John Gottman on Meta-Emotions

John Gottman is the relationship research guru of the world. He’s studied thousands of couples to find out what makes happy and long-lasting relationships and what makes miserable short-lived ones. Today he talked about research he did with Lynn Katz, starting in 1985 on Meta-Emotions: thoughts and feelings about emotions. They identify two kinds of people:

"Coaching" people like to notice emotions, talk about feelings and needs, like to ask questions about emotions, accept and value emotions, and use their emotions as a guide about what to do next.

"Dismissing" people avoid and minimize negative emotion. They are into "the power of positive thoughts". They rarely acknowledge needs. They’re into a "suck it up* philosophy. They hold negative affect (anger, sadness, despair) as dangerous. If their kids have negative feelings, they think either the kids are bad, or else they parented incorrectly. They believe that you can have any emotion you want, through will.

Two "coaching" people, if married, are likely to stay married, with high intimacy and high marital satisfaction. Two "dismissing" in a couple are likely to stay married with low intimacy and high satisfaction. A "mismatch" couple, with one of each, is 85% likely to divorce, without intervention.

On a different topic, Gottman said that in couples who are likely to stay happily married, they say: "Yes". "I agree." "You may be right." And "Good Point", much of the time, in verbal and non-verbal ways. Bids for attention, in these marriages, are accepted 86 % of the time. In a disasterous marriage, the majority of the time, people say: "No." "No Way!" "Ridiculous!" Couples who "turn toward" are likely to stay together. Couples who "turn away" or "turn against" are quite likely to divorce withing 6 years. In a "mismatch" marriage (see above), there is more turning away, more secrets, betrayals, attachment injuries, and eventually, violence. These are low intimacy and low satisfaction marriages.

Gottman’s blue print for what couple’s therapy needs to be:

  1. Emotionally Focused.
  2. Psychoeducational skills including regulation of negative and positive affect and turning toward bids.
  3. Make conflict constructive by managing power, cooperation, accepting influence and partner’s anger and other affects.
  4. Build the friendship with sex, affection, shared adventure, fun, play, intimacy, romance, and passion.
  5. Create intentional shared meaning: purpose, rituals, goals, values, legacy, holidays, etc.

His Conflict Blueprint:

  • Postpone persuasion until each can summarize partners’ stance.
  • Each partner must assume similarity. If I question my husband’s motives, I have to question mine. If I think I’m being noble, I have to consider that he is noble, too.
  • Validate & listen.
  • Speaker: I statements Listener: postpone agenda
  • Both sooth selves.
  • Compromise.
  • Explore the dreams behind the conflict.
  • Repair the regrettable interaction.

He said more, but I couldn’t write fast enough. Here’s one thing that stuck with me from the question period: Gay couples, both male and female had more positive affect and humor than straight ones; less power issues; were more fair to each other; could talk more easily about sex; and were generally less defensive.

If you want to know more, read John Gottman’s many books. One of my favorites is 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work.

Sue Johnson: Hold Me Tight, a model of Adult Love

I wrote about Sue’s EFT model in an earlier post. Here are some gems from today’s lecture.

  • Couples come into the session in a primal panic. You have to shift them from primal panic to calm safe connection.
  • The attachment system is pre-eminent.
  • Attachment issues are existential questions: "Do I matter to you?" "Do you see my pain? Do you care?" "Will you be there for me?"
  • Clients who haven’t ever experienced "felt security" or who haven’t seen a good relationship still fight for connection and love.
  • Intimate relationship is the best source of resilience and growth and hope for the future.
  • Fighting is often separation "protest".
  • There’s no such thing as overdependency or true self-sufficiency
  • The cure for an attachment injury is to know that your partner feels your pain on a body level. Then there is a possibility of forgiveness and connection.

Several of my favorite teachers are at this conference. Diana Fosha, Dan Siegel, Pat Ogden. In my opinion, Sue Johnson would be the most fun to have to dinner. She’s hyper-present, funny, intelligent (they’re all brilliant), and down to earth. When asked why she represented men as more alexithymic (feeling phobic), she said that she grew up in an English pub, and the men all were in touch with their feelings after the second beer, sometimes too much so. Gottman then chimed in that his statistics showed that men were much more avoidant of feelings and intimacy by a vast percent. Then went on to explain it with cultural and sociobiological explainations.

Jude Cassidy, an attachment researcher

    • People open to the pain of the past function better in relationship with partners and children, because they’re not so busy ignoring their own pain. If they ignore their pain, they won’t be able to see and respond to others’ pain.
    • If you can regulate pain, you can be present with it, and respond to others’ needs, not just your own needs to shut off your feelings.
    • People need a secure base from which to explore and a safe haven to return to.
    • 3 kinds of secure bases: Important relationships in childhood; adult romantic relationships; and therapeutic relationships.

    I’m too tired to go on, and there’s a third day to come. I hope to write more about Jude Cassidy and tell you about Dan Hugh’s amazing attachment work with kids. Maybe tomorrow.