The Gottman Institute: Love & Trauma Q&A
Over the last 50 years, The Gottman Institute has conducted research which has revolutionised the study of marriage. So much so, that founders John and Julie Gottman famously claim that within 15 minutes they can guess (with over 90 per cent accuracy!) whether a couple’s relationship will last.
We recently welcomed The Gottman Institute’s Drs. Don and Carrie Cole as speakers at our Florence Guild event. In this Q&A follow up, they speak to us about love and trauma, as well as offering some tools on how to master a thriving relationship.
Based on The Gottman Institute’s 50 years of research, why is it that some couples flourish and others don’t?
From a scientific and mathematical viewpoint, it is the ratio of positive to negative moments in time. Successful couples remain in a positive emotional position 95% of the time when they are interacting and at least 80% of the time when they are discussing problems. Successful couples are also good at avoiding destructive interactions, such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. They also are quick to repair when negativity does arise.
Can you tell us a bit about ‘The Sound Relationship House’ theory?
The Sound Relationship House theory is based on scientific research, in which careful observation of all types of couples has led to an understanding that the nine factors represented in the theory are predictive of the trajectory of a relationship over time.
You speak about both small and large bids for connection, can you tell us a bit more about this and why it’s important for people in relationships to turn towards each other, instead of away?
A bid is an attempt to engage with one’s partner. Most bids are small and have little meaning attached to them, such as, “I really like this song.” A turning toward response, “Yeah, me too!” adds a tiny bit of positive emotion into the relationship. Turning away, which is ignoring the bid, or turning against, which is an angry response, such as, “Don’t bother me!” leads to negative feelings. Happy couples were found to turn toward each other 86% of the time, while miserable couples only turned toward one another 33% of the time. Some bids have much higher importance than others. Feeling ignored when someone says to their partner, “I’m worried about losing my job” can be devastating.
Why does managing conflict play such an important role in relationships?
All relationships have conflict. No one gets along perfectly, or is in sync with their partner 100% of the time. Conflicts are opportunities for greater understanding and connection. When they are managed poorly, negativity enters and leads to disconnection. Some people avoid conflict, so they don’t actively argue, but they quietly withdraw, which leads to distance.
You’ve said that trust is about thinking for two people instead of just for one, can you expand on this?
When we are in a committed relationship, trust is developed when each person has the best interest of the other person in the front of their mind. They make decisions based on, not just what is the best for them, but what is also in the best interest of their partner. The crucial question around trust, is: Will you be there for me? That means that the person will take care of their partner, even if they are angry at them in the moment. They will consider their partner’s financial best interests, be sexually faithful to them, and keep their partner’s confidences to themselves.
How does trauma often show up in relationships, and how can relationships help?
Trauma shows up primarily through distancing and withdrawing behaviors. It’s also hard for a traumatised person to trust or receive love from their partner. They don’t talk about the trauma. Their partner may not know that they were ever traumatised. The couple may experience a loving, close relationship during their dating time, but everything changes once there is a commitment. Intimacy risks exposure, and exposure may mean that their partner will stop loving them because of what they went through.