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Marriage and Shamu the Whale

Michael Basta

After two days in a retreat with relationship experts, John and Julie Gottman and my talented group of Gottman Master Trainer colleagues on Orcas Island, it took me a while to wrap my head around the concept of one partner training the other in an intimate relationship as a trainer would with an exotic animal. First of all, we had gone out on an boat trip together the previous year to see beautiful Orca Whales. We learned that bad things had happened to these beautiful creatures when they were captured and kept in places like Seaworld. Secondly, as a Gottman therapist I see the value in incremental behavior change ("small things often"), but where is the friendship, emotional connection, mutually respectful management of conflict, making life dreams come true, and shared meaning in the training of one's partner like an animal in captivity.

I was introduced to What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage from a colleague who said that the 2006 New York Times article inspired his work with couples. Despite my skepticism, I not only read the article, but see the sense in it. This is how I wrap my perspective on couples (based upon the research and theories of the Gottman's) around "Shamu". First of all, Gottman's research shows us that 69% of all couples problems are perpetual (meaning they are not solvable because they are based in personality differences). The author of "Shamu", Maureen Dowd, notes that nagging and arguing about behaviors that are part of her partner's personality, such as being forgetful, often late, or messy, leads to greater conflict and disconnection. On the other hand, as we have been trained as Gottman therapists, being mindful of the times that one's partner remembers, comes on time, or cleans up, and then expressing appreciation for these actions, is predictably more likely to be a winning strategy for closeness and conflict management. Moreover, stopping and taking a breath (and being aware of the underlying emotion that one's partner feels) rather than offering advice or platitudes will likely work better than the alternative when one's partner is distressed. 

Michael Basta, LCSW, Gottman Method Couples Therapist (and sea mammal advocate)

Click Here to read the article.

Small Things Often

Michael Basta

Time continues to go by and I realize that it has been a long time since I have made a blog entry. Mindless of my failing commitment to this blog, I went away with my family to the mountains for a couple of days of eating, drinking, swimming, laughing and enjoying time together. We rented a home in which to stay and while doing the dishes in the kitchen I noticed the plaque (depicted in the above photo) that illustrates an important principle that stems from John Gottman's research on couples.

John Gottman and his research team noted that small moments in which one partner turns towards (rather than away from) their partner amount to deposits into an emotional bank account. For example, when one partner talks, the other listens, or when one partner expresses a concern, the other acts to meet their need. Over time, the deposits, stemming from these acts of turning towards, add up and can shift their relationship in a better trajectory. Hence, the Gottman's developed the motto "Small Things Often", meaning many small acts over time make a difference. These acts, done with knowledge of one's partner's needs, worries, hopes, and dreams will make a bigger difference over time. That is what "Do small things with great love" means to me. 

Happy Summer 2017, 

Michael Basta, LCSW, Sonoma Couples Workshops


Michael Basta

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


An Interesting Article About One Of My Favorite Graduate School Professors

Michael Basta

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

Great quote about relationships by Rachel Maddow

Michael Basta

Well I guess that I am outing myself as a liberal by posting something by Rachel Maddow. However, what do you expect from someone that graduated from the U.C. Berkeley School of Social Welfare when Ronald Reagan was president. Whatever your political sensibilities are, this quote speaks loudly to anyone who has a strong commitment in their relationship, and especially rings true if one has been in jeopardy of losing their loved one.  "If you have a good relationship, you have to make it the most important thing in your life. The constant in my life is my relationship with Susan, and I feel like, if everything else in my life went away, I'd be ok."  Rachel Maddow (quote supplied by my friend and Marcia's husband Mario Guerrero via Rolling Stone Magazine). Mike Basta, Sonoma Couples Workshops

Well I guess that I am outing myself as a liberal by posting something by Rachel Maddow. However, what do you expect from someone that graduated from the U.C. Berkeley School of Social Welfare when Ronald Reagan was president. Whatever your political sensibilities are, this quote speaks loudly to anyone who has a strong commitment in their relationship, and especially rings true if one has been in jeopardy of losing their loved one. 

"If you have a good relationship, you have to make it the most important thing in your life. The constant in my life is my relationship with Susan, and I feel like, if everything else in my life went away, I'd be ok."  Rachel Maddow (quote supplied by my friend and Marcia's husband Mario Guerrero via Rolling Stone Magazine).

Mike Basta, Sonoma Couples Workshops

13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married

Michael Basta


I recently read this article by ELEANOR STANFORD in the New York Times,  called 13 Questions to Ask Before Getting MarriedI 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

Here's an article from one of our heroes and contributors to Gottman theory

Michael Basta

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. 

The Gottman workshops are growing! First Argentina, then Guatemala and now Mexico City.

Michael Basta

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.

How well do you repair as a couple?

Michael Basta

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.


Comments From Our November 2016 Couples Workshop

Michael Basta

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"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."


Something to think about between the debates

Michael Basta

Couples don't have to be like this. 

Couples don't have to be like this. 

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

Why There Is Hope

Michael Basta

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





Huff Post on Divorce Prediction

Michael Basta

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. 

Click here to read the article!

Happy Sunday, Mike Basta