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Stress Reducing Conversation

Sonoma Couples Workshops

One of the key skills that we teach couples in the Art and Science of Love Workshop is the Stress Reducing Conversation. The root of the practice is Dr. John Gottman's response to an unanticipated outcome from the two year follow-up study on the effectiveness of Behavioral Couples Therapy done by his friend, the late Dr. Neil Jacobson. Although none of the communication skills that Dr. Jacobson taught couples through his Behavioral Couples Therapy approach persisted at two year follow-up, a large number of the couples in his study that maintained gains in therapy independently reported that they were better able to manage "external stress" as a couple. Dr. Jacobson chose not to do anything with this finding, but Dr. Gottman found the finding interesting and created a daily ritual for couples to discuss their daily stresses called The Stress Reducing Conversation.

One of the key skills involved in the successful practice of the Stress Reducing Conversation is to listen and "validate" the emotions of one's partner while suspending the impulse to give advice. Thus Gottman's motto: "Understanding must precede advice". This is easier said than done for some of us. Many people believe that we men tend to have a more difficult time with this skill than do women, although many women have argued that they also struggle with withholding advice. For example, the mothers of teenagers have told me that they find this particularly difficult to do with their teenagers. Thanks to our colleague, Kevin Russell, MFT, here is a video to demonstrate how hard it can be to bite our tongues with our partners when the urge to give advice arises.

Michael Basta, LCSW