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Episode 665
The Doctor's Farmacy

What Makes Love Succeed or Fail?

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What if I told you there were proven habits that could make your relationship healthier, happier, and longer lasting? 

Research has revealed that by staying aware of how we interact with our partners and embracing specific patterns we are less likely to get divorced and more likely to be in a satisfying relationship many years from now. 

Today on The Doctor’s Farmacy, I’m excited to talk to two leading experts in the field of healthy relationships, Drs. Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman, cofounders of the Gottman Institute. 

Together, they’ve coauthored many bestselling books, including Eight Dates, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and most recently, The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy.

The Gottmans have been able to predict with 90% accuracy if a couple will stay together or get divorced, after just 15 minutes of observation. Much of their previous work has focused on the key problems that lead to dysfunction, but their newest book is all about redirecting our attention to what works to create more love and connection. I think of these tips as microtools for the moment that help us put deposits into our emotional bank accounts. 

Throughout our conversation, they share a few key examples of healthy habits in a relationship. One is embracing a “turning towards” dynamic means when your partner makes a bid for connection, you respond. Another is simply complementing or affirming your partner, something many of us do much more at the beginning of a relationship but do less of as time goes on. Curiosity is another one, which means just by asking questions we can create a deeper understanding of our partner’s current reality and how they’re evolving. 

With the right intentions and actions, we can create more love and connection.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more of the details from our interview (audio):

  1. The top four relationship killers
    (5:18)
  2. The keys to a successful relationship
    (6:25)
  3. Love as a practice
    (27:09)
  4. What makes for a great sex life
    (31:25)
  5. How to have healthy conflict
    (35:11)
  6. Breaking out of reactivity and fight or flight
    (42:33)
  7. The biggest predictor of divorce
    (48:32)
  8. How contempt differs from criticism
    (50:57)
  9. The origins of contempt
    (53:13)
  10. Top relationship hacks
    (1:00:13)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Drs. Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman

Dr. John Gottman previously served as executive director of the Relationship Research Institute and is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, where he founded the Love Lab. He is world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction and has conducted forty years of groundbreaking research with thousands of couples. His work has earned him numerous major awards and he was named one of the top ten most influential therapists of the past quarter century. 

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman is president of the Gottman Institute and cofounder of Affective Software, Inc. A highly respected clinical psychologist, she was named Washington State Psychologist of the Year and received the 2021 Psychotherapy Networker Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Show Notes

  1. Take the Free Gottman Relationship Quiz.
  2. Download the Gottman Card Decks app.
  3. Get a copy of The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy here.

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Introduction:
Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Pharmacy…

Dr. John Gottman:
Not only is contempt our best predictor of divorce, but it also predicts how many infectious illnesses the recipient of contempt will have in the next 40 years.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to Doctors Pharmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. This is a place for conversations that matter, and if you’ve ever struggled with a relationship, I think you’re going to want to tune in and listen carefully to this podcast because with two of the giants in the field of relationship, Doctors John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, who are co-founders of the Gottman Institute. You might have heard of them. I certainly have followed their work for many decades. Probably didn’t pay close enough attention because I’ve been married three times, so I figured maybe I’m going to take extra careful notes right now.
Dr. John Gottman has served as the executive director in the past of the Relationship Research Institute and as a professor of [inaudible 00:01:04] psychology at the University of Washington, where he co-founded something called The Love Lab and we’re going to talk about that, which is really fascinating, a place to study love and relationships, which we don’t really think much about except after the fact. He’s also learned so much about marital stability and he can predict divorce and has done 40 years of groundbreaking research with thousands of couples. He’s won major awards. He’s named one of the top 10 most influential therapists of the last quarter century, maybe I would say longer. He’s the author of lots of great books, bestselling books, including the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, What Makes Love Last, Eight Dates, and most recently we’re going to talk about today, The Love Prescription, Seven Days to More Intimacy Connection and Joy. Who doesn’t want that?
Of course, we have Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman as well, who’s the president of the Gottman Institute and co-founder of Effective Software. She’s a highly respected clinical psychologist. She was named Washington State Psychologist of the Year and has done so much great work. Also co-authored many of those books. I took the relationship quiz that you both have online and I got a perfect score with my partner, I think 22 out of 22. So I think that’s a good sign. I think it’s a good sign. She might not agree, but I think I got a good score. So welcome to the Doctor’s Pharmacy podcast. It’s so great to have you both.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Thank you so much.

Dr. John Gottman:
Thank you, Mark.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Most of us don’t think about how to study love. We fall in love. We fall out of love. We have love in our lives, but we don’t think about the science of love or relationship. You’ve both dedicated your lives to understanding the science of what makes love work, what makes it not work. You research over 3,000 couples in your Love Lab where you can watch a couple and know in 15 minutes with a 90% accuracy whether or not they’re going to stay together, whether or not they’re going to get divorced, and you’ve really been able to map out the core elements of what makes a relationship not work, and also the keys to a successful relationship.
Maybe some people are familiar with your past work and the four horseman of the apocalypse of relationships, which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. If those are present in your relationship, if you’re contemptuous of your partner, if you’re overly defensive, if you kind of create a wall and block people or if you’re over critical, those erode at the very fabric of love and relationship. Those are pretty clear. If people are experiencing those, it’s pretty clear that those are happening and those are big red flags of warning that you need to heed if you want to heal your relationship, but your new book, your Love Prescription is really about the keys to a successful relationship. So what are those keys that you talk about? There’s three of them that you’ve highlighted in the book that I think I want to start with because they really help us to redirect our attention about love toward what works as opposed to what doesn’t.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Okay. Well, one of the most important is a dynamic called turning towards. What turning towards means is when your partner makes a bid for connection, just saying your name or asking you a question, how do you respond? Well, there’s three ways you can respond. You can turn away from your partner and ignore their request or their bid for interest. You can turn against them or you can turn towards them by just a small little comment. John and I can role play this for you. Would you like that, Mark?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Yes, please.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Okay. Okay. All right. So honey, look at that beautiful bird out there. It’s gorgeous. That was turning away. Try it again.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I could see that. For people just listening and don’t see it. He basically picked up his coffee, turned his head the other direction, and had his sip, and completely ignored what she had to say.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
This [inaudible 00:05:19] comment. Okay, let’s try it again. Honey, look at that beautiful bird outside the window.

Dr. John Gottman:
Be quiet. I’m trying to concentrate right now.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
God, give me a break. Okay, so that’s turning against. It’s responding to your partner’s bid with hostility, right? That’s what he was doing there. Okay, now let’s do it right. Wow. Look at that beautiful bird out there.

Dr. John Gottman:
Whoa. Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Isn’t that neat?

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That’s all it takes. Yeah. It’s so simple.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
A little bit of validation. Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Isn’t that amazing. Yeah, yeah, exactly, Mark. I mean, it’s one of the simplest things that couples can do. What we found in our Love Lab, it was amazing in the research, is that the couples who were successful six years down the road turned towards each other 86% of the time. Wow. 86% of the time, the ones who were not successful six years down the road, 33.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
33%. So huge difference. That’s how much difference that little one word or two word answer can make, as well as really turning towards each other when you have a essential need, something important to you.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. That’s a really powerful framework of thinking about these micro moments. We think of these big relationship commitments and these things that we have to do to make a relationship work, but you’re talking about these sort of little micro relationship tools that help us in the moment put basically a savings in our emotional bank account. You talk about the emotional bank account, and a lot of us make withdrawals all the time through any of those four horesmen of the apocalypse and other techniques we use to degrade relationships and erode relationships, but you’re talking about this framework of putting emotional deposits in the bank account. What do you mean by that? What are those? How do we kind of get rich in our relationships?

Dr. John Gottman:
Well, one of the things I wanted to point out about this turning toward emotional bank account idea is that when couples are in conflict, if they’ve turned toward each other at a high level, the 86%, then they actually have more of a sense of humor when they disagree. They can laugh at themselves, they can laugh together, and that reduces physiological arousal during conflict. So you get a huge benefit from maintaining this emotional bank account.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So how does one go about making deposits in the emotional bank account? Turning towards is one way, just validating your partner’s experiencing, being interested in what they’re saying, connecting with them in the moment about what they care about, really simple things that don’t take a lot of effort, but what are the other ways that people…

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah, Julie says, “Oh, I just had a really disturbing dream about my mother.” I can say, “Oh, that’s interesting,” or I can say, “Tell me the dream. I want to hear it.” So by doing that and listening to it, I’m really turning toward in a much bigger way. So that whole idea of turning toward is just the opportunity to connect is what’s important.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah. Let me continue, Mark. You asked about other ways that couples can build that emotional bank account. Well, another really easy one is giving your partner a compliment, saying something that is affirming to your partner. For example, “God, you were so funny last night,” or of course there’s always, “You look so hot today,” naturally, but you can also just say, “I thank you so much for going and picking up the dry cleaning. You’re really so kind to me sometimes.” So it’s looking for what your partner is doing right, not just what your partner is doing wrong and saying thank you and paying your partner a compliment. We do that a lot during courtship. We’ll always give compliments in those early months, but how about 20 years later? You think my partner doesn’t need it. They know I love them. It’s no big deal. Wrong. We don’t. All of us have this little teeny seed of insecurity in us, most of us. It helps to soothe that when our partner gives us some kindness, some positive affirmation. It makes a big difference.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, that’s a really helpful framework as most of us tend to be looking for what’s wrong and pointing it out instead of looking for what’s right and when things happen that are right, we don’t often take the time to acknowledge them, to appreciate them, to verbalize them. What you’re saying is that goes a long way towards building your emotional bank account with your partner so that when things do come up that are more challenging, you kind of have reserves to deal with it and it also kind of enriches the relationship in real time.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah.

Dr. John Gottman:
There was a really interesting study done by two women, Robinson and Price, in which they put observers in couples homes just to count the number of times people were nice to each other and considerate. They found that an unhappy couples, they missed 50% of the positivity that was actually there. So that’s an important thing. If you’re catching the partner doing something right and have that habit of mind, you’re going to see that they’re actually a lot nicer to you than you think they are.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, that’s so true. What if your partner doesn’t do that? You go, “Hey, I just had this dream,” or, “Gosh, I want to share with you something I’m excited about today,” or, “I had a really tough moment at work,” and your partner doesn’t respond by turning toward you. How do you handle that in a relationship or maybe even when it’s worse, when it’s negativity or turning against?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
I think the best thing to do is to do what we call a softened startup. What that means is to say what you feel about what and what your positive need is. So here’s the way that might sound. Honey, I’ve been feeling kind of invisible when I make a comment to start a conversation with you and nothing is said. So would you please just respond to me? Let me know that you hear me. You can just say, “Uh-huh.” At least that tells me that you’re involved, you’re engaged, and that would make a big difference to me.

Dr. John Gottman:
Then your partner [inaudible 00:12:42] respond by saying, “Good point.”

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. What if they say something nasty? Like in the book, you say your partner wants to pick a fight, like, “Oh, it wouldn’t occur to you to make dinner tonight for once, would it?” That’s kind of a passive aggressive, nasty way to communicate.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah, that’s actually contempt that you were demonstrating there. It’s sarcasm and it’s got a cutting edge. That’s called contempt, one of our four horsemen. So the way you might respond to that is to say, “You know, Sally, that felt like an insult. Can you please say that in another way?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That felt abusive. You would say that to your partner?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That felt like an insult.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, like an insult. Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah. Not abuse. That felt like an insult. Would you please say that another way? So basically you’re saying what you felt, you’re not incriminating the partner. For example, your alternative might be to say something like, “You’re so mean. Why would you say that? You’re so mean.” Boom. There’s a criticism. That’s not going to help. That’ll just threaten your partner further and create more conflict. So you let them know what you felt in response to that and what the positive need is. That’s what you have to really focus in on.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What the positive need of your partner is.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah. So in other words, a negative need in that situation would sound like this. That felt like an insult. Would you please stop doing that? Stop doing that is negative, right? It’s stopping something. I resent that. You flip that on its head. That’s all you have to do. Flip it on its head. What would you like in its place? Well, you’d like your partner to ask for you to make dinner in a simple or kinder way.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
[inaudible 00:14:50] Honey, I’d love it if you made dinner for us tonight.

Dr. John Gottman:
Right, exactly. Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah. There you are. That’s it. That’s it.

Dr. John Gottman:
[inaudible 00:14:58]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Why don’t you make dinner, you jerk? You never do anything around that house.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That’s good when you’re angry at the politician on TV. You say something [inaudible 00:15:09]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Let’s talk about a couple of other key things that are important to successful relationship, like curiosity and shared fondness and admiration. Can you talk more about those qualities and practices around that?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
John, why don’t you talk about curiosity? That’s a favorite of yours.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah. So staying curious about who your partner is and how your partner is changing is very powerful in our relationship. So asking these open-ended questions that take time to answer, I’ve noticed you’re kind of stressed out about your brother lately. What are you thinking about that? I know you’re upset about it, so I’d like to hear more about what you’re thinking about doing about your brother. Tell me more about what’s going on and what’s on your mind. So that kind of curiosity really winds up leading to a very interesting conversation where I can really listen to her and understand what she’s worried about, what she’s planning to do today, and I can kind of stay in touch with her worries and her concerns.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah, let me say a little more about that. Again, if you go back to when you first met, during that dating period, well, we tend to ask lots of questions like, how come you chose that field of work or what brought you to Seattle? Was there a particular reason you came here? Et cetera. So open-ended questions or questions that of course have a great, big answer, not a one word answer. What’s your favorite color? Purple. No, they’re much bigger answers and people think that after they’ve committed to one another, they’re married, maybe they have kids, they’re busy, they don’t need to ask those questions anymore.
They think they know the answers, but you know, Mark, just like all of us, we all evolve over time and change over time, and because of that, it’s important to ask those big open-ended questions sometimes as much as once a month or once every six months, once a year. John and I have this lovely ritual of connection where we go on an annual honeymoon every year. When our daughter turned eight and went away to summer camp, we figured we should go to camp too. So we went to camp, it was a BNB up in Canada, fell in love with it, and we’ve gone there every year since except for Covid. So each time we go, we take a deck of cards, each one has an open-ended question on it, and we answer all those questions. Inevitably the answers change year to year.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a beautiful framework for thinking about relationship, which is staying curious about who your partner is, what they care about, what matters to them, what changed over time. I think the art of asking questions is much harder than people realize and yet, just think about yourself. When someone is curious about you, when they ask you questions about who you are and what matters to you, deeper questions, not like where do you live and where you’re from and what’s your job, but really profound questions, you feel seen. You feel cared about, you feel loved in a way that is really important, and I think you’re right. In relationships, we tend to go, oh, I know who my partner is. I don’t have to ask him any questions anymore. That’s really the beginning of the end in the way, because you lose the current moment in reality of your love, and you’re stuck in some past story and don’t evolve.
So that’s a really beautiful, I would say, principle. In addition to turning toward somebody, being very curious about where they’re at. I find this with my partner now. I’m always curious about where she’s at emotionally, what’s going on in her work, what’s going on with her relationships, what she cares about, what she’s interested in. She’s the same way with me. I answered those questions. You have this quiz online and we can put the link in the show notes to the quiz, which is a free quiz, about 22 questions. I was sort of surprised by a lot of the questions because they were about, do you know who’s upsetting your partner right now? Do you know what things are making them happy? It’s like how well do you know the current reality and state of the emotional, intellectual, spiritual life of your partner? I was like, “Oh, that’s fascinating that those are the qualities of relationship that determine success or failure in love.” I was like, “Oh, I get it.”

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah, and Mark, one thing we can offer your listeners is a free gift. If you go to the app store and type in to the search Gottman card decks, you can download a free app that is filled with questions like that. [inaudible 00:20:19]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, okay.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, I know what I’m doing right soon as this podcast is over because I’m always thinking of great questions, but I think some of us, it’s hard to think about those questions and things that open up our relationships.

Dr. John Gottman:
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The other night I said to my partner, I said, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.” I know is a great question. She’s like, “I’d have to think about that.” So we had a really beautiful hour long conversation. Just a simple opening invitation to show your partner, one, that you care, that you’re interested in who they are and that you’re not in a fixed view of that relationship. That’s a really beautiful framework. There’s another key that you talk about for successful relationships, which is shared fondness and admiration. Can you talk more about that one? That seems obvious, but I think there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah. I think your partner really wants to know what you love about them, why you love them, what you admire about them. The qualities of affection and respect are so essential in a relationship that if you really think about that and give you a partner feedback, positive feedback about that, just saying something like, “That teacher conference we had last night, you were just great. I love the way you handled yourself, and I was just too intimidated by the teacher to say anything, but you took over and I really appreciate that.” That’s communicating respect as well as affection.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, and when your partner shows up for you, acknowledging it. I just had a moment the other day with a family member. It was a little tough and I shared it with my partner and then she immediately called me and she immediately wanted to talk about it and asked me how I was doing and helped me think about it. I was just so moved by that and I later on said, “Just really thank you for caring so much that you would take the time out of your workday to call me and talk about this, which isn’t easy.” I was like, “Wow, that’s really remarkable.” So those simple things that are really critical to relationships, so beautiful.
So the other thing you talk about is how love isn’t a feeling so much as it is a practice. It’s obviously a feeling, but it’s more of an action. So how do we think of love as a practice or as an action? I mean, John Mayer has a great song, Love is a Verb, right? Love is a verb and I love that song, but how do you think about that in terms of your work with couples?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Oh, gosh. Well, especially in our work with couples, we see couples who have stopped showing each other that they love each other. They don’t show it at all. They continue to coexist, cohabit, maybe parent the kids together, do the chores together, do the checklist, dividing it up, but nobody really knows how the other person feels. There’s no sign of love other than cohabiting. We think about falling in love. We think about Walt Disney love. We think about, oh my gosh, it’s that feeling that leaves stars in the sky and the moon is brighter and there it is. That’s the feeling, but what do you do with the feeling? You have to do something with it.
Emotion is something that is harbored inside of you. It’s inside of you and unless your partner is a mind reader, they’re not going to see it. Right? They’re not going to see it. They’re not going to know it and so I love the way the Dalai Lama talks about compassion, about care, about kindness. There’re a million, billion ways of showing love from words to actions to affection, touch, little gifts, just acts of kindness that are so important. Let me give you an example.
When I, for example, come home from work and I’m absolutely exhausted and it’s my turn to do the dishes, sometimes John will say, “Honey, you look so tired. Why don’t you go just sit down and read and I’ll do the dishes.” Well, now that may seem trivial, but it isn’t. It’s an act of love. What’s it composed of? It’s composed of him perceiving me, knowing how I feel, perceiving me accurately, anticipating what it will be like for me to have to take on a task. There’s the empathy and taking over that task in order to spare me more work. So that is an act of kindness.
It’s a little sacrifice, teeny little sacrifice. He’s giving up a little corner of his time to do something that I ordinarily do. That’s a little sacrifice, but it’s an act of love. So that’s what love looks like. It’s giving appreciation. It’s turning towards your partner, especially when they’re hurting. It should be the first thing you do is turn towards your partner and try to share that with them so it’s not such a heavy load for them. All of those actions are acts of love and many of us after we’ve been married or committed a long time may hear the words, but if there aren’t actions with those words, the words are meaningless.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right, you have love you, but if you don’t behave that way, it doesn’t count.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That’s right.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That’s right. It bounce off you.

Dr. John Gottman:
One of my favorite studies is the largest study ever done on what makes for a great sex life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, okay.

Dr. John Gottman:
We’ve done…

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Give it to us, John.

Dr. John Gottman:
We studied a thousand people in 24 countries. Christiana North was the lead investigator and Pepper Schwartz and James Witty did this study. When I bought their book, I thought they were going to be talking about what these people do in the bedroom that made the difference. It turned out there was about a dozen things that people do to have a great sex life. It’s things like saying, “I love you,” every day and meaning it. Holding hands, even in public. Cuddling with one another on a regular basis. Giving compliments, having a weekly date, nothing that took place in the bedroom. It was really about affection and respect and kindness that made the difference between having a great sex life and having a terrible sex life. That was amazing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, that’s what builds intimacy are all those little things you talk about, the small bites, the little small bites, small things often that we can do.

Dr. John Gottman:
Exactly.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
This is sort of what you’re talking about. It’s just the little things, little gestures of holding your partner’s hand or giving them a compliment or doing something like that, that actually makes a difference.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Let me say one more thing about it. As we move through time with every moment we have a thousand different choices of what to do with that moment and the next and the next. When we choose to honor our partner in some way, to take that moment, give it to our partner in some way, that’s love. If you’re always making other choices, but never choosing to attend to your partner, connect with your partner, how is that love?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, keeping it current is what you’re talking about. Not riding on the fact that you had an attraction 20 years ago.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah. Also, Mark, one thing that people sometimes believe is, gosh, if I go out and work harder, if I go out and spend 16 hours a day at work and make more money and bring home more money instead of eight hours or 10 hours a day, then my partner will really feel loved by me. Well, actually, most of the time that’s not true because where are you during that extra eight hours? You’re away from your partner, you’re in the office, you’re somewhere else, right? You’re not with your partner, you’re not connecting. The only way that connection comes out of that is through a crisp $10 bill. Well, how loving is that compared to a compliment or a big hug?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Not very.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, so true. These little things are so important in a relationship, and I think that’s what you’re highlighting, is that these little simple practices of keeping love current and alive, whether it’s physical touch, or whether these small acts of paying attention, or whether it’s turning toward, or whether it’s creating an opportunity for inquiry and curiosity and questions. These are really simple things that I think most of us don’t learn as we enter in relationships and we expect it just to go okay.
One of the things that we don’t also learn is how to have healthy conflict. I think you’ve done a lot of research about how couples can engage in challenging conversations, how they can “fight better”, how we can deal with some of the phenomena that we get when we’re activated, like this physiological flooding. Can you talk about your research around how we can do this better and where things often go wrong when we start to have a challenging or sensitive conversation with our partner?

Dr. John Gottman:
One of the things we found was that when people are unhappy with their relationship, they tend to blame their partner for the problems. So they kind of point their finger at their partner and say, “Here’s wrong with you and if you fix these things, we’ll have a happy relationship. As far as I can tell, I’m pretty much perfect, but you are defective.” So as soon as you do that, instead of pointing your finger at yourself and saying, “Here’s what I’m feeling and here’s my positive need, here’s my recipe for success with me,” but you really blame the other person, you start with criticism, then the person’s got to respond, feeling attacked and getting defensive or counter attacking.
So instead of pointing your finger at your partner, point it at yourself and say, “Listen, I want to talk about something. I’m kind of unhappy about the amount of fun we’re having right now in the relationship. Yeah, I’m not having a lot of fun and we’re so busy. Is there some way we can just enjoy life more and just not work so hard and have time with each other on a weekend, say? Maybe we can take one of those ferries in Seattle and just see where it goes. Let’s do more of that. Would that be okay with you?” So you’re really not blaming the other person. You’re really sort of asking for help to solve a problem that you both have and then it’s much easier for your partner to say, “What a great idea. I didn’t know you felt that way. I guess we have gotten really busy. Yeah, let’s make a plan.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, I think that’s really important. I think I’ve learned is [inaudible 00:33:15] relationship, it’s us against them or me against you.” What I’ve found is that if you can understand that whatever comes up as a conflict or as a stress or as something, that it can be an opportunity to actually look at it together as a team, as something that’s a third entity outside of you because if it’s relational, it’s really hard. We’re all going to get triggered. Things are going to come up. We’re all going to have our past haunt us in some way, but if there’s a sort of a framework in the relationship to be partners for each other and for the us, the third entity of the relationship, then you can externalize whatever the issues are and actually solve them together.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah, our friend Dan Wyle who died a couple of years ago now called it solving the moment instead of trying to solve the whole relationship. How do we collaborate in this moment? The problem is like a soccer ball that we’re kicking around between us rather than the problem being her or me, but it’s a problem we have together. Then we solve the moment and figure out how to collaborate with one another to deal with this problem.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah. There’s a another important piece to this as well, which is it’s really important to understand what’s beneath your partner’s position on an issue before you [inaudible 00:34:48]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, what’s the subtext?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
What’s the subtext? That subtext can be very deep. So it really helps if one person acts as a listener, the other is a speaker, and the listener simply asks the partner some deeper questions about that person’s position and just listens. Doesn’t bring up their own point of view, just listens until they have a much better understanding. Those questions might include things like, are there any values or ethical guidelines that are part of your position? Is there some history or childhood background that’s a part of your position on this issue? What makes this so important to you? What’s your ideal dream here? If you could have things in any way you wanted them to be, what would they look like and is there an underlying purpose here for having things look the way you would like them to be? So asking those big questions that really helps you get down in the subterranean regions beneath your partner’s position, you come out of that exploration with much more understanding and almost always more compassion. Both people need to take a turn as speaker.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
This just reminds me of Stephen Covey’s principle of seek first to understand and then be understood. So we don’t actually have a very good culture for active listening. We don’t get curious. We don’t pause our own internal narrative. We don’t stop the reactivity in our own minds that wants to justify, explain, defend, or accuse the person who we’re talking to, who we love. That’s a very tough thing to learn. It’s like, think about weightlifting. If you want to lift weights, you can’t start with doing 200 pounds, you got to start with 10 pounds. I think in the same way, this is a very tough practice. What you’re saying sounds simple, but to actually have a conversation with someone when you’re activated, when they’re emotional is really challenging.
I think that that’s a skill that you can learn and it means pausing all of your own internal narrative, all of your own projections, all of your own justification, all of your own reasons. What you said is just so important because what you highlighted I think deserves underscoring, which is that something underneath is causing the external reaction. So something in your partner’s psyche, emotional history, their beliefs, whatever it is, is actually triggering them. You can relate to the thing up here or you can actually get to the real issues which are under there. I think that’s a really tough thing for couples, but if couples can master that, then all of a sudden there’s this just profound understanding and intimacy that gets created in that process.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah, that’s exactly right, Mark. You said it really well. You mentioned something else that I think is very important to include here and that’s reactivity. So what we found in our research is that two people could be sitting across from each other having a conflict conversation and because John was measuring heart rate, other physiological responses, they could look as strong as can be and yet their heart rate, one of their heart rates might be over a hundred beats a minute. What that means is that person is experiencing their partner as a sabertooth tiger about to attack them and so they’ve gone into fight or flight or freeze.
When that happens, your whole body is activated, your breathing is more shallow and rapid, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate goes up, your body is a mess. The blood in your brain that normally would be nourishing the parts of your brain that make decisions, that listens well, that thinks creatively, that part is drained of a lot of blood. It’s all going back into the part of the brain that helps you run away or fight. That’s fight or flight and you need that part of your brain to be able to problem solve.
So what do you do in that time when you feel so activated that you can’t even think straight, you don’t know what your partner’s saying? It’s time to say to your partner, “Let’s take a break. I’ll be back in one hour and we’ll continue the conversation.” So you take a break, but important, you say when you’ll come back so your partner doesn’t feel abandoned. Then what do you do during the break? Don’t think about the fight. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about the best thing to say because if you keep thinking about it…

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Don’t amass your arguments, right?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah, that’s right. You’ll stay activated and that’s a problem. So try to do something self soothing. You can meditate, do yoga, take a walk, read a book, do your email, probably don’t watch any murder mysteries, read some magazines, anything that gets your mind off the fight so that your body has a chance to metabolize the stress hormones that have flooded your circulatory system during that fight or flight.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah. One of the things we discovered is that 80% of domestic violence occurs because people don’t have a way of taking a break and they want to keep talking about it even though they’re so physiologically flooded that they can’t think straight and they repeat themselves and that doesn’t work. They repeat themselves louder and louder and get more and more angry. So taking a break [inaudible 00:41:26]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Partner’s on deaf.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah, very important.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s fascinating, and you’re talking about a state which happens to us where we get triggered into our reptile brain and we get this physiological arousal that causes us to run or to want to engage in a fight. What you’re saying is when that happens, we need to recognize it, we need to pause, and we need to go away until we calm down, and then come back in a regulated state and have a deeper conversation.

Dr. John Gottman:
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Its’ very powerful.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
You should tell the partner when you’re coming back so that partner doesn’t feel shut down, hopeless, despairing that you’ll never get to that problem conversation again. Tell them when you’re coming back to talk.

Dr. John Gottman:
A lot of times it’s helpful for people to just buy pulse oximeters that they wear on your fingers during an important conversation so they can tell if they are physiologically flooded. A lot of people don’t know.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If your rate goes up, you have to stop. Yeah. It’s powerful. I think part of the practice too, though, is being able to comfortably sit with whatever is happening. I think through meditation and various mindfulness practices, we can learn to observe the biological reactions that are happening in our bodies and not engage with them as real. That’s a practice, but I’ve noticed myself, I’ll get in a relationship conversation and then I’ll feel activated, but I can notice it and I can go, “Oh, this is happening. Okay, I’m going to breathe, I’m going to calm down, and I’m going to be present despite this flooding,” you call it. Then it calms down, but it’s a hard thing to do in the moment.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Right. It takes practice. It takes kind of a discipline like meditation practice or mindfulness to be able to do that. A lot of people can’t do that and that’s really okay. Our bodies are built to sense attack and to respond accordingly. So until we can learn how to do that self calming very quickly, best to take a break.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. For sure. I want to come back to this four horsemen of the apocalypse. Then I want to talk about your love maps because I think that’s an important part of what you have been sharing in your new book. You talk about contempt being the most important predictor of divorce. I’d love to hear more about it, what the research shows and how it affects our both physical and mental health because I think I’ve experienced that before in a relationship and it was the worst. It’s like when your partner’s disgusted with you or has contempt for you or sarcastic towards you, it’s kind of one of the worst forms of relationship trauma, I would say. Can you talk about what that is and why it’s so common and how do we handle it and what do we do about it?

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah, contempt is kind of a universal thing everywhere on the planet. There are ways in which people are scornful and superior to other people. The French are very good at it. The British do it in their parliament. Contempt is something that happens everywhere on the planet, but it has no place in a love relationship. One of the things that we found was not only is contempt our best predictor of divorce, but it also predicts how many infectious illnesses the recipient of contempt will have in the next three years. The two researchers, Kiko Glazer and her and husband Ron Glazer, took small bits of blood from couples while they were having a conflict discussion. If you measure the amount of cortisol and adrenaline in their blood, that predicted whether they would stay together a divorce 10 years later.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow.

Dr. John Gottman:
What creates that secretion of adrenaline cortisol? It’s contempt, it’s criticism, it’s defensiveness, it’s stonewalling. It’s those four horsemen of the apocalypse, and particularly contempt that lead to the secretion of these stress hormones and degrade the immune system. Even in a half an hour conversation, the immune system doesn’t function as well. Natural killer cells are not as effective, T-cells and B-cells are not as effective at dealing with an antigen. So you can actually observe the decline of the immune system as people are talking to one another. So we know what makes people get sick are these four horsemen, particularly contempt.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
May I add a little bit? Let me define contempt because people use that word, but they’re not sure what it is. So we know criticism. Criticism is saying that something is wrong with your partner to your partner. You’re so lazy, you’re so dumb, you wouldn’t even think to help me, would you? So on, but contempt is criticism, but it’s said from a place on high, it’s said from a place of superiority. So it’s looking down on the partner and being shamed by the partner. That’s typically the response, either defensiveness or shame, where you feel terrible about yourself. So you almost feel like your partner loathes you, they’re disgusted by you. It is the worst feeling. Let me say, Mark, that in all of my clinical work, what I’ve seen is that contempt truly is emotional abuse. It is abusive and it can have the same effects as physical abuse in terms of how that person feels about themselves. It’s not going to break a bone. It’s not going to leave a bruise externally, but internally, whole nother matter. It breaks your heart to hear somebody treat you with contempt.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right? Especially someone you love or you think you’re supposed to be out for your best interest, right?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah, that’s right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, that’s so true.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That’s right.

Dr. John Gottman:
It’s very disrespectful.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Very. Yeah. Yeah. I think respect is, I think it often gets diminished in long-term relationships. What do they say? What do they say? Familiarity breeds contempt, but I don’t know if that’s true. I mean it seems like a kind of common belief in our culture, but I think it can actually go the opposite way. The more you know someone, the more you can love them. So why does contempt arise in a relationship? What are the sort of origins of it? Is it just that people are jerks because not everybody relates to conflict or unhappiness in relationship with contempt.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Let’s talk about those origins. One, of course, is when an individual as a child was treated with contempt. So they heard contempt all the time. That was their model for disapproval, their parents’ disappointment in them, anger, annoyance, disapproval. So they picked up, that was normalized in their life as kids, and so they think that language is fine and they spew it out in their other relationships as well. So that’s one source of it. Another source is when somebody feels really, really inferior. Something has made them feel inferior, whether they did poor in school or, I don’t know, they got fired from jobs, they failed in a lot of relationships. They feel inferior themselves to other people, but that is accompanied by shame. They feel ashamed, but they don’t want anybody to see that they’re inferior. So they act superior instead. They act superior to make sure nobody sees that they’re inferior.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. So it’s their own lack of self-worth and self-esteem that it’s like, we saw that with our last president, would put people down to make himself feel better. I don’t think that’s a great strategy for building a relationship.

Dr. John Gottman:
Sometimes contempt also comes from people hurting so much that they want to hurt back. They want to strike. Don’t let the other person know how deeply hurt they are. They want to make that person hurt as much as they hurt. So it may come out of that as well. Sometimes it’s just a bad habit.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Sometimes it’s also desperation. It’s desperation. They may feel so unheard, invisible, unimportant, ignored that they feel like the only way they’re going to be able to get listened to is with a club over their partner’s head. So they escalate to the harshest expression to say, “Wake up, hear me,” but unfortunately it sabotages the partner hearing them because it just shoves the partner away. It makes the partner want to escape because it’s so painful to the partner.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So we often try to get what we want and we do it in the wrong way and we end up getting the opposite.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
That’s right, exactly. You got it. You’ve got it. That’s right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So I want to touch on this concept of love maps. You talked about creating love maps for couples. What is that? Can you share why you use it in your therapy and why it’s so important?

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah. One of the things that we discovered is that some people really know their partner very well. They may ask open-ended questions or they may just listen very well when their partner is speaking and remember what their partner says. So they have kind of an internal roadmap of their partner’s life, their partner’s inner life. What stresses their partner out, what they’re upset about, what they’re happy about, what they’re joyful about, what they’re thinking about, what’s on their mind. A lot of times when people don’t have a love map, they don’t have that map, they just haven’t learned that it’s important. They haven’t acquired that by of asking these questions and remembering the answers.
So part of that app that I told you about earlier that your listeners can download for free, it has a hundred questions you can ask a man, a hundred questions you can ask a woman about their erotic world, what turns them on and what turns them off. A lot of times people don’t know. They haven’t asked. So when you tell people about building a love map and you give them some of the questions as examples, they just go ahead and do it. Their life changes automatically because now you know what’s inside your partner, now you have an appreciation for what your partner is going through. So it’s really one way of building love. It’s part of that practice to build that love map and update it periodically, especially on a date.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The app that you say that the app store helps you to create that love map?

Dr. John Gottman:
Yes, exactly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What’s the app called again?

Dr. John Gottman:
Just type Gottman card decks.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So we talked about the ways that relationships can be built, the way they could break down. You learn so much about relationships and so if people are struggling, what’s a way to improve relationships in a very short time, like a week or less?

Dr. John Gottman:
Read the book.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
How do you work on creating these sort of connections that are meaningful with your partner? Read the book, The Love Prescription.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Seven days, right? Seven [inaudible 00:54:47]

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Yeah, the book gives you a little thing to do differently every day for a week and it only takes a few minutes, 10 minutes, maybe something like that, that you do every day that probably is something a little new, a little different in the relationship. So it would be an interesting experiment to see how you feel about the relationship before the week begins. Then follow the prescription. At the end of the week, see how you feel. Did it make any difference? Even the slightest bit of difference? Which particular hint of something different? Which thing that was different made the most difference?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What worked, what didn’t work. Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Exactly. Yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. I want to finish by asking a few last questions. One is, what’s your number one relationship hack? I mean, you’ve learned so much about how people work together or don’t. If you are asked, what is that one relationship hack that’s so powerful? What is it?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Ask your partner what they dream about and not nighttime dreams.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, of course.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
I’m talking about longings, yearning. What do they yearn for?What do they dream of doing, accomplishing, experiencing? What’s their dream? Then do everything you can to help support that dream coming true.

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah, that’s a great one. My relationship hack…

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Beautiful.

Dr. John Gottman:
When your partner’s upset, the world should stop and you should listen. So don’t walk away when you see your partner upset. Just make it your priority to say, “What’s going on, baby? What’s on your heart? What’s on your mind? Talk to me. I’m listening. I’m taking notes.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Be ready to listen even if you don’t like what they’re going to say.

Dr. John Gottman:
Right. That’s right and take notes. That’s what helps me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s beautiful. Now you’ve been married over 35 years. That’s a long time and you’ve managed to create a healthy, current, happy relationship. What are your tricks? What are your hacks? What are your learnings from all this decades of research and being in an actual relationship together?

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
So let me tell you, Mark, in our first two years before we did the research theory, before we did the interventions, oh my God, we fought all the time, major conflicts. I was constantly walking out the door. He was walking upstairs. I mean, it was just a mess. So what we did is we adapted into our relationship the things we were learning in the lab, and we practiced them religiously. We practiced them as much as we can. That doesn’t mean we’re gurus. That doesn’t mean we do things perfectly. We make mistakes constantly, all the time, but we’re making repairs also. We’re coming back. We’re saying, “I’m sorry, let me say that a different way,” or, “Oh my God, I’m in such a bad mood. How was that for you?”

Dr. John Gottman:
Yeah.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Et cetera. So we’re constantly… We’re all human beings and we’re all in the same soup, but these methods or experiences that couples have that we saw in our lab, the way they deal with conflict, the way they sustain their friendship, the way they create a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, those are all things that we try to practice as consistently as possible and so far it’s worked.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So far. I like that so far. I love that. Well, thank you both so much for your dedication to studying love, because most of us are lost and wandering around in the dark and you’re shedding light on what it takes to actually build an authentic, deep, real connection with a partner and keep it that way over time. I think definitely everybody has to go get your book, the new book called The Love Prescription, Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy. I think everybody definitely needs to check out the Gottman card deck on the app store, which is my first task after I [inaudible 00:59:41] with you and you can go online and get their free Gottman relationship quiz, How Well Do You Know Your Partner, which has the most amazing questions on it.
I know the names of the people who’ve been irritating my partner lately. That’s a really interesting question or I can tell you the relatives that my partner doesn’t like or I can tell you some of their life dreams. I think they’re really revealing questions and I think they tell you a lot about your knowledge of who you’re with. I think often we don’t even know the people we’re with and we take it for granted. So thank you so much for creating this wealth of knowledge, this really research backed inquiry into love. It allows us to actually use that roadmap for improving love in our lives and actually keeping the love we have and improving it over time. So thank you both so much for your dedication and work in this field for so many decades.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
Great questions, Mark. Thank you. Thank you.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s my job.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman::
[inaudible 01:00:35] It was great.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thanks so much. For those of you listening, if you’ve ever struggled in relationship, which I know probably doesn’t really relate to most of you, but for those of you who have, please share this with your friends and family on social media. We think everybody needs to hear this message. Leave comments. How have you found your way through all the corridors of love to a better and riper, happier love? Because there’s lessons that we still have to learn from each other. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Pharmacy.

Closing:
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

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