Displaying items by tag: Gottman method

We sat down with one of UCEBT's couples specialists, Dr. Stephanie Taylor, to ask about conflict in relationships. What's it all about? Why is it important? How can it be managed? Read along in part 3 of this three part series to see what Dr. Taylor says about the role of conflict in relationships. 

Continuing on from the previous post, here are the remaining two of the four types of conflict:

#3. Contempt

This is a big one. This is a single best predictor of divorce. Contempt is almost like a form of disrespect. It is different than criticism. It's almost like criticism from a high horse. There's a feeling of superiority. You're coming at it in a little bit of a condescending way, talking down to your partner as if you're smarter, cleaner, and more punctual and more capable in some way. And it can often include name calling, too. 

So, for example,”Geez, why are you so needy that everything you do has to be acknowledged in some way?” 

If not contempt, what are these successful partners doing?

Successful partners are coming at it from a place of respect and being proud of those we love. It's creating a culture of appreciation within the relationship, saying thank you for the small things or acknowledging them in some way. “Thank you for taking out the trash”. “Thank you for helping the kids with their homework.” “I listened to you reading to the kids last night, and that was really great.”

It's communicating affection, respect, and it's something that partners might need to work on. Being able to create that, you've got to shift your perspective. You've got to build a different habit of mind.

Instead of scanning the environment for things to criticize, you, then start to pay attention for things you can appreciate. And that shift can be monumental. And I mean that not just in a romantic relationship. There's a lot of research behind shifting that into parent-child interactions. That can be huge when you start to look for things to appreciate as opposed to things to be upset over. 

#4. Stonewalling

This is emotional withdrawal from conflict. 

Normally, when two people are talking, the listener gives some obvious signs. They're listening, they're looking at the speaker, they have open body language. Facial expressions are reactive and relevant, maybe some grunts or noises that in response, these are all signals to make us feel like we're being listened to. 

The Stonewall does not do this. They've shut down internally. You can see that externally with their body language: they might have their arms folded over them protectively, physically turning away from the speaker, avoiding eye contact. No signs of acknowledgement. Nothing. And guess what that ends up doing to the speaker? It makes them want to speak even louder.

They might come on stronger. They're going to be a little bit more aggressive because it doesn't feel like they're being listened to or heard, which is just going to then create this bad cycle of shutting down even more. And pretty soon you've got a full-blown war in the kitchen. 

So it's really important when you notice that to immediately shift gears, whether that's taking a break from each other, whether that's trying to come at your partner with a little bit more affection and trying to help decrease that physiological arousal, whatever that looks like.

The Gottmans suggest taking a break that shouldn't be less than 30 minutes, but it shouldn't be more than 24 hours. And they also strongly recommend not thinking about the fight during that time. So kind of just complete distraction, avoidance and then coming back and trying again. 

I think it's also interesting that a lot of Gottman therapists will have their couples hooked up to some type of biofeedback where they can measure the physiological response of when their heart rates go over 100 beats per minute. They usually set as an alarm and that can help the other partner start to recognize when that's happening. 

How do you build more love into the relationship?

Get an idea of your partner's internal world, moving into sharing fondness and admiration, where you can express appreciation and respect, really trying to strengthen those bonds. Turning toward not away. I think it's human nature when you sense distance to create more distance as a protective piece, but really being able to do the opposite of that. 

Having courage to turn inward. Looking at the positive perspective. Making sure you're an advocate for your partner and helping enable them to do what it is they see as their life's purpose, and then be able to create shared meaning together. 

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We sat down with one of UCEBT's couples specialists, Dr. Stephanie Taylor, to ask about conflict in relationships. What's it all about? Why is it important? How can it be managed? Read along in part 1 of this three part series to see what Dr. Taylor says about the role of conflict in relationships.

Dr. Taylor: I would like to get started with a couple of disclaimers about this. I'll just be going over a couple of things based on the Gottman method. But this is not a substitute for couples therapy. And nothing that I talk about today is meant to be used in relationships where there are severe cases of infidelity or affairs happening, substance abuse, domestic violence. And in fact, most of the Gottman method isn't really used for these types of issues. 

So why the Gottman method? 

I like the fact that there is a lot of evidence that supports this approach. And I think the most interesting thing to me about this is it comes from John Gottman himself.

He's pulling through lots of different modalities, a lot of different research studies. But he also did his own research and then together with his wife, formed it into an actual therapy. 

I think my first introduction to the Gottman method was a long time ago reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell. It was called Blink. It introduced some crazy information about the research that John Gottman was doing. And I remember I had very little exposure to the field of psychology or even research and just being completely blown away by some of those stats.

So as I've gotten into things more professionally and wanting to work with couples, it was the Gottman method, 100%. I've always been fascinated with it. 

Gottman really did some crazy research. He did longitudinal research where he studied couples for decades. And then he did some pretty intense observational studies as well. His research lab was actually made to resemble a bed and breakfast. So he'd invite these couples to come in. There are cameras all over. Lots of different things were being measured, including physiologically looking at things in the camera like microexpressions, body language, even tonality of voice was being analyzed. And they were looking at not just how couples respond in everyday interactions, but also what it's like when there is conflict, when they are having these fights. And what they found and what they were really trying to understand is what creates a successful relationship as opposed to an unsuccessful relationship.

What are some the stats from Gottman’s research?

They actually found they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which couples would get a divorce with over 90% accuracy. That's enormous accuracy. And then even just after 15 minutes of observing a couple interacting typically over an area of continued disagreement, they could predict if that relationship would last with 85% accuracy. And then, of course, with the longitudinal piece following these couples around for more than a decade, they could not only predict if, but when a couple would get divorced. So obviously, someone who's interested in evidence-based treatments and the research behind everything that I do, I was just blown away by these numbers. 

What are the predictors that go into successful versus unsuccessful relationships?

They found two key components of what they shifted their research towards. The first one is “positivity ratio”, and then the second one is the “Four Horsemen”. I'm going to break these down. The positivity ratio is the amount of positivity versus negativity that goes into these.

So positivity could be asking about interest, asking questions, being empathetic, showing affection. Negativity would be criticism, hostility, anger, the amount of hurt feelings happening and interactions. 

What they found was that in successful relationships when there was a conflict, there was a 5 to 1 positive to negative ratio. And so basically, if you do something that hurts your partner's feelings, then you have to make up for it with five positive things. And I think you can see that equation is not at all balanced. So the negativity carries a lot more weight; it has a lot more ability to inflict damage and pain, and the positive things have to sort of heal or bring a couple closer together. 

What about the couples whose relationships ended so unsuccessfully? Those couples had a 0.8 to 1 positive to negative. So we've got slightly more negativity with couples who were headed towards divorce or breakup. This is with couples who are in conflict. They were curious about what that looks like just in everyday interaction. 

Remember, John Gottman had this elaborate lab, you know, bed and breakfast couples are just doing couple of things. And they noticed that in those successful relationships, there was a 20 to 1 positive to negative ratio just in everyday interaction. They were able to create this enormously rich climate of warmth and humor, affection, attention, intimacy, empathy, fun. I mean, there were some very clear differences in how these couples are interacting, not engaged in conflict. 

Read on for Part 2 of 3 on the role of conflict in relationships.

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