John Gottman’s work


There are many theories that we have discussed in class that I can see are applicable to my life. I believe the point of this class, in essence, is to help people see what normally goes unseen. Although I am completely and irrevocably in love with all the material that was introduced to me through the course, there is one man that I appreciate the most:
John Gottman. Gottman’s work on relationships has been as remarkable to me as the theory of evolution has been to man. It is both practical and myth-dispelling. Without further adieu, I want to share some of my favorite theories Gottman has researched and discovered. In his “love lab” at the University of Washington, Gottman analyzes human behavioral relations. Here are some of his interesting theories regarding styles of interaction amongst couples:

· Validation: couples compromise often and calmly work out their problems to mutual satisfaction as they arise.
· Volatility: in which conflict erupts often, resulting in passionate disputes.
· Conflict-avoidance: in which couples agree to disagree, rarely confronting their differences head-on.
Gottman says as long as both members of a couple approach romantic problem-solving the same way, a healthy relationship can be achieved. Red flags start flying, however, when each relies on a different strategy (say, one person is volatile and the other is conflict-avoiding) His point is that anger and negativity do not necessarily promise a relationship’s demise (again, provided both partners deal with these emotions in a similar way). Instead, what Gottman found to be a sure sign of doom is a repeated occurrence of any of the following behaviors (which he calls, memorably, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”)
· Complaining/criticism: (”I can’t believe how you acted at that party!”)
· Contempt: (disgust, scorn, sarcasm, eye rolls, icy feelings)
· Defensiveness: (whining, excuses, acting innocent, denying)
· Withdrawal: (”stonewalling” or emotionally “checking out” of the situation; saying things like, “Fine - Whatever”)
I think that at some point of any relationship we are all guilty of one, if not several, of these behaviors. I chose Gottman because I can apply his work directly to my life. My case in point is with my boyfriend turned fiancé and fiancé turned boyfriend (depending on the day and the levels of oxytocin flowing through our brains). I have asked with more than one failed relationship, “Why is love just not enough?” Furthermore why do I feel so compelled to share my life with someone? The answers that I have gotten from psychosocial sciences are interesting yet, to me, not entirely compelling.
In my research, women and men just get categorized and then labeled into a sort of scientific caste system. They’re just waiting to be freed from that theory by some new hotshot theorist that has come to prove the other’s theory wrong. I admit that I have become jaded with the answers that psychology has to offer. I am truly fed up with the renditions of my nature as a “woman” and feeling the need to “nest” and so on and so forth. I’m sorry but it’s not a sufficient explanation to why I think that my boyfriend doesn’t understand me. I don’t think that psychology is inaccurate; I just think it’s robotic in its methodology. Therefore, it’s clear to see why I might like Gottman so much. He understands the fundamental anatomical difference between men and women but sees the inherent emotional similarities also. Here is a conversation with my partner that I have analyzed –
It is Thanksgiving dinner. The table is set, the food looks great and I have consumed at this point 3 vodka sodas (delivered to me by my partner, also his own drinks). My partner is very close to his four siblings. Out of those four, there are three present at the dinner. My partner and his siblings have this way of sarcasm and mockery that they find funny and like to use as coping mechanisms to various emotions they maybe feeling. I don’t understand it at times and I also think it may be cultural.
I found it to be very offensive and rude when my partner’s siblings stared to mock their mother at the dinner table in a sarcastic and obtusely rude manner. I don’t know how to explain the sarcasm because if I could, I’d understand it. Nonetheless I was offended and I spoke up saying- “God! How can you talk about your mother like that?” After what seemed like an eternity of silence on the table I excused my self and went on to the other table.
Later on I was informed by my lover in less then a loving manner the offence I had caused to his family. This news, especially at the time, was odd for me because I feel that they are the ones who should feel bad for talking about their mother in that manner. The disconfirmation and the simply not having my partners support or backing on the matter led me to feel so secluded and betrayed. I was even pulled out by his brother who proceeded to yell at me, saying how “You don’t know my mother!” and that “you have no right to comment”.
Even at this point I tried to explain that I might not have gotten how exactly they might have been meaning the remarks that I took offence to. I asked and pleaded with him like a dog, saying that maybe I was mistaken or that maybe we can speak of perspectives (things I have learned in class on conflict)on how we see the situation. It seemed, however, that no matter what I said or how I said it I was still being yelled at and belittled with no one to my rescue. It was never my intent to offend them as a family. And yet it seems that they intended to incriminate me as a family so that I know next time that even If I think I belong, I don’t.
The behaviors that came out in my partner were those that were very much sided with his kin. I remember sobbing and asking to leave and asking my partner to take me home, to which an abrupt and rude response of “NO!” was shouted in my face. I don’t think that my partner and I are very sound as a couple. The proof of this is in Gottman’s four horsemen of the apocalypse. This is how we spoke that night –
Complaining/criticism : “Partner- my brother is right you should have kept your mouth shut, it wasn’t your place to say that to us about our mom. Plus if you wanted to say something you should have said it later.” Me: “How can you say that to me? After all, you have told me a lot about your mom! We have had endless conversations about your mom. How could you not even protect me? How can you think I deserve to be talked to like that?”
Contempt: Partner- “Well Neha, it’s not hard when you fuck up like you do all the time. You were just trying to get drunk , everyone kept asking me is Neha drunk?” Me: “No I am not drunk! I was buzzed, but that went away real fast when you brother screamed his head off at me. Also I most the people at the place had divulged in a bottle of alcohol by themselves by the point dinner was served. So who was saying that to you? Are you sure they just weren’t drunk? Because as far as I know your brother had been drinking since noon and he sure was.”
Defensiveness: “Partner: “Whatever, Neha. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’m done talking about it. Thanks for saying you’re sorry I guess.” Me: “Wow! So now that I am asking you things that you don’t have the answer to you are just going to cut me off like that?”
Withdrawal: Partner: “Whatever, I am not falling for your games I’m fucking tired I’m going to bed.” Me: (sobbing and wondering how I ever got to be so helpless) “Why are you doing this to me? Do you even love me? How can you just go to bed when i am sitting here in pain?”
I don’t know what lies in store for my partner and me. We are the epitome of the volatile attachment theory. That being said, I think sometimes we forget who we are as individuals in our relationship. I would like to get us some help and I think we both love each other enough to do that soon. Still though, sometimes it so difficult to let go of someone you love. Logically, I know the four horsemen of the apocalypse entered my relationship a long time ago. For some reason, though so did the 3 angels of resurrection. Let me further clarify what I mean and introduce to you “Neha’s theory on the 3 Angels of Resurrection:
1) Utter trauma/loneliness causes bouts of faith (loved one dying /fighting for life, break ups with husband/boyfriend.)
2) Instant faith causes relief (prayer, calling to any higher power other than you.)
3) Relief from life is sedation (relief- also spells sticking to what we know – begging or pleading for a boyfriend , fear of losing a loved one and wanting to control it. So we can stick to that relief we all want from the situation.)
How this applies to me:
My partner and I fight. We break up, and instant faith for me kicks in. I say mantras in my head thinking maybe he’ll change his mind. The very notion of obsessively praying to anything spells relief and soothes me in a dishonest way. And there you have it, I feel sedated. I start to think “well things can be different.” Why not, right? We are just as good as our thoughts right? If I lose him, then I lose control over my life. I must do all that I can to save it. After all, it’s just a stupid fight.
Gottman has done remarkable work and I can apply his theories to my life. But I can also apply mine. It would be silly and obtuse to think that my theories can even compare to Gottman’s, however they are mine and someday I will refine them. As educational as this has been, I still believe we have a ways to go when it comes matters of the heart.

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