Gottman’s research indicated strong predictors of divorce included high levels of contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, all contributing to the development of negative sentiment override and resentment. Does this mean a relationship has absolutely no hope if these things are present?
The answer is categorically NO! Gottman’s research relates to couples who did not enter therapy, did not get any help and who just continued to dig deeper and deeper holes for themselves.
One of the most common complaints I hear from couples is that one or both of the partners feels that they are not important, or that the relationship itself is not important – it’s pushed aside by work or childcare or housework or FaceBook or family or friends or…..
Active listening in couples therapy has generally been proposed as a formulaic approach to having couples talk about issues. It generally takes the form of the speaker saying an I statement that includes a description of a behavior or situation, a feeling they have about the behavior or situation and a request. For example it might be “When you don’t clean up the kitchen after you have eaten I feel angry, I want you to clean up the mess you make.”
The listener is then encouraged to repeat this back so it sounds something like “I hear you saying when I leave mess in the kitchen after I have eaten you feel angry and you want me to clean the kitchen up.”
Very often when couples present for couples therapy they are in a heightened state of conflict and this may have been the over-riding state of their relationship for years. They have experienced a lot of hurt and pain over this time and are scared to show vulnerability in any way. In other words they have on their protective chain mail protecting and hiding their softness and gentleness from each other.
In this model of couples therapy it is not the therapists decision as to whether the couple should continue to work on their relationship or not, this is entirely the couple’s decision.
I recently asked my 3 grown-up children what they enjoyed most when they were growing up. Son No 1 said “I really liked how we would have those family days on the weekend. We always did fun stuff together.”
Son No 2 said, “I always liked the times we sat around the dinner table and just talked about all sorts of things. In fact I still really enjoy that.”
Baby Daughter said, “I have always loved our family vacations. It’s always so exciting to go somewhere new together. I like the excitement of knowing we are going and then talking about it for months and planning how we are going to have fun together. Those vacations felt like the lasted for months because of how much we talked about it before we went.”
During our training workshops and during supervision with other therapists we often get asked a lot of the same questions. We will begin looking at these questions in our blog/news posts over the next several months. Here is the first one: "How do you respond when you’re going through the Oral History Interview and there isn’t much positive affect? How much do you validate or speak back that this is really troubling for you?"
The first three levels of the Sound Relationship House – Build Love Maps, Share Fondness and Admiration, and Turn Towards Instead of Away – serve as the foundation for The Positive Perspective. These levels form the strong foundation on which your Sound Relationship can flourish.
One of my clients isn’t so sure.
According to Dr John Gottman, interactive behavior matters a great deal. He discovered that the “masters” of relationships (couples that stayed together happily) were much gentler with one another than the “disasters”of relationships. The ratio of the number of seconds of positive-to-negative emotions during conflict for the disasters averaged 0.8, and for the masters averaged 5.0. There was far more positive than negative affect even during a conflict discussion for the masters. That 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative emotions in a conflict discussion jumped out of the pages of his statistical analyses. Thus he saw what he called “the triumph of negative over positive affect,” which determined the influence functions in his math model of relationships.
I sometimes hear clinicians saying, “I’m not sure that the Oral History Interview is a useful way to begin couples therapy”; or “Couples don’t want to talk about their history, they want to get straight into resolving conflict”. This is certainly not my experience. The Oral History Interview generally helps the couple to put their current issues into a larger perspective. I often hear couples say, “You know as we talk about this I’m realising that we have had a pretty good relationship”; or “Things between us have generally been good”. Of course there are also those who say things like “I’m really not sure why we stayed together.”
The term ‘Marriage Sabbatical’ was first coined by Cheryl Jarvis in her book The Marriage Sabbatical. The idea is that individuals in long term relationships be able to support each other to take time away from their daily routines to nurture their own creative, intellectual, or spiritual strengths in order to become fully expressed human beings.
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