually give couples separated by distance some advantages over those who live close-by!

As the author points out, using virtual communication to connect with a partner long-distance confers unexpected benefits. In requiring extra effort to overcome certain challenges, couples learn to maintain intimacy, care, and healthy problem solving. Also, because daily conflicts over mundane minutiae are often less common in long-distance relationships, it is likely that the absence of daily stressors makes it easier to use technology to nurture a positive perspective, share fondness and admiration, and build a strong, satisfying relationship.

The most important take-away from this article is the following:

Couples should, as Robert Navarra says, take advantage of newly available technology (texting, video chat, social media, etc.) to maintain a strong bond, and the best way to do so is to do so regularly.

“Part of intimacy involves knowing the details of the other person's daily life, big and small, because you're that important to each other.” In other words, keep it real. As the article says, “The more a couple knows and appreciates each other, the stronger and healthier they are.” If you are in a long-distance relationship, take our advice:

Share your worlds with each other in all of their interesting, mundane, and complicated glory. Be present. Know each other deeply, and always keep learning. Build love maps. Communicate fondness and admiration

Using new technologies to your advantage can create a sense of immediacy, closeness, and the feeling that you are really there in each other’s lives on a daily basis. The digital age is, in many ways, a beautiful thing. It allows us to do something unprecedented - in a way, we can be truly together, anytime.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Digital Age: 10 Tips for Avoiding Conflict in Cyberspace

If you have taken one thing away from our Relationships in the Digital Age series up to this point, we hope it is an awareness of the folly of text warfare. Having been persuaded of the inadvisability of fighting in cyberspace, you are likely interested in alternatives. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we share 10 tips for dealing with conflict and navigating emotionally charged conversations online that you can put into practice this weekend! 

1.  Connect with your partner by sending messages that share affection, fondness, and admiration. They may seem insignificant, but surprising your partner with these short and sweet notes will let them know that you’re thinking of them – and likely make their day!

2.  Understand that your partner might not always be available – they may be in the middle of something time-sensitive, or be in a place where responding is inappropriate or impossible. For these reasons, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect immediate responses from your partner at all times – remember that this expectation can become a major source of conflict in your relationship.

3.  Find ways to remind yourself and your partner that you are a team. Distance can warp your connection, create feelings of vulnerability, and throw you into opponent roles of attack and defend.

4.  Ask your partner to have the conversation later, when you see each other face-to-face, and can gain access to all tonal, visual, and nonverbal cues necessary for emotional connection. Don’t “ask” this harshly – simply let your partner know that you want to avoid unsuccessful attempts at communication, and want to postpone the conversation so that the two of you can understand each other fully.

5.  Fight off flooding by drawing a clear boundary if you feel that the conversation is getting out of control. Let your partner that you are happy to discuss the subject in person.

6.  Don’t respond to stinging texts aggressively. Remember the coldness of the medium itself, and its inability to communicate feeling – if you feel that your partner is sending you hurtful texts, consider the vast potential for misunderstanding on both ends. Keep in mind the following possibilities:

  • You may be misinterpreting their messages.
  • They may be misinterpreting your messages.
  • They may be responding harshly because they feel wounded.
  • You may not perceive their hurt feelings through a medium incapable of communicating emotion.
  • They may not perceive your hurt feelings for the same reason.

7.  Be very careful to avoid sending messages that call up the Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, or Stonewalling. Inviting them into your conversation is an easy way to assure the worst. See more on the Four Horsemen here.

8.  Do not allow yourself to become flooded and lose your temper, as you risk angrily sending your partner messages that you’ll later regret. More on self-soothing here.

9.  Keep in mind that text fighting can go on for hours, and that text messages sent in the heat of the moment are saved on your phones for-e-ver. Or until your inbox is full. The two of you can go back and re-read all of the unfortunate things you said to each other over and over. Thank you, technology.

10.  Calm yourself down in whatever way works best for you. Taking a break involves stepping away from the phone (or the internet).

Imagine yourself in your partner’s shoes. Read the messages you write before you hit Send. Be as thoughtful and kind as possible and always remember: small things often.

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Digital Age: What's Beneath the Conflict?

In our last post on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we introduced the topic of Conflict in Cyberspace. Today, we would like to explore the subject in greater depth. First, we give you a brief summary of Monday’s piece:

Conflict is, by definition, an absorbing state. When it is encountered online, it can be even more so. Without access to the language of emotion, continued miscommunications are inevitable, and flooding can be more damaging (and longer lasting) than in face-to-face interaction.

The moment that partners engage in argument in this virtual setting, they literally lose their senses. Two things happen at once:

1) As virtual communication takes away their ability to perceive visual, tonal, and nonverbal cues, it deprives them of access to a complete human connection.

2) In addition to being thus impaired, partners are more and more blinded by their escalating frustration with each other.

When we enter into this space, we may begin to encounter a new and very serious problem:

We no longer perceive the other person as a complex human being, one who may have hurt feelings, or be yearning to connect.

Because of the fundamental separateness we feel when we type from opposite ends of cyberspace, there remains a discontinuity in our connection. You can imagine virtual communication as an imperfect bridge – missing some bits, inviting those traversing it to fall through the cracks.

When partners encounter significant difficulties in virtual interaction, they may ascribe these difficulties to the method of communication; however, when they are engaged in serious conflict they may become blinded. They may see their relationship itself as the cause of the problem or even see their relationship as damaged. Sound familiar?

Ironically, this attribution error - blaming the partner entirely for conflicts that, in large part, stem from the nature of the media over which they unfold - may inflict direct and very real damage to the relationship itself.

At this point, people often begin to feel that they are under attack. They may lash out in defense against what they perceive to be aggression, insensitivity, or coldness from their partner, the inescapable result of lack of warmth afforded by virtual media. As text messages go furiously stampeding back and forth over this already rickety bridge, they may do more damage to it, and send the remaining bits falling into the cyber-void.

Even when partners try to re-forge links in conflict over messaging, their attempts may be lost in translation. The already plummeting feelings of connection have been translated into a loss of trust. They may have already lost control, and noticed too late.

We’ve all experienced this feeling – it’s painful and exhausting to reach out over and over and be rejected, to try repeatedly to build bridges and fail. When one or both partners become flooded, the course is very difficult to reverse.

Here’s the bottom line: Continuing to engage in conflict that arises over online messaging is a very, very bad idea!

On Friday, we will share some alternatives to the disaster scenarios described above! Look forward to some simple, specific ways to avoid conflict in cyberspace!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Digital Age: Conflict in Cyberspace

Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we launched our new series: Relationships in the Digital Age. We started off by investigating the basics of virtual communication in relationships, enumerating some of its risks and rewards.

Today, we would like to discuss one risk in particular: the enormous destructive potential of fighting in cyberspace.

One of the greatest dangers we face in using technology to communicate arises when we find ourselves in conflict. If a disagreement occurs, then tensions mount and emotions run high. We may become flooded, just as we would in face-to-face argument. But here’s the thing:

When partners are flooded in conflicts offline, they can agree to take a break, to self-soothe, and to come back to the conversation after a short pause. In online conflicts, this is almost impossible. 

When we are psychologically engaged in both worlds - in the world of text messaging and in “reality” - part of us constantly stays focused on the conversation we are having online. 

Text messages and online chat can keep us continually occupied in the conflict process, in which there is no opportunity for a “time-out!”

Without the ability to take a break, we stay escalated and preoccupied, coming up with well-thought-out responses and rebuttals to the messages we are receiving. Because we remain flooded, we may find ourselves fuming and strategizing like this all day, becoming more and more upset over solvable problems.

We remain caught up in thinking about the unresolved problem, increasingly frustrated and distracted from the activities of our day, often becoming gridlocked on subjects that might not have become so contentious if they came up face to face.

The truth is, even if we genuinely strive to understand our partner, we cannot see their facial expressions, hear their tone of voice, or interpret their body language – emotional connection is greatly impaired.

As we spar online, intimacy goes out the window.

Because of the literal and figurative distance between us, rational reflection on the intentions of our partner becomes nearly impossible, and our capacity for self-reflection declines. As tensions mount, we lose control. As we lose clarity of connection with ourselves and lose clarity of our image of the other, our partner ceases to be a complex human being, and begins to assume the shape of a depersonalized adversary.

What a mess!

Sound familiar? Don’t panic. You are by no means alone. It is precisely for this reason that we write about the subject. Now that we have identified the problem, we will help you to understand it more deeply, and see what is happening underneath for the two of you when it arises. This understanding will help you to perceive and manage these situations in a more healthy way, staying in control of yourselves and your relationship.

Look forward to learning more about conflict in cyberspace on Wednesday!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Digital Age: Weekend Homework Assignment

Dr. John Gottman has discovered many surprising things about relationships over the past four decades, sharing these findings with us in his books, lectures, conferences, and workshops. Central to his work in creating Gottman Couples Therapy, along with his wife Dr. Julie Gottman, was the discovery of “sliding door moments.” It is during these moments, when one partner bids for the other’s attention, that relationships are made or broken. 

During the everyday moments we share (or try to share!) with our partner, from “I love you” to “Did you see that crazy jerk cut in front of me?,” we expect or hope for a return – a hug or a kiss, shared laughter, or simple acknowledgment. Sliding door moments are an opportunity to connect, and failing to notice and take advantage of them is a sure path to the slow-but-steady destruction of your relationship.

When our partners do not respond and turn away from or against our bids for emotional connection, we begin to lose trust in them. Though Dr. Gottman explains that the reasons for failed connection are often the result of mindlessness, not malice, they add up (or take away) from a relationship over time, creating complex and all-encompassing systems of Positive or Negative Sentiment Override. Dr. Gottman discusses his trust metric in this short clip:

So, what does all this mean for our relationships in the Digital Age? The gadgets that we use to communicate with one another (cell phones, Skype, Facebook, etc.) are conduits for sending and receiving bids for emotional connection. They are the purveyors of sliding door moments. They dispense opportunities for connection, despite dragging us into a world of disconnection. If you fail to respond to a text message, even if its unintentional, your partner may feel that you have turned away from their bid for emotional connection. 

The conclusion? We must do our best to stay close in a virtual dimension that trivializes the tone of the written word. We must pay as much attention to contact with our partner online as we do in real life, because let's face is, online is real life! Below, we give you a short list of tips for improving your ability to connect with your partner in cyberspace – we have chosen tips that we feel are the most important to implement without delay:

  • Talk About Texting: Have a discussion about sending and receiving text messages. If it is important that your partner respond to your texts in a timely manner, let them know. What does it mean to you to send a text and not receive a response? To some this is a sensitive topic, and for others it is not an issue. The important thing: understanding each other's needs and respecting them. 

  • Acknowledge Acceptance: If you are busy when you receive a message, do your best to turn towards your partner and let them know that you will respond as soon as you are free. This can be as simple as, “Busy. Will respond ASAP. XOXO” The word choice is less important than the acknowledgment of receiving the message, the promise to follow up, and its fulfillment in the follow-through! If you know you will not have access to your phone and will be unavailable for a while, let your partner know. 

  • Pick Up The Phone: When making plans, discussing logistics, or arranging a meeting with your partner via text message, it is best to pick up the phone and make a call. Not only will taking the extra effort mean a lot to your partner, but it will also help you to avoid confusion.  

  • Communicate Care: The seemingly inconsequential nature of messaging makes it difficult to feel connected, all the more reason to be especially attentive. Without the aid of tone of voice and body language, even the most sincere messages can be misconstrued. 

  • Know When to Stop: Don’t sling words back and forth without thinking. This can lead to confusion, and confusion in virtual communication is, as we have discussed, not ideal. If you feel a conversation escalating over text message or online chat, table it until you can speak in person. Be sure to follow up. 

This set of suggestions is intentionally brief, as we will be going into more depth on the subject in this blog series. We have shared them today as the first Weekend Homework Assignment to give you a chance to reflect upon and consider these ideas. 

Take some time this weekend to think about the way in which you and your partner have handled virtual communication in the past, whether it be via text message, Facebook chat, Skype, or another medium. Think about situations in which you wish things had been handled differently. What would you have changed? How can you use this list of suggestions to approach future interactions in a healthy way? As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page. 

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Digital Age: The Price We Pay

Technology is changing what it means to be "together." While communication is nearly effortless and instantaneous at any distance, it can be more difficult to connect with others. It’s counter-intuitive that easier access to others can make our social lives more difficult, but there is no denying that living in a networked culture can be demanding and stressful. It is tempting, or even necessary, to use technologies that constrain our ability to communicate clearly and personally. There are no familiar conventions to lean on when it comes to the way we use digital media – and there are many bad precedents being set!

New technologies are often adopted because they offer convenience - systems are offered which circumvent the shortcomings of those that already exist. Unable to gossip on the phone with your friend in class? Text messaging under the desk is an excellent alternative to note-passing, allowing for instant exchange. The problem is that as convenience takes priority and becomes the norm, it’s all too easy to lose what makes communication a moving human experience. It's all too easy to lose all sense of closeness and intimacy. 

For a romantic relationship, this can be a very big deal. Opting for convenience does not communicate commitment or enthusiasm - and when commitment and enthusiasm are gone from your virtual communication with your partner, problems offline are sure to follow.

It is very difficult to meet each other’s needs for emotional connection through this media, which can easily catalyze mutual negative sentiment override and the erosion of trust.

Here is the reality:

Though it is hard to admit, technology has us in its grip, and its development is progressing at mind-boggling speed. Without addressing the difficulties that it brings into our lives, we risk the destruction of our most intimate relationships. That is a fact.

Any conversation that happens in cyberspace (over cell-phones, online chat, social media, etc) has high potential for trouble. Although it is a tool that can be used in a great variety of positive and constructive ways, even to build certain kinds of bridges, virtual communication can be a hotbed for misunderstanding, in which flying sparks often result in fire. Without the skills to avoid the flames, they are difficult to control, and often almost impossible to put out.

Think about it.

Chances are that you’ve experienced situations in which, while attempting the most innocuous of dialogues  - turning towards your partner to check in about their day on the phone, or attempting to finalize and mutually commit to previously discussed plans via text message - you have found yourself suddenly, unexpectedly engaged in conflict, with no idea how to reach resolution or communicate with your "opponent!"

This happens because the difficulty of identifying and addressing misunderstandings face-to-face (with the ability to exchange facial expressions and nonverbal cues) pales in comparison to the near-impossibility of overcoming misunderstanding in the virtual sphere. This happens because of the difficulty of sharing and responding to bids for attention, or recognizing sliding door moments in this largely alien context. This happens because the emotional connection skills that serve you well in real life can’t always help you in the face of online isolation, or isolation-fueled antagonism.

Most of the time, problems in contact over virtual media go unaddressed: though they are frequent sources of stress, the vast majority of communications technology users believe that the drawbacks virtual media presents are a necessary evil, that you have to pay dearly for such unprecedented convenience, and that sometimes, relatively significant social discomfort in this sphere is inescapable.

When it comes to your relationship with your partner, this is a dangerous perspective!

Luckily, these problems truly are often avoidable, can be understood and addressed in a healthy manner, and don’t have to create so much stress in our lives. In this series, we will show you how.

On Friday, look forward to learning some practical ways to tackle basic problems in virtual communication – general tips about bidding that you can use when interacting with your partner (and others) in The Digital Age!

Until Friday,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Relationships in The Digital Age: The Gottman Perspective

As we have mentioned previously on The Gottman Relationship Blog, Dr. John Gottman’s groundbreaking research with couples has allowed us at The Gottman Institute to apply his work to a much broader spectrum of human relationships. Today, we are excited to announce a brand-new series that will focus on the role that technology plays in our most intimate relationships. Without further ado, we bring you Relationships in The Digital Age: The Gottman Perspective. 

We have been receiving messages of the following sort for quite some time:

I was wondering if The Gottman Institute does anything for the younger generation. I am not married, but it's my understanding that your teachings apply to all couples, so I've been diligently taking notes and lecturing my own parents and friends on how to be a better relationship partner.
With so many readers asking us to share our wisdom with the younger generation, we are happy to oblige! Starting today, The Gottman Relationship Blog will seek to tackle some concerns that Generation Y-ers face in the relationship sphere. 

We will seek to expose, analyze, and develop strategies for countering the difficulties of communication and connection that technology brings into our lives by applying The Gottman Method.*

In this new series, we mean to help all readers, regardless of relationship status or age, to navigate a new virtual landscape whose endlessly changing terrain guarantees a constant influx of new challenges.

Communicating through these new media can be just as complex as communicating in real life, or even more so.

We will work to develop an awareness of how networking technology can be used to help, not hinder, the strength and intensity of your relationships by showing you how to apply The Gottman Method to your virtual interactions.

We will teach you how the tools that you have learned from following our blog, reading Dr. Gottman’s books, and attending workshops may be applied in a completely different context. While many of the techniques and strategies for maintaining healthy relationships translate intuitively and directly from offline to online, crucial differences between the dynamics of face-to-face and cyberspace interaction require specific adaptation and deeper thought.

The Gottman Method will be our guide as we consider an array of topics, covering media from instant messaging (text messages and online chat) to social networking sites, answering the questions that we suspect are most relevant to you:

  • What do I do if my partner doesn’t respond to my text messages?
  • How long is reasonable to wait for a response to a text message?
  • How can I decrease the likelihood of misunderstandings in virtual communication with my partner?
  • What kinds of conversations are okay to have online?
  • When is it necessary to move a conversation offline?
  • How can the text medium be used to support intimacy?
  • How can my partner and I improve our ability to connect in cyberspace?
  • What should we do if conflict arises?
  • How can we talk about perpetual problems we experience in online interaction?
  • How can I keep my relationship healthy in the face of the pressures that have developed in the social networking revolution?
  • How can I keep myself and my partner sane, protecting our connection when the use of technology in communication is often unavoidable?

What are the problems that arise when you use technology to communicate with your partner? How can these problems be addressed? Tune in to The Gottman Blog to find out!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

*DISCLAIMER: Dr. John Gottman has spent the past 40 years researching relationships, primarily focusing on married couples. He has also studied families, parents, and children. He has not performed research on the effects of technology on relationships. To appeal to relationships in the digital age, particularly the younger generation, we will be putting his proven findings on intimate relationships in conversation with journal and news articles from the fields of technology and social behavior. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Self Care: Cherishing Yourself And Your Relationship

In Wednesday’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, in which we shared a recent study out of UC Berkeley on the relationship between sleep and relationship conflict, we brought up the importance of cultivating good habits in self care, one of the most critical tools in maintaining healthy relationships. This weekend, we offer you a few of Dr. Gottman’s tips for goal-setting and stress management! We hope that the following lists will help you as you work to find balance and create a healthier lifestyle, both for yourself and for your relationship.


  • Make your goals specific and measurable. Rather than telling your partner that you would like to talk more, suggest that you go on a date every other Saturday. Leave the kids with the babysitter and find some time for just the two of you.
  • Think about the pros and cons of making healthy changes. If we stick with the example above, we could imagine that a pro would be the ability to feel closer to each other and relax (at a favorite dinner spot, on a jaunt through a beloved park, in a cozy cafe), and a con could be the price of the babysitter.
  • Break big goals into little ones! If you want to get in shape, don’t go crazy – this will only add to your stress. You know how much your butt is going to hurt after your first day running two hours on the treadmill. Go slow. Start with smaller increments. Apply the treadmill example to everything.
  • Ask for support! If you want to take care of yourself, remember the people closest to you – the ones you can count on. Call them if you want a boost of encouragement!
  • Anticipate obstacles and have a backup plan! If you take a moment to be honest with yourself and realize that your new self care plan might be as fleeting as a New Year’s Resolution, don’t feel defeated! You are in control. Imagine the difficulties you may face in accomplishing your goal. For example, if going on a run every morning is going to be unrealistic once your kid starts school, try to come up with a solution that you feel confident will work. Could you work out a carpool with other parents so you have more time to yourself? Could you run in the evenings?
  • Make a daily plan and track your progress! Ask yourself the following questions frequently: What are my intentions today? (“I’ll go on a run tonight” or “I’ll stay away from the croissants at our staff meeting today” or “We’ll talk over dinner tonight, no more TV for a little while”)
  • Reward yourself for short-term and long-term successes! (“Yay! I ran!” or “Yay! I didn’t eat a croissant!” You get the idea…) 

Worn out? Here are some of our ideas for activities to diminish your personal and mutual stress levels that will leave you feeling a little lighter. 

  • Filled with nervous energy or frustration? Take some time to engage in physical activity and work it off, simultaneously staying fit and healthy! If it helps to diminish stress, bring your favorite music along. The relief you gain from spending an hour or two exercising will diminish your likelihood to snap at your partner. 
  • Love reading? Dive into a book. Let yourself fall into the world of fiction or, if you prefer to fill your head with facts, explore a book on your favorite academic subject! 
  • Miss your friends? Skip over to your favorite coffee shop or local watering hole with a few close friends. Taking the time to reconnect with those who feel like your home away from home will leave you all feeling rejuvenated. Also, you can get things off your chest that have been weighing you down. 
  • Play an instrument? Want to learn? Take a trip into the land of music and experience its incredibly cathartic escape. It will likely provide you the sense of satisfaction and freedom that leaves you ready to face the real world. 

Remember that you can enjoy any of these stress-free activities with your partner! Here are a few more ideas for relaxing together - choose from the ones below or come up with your own, and you may learn more about each other in the process, strengthening your bond!

  • Watch your favorite show together. 
  • Go on a jaunt through the neighborhood. 
  • Explore a beautiful park – take a hike if you’re in the mood! Watch a sunset. 
  • Go on a date. 
  • Take the kids to get ice cream. 

Note: We'd like to share a link to something we wrote almost a year ago on The Gottman Blog! This entry offers important tips for reducing stress within your relationship, with particular focus on improving sexual happiness - we direct your attention to the bulleted list at the bottom.

Whew! That's a lot to think about. Don't panic! Remember that these lists are ways of keeping you and your relationship from being overwhelmed in daily life. 

The activities we share with you today are not prescribed for immediate use. This blog entry is a resource, one that you can return to any time. This weekend, take a moment to relax and try an activity above. Which ones sound good? Take them for a spin!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sleepless in Seattle

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we confess we are having difficulty sleeping at night. It’s August, it's hot in Seattle, most of us are not fortunate enough to have air conditioning, and we just saw this in the news: 

According to a recent article on PsyBlog, a newly released research study by Amie Gordon and Serena Chen of UC Berkeley, "The Role of Sleep in Interpersonal Conflict: Do Sleepless Nights Mean More Fights?" indicates that a restless night is associated with greater relationship conflict the following day. Although this may not be a surprise, the specific results are worth noting:

This research examined the impact of a basic biological process - namely, sleep - on relationship conflict, specifically testing whether poor sleep influences the degree, nature, and resolution of conflict. In Study 1, a 14-day daily experience study, participants reported more conflict in their romantic relationships following poor nights of sleep. In Study 2, we brought couples into the laboratory to assess the dyadic effects of sleep on the nature and resolution of conflict. One partner’s poor sleep was associated with a lower ratio of positive to negative affect (self-reported and observed), as well as decreased empathic accuracy for both partners during a conflict conversation. Conflict resolution occurred most when both partners were well rested. Effects were not explained by stress, anxiety, depression, lack of relationship satisfaction, or by partners being the source of poor sleep. Overall, these findings highlight a key factor that may breed conflict, thereby putting relationships at risk.

In other words, according to the PsyBlog article, 
78 couples were tracked over a two-week period. Each day the couples made notes about their sleep quality and any arguments they'd had with their partners. The results showed that even for those who were good sleepers, just a single night's poor sleep was associated with increased relationship conflict the next day. These findings were not affected by one partner being the source of the poor sleep, or overall relationship satisfaction, depression, stress or anxiety. Only one partner in the couple had to have a bad night's sleep and their relationship suffered the next day. Four processes caused by the poor sleep are to blame:

1. Less empathy. The worse couples slept, the less empathy they showed towards their partners. And it worked both ways: after a bad night's sleep, not only did they find it difficult to judge their partner's emotions, it was difficult for their partner to read them in turn.

2. More negativity. There will always be bad feelings at some stage in a relationship; but to be a good relationship overall, these should be massively outweighed by the good feelings. When partners slept poorly, this ratio went in the wrong direction towards more negative feelings. 

3. Conflict resolution problems. When tired, couples found it harder to resolve their differences. 

4. Selfishness. Poor sleep can induce more selfish feelings in partners and they feel less able to appreciate and feel gratitude towards the other.

You can find the article in its original form here.

Wonderful, you might think! Great! How is this supposed to help me? Here’s how:

Now you know (because science has spoken!) that there is such a thing as getting up on the wrong side of the bed. When we “wake up” from a sleepless night, we feel grouchy, and when we feel grouchy, we spread the grouch to our partner. Even on cool, pleasant nights, something may be wrong. Maybe you are stressed for another reason: work is crazy, you’ve got to take care of an older relative, you’ve been overspending, your kids aren’t doing their homework, or you are a human being. There are plenty of things that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep! They don’t have to. You are in control. Below, we share strategies for getting a good night's sleep from doctors at Harvard University*. 

Timeless Tips for Sleeping Well:

1. Make sure your room and bed are comfortable. Not too hot, not too cold. If you need to find a better mattress or get some pillows or blankets, make the investment – your relationship will thank you. 

2. Remember to exercise. It is a surefire way to ensure deep, restful sleep, as long as you do it early in the day.

3. Eat well, and long before bedtime. Don’t go to bed on an empty stomach, but remember that eating heavy food makes it harder to fall asleep!

4. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are sleep killers. Drink decaf and leave cigarettes alone. If you have to drink coffee or smoke, do it long, long before bed. 

5. Do not attempt to use a “nightcap” – though it may help you to fall asleep, alcohol reduces sleep quality and leaves you feeling under-rested. If you like, take a melatonin instead. 

6. Breathe deeply. Do some stretches, take a bath, or drink some warm milk – these things can soothe you.

7. Come up with a bedtime ritual. It’s nearly impossible to fall asleep if you have been working or watching TV right up until the moment you hit the bed. Make sure that you give yourself time to unwind before you turn out the lights. Get into the habit of turning the lights down and reading a book or cuddling up with your partner. Take the opportunity to turn towards your partner while you ask them open-ended questions. 

If you make sure to practice good sleeping habits, you will more likely wake up re-energized and strengthened, and your relationship will be too!

Take care,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

*Source: Epstein, Lawrence, MD and Mardon, Steven, The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, 2007, McGraw Hill Books.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Making Sure Emotional Flooding Doesn't Capsize Your Relationship

Last week, The Huffington Post published an article featuring our research – a very well written, comprehensive piece about the Gottman approach to managing physiological and emotional flooding in relationship conflict. We have shared the article below, followed by some thoughts we felt were important to consider in response. 

Making Sure Emotional Flooding Doesn't Capsize Your Relationship
By: Stephanie Manes, LCSW

We all know what it's like to get carried off by some rough emotional currents when we are dealing with our mate. These aren't the day-to-day flashes of anger or hurt. I am talking about the giant waves of bad feelings that completely knock you down and take any rational thought with them. This is how it usually goes. You are in the middle of a conflict or disagreement, your partner says or does something, and suddenly you fall down a deep dark rabbit hole. The only notes you register are rage, hurt, panic and fear.

When I'm caught in one of these rip tides, I have the physical sensation of something taking hold of my body -- my muscles clench, my temperature skyrockets and my stomach does turns. My mind goes into overdrive. I am deaf to anything my husband is saying and can only hear the blame narrative rapidly evolving in my head. I become a prosecuting attorney endlessly repeating a courtroom argument. Mind you, when I'm all caught up like this, my allegations are usually not terribly sound. Any reasonable judge would probably toss my case right out (or at least knock the charge down from a felony to a misdemeanor). But even knowing that doesn't dampen my prosecutorial zeal.

The difference between flooding and more manageable experiences of our emotions is one of magnitude. You reach the point when your thinking brain -- the part that can take in gray areas, consider other sides, stay aware of the real state of affairs -- is shut out. Psychologist John Gottman explains this emotional hijacking as the hallmark of our nervous system in overdrive. Something happens -- and it could be almost anything -- in your interaction with your partner that sets off your internal threat-detection system. This is your parasympathetic nervous system in action, preparing you for battle or flight. In this state, you lose some of your capacity for rational thought. Science describes this is as a decrease of activity in your pre-frontal cortex, the center of higher cognition.

The stuff that works well when you are being chased by a mastodon doesn't work so well in the home. Our instinctive reactions in these moments usually make the situation worse. The fight response we are primed for becomes a cascade of angry words that just deepen wounds. In flight, we might stalk out of the room or shut out our mate with icy silence. Basically, when we react in the grip of emotional flooding, we do and say the kind of things that are likely to trigger emotional flooding in our partner. And then both people in the room are out of control.

Here are some things I have learned along the way from my own experiences, and from counseling other couples, that may help you and your mate find your ways when either of you gets derailed by emotional flooding:

  • Make a commitment to try self-soothing the next time you find yourself caught up in a heavy emotion over this or that with your partner. The reality is that it is not easy to hold back from acting out when we are completely enraged or feeling utterly devastated. But if you have essentially accepted the idea that you can't entirely trust yourself and your perceptions when you are in a state of total reactivity, you at least have a fighting chance of pulling yourself back from the spiral. Some part of you will have registered the notion that you probably shouldn't be so quick to buy whatever blame narrative or catastrophic rendering of things that your mind has come up with.

  • Mentally store a picture of your partner at their best -- a moment when you experience them as loving, generous and well-meaning. Add as much detail as you can to really capture how you experience your partner when you are feeling loved and cared for. I like to picture my husband standing at the top of the stairs waiting to greet me at the end of day with a look of pure happiness. Try shifting your focus to this image when you get trapped in a negative story about them. This helps your brain move out of the reactive myopia and reintegrate a more balanced view of your partner.

  • When you do get flooded, you need to hit the pause button on your interaction and turn your attention inward. I find that before I can do anything, I need to reassure myself that I will be fine if I wait for this storm to pass. Like a standoff with an armed hostage-taker, I have to convince her to at least put down the gun before we can keep talking.

  • Observe what's happening. This is the key to creating some distance between yourself and the storm of thoughts and feelings. Mentally note that you have gotten activated. Start to investigate what happens when you get emotionally flooded. Notice what thoughts take shape in your mind and what sensations move through your body.

  • Use images to ground the process of slowing, observing and letting go. You might want to imagine your mind as a wheel that was suddenly spinning furiously. With each breath, you are able to slow down its speed until it is barely turning. Or picture your racing thoughts as a cloud of sand that has been kicked up in the water. Wait for the sand to sink back down to the seabed, leaving clear water. As your frantic thoughts subside, your nervous system can calm down, too. Imagine any constriction melting. Relax your hands, imagining yourself physically letting go of the story you created about what has happened with your mate.

  • Take timeouts when you need to. Sometimes you can self-soothe on the spot. At other times, you may need to take a break from the interaction. Make a plan with your partner that if either of you gets too activated in an argument to hear the other -- to avoid saying things you will regret -- you will take a time out. Agree to come back together to continue the discussion within a certain period of time, but don't delay indefinitely. Use the time to actively soothe yourself rather than obsessing over your version of what went wrong, which will just keep you activated. The point here is to disengage with your reaction so you can re-engage with your mate.

And by all means, don't get down on yourself when you do get tripped up and act out. That's what "I'm sorry" is for. 

As you have gathered from this piece, emotional flooding can "capsize your relationship" if not managed properly. Here's what we'd like to add:

Click here to read an entry from our Sound Relationship House Series that discusses the aftermath of a fight. In this blog posting, you will find a numbered list. This list will take you through some of our previous entries in the 6 Skills of Conflict Management

Even if you've seen this list before, take the time to refresh your memory! Though you cannot avoid flooding in all situations, re-acquainting yourself with these conflict management skills can, at the very least, help you to work through areas of disagreement from a gentler place. With the right skills, you will be able to move from the introduction of a difficult subject to the conclusion of your conversation with greater warmth, connection, and mutual understanding.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bringing Baby Home: Baby Makes Three

Happy Friday! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we'd like to share a few important pieces of information.

First, as promised, we offer you a look at the format of our upcoming Bringing Baby Home Educator Training this October, which you can see here! Second, we'd like to invite you to take a look at this series of videos to get a sense of the foundation on which our BBH training is built. Last but certainly not least, we would like to share the following article with you, written by ABC News a few years ago, which discusses the astounding results of the BHH program at the time. We hope that it will serve to illustrate the structure and nature of our programs and workshops, and show you what you can learn with us!

Without further ado: 

Baby Makes Three: Dealing With Children In Your Relationship

The introduction of a new baby can be full of great joy. For millions of young couples, the arrival of a baby brings dramatic changes to their marriages.

But after the initial excitement, comes the loss of personal time and sleep.

"The reality is that your time, it's no longer your own," said Paul Kruglik. "You're definitely on the baby's schedule."

Paul and his wife of two years, Melinda, have a 5-month-old son, Parker. The couple always dreamed of having children. But, the baby brought bliss and blues.

"One day you're pregnant and everything's so great," Melinda said. "And the next day, everything's complete chaos."

While Melinda said she heard having a baby would alter her relationship, she didn't know how much.

"People can tell you that it's hard, and they can tell you that it's going to change your relationship, but [it's] not until you're doing it that you start to realize how true that is," she said.

"The euphoria's worn off, and your tiredness sets in. And so, right about 9 o'clock every night for a good week or two weeks, I would cry. And it was awful to feel that way."

Mothers aren't the only parents susceptible to this.

"Thirty percent of fathers have postpartum depression symptoms," said Relationship Research Institute executive director John Gottman. "Fifty [percent] to 80 percent of moms have symptoms of postpartum depression."

Gottman said many parents feel ashamed and embarrassed about their troubled feelings.

Celebrity mothers like Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond helped bring PPD to the forefront with their personal tales. Today, more couples are seeking help.

Gottman began the Bringing Baby Home workshop. The two-day course prepares a couple for how their relationship will change once a baby arrives. Its research shows the workshop cuts PPD rates from 67 percent to 23 percent.

"About two-thirds of couples had serious problems in the first three years of the baby's life, where their happiness with one another went down," said Gottman, who has researched relationships for 30 years. "Their hostility increased."

The two-day workshop includes everything from lectures to a fun card game designed to test how well couples really know one another. They're taught how to remain calm during inevitable conflicts, and how something as simple as a 15-minute massage can increase intimacy.

Nancy Manzo said she attended the workshop to prepare for parenthood.

"I think the reason we're here is to learn as much as we can before we become parents, to see what we can do to help make that a positive experience," she said.

Another participant, Ian Mulholland, said he wanted to focus on maintaining his close relationship while simultaneously taking it to the next level.

The couples are given a chance to learn the realities of life when a baby enters the family picture.

"The baby required immediate attention," Gottman said. "It's stressful. You're not sleeping. You're irritable."

He added if couples don't have the information, they will believe their relationships are bad.

The workshop's goal is to strengthen the marriage so couples learn as much about taking care of one another as they do about caring for the baby. It also stresses the importance of fathers.

"The secret of dad's involvement with the baby is his relationship with the mother, and she is able to be a better mother if he's involved with her," Gottman said.

Many believe the focus on fathers is important.

"Often what happens postpartum is that Dad gets shoved aside, or he may feel that the best way to show what a great dad he is, is to run to the office," said ABC News parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy.

"Moms have learned to mother from their mothers. Fathers learn from their wives. So, working on the dynamic between the couple can help them communicate better, even when they're operating with a very short fuse."

Murphy said the program is amazing because Gottman was able to achieve huge reductions in PPD by focusing on the couples' relationships.

But postpartum depression can't always be helped with something as basic as better communication.

"There is a big difference between baby blues — that as many as 50 percent of moms may experience clinical depression — which affects 10 [percent] to 25 percent of moms, and is much more serious," Murphy said.

"Contributing factors include hormonal changes, family history, sleep deprivation and the symptoms are more severe: significant changes in appetite or sleep patterns."

Prolonged sadness, an inability to take pleasure in anything, including the baby, or thoughts of hurting herself or the baby also may be signs, she said.

"Then, treatment by a professional is absolutely critical," Murphy said. "PPD not only affects the mom, but we know from a large body of research that depressed mothers have depressed babies."

Murphy said it can be a vicious cycle for mother and baby because more fighting makes the child more irritable. In turn, the baby cries more, which causes more stress in the parents' relationship.

"Also, men and women experience stress very differently," she said. "We know from studies on psychophysiology that when people are stressed, adrenaline levels go up. And when this happens, men tend to fight or flee."

"Women react differently. They're actually able to calm down faster because of a hormone called oxytocin, which is excreted during breast-feeding, and when they rock or hold their baby."

Even though having a baby has changed his life in a very dramatic way, Kruglik said he wouldn't trade his experience for anything.


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 or 206-523-9042 x 108. As always, we invite you to join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Have a great weekend, 
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff