Research of John Gottman

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					            Chapter 9
When Couples and Families Struggle

• Approximately 50% of first marriages end in
• Disadvantages associated with divorce
  1. Toxic patterns carried over from first
  marriages to second marriages
  2. Divorce may create new problems that
  previously didn’t exist
  3. Divorce may create adjustment problems for
  4. Other

Warning Signs Even Before Marriage
•   Problems of self-esteem
•   Problems of anger and self control
•   Problems with addiction
•   Problems concerning unfinished business from

• PREPARE: A Premarital Preparation Program (p.

 Gottman: Divorce From a Process
Gottman observed … in the love lab
 • Couple’s interactions, discussing topics, working on tasks
   together, attempting to resolve conflict
 • Observed facial expressions, bodily gestures etc.
 • Measured physiological changes such as heart rate, palm
 • Also assessed cognitive components—thoughts

 • Gottman found 3 healthy marital styles – maintained 5 to
   1 ratio in conflict discussion
Validating Couples
• Emotions and opinions - validated by listening and
• Mutual respect, few disagreements
• Compromise
• Good friends, value ―we‖ over ―me‖
• Possible drawbacks.

Volatile Couples
•   Heated arguments, high energy
•   Negative/positive emotional expression
•   Involved in give-and-take
•   Equals within a loving marriage
•   Allow for individuality/differences
•   Possible drawbacks.

Avoidant Couples
•   ―Conflict minimizers‖
•   Down play their differences
•   Accept positives, ignore differences
•   ―Love will see us through‖
•   Agree to disagree
•   Possible drawbacks

• These 3 types of marriages were successful
  because they had
The Important Ratio: 5 to 1
• at least 5 positive interactions
  to every negative interaction in conflict
• If couple could not maintain 5 to 1 ratio
  their marriage became troubled.

Unhealthy Marriage Styles
• Hostile/engaged: hot arguments, put downs,
  failure to listen and empathize
• Hostile/detached: some hostility but at least one
  partner somewhat emotionally uninvolved and
• Perhaps they had mismatched styles
• Validator with an avoider
• Validator with Volatile
• Avoider with volatile

The Signs of Trouble:
―The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse‖
1. Criticism
    Blaming and attacking one’s personal
    Criticism often begins with ―you‖
    Differs from complaint – a complaint is more
    specific, can be helpful, often begins with ―I‖
    Complaints = soft startup
    Criticism = harsh startup                         10
• Criticism: Why can’t you ever remember anything? I told
  you a thousand times to fill up the tank and you didn’t. I
  can never count on you for anything.
• Complaint:

• Criticism: You never take me anywhere. All you want to
  do is sit on your butt and watch TV. You’re a disgrace.
• Complaint:

• Criticism: You left dirty dishes all over the kitchen again.
  You promised me you wouldn’t. I just can’t trust you to
  do anything you say.
• Complaint:
2. Defensiveness
 •   Follows criticism
 •   Response to attack
 •   Usually escalates conflict/negativity
 •   ―If you are being defensive (even if you
     feel completely righteous in your
     stance), you are adding to your marital

3. Contempt
 •   Intentional insult
 •   Views spouse as stupid and incompetent
 •   Intent to abuse and harm
 •   Corrodes respect and admiration
 •   The ―sulfuric acid‖ of relationships.

Signs of Contempt
• Insults
• Name calling - ―jerk‖, ―bitch‖, ―idiot‖
• Hostile humor
• Mockery
• Body language- often head tilted back, rolling of
• In healthy marriages some criticism and
  defensiveness occurs. In healthy marriages
  contempt is practically nonexistent.

4. Stonewalling
• Withdrawal to control overwhelming emotions
• silent, looking away, disengagement, or leaving the room
• 85% are men
• Upsets women more than men
• Very destructive when men become habitual stonewallers
• As 4 horsemen invade the 5 to 1 ratio in conflict
  discussions deteriorates
• Couple begins to reset thermostat.

The Physiological Components
of Marital Conflict
• In arguments it takes less negativity for husbands
  to be overwhelmed
• Husbands’ heart rate and blood pressure increases
  more rapidly, rises higher, and stays elevated
• Called flooding
• Leads to stonewalling.

The Cognitive Components of Marital Conflict
• After taping couples arguing, Gottman asked
  partners to view tape and indicate what they were
• Husbands likely to have stress maintaining
  thoughts - righteous indignation/innocent
• Often leads to more contempt
• Women were more likely to have soothing,
  relationship enhancing thoughts.

The Distance and Isolation Cascade
•   As the four horsemen invade, partners
•   Lose respect and admiration for each other
•   Perceive problems as severe/unsolvable
•   Talk is useless
•   Live separate lives as loneliness sets in
•   Rewrite history – construe past negatively
•   Little irritants become magnified
•   Past viewed as troubled and chaotic

Failed repair attempts
• Why don’t partners make an attempt to right the
• They do - called repair attempts. Communication
  that deescalates the negativity.
• Repair attempts either not heard or cannot break
  through the negativity.

• Gottman - divorce can be predicted by seeing if
  repair attempts fail. If they do, things continue
  to escalate and spin out of control
• How does a marriage come to experience such
• Gradually, one horseman after the other
• Perhaps the couple simply had their expectations
  too high. Would lowering expectations help?

• Partners who continue to have high expectations
  have the best marriages
• In happy marriages, wives are usually sensitive
  to low levels of negativity - like an early
  warning system. If wife accepts this negativity
  and does nothing until it gets worse, will this
• Finding: Wives who intervene gently and refuse
  to allow the first three horsemen to overrun the
  marriage, later had stable marriages.

Marital Bliss
      Criticism                     Falling Down the
                         Thoughts - Stress Maintaining
                             Respect and Admiration Diminishes
                                Rewrite History
                                    Problems Seen as Severe
                                        Talk is Useless
                                          Live Separate Lives/Lonely

Uncoupling: Another View
• Diane Vaughan’s research
• Interviewed 103 individuals whose relationships
  had failed
• Objective: explore how uncoupling occurred over
• Findings: partners go through same stages but at
  different times
• One partner dissatisfied (initiator); other partner
  does not see trouble.
Viewpoint of Initiator
• Starts with secret/something not quite right
• After time, (I.) decides to communicate
• Communication often difficult
• (I.) fearful and uncertain
• Usually communicates harshly
• Rather than ―I’m unhappy because…‖
• Expresses criticism.

• Purpose: to make things better
• If relationship does not improve, (I.) may
  change basic assumptions, beliefs, rules
• Redefine self, relationship, finds alternate
  ways of seeking validation
• Nothing gets resolved in marriage.

• More discontent, more criticism, hope lost
• Purpose now - not to improve marriage,
  but to emphasize that marriage is troubled
• (I.) goes public to selected audience and
• Reconstructs history
• Explores what life might be like after . .
• Yet, still uncertainties. Partner in dark.

The Rejected Partner
• Aware without being aware
• Sees and hears, but chooses to deny
• Difficulty receiving bad news
• Selectively processes experiences that reinforce
• Hangs on the picture of intact marriage
• Avoids thoughts of breakup.

• Negatives - normal for couples
• Present situation will pass
• Cover up becomes unbearable for (I.)
• Two forms of communication
1) Direct
2) Indirect
• Relationship labeled as troubled
• In this process, rejected partner may make what is
   labeled a fatal mistake - sobs, anger etc.

• (I.) may play at trying to recreate relationship
• However, partners at different places in
  uncoupling process
• (I.) much further along - has entered another social
• For rejected partner old habits die hard, tend to
• Partner catches up
• Must redefine relationship and their partner – for
  just as the (I) cannot separate from someone
  he/she likes, neither can the rejected partner

Harville Hendrix and the Power Struggle
• The death of romantic love
– Since individuals ―have chosen partners with their
  caretakers’ failings, it is likely that the partner will
  fail them as well, in the same devastating ways.
  Each is doomed to disappoint the other‖
– Stages of power struggle same as stages of grief
– Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, despair.

• Why so much unpleasantness?
• Hendrix believes that a pleasant response was not
  the first imprint on the old brain
• If infant had unmet needs, screaming and crying
  response was natural
• When despair is reached, couples do not know
  what to do to make things better
• They have an ―unconscious marriage‖- no
  understanding of the powerful forces that have
  created their problems.