John Gottman is the foremost researcher
in the world on marriages and relationships.
He puts add in the classified pages asking
couples to come in and fight about anything
they choose so he can study patterns of
anger. He wires the partners to many scientific
instruments to get body feedback and videotapes
the arguments. He analyzes the tapes frame
by frame and studies how relationships succeed
and fail. He follows up on the couples to
see who remain in relationship years later.
Out of his study of many couples, happy
and otherwise, he has discovered the necessary
principles for making relationships work.
Learning to resolve issues is necessary
for the relationship to be happy.
All relationships have problems. It is usually
the woman who is most dissatisfied. The
woman who is usually the more submissive
partner brings Eighty percent of complaints
up first. The dominant partner does what
he wants, but there is a cost to the relationship.
The woman ends up unhappy. In these days,
women are leaving relationships more often
than men. It is usually after years of resentment
after trying to have her needs met and failing.
The most successful relationships have partners
who are willing to hear and deal with the
complaints. This means that the man must
be willing to be influenced by the woman.
The willingness to be influenced by each
other and take complains seriously is a
skill necessary for a happy relationship.
Men who are willing to share the power with
their wives get to have a happier relationship.
Men who are typically less able to express
themselves and withdraw from fights result
in having a partner who holds on to anger.
The woman seeks closure around an issue
and remains angry when the problem is not
Anger, per se does not destroy a relationship.
It is how people DO their anger that creates
problems in couples. Happy families know
how to settle disputes without leaving scars.
Gottman's research found the four behaviors
that destroy a relationship/marriage are:
CRITICISM--blaming, finding fault,
nit picking over small things
CONTEMPT --disgust, name-calling,
cursing, and being hateful. Disgust over
time builds up into the decision to separate
DEFENSIVENESS --not taking responsibility
for own stuff, turning the blame back on
STONEWALLING --refusing to deal with
the issue, minimal zing the problem, inability
to deal with conflict, walking away angry
Gottman can detect these four behaviors
within the first 3 minutes of a conversation!
He can predict with 96% accuracy, which
marriages will succeed and which will fail
from these first three minutes of the fight!
Anger is not the reason that couples break
up. It is how each partner copes with threat
and the types of anger responses they have
learned! Gottman's research offers proof
that one of the best investments you can
make in your life to preserve your relationship
is to learn about anger management and conflict
of Stress Related Hormones Often Side Track
Problem Solving During Arguments
The level and intensity of anger that accompanies
the sharing of the complaint predicts whether
the issues will be addressed positively
or not. Flooding of the hormones is the
reason people cannot resolve conflict easily.
The flooding causes hormonal and emotional
arousal and is more typical in men. A huge
amount of adrenalin is produced to give
energy for the ‘fight or flight' coping
strategies of the cave men days. Gottman's
research shows that when pulse rate of one
member of a couple that is fighting goes
up 15 or 20 percent, they are flooded with
adrenalin and other stress related hormones.
When the person becomes flooded, their fight
or flight hormones are in charge and they
lose it! Common sense goes out the window.
They say and do stupid things in the heat
of the adrenalin surge. Staying and arguing
during flooding can be damaging to the relationship
because people say and do things they do
not mean to hurt the other person. They
may have regrets later about what they said,
or they may forget their hasty words. However,
their partner becomes hurt and resentful
and does not forget the mean words that
were thrown at them in the heat of the moment.
Gottman believes that that during a fight
if one or both partners increase their pulse
rate from a normal pulse rate of 74 to 85
to 90, they are flooded. The flooding indicates
they are feeling threatened or ‘in the presence
of a feared object' and their body acts
just like the cave man did when faced with
a saber toothed tiger. Once the arousal
system becomes flooded (ready to fight or
flee) there is no possibility of resolving
Gottman recommends that couples agree ahead
of time to take a break when emotions get
so high and nasty comments get out of control
with high anger. Each person has the responsibility
to call for a time out (make the referee
sign as seen during football TV) when either
one of them starts to feel the heat and
start to go for the jugular vein. Time out
away from the angry feelings is a powerful
and useful strategy to help you be in control,
not your hormonal high,
If things get hot during a fight, both partners
should go away and do deep breathing, self-soothing,
and stress management to cool off. They
must agree to return to finish the discussion
when they are more in control of their emotions.
For some people, this is a short period
of twenty minutes. For others, it may be
several days before their mind works the
issue through so they can be reasonable
about the topic. People are different in
how they react when they are threatened.
Some need more time than others. The important
thing is to remember to come back to discuss
Gottman's research points out the importance
of using a ‘soft' as opposed to a ‘harsh'
start up when sharing a complaint in a marriage
or relationship is a strong predictor of
marital/relationship failure. Be ready to
use a gentle introduction to talking about
the issue. Let go of nit picking criticism
whenever you can. Save your efforts for
the big things that contribute to the unhealthy
parts of the relationship.
Practice damage control by giving five positive
communications to one negative communication.
Healthy relationships have a ratio of 5
positive communications to 1 negative communication.
Happy couples learn to do ‘positive sentiment
override' where they agree to practice damage
control after an argument. They ‘repair'
efforts during a heated exchange over an
issue to take the heat down.
Learn to define the problem as belonging
to both of you‹not just your partner who
should shape up. ‘Our issue is who should
clean the house.' ‘You never do your share
of the work.' sets the stage for defensiveness.
Stay in the present and do not bring in
old examples of the times you were hurt
by your partner's behavior.
Really listen to what your partner says
so that you can repeat it back to him. ‘What
I heard you way was____' Keep eye contact
with your partner when you can. Keep your
voice low and steady.
Stay focused on the issue to be solved.
Do not go to personality digs. ‘The issue
is how we ____.'
Validate what your partner says. ‘I can
understand that because a similar thing
happened to me once.
Ask for compromises. Brainstorm as many
ideas as the two of you can to think of
State with what you have agreed on at each
step of the way. ‘Okay, we have agreed on
the first point. Now the next item is____.'
Congratulate yourself when you do settle
something. ‘Hey, that's great. We got that
out of the way.'
Read my article Fair
Fighting on the web pages.
Your Fights Wisely
Some fights are simply not resolvable, but
are silly because each person tries to get
the upper hand. This is a power struggle
just for the sake of having a power struggle.
One couple I knew had bitter fights over
whose mother was the meanest! Some arguments
can never be resolved because they are based
on value differences between the couple
that are so personal that they are not seen
Gottman says that two thirds of all arguments
in a relationship never get solved! Only
one third of all marital arguments are solvable
on the average. No wonder we have so many
problems when we are in relationship. So
be willing to distinguish solvable from
unsolvable problems. Make two lists of your
problems: What can be negotiated and what
cannot? What is most important to you; what
can you let go? Unsolvable problems require
different strategies for dealing with in
relationships than solvable ones.
In the Love Account of Your Relationship
Understand what your partner or spouse'
needs to feel loved. Express your appreciation,
respect and admiration for your partner
whenever you can. Build up a positive ‘emotional
bank account' with your partner by showing
respect, listening, caring and being understanding,
patience, forgiveness. Give your partner
the attention, hugs, smiles and positive
attention that he or she wants, not what
feels good to you.
Continual courting each other is a key to
continuing a happy marriage. Couples who
were positive and affirming of each other
achieve success in relationships. They do
not take each other for granted and share
sparks of intimacy during the day. They
fight boredom in the relationship by doing
small things that surprise and please their
partner. They talk to each other and keep
the dialogue going even when they are angry.
They get professional help when things start
to get rocky. They work to keep the intimacy
flowing between them. For more information
on John Gottmans' research, read my other
article on the web site summarizing his
latest book, The Relationship Cure: A Five
Step Guide for Building Better Connections
with Family, Friends and Lovers.
Maturity in Love
Aware, mature love is the opposite of addiction.
Authentic self-love is the precursor to
loving another person in a healthy way according
to Erich Fromm, a noted writer on love.
Learning to appreciate and own your lovableness
is the hallmark of maturity. Aware love
equally values both the self and the other
person and is based on friendship and caring.
It is a mutual recognition of each partner's
right to grow and expand. It nourishes both
partners and everyone who is around it.
Education and counseling are the answers
to the goal of becoming your authentic self.
Read books on codependency. I like Alice
Miller's book, The Drama of the Gifted Child,
which explains how you gave up your sense
of self as a child, usually to please a
To bring real changes into your life, you
must think, feel and do something different!
Recent research reveals that writing about
problems is an inexpensive effective way
of sorting out your problems. It is not
enough just to read about how to change.
Keep a journal of how you feel about what
happens to you and how you deal with it.
As the poet, Anne Sarton said, we can choose
to write ourselves back in to sanity--to
write ourselves sane! Sarton struggled with
anger most of her life and wrote about it
to express some of the pain in her life.
Examine those early childhood experiences
that brought about the loss of your innocence
resulting in the decision to become co-dependent.
Examine those illusions you use to fuel
the flames of unhealthy or unrequited love.
Writing out the answers to these soul-wrenching
questions will jar something loose in you.
The feelings must be experienced and seen
in new ways. Challenge your self and examine
your definitions of unwholesome loving and
dysfunctional behavior. This is your opportunity
to help you discover your values and how
to live them.
Gottman, John and
DeClaire, Joan. The Relationship Cure:
A 5 Step Guide for Building Better Communications
for Family, Friends and Lovers
John and Schwartz-Gottman, Julie. Why
Marriages Succeed and Fail
Harville. Getting the Love you Want:
A Guide for Couples.
Harville, Keeping the Love you Get: A
Guide for Singles