As a couples therapist I am often confronted with couples whose relationships are on the brink of divorce/separation and some of them decide to come to therapy because they realize that the costs of splitting up (i.e. legal fees, disruption to their children's lives, and likelihood that it will be more expensive to live separately) are greater than the costs (both financial and emotional) of going to couples therapy. This article from the New York Times addresses another reality of breaking up, what happens to your dog (or cat)?. CLICK HERE TO READ.
MICHAEL BASTA, LCSW, CERTIFIED GOTTMAN THERAPIST AND MASTER TRAINER
This is a wonderful article about Dr. Jewelle Taylor Gibbs and her husband, Dr. James Lowell Gibbs Jr., regarding their 60 year marriage. Dr. Taylor-Gibbs was one of my favorite professors as a graduate student in social work at the U.C. Berkeley School of Social Welfare (let's just say, a long time ago). I did not know that her husband was a Stanford University professor, but I will not hold it against him.
Dr. Jewelle Taylor-Gibbs was a great advocate for underserved people in this country and an engaging lecturer. As first year graduate students, we did not understand yet how to choose what materials were the priorities on our massive weekly reading lists. Dr. Taylor-Gibbs would tease us that we were all "weeks behind" when it became clear that none of us had read the correct materials.
I am thrilled to have found this NY Times article regarding her marriage: CLICK HERE TO READ.
Michael Basta, LCSW, Sonoma Couples Workshops
We are scheduled to teach Gottman Level One: Bridging the Couples Chasm on March 3 and 4. Seating is limited in that we will offer this workshop in an intimate setting here in the beautiful Sonoma wine country. This training is open to all mental health professionals. Click here for more information.
The logical follow-up to "13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married" (see last blog entry), seems to be "10 Things To Try Before Giving Up On Your Marriage". To read this article on the Gottman Blog by Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW click here.
I recently read this article by ELEANOR STANFORD in the New York Times, called 13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married. I found the article to be thoughtful and offering of interesting advice to couples considering marriage. However, as a Gottman Method Couples Therapist I was left with the feeling that something was missing (such as any mention of the most accomplished couples relationship researcher in the history of the planet, Dr. John M. Gottman).
The main piece of Gottman wisdom that I think prospective marital partners need to consider should be a back drop to all of these questions. Specifically, given that 69% of the problems you will face in this relationship will be perpetual, make sure to choose a partner with a set of problems with which you can live. Additionally, a couple of other questions are important to consider, but can't be simply asked. These are: "Will you have my back when things get difficult?" and "Can we find a way to treat each other with respect and to keep positivity in our relationship even when we are in conflict?"
On the other hand, the article still has 13 interesting questions. So I encourage couples to read it. I also encourage couples to keep Gottman's research-based perspective in mind when asking these questions.
Happy New Year, Michael Basta, LCSW, Sonoma Couples Workshops
Paul Ekman, Ph.D is the founder of micro-expressions, esteemed psychologist from U.C. Berkeley (which happens to be the alma mater of both Marcia Gomez and Michael Basta), and important, although indirect, contributor to John Gottman's landmark research on couples. Because of Dr. Ekman, Dr. Gottman and his colleague, Dr. Robert Levenson , were able to code the facial expressions of the couples in their studies, allowing them to determine the underlying emotions of the couples. Ultimately, these findings allowed Gottman and Levenson to disprove the idea that expressions of anger are toxic to intimate relationships, and to prove that the expression of contempt (along with criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling) is destructive to relationships. They further showed that expressions of contempt are the strongest predictor of relationship failure.
Here is a link to an article by Dr. Ekman on why officials break the rules and think they can get away with it. We encourage you to check out his website, which among other things offers training in reading facial expressions. This training will give you the opportunity to read people like the characters on the T.V. show "Lie to Me". However, if you get known for reading non-verbal communication and predicting divorce, you do take the risk that you may get invited to fewer dinner parties.
Happy reading and Happy Holidays from Sonoma Couples Workshops.
In September Marcia completed teaching the first level 3 training in Mexico city, and next week she and her husband are going again to teach level 2 and another weekend workshop for couples . This time she is taking another Certified Gottman Therapist, Le Mel Firestone with her to help out at the weekend workshop. Professionals see how powerful the method is to make couple relationships stronger.
The holidays are coming! Couples often find themselves stuck in arguments or feeling hurt during this potentially happy time. John Gottman's research has shown us that couples that do well in the long run are able to navigate these difficult moments with a lot of repair tactics. Click here to check out this short article from the Gottman Institute and test yourselves to see how well you do as a couple with repair.
"I loved the real transparent life examples that Marcia and Mario and Mike and Robynne displayed in showing us how to utilize the tools for conflict management and how to identify triggers for each of them-profound!"
"The role plays were entertaining and helpful. Practical tools were presented. Presenters were great. And lunch was great."
"Keep doing what you guys do. The real life examples help put the issues and challenges into a perspective."
"I enjoy listening to Michael and Marcia speak and share real stories from their relationships. Small things often-this has become our motto."
"Very helpful information that we utilize, it was very helpful in bringing us closer and having tools to stay that way."
"Both presenters were great. They are dynamic and able to be vulnerable in speaking about difficult personal issues."
"The content and presenters were excellent and exceeded my expectations. Thank you both for sharing your personal experiences. The examples you used completely resonated with us. This workshop was the best investment we have made."
"Using the real life examples help with understanding the use of the tools. The partnership of the presenters is also a great example of how to get along. You guys have made a big positive impact in our lives."
"We now have the tools and resources to help us to talk about our issues safely and effectively."
"I think it will be the beginning of a different way of talking about things."
"I learned more about him in two days than in twenty years that I have been married."
A colleague, Jonathon Shippey, MFT, who is another Master Gottman Therapist, was recently quoted in this article which is timely for couples that find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Politics can be a divisive issue in a loving relationship Just like differences in libido, finances, parenting, and relations with in-laws, politics can be a "perpetual problem" in a relationship, meaning that the problem persists over time despite a couple's best efforts to resolve it. Dr. John Gottman's research has shown us that 69% of any couples problems will predictably be of this perpetual variety. However, as Mr. Shippey points out in the article, the key for the couple is to find a way to stay in respectful dialogue with the issue rather than trying to change each other. Please click here to read.
And let's hope that we all survive the debates and political season intact!
Best, Michael Basta, LCSW
I read this article recently in the New York Times called "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person" and I had two responses. First, I was reminded of when I heard the great family therapist, Dr. Salvador Minuchin, say "every marriage is a mistake". My response then was "how pessimistic!". Alain de Botton, the writer of the aforementioned New York Times article is very clear about having a pessimistic frame of reference regarding choice of partners, and who could argue with him or the numbers when you look at the high divorce rates in developed countries?
However, my second response is different, but not wholly inconsistent with Minuchin and de Botton. Dr. John Gottman's research revealed that 69% of the problems that a couple will face are perpetual, meaning that there is no simple solution to the problems and they are destined to keep coming back, like tennis elbow or irritable bowel syndrome. Gottman theorized that these perpetual problems are based in personality differences (such as one parnter wanting to be punctual and the other being less concerned with time, one partner wanting to save money while the other wants to "live for now", or one partner needing close connection while the other prefers more distance in the relationship).
On the surface, Gottman sounds pessimistic as well. However, he notes that most of the "perpetual problems" that he observed in his research are managed well by couples who accept these differences. Moreover, he notes that the way that couples stay out of "gridlock" is by staying in dialogue regarding their perpetual problems. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, believe that there is "an important life dream behind" each partner's position in a gridlocked perpetual issue and that dialogue rather than persuasion is the way out of the gridlock (and towards greater intimacy). In other words, if a couple finds that they are perpetually stuck in the same argument, rather than trying to persuade each other that their way is right, a workable (although tentative) compromise is more likely to happen if the partners listen to each other with curiosity and do their best to try to understand what dreams and values underlie each partner's position on the issue.
Michael Basta, LCSW, Gottman Method Couples Therapist
Our awesome webmaster, Eva Enger, found this article quoting John Gottman regarding preventing divorce. I am on vacation on Orcas Island after a great two day meeting with the Gottman's and leaders of the Gottman Institute. I am posting this article immediately because it is relevant and because I want to show off that I finally learned how to do something with the website without Eva having to totally walk me through it.
Also, Marcia's former consultee and Certified Gottman Therapist, LeMel Firestone-Palerm, MFT is quoted in the article.
Happy Sunday, Mike Basta
One of the characteristics of "master" couples identified by Dr. John Gottman in his research on couples relationships is strong "lovemaps". What he means by a lovemap is the cognitive space or internal map that each partner has of their partner's world. A lovemap includes knowledge of things like one's partner's best friends, worst fears, favorite things, hopes and dreams, nightmare scenarios, most embarrassing moments, etc... A couple with strong lovemaps would be all stars on The Newly Wed Game, and more importantly they are likely to be well connected to each other emotionally.
It seems to be the case that early in a relationship most couples develop their lovemaps by asking open-ended questions (like: What kind of music do you like? What led you into your career? or What parts of the world do you want to see?). Open-ended questions open up space for introspection, exploration, and discussion. It also seems to be the case that as time goes by couples ask fewer and fewer open-ended questions, and more close-ended ones (such as Are you going to pick up the kids? Did you pay that bill? or When are you coming to bed?) Close-ended questions require a one word answer and have less power to develop strong lovemaps. Counter to this trend towards close-ended questions, the "master" couples from Gottman's research tend to regularly update their lovemaps through asking open-ended questions and by being curious about each other's worlds.
I have been a committed Golden State Warriors fan since long before they were called Golden State, and certainly before they won the NBA Championship with their star point guard, Stephen Curry. I just happened to be looking at something Warriors related on the internet and ran into this video of Steph and his wife, Ayesha, playfully answering questions about each other. This reminded me of the Lovemap exercise that we have our couples do in the Art and Science of Love Workshop. I am impressed with the Currys' knowledge of each other (although frankly Step is answering most of the questions in the video), and with how playful they are with each other. They demonstrate that you do not have to be together for 30 years to have the characteristics of a master couple.
Michael Basta, LCSW, Certified Gottman Therapist and Master Trainer, and Golden State Warriors fan.
This article from the Wall Street Journal seems timely given the election year:Read More
I awoke this morning thinking about sex. First of all, as I write these words I am glad that my kids are no longer in middle school as they would have been grossed out and humiliated to read that opening line in a public forum from their father. Secondly, three things came together all at once to start my day off with thoughts about human sexuality, and let me be clear that I do not mean that I woke up particularly aroused, instead I found myself pondering sexuality and what I think about it.
The first factor in this confluence of events is that my wife is away for the weekend, so I woke up a little lonely on a rainy morning, but also with time on my hands. Secondly, two days ago I read a blog entry from my mentors, Drs. John and Julie Gottman regarding pornography https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/ . And finally, last night I attended a presentation by Rob Weiss, LCSW regarding his soon to be released book Getting Out of the Doghouse: How to Heal Relationships Fractured by Multiple Infidelities and Sex Addiction.
Thanks to my association with Willow Tree Counseling (which co-sponsored Robert Weiss' presentation) I have had the privilege to work with couples in the past couple of years that are struggling to heal the their relationships from the effects of "multiple infidelities and sex addiction". I give props to all of the couples that make the choice to seek help for a troubled relationship, however, there is another level of courage necessary for the recovering sex addict and his/her partner to enter into couples therapy. First of all the recovering sex addict has a mountain of shame to overcome and secondly his/her partner typically has been traumatized by the revelation that their addicted partner not only has been unfaithful, but has lied to them repeatedly.
These couples truly need help from skilled and informed professionals, yet we practitioners of psychotherapy (including couples therapists) as a group are not even in agreement that sex addiction exists. For evidence of my assertion, the reader can look no further than the latest edition of the book that mental health professionals are required to use to diagnose psychological disorders, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM). In DSM V, we find all sorts of chemical addictions and also gambling addiction, but no mention of sex addiction.
I had the honor to sit last night with a group of colleagues including Susan Pease-Gadua, LCSW, who has written extensively about couples relationships and also works with Willow Tree Counseling. Several months ago Ms. Pease-Gadua attended a training with the esteemed couples therapist, Esther Perel (author of Mating in Captivity, which I believe is very thought provoking book ). Ms. Perel told Ms. Gadua that she believes that sex addiction is an American phenomena, meaning that it is not a brain-based addiction, but a learned behavior based upon cultural factors. Ms. Pease-Gadua also referenced this article https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexual-intelligence/201506/eleven-facts-about-sex-i-wish-judges-lawyers-understood in Psychology Today by the esteemed psychologist and sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein. In the article, Dr. Klein states as fact, "Science has never shown that people who watch porn behave differently than people who don't. Science gives absolutely no evidence that 'porn addiction' exists." Although Dr. Klein does not specifically say that sex addiction does not exist, many individuals that identify themselves as sex addicts report that pornography is their "drug of choice" if you will.
After listening to Ms. Pease-Gadua's comments about Esther Perel's statement regarding sex addiction and reading Marty Klein's statements about porn addiction, I contacted a fellow Gottman Method Couples Therapist, Dr. Robert Navarra, who is an expert on addiction and trains couples therapists about addictive dynamics. Dr. Navarra expressed the strong opinion that the underlying brain mechanism for chemically based addictions (such as cocaine addiction and alcoholism) is the same as that of behavioral addictions (such as gambling and sex addiction). He cited several studies backing this stance including one from the University of Cambridge referenced here indicating that the brain activity of sex addicts mirrors that of drug addicts.
My point in bringing up the conflict within the field of psychotherapy about the existence of sex addiction is that it is hard enough for sex addicts and their partners to work on healing given the inherent shame and trauma they must face without those of us who are there to help being at odds. Finally, this is where the blog entry noted above from the Gottman's ties in to my morning thoughts about sex. The Gottman's take a strongly anti-pornography stance about porn. They take this stance, not just for sex addicts, but in support of intimacy in all couples relationships. They suggest that use of pornography is bound to lead to a disconnect in intimacy for couples using it. The comments from the blog readers that follow the Gottman's "open letter" on porn are spirited and in many ways reflect the struggle that we have as a professional community and as a society in general with the nature of sexuality, sexuality in intimate relationships, and also the concept of sexual addiction.
It is clear to me from my reading of scientific literature and my clinical experience that sex addiction exists. I agree with the Gottman's that the porn industry is largely exploitative and that the use of pornography is likely to have the effect of diminishing intimacy in couples relationship (certainly if used solely by one partner and perhaps if used by both). I trust in John Gottman's research findings that the primary predictor of good sex in a committed relationship is strong friendship, and I chuckle at the truth behind his joke that when female "Viagra" was developed he said "but it has already existed for years, it's called listening". On the other hand, before we cast out all "porn" from committed relationships should there not be dialogue between couples about what is erotic, including visual images, films, writings, and ways of being playful sexually? Despite her anti-sex addiction comments, I also think that Esther Perel has some wisdom when she says "Love seeks closeness, but desire needs distance." It is my hope that as a community we can have healthy dialogue regarding the dialectic that Ms. Perel suggests and also my wish for every couple to have this healthy dialogue.
It is still raining, but time for me to get out of bed.
Peace, Mike Basta, LCSW, Gottman Method Couples Therapist
For more information regarding help for sex addicts and their partners, I urge interested parties to check out www.willowtreesantarosa.com .