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Posts tagged ‘Gottman research’

Self-Interest is Not Selfish in Relationships

SOURCE:  Alli Hoff Kosik/The Gottman Institute

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless.

We’re taught to put a high premium on kindness, generosity, and the needs of others. Sharing is one of the first lessons that many of us can remember learning as toddlers.

Making a decision based on our partner’s preference or going out of our way for a significant other — even when we’ve had a difficult day ourselves — is sort of the adult equivalent of letting a classmate borrow the crayon that we really wanted to use, no? At any age, these selfless acts are considered fundamentally good.

But that doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.

What happens when a spouse’s unflinchingly self-sacrificing behavior is built, brick by brick, into a wall so airtight that it’s no longer possible to understand the interests and desires that they hold near and dear?

Maybe it’s as simple as your partner constantly deferring to you to choose the movie or restaurant, or perhaps they are always willing to talk through the challenges of your day, while never quite opening up about their own. Maybe you feel they are always telling you just what you want to hear.

These selfless acts may feel good in the moment, but over time, they’ll limit your ability to authentically connect in your relationship. You may never learn whether they really like Mexican food and comedies best, and you may always wonder if their political views could actually be so similar to yours.

Finding yourself in a constant state of agreement may grow frustrating — and you’ll likely find yourself questioning if your partner’s selfless behavior is too good to be true. (For your sake, we hope it’s not… but your concerns are perfectly valid!)

In extreme cases, you may even feel as if you are being stonewalled, which, according to Dr. John Gottman, happens when a listener withdraws from an interaction. Have you ever felt as if your partner’s conversational generosity was simply a tool to shut down the discussion and avoid becoming more fully engaged?

Jackie: Where should we go this weekend?

Jim: I’m happy to go wherever you want to go!

Jackie: That’s great, but I want us to decide together. What would be your perfect getaway?

Jim: I will go anywhere you want. Just say the word!

Even if this conversation is sealed with a kiss and plans for an amazing weekend trip, the fact remains that Jim’s selflessness comes with a side of disengagement — and there’s no way that this goes unnoticed for Jackie.

If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance of authenticity and honesty with your selfless partner, perhaps you need to consider working toward deeper, more intimate conversations with them — drawing out their core opinions, setting a standard for more intentional, open, engaged, and reciprocal communication. Dr. Gottman has three basic rules for intimate conversations:

1. Put your feelings into words
2. Ask open-ended questions
3. Express empathy

In order to draw your partner further into more connected conversations, I suggest focusing on the latter two tips. Practicing these skills in your day-to-day interactions may help your spouse to communicate more genuinely — dare we say selfishly? — with you. Here’s how you can apply these principles more specifically with your self-sacrificing special someone.

Ask open-ended questions

Start paying closer attention to the way you engage your partner in conversation. If they are more selfless than most, you may need to be especially careful to avoid the use of yes or no questions. After all, what selfless spouse wants to say “no” when their favorite person wants to hear “yes?”

Maximize your partner’s ability to assert their opinions and preferences — in their entirety — by keeping your questions to them wide open. You may need to do it more often than feels natural. Ask “What would you like to have for dinner tonight?” instead of “Should we go out for Mexican for dinner tonight?”

The results may not be immediate, but as you establish a more consistent pattern of open-ended questioning — about everything from restaurant choices to the best way to manage your finances — we’re willing to bet that your partner will begin to realize that you expect them to engage with you at a deeper level.

Reestablishing the ground rules for conversations in your relationship may take time, but it will pay off in the long run in the form of a deeper connection with your partner.

Express empathy

Perhaps your partner struggles with authentic self-expression because their innermost opinions have never been validated with any sort of intentionality. Assuming you’ve started asking your spouse more open-ended questions, they may have begun opening up about their true preferences and desires. The trick now is to turn toward them (as Dr. Gottman always says) by engaging more fully in the conversation.

Show your partner that what they’re saying makes sense to you. If your partner is only taking baby steps away from constant selflessness, take baby steps with them. You can even show empathy for something as simple as your typically deferential spouse’s admission that they prefer Italian food to Mexican food (bear with us, we know this sounds a little crazy).

“Oh, I totally understand that,” you can say. “I feel like we always get more for our money when we go out to that Italian place down the street. And they have a great bread basket! What’s the best Italian food you’ve ever had?”

Engaging with your partner in this way shows them that you are paying attention to theirneeds, and that you may be in agreement with them as often as they are in agreement with you! Start small by validating their restaurant preferences, and watch them become more comfortable asserting their input in more consequential situations.

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4 Steps Every Couple Needs to Take When Trust Is Broken

SOURCE:  MARISSA GOLD/Women’s Day

How to Rebuild Broken Trust:  Experts Share a Four-Step Plan

When trust is broken in a relationship, it can seem impossible to repair. But many couples have dealt with dishonesty—from financial problems to infidelity—and made it through to a happier, more honest place. Here, experts share the exact steps to take to get back on track.

We may enter a relationship with high hopes and rose-colored glasses, but nobody’s perfect. Most couples will run into a trust issue of some sort over the course of their relationship. The most common? “Cheating,” says M. Gary Neuman, LMHC, creator of the Neuman Method. But that doesn’t necessarily mean catching your husband in bed with another woman is the only thing that can cause a rift between you and your partner. “Trust is broken whenever there is lying that creates a shift in the couple’s life,” says Neuman. “Gambling, drug use, and even emotional and online infidelity often lead to severe trust issues.”

The fact is, all of the phones, laptops, and social networks we’re glued to 24/7 provide ample opportunity for foul play. “It’s more common now for affairs to be emotional—on social media, reconnecting with a high school sweetheart—or using office chat apps or email accounts to carry on a flirtation,” says Dr. Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD, a Gottman Institute master therapist. “As Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, has said, affairs are about access and opportunity.”

If trust has been broken between you and your partner, whether it was a physical affair, an emotional affair, or a gambling or drug habit, we’ve asked relationship experts to outline the exact steps you need to take if you want to work on rebuilding your relationship.

Step One: Confrontation

First things first (and no, we’re not talking about yelling and screaming): Have the confrontation in person. “Once you’ve discovered the infidelity, you need to evaluate your partner’s response,” says Neuman. “Is he apologetic and remorseful, or confused and ‘in love’ with this other person?” Don’t assume anything, fight via text or email, or make decisions about your future before having a face-to-face conversation.

In addition to talking to your partner, “you’ll feel a need to tell some people what happened because you’ll need to vent,” says Neuman. “But try to limit this sharing to those who will really be there for you and give you a safe space to share—NOT a lot of advice.” The idea is to get support without being swayed one way or another. You also don’t want to be sitting around the Thanksgiving table a year from now knowing that everyone in your family knows your dirty laundry. So be careful about who you tell, and how much you tell them.

Finally, watch out for urges to “even the score” or make some questionable decisions of your own. “Don’t create a toxic relationship by taking revenge, being vindictive, or bringing other people in,” warns Meunier. In other words, reconnecting with your own high school sweetheart for comfort is not the best idea, nor is recruiting your in-laws to chastise your partner about what he did.

Step Two: Atonement

This is a time for full transparency: “The person who made the choice to commit the act of betrayal should take time to understand the impact of his or her actions, tell the full story of the betrayal, and answer any questions their partner has,” says Meunier. “Your spouse has to want to make this relationship work, be apologetic and—in the case of an affair—be willing to completely end it with the other woman,” stresses Neuman.

It’s also a time for emotional support. It’s not uncommon to lose sleep, stop eating, or even have trouble functioning after discovering an infidelity, so Meunier encourages the offending partner to “be available to support and comfort the hurt partner.” Translation: He needs to be patient and kind and cater to you for a bit, not pop off angrily every time you want to talk about the issue.

You also need to give yourself some extra love right now: “Practicing meditation, daily gratitude, reading books on affair recovery (the ones based on scientific research are best) yoga, and journaling are all good techniques,” says Meunier. “I also encourage both partners to engage in light and easy activities that preserves a sense of continuity, fun, and a feeling of family. This can be as simple as having breakfast or dinner, watching a show on the couch together, or going grocery shopping. If there are children present, this is even more important.”

Step Three: Reconnecting

 

Once you’ve talked through all the details of the betrayal and have decided to recommit to one another, it’s time to start limiting how often you bring up the infidelity. “I encourage couples to only talk about the betrayal in the counselor’s office, or to set a scheduled meeting, like lunch, to do this,” says Meunier. “Avoid talking about it in closed intense environments such as the car or in the bedroom. Instead, go out on the porch—the fear of neighbors hearing will make both of you behave better.”

After you eliminate the constant “threat” environment that comes with discussing the issue, you can begin to learn how to be more connected and emotionally present with each other. How do you do that, exactly? “Once broken, trust has to be earned by small things each person does every day,” says Meunier. It’s about consistency and kindness: Be home when you say you will, avoid that work event where you know the affair partner might be, and give regular, sincere compliments to build back your partner’s self-esteem. It may take time, but if your partner is willing to show you he is committed and consistent in his actions, he’ll slowly earn back your trust. This isn’t always easy—the betraying partner has more of a burden during this time, explains Meunier—but if he sticks it out, you’ll see results. And remember, the effort shouldn’t feel one-sided: “Eventually both people need to be making small gestures of kindness,” adds Meunier.

Step Four: Building a New Relationship

At this point, you’re building a brand new emotional, physical, and social contract for the relationship. You’re connecting in a more honest way, asking for what you really need, and, “Doing whatever is necessary to affair-proof your relationship going forward,” says Meunier.

The key here on out is positive responses: “We use a term developed by Dr. Gottman called turning towards,” says Meunier. “Intimacy is built by repeated experiences of one partner bidding for their partner’s attention or affection and receiving a positive response,” says Meunier. When you receive consistent, positive reactions from one another in everyday life, trust returns. Here’s an example: “If the betraying spouse says ‘Will you watch Real Housewives with me?’ I want the hurt partner to say ‘yes’ not because they suddenly forgive their partner or love the show, but because they recognize that it costs nothing to sit quietly next to someone and watch a television show, and that doing so gives them points in the emotional bank account. Similarly, if the hurt spouse calls while you’re apart and says ‘Can you turn on Facetime and show me who is in the room with you?’ I encourage the betraying partner to do that whenever possible. Not ignoring your partner, not rejecting each other, and being kind are all ways we build a sense of normalcy and safety, which in turn builds trust.”

Communication: The Reactions That Can Make (or Break) a Relationship

SOURCE: Sheiresa Ngo/The Cheat Sheet

Relationships require a delicate balance of love, respect, and admiration. Part of maintaining that balance is remaining aware of how you react during communication. You can choose a positive, negative, or neutral response, and punctuate those responses with verbal and non-verbal cues. You may not think very much about how you respond, but reactions can have a significant impact on the health of your relationship.

Predicting relationship failure

Psychologist John Gottman investigated the impact of seemingly innocent exchanges. He asserts these exchanges, which he calls bids, can more accurately predict the success or failure of a relationship than arguments. Gottman says these exchanges are more than words; they are emotional signals. The way you react to a bid or signal can make or break your relationship. You can either bid positively, negatively, or in a neutral manner (what Gottman refers to as bidding toward, against, or turning away). He found that the more often couples chose to bid toward, the less likely they were to divorce. Licensed Mental Health Counselor Zach Brittle gave this example:

To understand turning, you have to first understand bids. A bid is any gesture — verbal or nonverbal — for some sort of positive connection with your partner. Bids can be simple or complex and can represent a request for conversation, humor, affection, support, or simply for attention. Most are actually pretty easy to spot and respond to: “How do I look?” “Can you pass the guacamole?” “Will you help me change the bedspread?” Other bids are more complicated: “Want to go to yoga with me?” “Let’s learn how to play the guitar.” “Do you feel like fooling around?”

How you can improve your communication

Gottman says a marriage can be a success if a couple learns to balance their negative and positive feelings about each other, rather than letting negative thoughts consume them:

What can make a marriage work is surprisingly simple. Happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer, or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones. They have what I call an emotionally intelligent marriage. … The more emotionally intelligent a couple — the better able they are to understand, honor, and respect each other and their marriage — the more likely that they will indeed live happily ever after.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman outlines seven key principles that can help a couple grow closer and stay together:

1. Enhance your love maps

A love map is what Gottman calls the part of your brain that remembers the details of your partner’s likes and dislikes. He also refers to it as making cognitive room for your relationship. Gottman says it’s important to continue to keep note of what is important to your partner so that you can stay connected:

They remember the major events in each other’s history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change. When she orders him a salad, she knows to ask for his dressing on the side. If she works late, he’ll tape her favorite TV show because he knows which one it is and when it’s on…They know each other’s goals in life, each other’s worries, each other’s hopes.

2. Nurture fondness and admiration

Maintain a sense of awe and admiration for your partner. Always try to find something to love about him or her. Look for ways to remind yourself why you fell in love.

“If a couple still have a functioning fondness and admiration system, their marriage is salvageable,” said Gottman. “Fondness and admiration are two of the most critical elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance…They cherish each other, which is critical to keeping their Sound Relationship House intact and preventing betrayal.”

3. Turn toward each other instead of away

Include your partner in your day-to-day life. Learn to relish the seemingly unimportant activities in life together. For example, instead of leaving your partner to watch the news alone, join him or her on the couch and just snuggle in each other’s arms. Gottman says this is essential to forming a connection:

Couples who engage in lots of such interaction tend to remain happy. What’s really occurring in these brief exchanges is that the husband and wife are connecting — they are human beings turning toward each other. Couples who do so are building mutual trust. Those who don’t are likely to lose their way.

4. Let your partner influence you

Work together as a team and show respect for each other. Also learn to see both sides during an argument and master the art of compromise. Gottman emphasizes that for a relationship to thrive, a couple must form a partnership:

Accepting influence doesn’t mean never expressing negative emotions toward your partner…the problem comes when even mild dissatisfaction on the wife’s part is met by a barrage from her husband that, instead of toning down or at the most matching her degree of negativity (yelling back, complaining, etc.), goes beyond it.

5. Solve your solvable problems

Learn to work on issues in your marriage that can be easily solved. When you let problems fester, resentment will build over time. This can lead to the slow erosion of your relationship. Said Gottman, “Even making just a small and generic shift in the trajectory of your marriage can have a dramatic, positive effect over time. The catch, of course, is that you have to build on the change and keep it going. Improving your marriage is a kind of journey.”

6. Overcome gridlock

Take time to identify what is stalling progress in your relationship. Gottman asserts that gridlock occurs in a union when one has unfulfilled dreams. He says sometimes marriages hit a bump in the road when partners are not addressing or respecting each other’s life dreams.

“It’s natural to make the fundamental error of assuming that the distance and loneliness are all your partner’s fault. In truth, they are nobody’s fault. In order to break the pattern, you both need to admit playing some role (however slight at first),” advised Gottman.

7. Create shared meaning

Draw one another closer by creating your own rituals and special times that belong only to you. Create your own space separate from the hustle and bustle of this harsh world. Provide each other with a sense of comfort and safety. Upon coming home, you partner should feel there is no other place he or she would rather be.

How To Protect Your Relationship When You’re Drifting Apart

SOURCE:  Laura Silverstein

Sometimes we feel like we’re rushing through life so fast that we’re missing out. You try to prioritize exercise and meditation, but self-care is often the first thing to go when the chaos rises.

Trying to keep all the balls in the air can mean you aren’t seeing what’s right in front of your face. You and your partner might be drifting apart. Here’s what you need to know to bridge distance:

1. Chances are, this is just a phase.

You won’t always be so busy. Someday, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be sitting next to your partner, smiling about the life you have built together.

2. Long-term love is an extraordinary gift.

This security is tremendous, and not to be taken for granted. A person who celebrates how awesome you are and doesn’t leave you when you mess up is something to be treasured.

3. A relationship can die without a single slammed door or raised voice.

Even when there is no cheating, no screaming, no irreconcilable differences, relationships can end. It happens slowly, subtly, and silently. Distance left unaddressed is a leading cause of separation.

Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman’s research identified eight predictors of divorce. Many of these predictors are symptoms you would expect, like poor conflict management and a high degree of negativity. Of the eight predictors, emotional distancing is the hardest to recognize.

4. There are warning signs. You just have to know what they are.

These include the absence of affection, humor, curiosity, excitement, and empathy in daily interactions.

If you have a huge fight with your partner, it’d be strange for both of you not to notice. Those conflicts are usually addressed. It is much more difficult, however, to recognize that the two of you have been holding hands less frequently or having fewer interesting conversations.

Example: Your partner asks you a question when you’re in the middle of something. You let him know now isn’t a good time, and you both move on with the day, leaving no one hurt or offended. But when attempts at connection are pushed away over and over again, people naturally reach out less and less, and eventually stop altogether.

5. The solution is simple and can be carried out in as few as six seconds each day.

In couples therapy I often tell my patients that I cannot teach them to love one another. But I can teach them how to nourish the love that they already have. You don’t have to hire a babysitter or plan a vacation. As few as six seconds at a time can make an immense difference over the long term.

To stay emotionally close, intersperse tiny moments of connection into your lives every single day. Simply put: Reach out warmly to your partner on a regular basis and respond with warmth when your partner reaches out to you.

Here are a few ways you might do this:

  1. You kiss your partner goodbye every day on the way to work. It becomes a habit, and you stop paying attention. Instead, slow down, enjoy the kiss, and recognize that you are kissing someone you’re in love with — not your Great-Aunt Lulu. Gottman recommends kissing hello and goodbye for six solid seconds.
  2. You’re rushing out to meet friends for dinner, giving instructions to the babysitter, and your partner tells you how nice you look. Switch gears for a second or two. Make eye contact, and say, “Thank you.” If you want appreciation, appreciate it when you get it.
  3. You’re finally in bed with your favorite book, enjoying the peace and quiet. Your partner climbs into bed next to you. Be willing to put your book down for a moment and say, “Hey, I’m totally wiped but so glad you’re home!” Acknowledge that you’re pleased to see your partner before you return to reading.

These tiny energy expenditures will invigorate your relationship exponentially.

When running a long-distance race, it’s essential to drink water before you get thirsty. Similarly, you need to nourish your relationship before you feel that it’s been drained. This will make you feel better, giving you that additional boost you got when your relationship first started, and a reminder that you are loved.

You have shared your heart with an amazing person. Stay close to him or her even when life is turbulent, so you’re still together when it isn’t.

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