You've been patient, you've praised, but at what point can you finally let someone know how you really feel? Tony talks about Gottman's "The Magic Relationship Ratio According to Science" of positive to negative interactions during conflict https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-magic-relationship-ratio-according-science/ as well as Gottman's 4 Horseman principal (Criticism, Content, Defensiveness and Stonewalling) https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/Please subscribe to The Virtual Couch YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/TheVirtualCouchPodcast/ and follow The Virtual Couch on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/virtualcouch/
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[00:00:00] Ok, so let me take you back just a few nights ago, my wife and I are heading out to our car. We're going to go home for my son's high school basketball game. And we're about 30 minutes away and one of my daughter's calls and you can tell there is panic in her voice. Dad, Mom, something really bad happen. And if you ever experience this as a parent, you will know that your mind immediately goes to worst case scenario. Somebody is hurt, they're hurt bad or a million other things pop instantly in your head. And so we say, Meki, anybody hurt somebody, OK? And she says, no, no, no. And we have just a tiny bit. So we press on what is it? And my wife and I are still just staring at the phone. On another note, one of the kids these days moments apparently for many a phone call is a video call. How are you supposed to just talk if you can't see the person? But that is for another podcast on another day. But she finally says there's a snake in the pool and I'm freaked out. So I relax a little bit, sit back in my seat and I start driving home. And I know that my wife will now be the manager of emotions for the next 30 minutes. My daughter had a cousin over and we both families just got these new puppies. They were playing in the backyard when they spotted this slithering snake just swimming in the pool. And so for the next 30 minutes, we went through the rounds of empathy, how hard that must be and positive comments.
[00:01:11] I'm really proud of the way that you're handling this and trying to provide a little bit of a riverbank to her rushing waters of emotions. You know, you're fine. The snake won't jump out of the pool. Just hang tight to which she Googled. Snakes can jump out of pools. And apparently we were right. They can't or in theory, they can't. And in a simple exchange, I really did start thinking of the power of using positive language, of compliments of strength building statements. But how at some point you almost feel like you have done your time in this land of positivity, in this land of empathy and you're fighting back. You just need to calm down. Everything will be fine, too, which for the record and I think you know where I'm going with this, nobody stops instantly and says, well, whoa, wait a minute, what's this idea you're suggesting? It had not even dawned on me to what was it again, calm down. You know, I mean, I like emotionally regulating and feeling like I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. But this whole calm down thing, I think you might be on to something. I don't have to try that out. No, they don't say that. And really what happens is people are in their amygdala, their fight or flight response, especially when you see this creepy snake swimming in the pool. So that logical brain is gone. And so they are not going to wade into the pool, grab the snake by the bare hands and put it back in the field where he belongs.
[00:02:26] But, yeah, that didn't happen. And as most of us know, telling someone to calm down doesn't calm them down or telling somebody to relax or don't worry about it, rarely elicit some sort of Zen like immediate meditative state from the person that was just told to relax. But we did get home and I grabbed a pool net and far more easily than I anticipated. I was able to scoop the snake up, put them in a box and carry them to a nearby field where he slithered back to his family and no doubt hearing something akin to what were you thinking, going to swim in those people's pool from his house. But where is that line between empathy, empathy, empathy, and then more of a firm response? You know, how does one stand their ground or speak their truth without the conversation immediately going south? Well, today, we're going to talk about some research out of the Gottman Institute, one of the world's most renowned sources of marriage research, headed by the legendary therapist and researchers, doctors John and Julie Gottman. And we're going to discuss the often quoted statistic that every couple needs at least five positive comments for every one negative comment. So is that is that actually true or is this a pop psychology myth that is misquoted? So we're going to cover that and so much more coming up on today's episode, The Virtual Couch.
[00:03:52] Come on in, take a seat.
[00:03:58] Hey, everybody, welcome to Episode two hundred and sixty four, The Virtual Couch. And, you know, I'm going to be experimenting a bit with the openings over the coming weeks. I think it's time to freshen things up. Time for a change. And I'll share more about that in the next week or two. But I do have a couple of new podcasts coming out. And one has to do with the work that I've done around women in relationships with men, with narcissistic tendencies or behaviors or patterns or even full blown narcissistic personality disorder. And that one is called waking up the narcissism, and it is coming soon. So look for that. If you follow my virtual couch Instagram account or follow me on Facebook, Tony Overbay, licensed marriage and family therapist or virtual couch there, then you'll you'll hear more about that as it is ready to launch and then I'll share more about the second one in the coming weeks. But so while I am still your host, Tony Overbay, and I'm indeed a licensed marriage and family therapist and all those things, if you want to know more about the work that I do with recovery or parenting or couples or faith journeys, then just head over to Tony Overbay dot com or find again that virtual couch count on Instagram or the accounts on Facebook. So let's get to today's topic. I am going to be referring to an article directly off of the Gottman Institute website called The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science by Kyle Benson.
[00:05:08] So where Kyle starts is he says, whether it's about not having enough sex or the dirty laundry or spending too much money, the idea of conflict is inevitable in every marriage. And I will be, of course, interjecting my own opinions throughout this podcast. And so one of the things that I've been pretty fascinated by over the last few months in preparing my magnetic marriage course, along with my buddy Preston Buckmeier, is this concept of that conflict. And so as Kyle talks about, yeah, conflict is inevitable, but I do feel that we are so afraid of contention that we avoid this concept of tension altogether. And so too often when we are afraid of tension because we are worried it will turn to contention or we're afraid of tension because we don't necessarily have the framework or the tools to discuss difficult concepts, then this is where we just proverbially kick the can down the road. We're going to deal with situations that maybe don't go as well as we want them to. Well, we'll do it later. We'll deal with that next week or next time. Or you don't want to rock the boat when the waters are calm, which I understand. But unfortunately, that just keeps people in this proverbial pattern of unproductive conversations. So back to the article. To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levinson began doing longitudinal studies of couples back in the nineteen seventies, and they asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes.
[00:06:30] And then they sat back and they watched. And so after reviewing tapes and following up with these couples some nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy. And they brought that into their their couples were moving forward. And their discovery was actually pretty simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. And that sentence right there kind of gives the keys to the flux, the mysteries here, the difference with the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. And there's a specific ratio that makes love less. They said that according to their research, the magic ratio is five to one, meaning that for every negative interaction notice I didn't say comment, but for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five or more positive interactions. So when the masters of marriage are talking about something important, Dr. Gottman said, they may be arguing, but they are also laughing, teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections. But on the other hand, he said that "unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity". So if the positive to negative ratio during conflict again is positive to negative ratio during conflict is one to one or less, then that is unhealthy and indicates a couple that may be teetering on the edge of divorce.
[00:07:57] So positive and negative interactions, not comments, but we're talking about interactions. And I remember going to a training. This is early in my therapy career when I still didn't even think I would be doing much couples work. And the trainer, in essence, said that she had seen couples almost hold up a hand when arguing and say, OK, OK, OK. So she's nice to animals. She's pretty. She has nice hair. Brush your teeth at least two minutes each time. How many is that for? OK, she doesn't hold her fork like a caveman when she eats. So that five. OK, good. But when she comes under her breath all day it drives me insane. So that's somebody that is obviously taking things very literal. Think of the Hotels.com commercials and Captain Obvious, but maybe change that last part to Captain Literal. And that is truly not what is meant by this five to one ratio. So are you a Captain Literal and your relationships? Well, you asked me what I thought, so I told you. Are you that guy or girl or do things like tact and compassion? Come into the picture. So in the scenario I mentioned, where the husband is counting off the positive, I guess, ish things or words. Is he truly wanting to build a bridge of empathy so that his wife is leaning in, ready to hear his concerns? Or is she already preparing for criticism because she knows it's coming, even if he's counting off these five positive comments? So first, let's let's dig a little deeper into what Gottman says is a negative interaction, because remember, we're talking about a five to one ratio of positive to negative interactions during conflict, which is a lot different than just coming up with five nice things to say before you unload something negative.
[00:09:37] So back to the article. Bensen says that examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce and first up, or what he calls these four horsemen. And I've done a episode on this long ago, but this is a fascinating concept by Gottman. And before I learned the skills of emotionally focused therapy of F.T., which went on to help me create this magnetic marriage course. I learned so much about Gottman. And that was that was really helpful in my own relationship and also when I would get couples in my office early on in my career. So Gottmans four Horsman, are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. And before I even dig a little bit more into those, I really do believe with everything in my bones that that my four pillars of a connected conversation are absolutely necessary to provide a framework for healthy, connected conversations. And by a super, super quick review, the four pillars. It's the foundation, in my opinion, and they are they are a difficult thing to master because they aren't natural.
[00:10:36] They don't flow from us because we have tried to have conversations and they have not gone well in our relationships. So we get defensive and we are starting sometimes from within our bunker. And so the first pillar is assuming good intentions. This is the one wakes up and thinks, how can I hurt my spouse or my partner? So if somebody is withdrawn instead of their spouse, let's just use the scenario right now where let's say that the wife is withdrawn, that if the husband says, OK, what am I supposed to do with that? That is that is violating pillar one of assuming good intentions. If she's withdrawn, I want him to say and she doesn't wake up and say, I don't want to withdraw, that will get him. No, if she's withdrawn, then I want that to help him start to literally lean in with empathy. So pillar one, assuming good intentions. No. Two, you can't send that message if you're wrong or I don't believe you, even if you don't believe them or you think that they are wrong. Because if the goal is to have a connected conversation and that's what I'm proposing, that the goal is to be heard, not to resolve, then we want to keep the conversation going so that you can feel heard and you can get to your thoughts. So examples of sending the message of your wrong, there's some easy ones by literally telling someone, I don't believe you or you're wrong, but this is where it becomes pretty fascinating of even if you are doing the eye roll or the deep sigh or you start checking your phone or those sort of things, or in a conversation that can even put out this vibe of I don't believe you are, I don't think you're wrong with this whole thing.
[00:12:06] So I'm going to show you by disengaging in the conversation. And there's also the kind of a fascinating one where when somebody says, I don't know if I can give this talk on Sunday and we say, no, you can do hard things. I know you can. That one sounds awesome. And we may even mean that. But it still skips a really important part of empathy where we're telling the person, no, no, that's ridiculous. You're wrong. You can do it. I know you can without saying, hey, tell me why you're feeling that way. Which leads to pillar three, asking questions before making comments. Even if you feel like after you hear your spouse say something that you you have some struggles with or it stings a little bit, or there is that tension when they express themselves instead of saying, OK, well, let me just tell you my side really quick and then you're welcome to open up. No, start by asking questions before making comments. And then pillar four is stay present, lean in, don't go into victim mode. You know, you can have you can do all three of the first pillars extremely well if your wife says, hey, I feel like you have been a little bit more disengaged in the relationship.
[00:13:08] No one assuming good intentions. She's not saying that to hurt me. She's saying it because she wants to be heard. And we're too I can't say that's ridiculous, even if I have been practicing on a daily basis to get home sooner or to be more engaged, because obviously, if she is saying, I feel like you have not been home on time or you feel more disengaged, then I want to know why. Why does she feel that way? So then that leads to pillar three. I'm going to ask hey, tell me more about that. Helped me see my blind spots. I wasn't aware that you felt that way. That would be difficult. That would be hard. And then for is then staying present, not going into the bunker, not going into victim mode. The guy in that point can't say, OK, well, I guess it really doesn't matter what I'm doing. Apparently, I don't want to hear because you can do those first three correctly. And then if you violate pillar four now you're basically saying, hey, I'm going to go into my bunker and I would like for you to come rescue me, please. So I. Feel like those are still so important, even as we get to this concept of Gottman's four pillars are four pillars, my four pillars, Gutman's Four Horsemen.
[00:14:05] So let's let's kind of talk more about those. So the first horseman that Gottmann says that is part of these negative interactions is criticism. So criticizing your partner is absolutely different than offering a critique or, or even voicing a complaint. Those latter two are about specific issues where Gottman says the former is an ad hominem attack. So it's an attack on your partner at the core of their character. And in fact, you're dismantling their whole being when you criticize. And I know that sounds heavy, but I really appreciate the way he says that because I often feel like what is the goal in a conversation? I will watch those when people don't adhere to these my four pillars, I feel like, what is your goal? Is it to and I will often say break down the other person's world or reality? But of course, Gottman says it's so much better. Are you trying to dismantle their whole being when you criticize? And so Gottman says the important thing is to learn the difference between expressing a complaint and criticizing a complaint might be an example. I was scared when you were running late and you didn't call me. I thought we'd agreed that we would do that for each other versus a criticism is you never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don't believe that you are forgetful. I think you're selfish. You don't think of others. You never think of me. And if you find that you and your partner are critical of each other, don't assume that the relationship is doomed to fail.
[00:15:24] Gottman says the problem with criticism is that when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for other far deadlier horsemen to follow. And that's why, again, I feel like if we don't have the structure or the framework to be able to even communicate, then things these these horsemen do kind of line up, which leads to a second horseman of contempt. So when we communicate in this state, we are truly mean. Gottman says that we treat others with disrespect when contempt comes into play. This is where people mock with sarcasm or ridicule. Call them names, mimic, use body language such as eye rolling or scoffing. And I will tell you right now, there is there's truly no place in a relationship for any of these things because the target of contempt is is made to feel despised or worthless, like their opinion doesn't even matter. And contempt can go far, far beyond criticism. Gottman said that while criticism attacks your partner's character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over him. And he gives an example in this article of saying, You're tired. Cry me a river. I've been with the kids all day running around like mad to keep this house going. And all you do when you come home from work is flopped down on the sofa like a child and play those video games. I don't have time to deal with another kid.
[00:16:33] Could you be any more pathetic? You know, you can you can feel where that can cut. And research even shows that couples that are contemptuous. This is so fascinating. If they're contemptuous of each other, they're more likely to suffer from infectious illness, colds, the flu, etc. than others because it weakens your immune system. Contempt is fueled by long simmering negative thoughts about a partner which come to a head when the perpetrator attacks the accused from a position of relative superiority. And most importantly, Gottman says his contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. It absolutely, absolutely must be eliminated. And here's where I'll throw in a couple of my favorite psychological principles. The expectation effect in confirmation bias with the expectation effect. That really is what are what are you looking for in your spouse? The expectation effect is this phenomenon where perception and behavior changes as a result of personal expectations or the expectations of others. So the expectation effect demonstrates that our expectations on items, things people can greatly influence our perceptions and even influence our behavior. For example, if you tell a bunch of people that some new product is going to change their lives, then a significant number of people will find their lives changed. The belief is simply the device that can help create change. I remember hearing early on in my therapy career that there was a statistic that said that even just setting up a couple's therapy appointment had an effect.
[00:17:56] That was it was significant. I want to say that twenty or thirty year might have even been higher. Percentage of couples felt a dose of hope just from setting up the appointment. And that, I feel like, is that expectation effect. So once a person believes that something's going to happen, that belief alone creates possibility. Now, unfortunately, this can have a negative effect on the ability to accurately measure something success because we typically get this bump of happiness or euphoria or with the expectation. And then if once you have this expectation, then you aren't nurturing that expectation or doing work behind that expectation, then there's also some data that can show that you return back to baseline. I found a pretty interesting graph that says the expectation of I can absolutely influence perception of behavior, but the changes can be temporary, I believe, if you don't work with that expectation. So if you have an expectation that your spouse is is kind, is nice, is trying their best, then you are going to look for those areas that prove that fact to you. And you're going to act if. Based on that expectation, but if you don't continue to nurture that expectation or start to find a way or a framework to be able to have conversations and use this this time where you have this hire or this better, more positive expectation of your spouse or yourself or your kid, then over time that you'll go back to baseline because our brains want to go back the path of least resistance.
[00:19:22] So you have to nurture even the expectation effect. And I talk about this often, but the very quick example on a podcast I did on expectation effect was done with laboratory mice where there was a group of people. They were divided into two and there was a group of mice. They were divided into two. Half the group were given a group of mice, the one one group of mice. And they were told by the people running the test that these mice were maze bright mice, that they were they were born and bred, genetically altered to be able to get through mazes quickly. And the other group were given just the other group of mice and they were set, they said, and these are just mice, good luck. And so both of the groups of people then spent a few days training the mice to get through a maze. And not surprisingly, the expectation of the group that were given the maze bright rats, those rats or mice actually made it through the maze over twice as fast as the what they deemed maze dull rats. Now, that's when they said, surprise, these rats are all the same. But it shows you how significant the expectation effect is that the researchers are the trainers, the people that had the maze, bright rest. All they were told was that these rats are gifted. They can get through mazes faster than the people training
[00:20:37] The rats had the expectation that these were made by rats and therefore I don't know what they did. They tried harder. They they they spoke more positively. But that is so fascinating. And so I often say, are you treating your spouse as a maze, right? Spouse or a maze dull spouse, or are you treating your kid as maze bright kid or a maze dull kid? Are you looking at yourself as a bright person or maze dull person? And that that is the expectation effect. And then the other part that I love talking about is confirmation bias. And that is what are you looking for? And I remember I was sharing a one of these magnetic marriage coaching calls that the first I bought a Mini Cooper long ago. And, you know, when you when you drive it off the lot, you are then all of a sudden just blown away by the number of Mini Coopers on the road where all these things come from. But that is confirmation bias that we really do look for what we look for. So if we have this expectation effect of our spouse being positive of their amazing, great spouse and then we have a confirmation bias of looking for the good, then that is going to drive us to have better behavior. And that will be the opposite of this contempt. Or Gutman's second horseman, the third horseman that he talks about is defensiveness.
[00:21:47] And this is typically a response to criticism. And I feel like we can all safely say that we've been on the defensive. And Gottman says this horseman is nearly omnipresent when our relationships are on the rocks, when we feel unjustly accused, we often fish for excuses or we play the innocent victim so that her partner will back off. And this truly is a childhood coping mechanism. It makes sense. When we were kids, we didn't we wouldn't own up to anything because we're little kids. We're still coming from this place of abandonment equals death. If I admit to something and I get in trouble, these guys might boot me out of the clan. We know now that that's not the case, but that's where we're coming from when we're often in that position as a child and we bring that off into our adulthood as often just not taking ownership of things, not taking accountability. Now is Gottman says. Unfortunately, the strategy is almost never successful. The strategy of defensiveness are excuses. Just tell our partner that we won't take their concerns seriously and that we won't take responsibility for our mistakes. So we gave the example a question. Hey, did you call Betty and Ralph a little know that we're not coming tonight like you had mentioned you would do this morning and the defensive responses? I was too busy. So, matter of fact, you know just how busy my schedule was. Why don't you just do it? So this partner not only responds defensively, but then they reverse blame in an attempt to make the other partner the other partner's fault.
[00:23:01] So instead of non defensive response, can express acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault or understanding that your partner's perspective. And I did an episode at one point on the just accountability. And one of my friends sent me a text and they showed me a little board they have at their home and said, try this instead. My bad. I think that's what I said. But so and that's all we're asking at times. Sometimes it feels so scary to say, oh, man, I totally forgot. But that is that is the easiest way to diffuse something, is to take ownership of it, to literally say, yeah, my bad. So although it is perfectly understandable to defend yourself, especially if you're stressed out or you feel attacked, this approach does not have the desired effect of connection. Defensiveness only escalates the conflict, especially the critical spouse doesn't back down or they apologize. This is because defensiveness is really as common says it's a way of blaming your partner and it won't allow for healthy conflict management and the fourth horseman that he talks about. Stonewalling, which is usually in response to contempt stonewalling, occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, you know, they shut down, they simply stop responding to their partner and then rather confront it rather than confronting the issues with their partner. People who stonewall can make these evasive maneuvers, such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors, a.k.a.
[00:24:17] turning to their phone. The phone has become one of the great facilitators of stonewalling. And trust me, I use my phone every day. I use it often. As a matter of fact, I'm paying attention to the screen time app and trying to really, on a weekly basis, make a conscious effort to get my own screen time down. But man, the phone can just all of a sudden be one of the greatest objects used for stonewalling. So if you feel like you are stonewalling during a conflict, stop the discussion and ask your partner to take a break. You can say it's perfectly fine to say, right. I'm feeling a little bit too emotional or flooded to keep talking about this. Can we take a little break? And but one of the keys is promising that we'll come back to this because it's easier to work through when people have gotten out of that amygdala, that fight or flight response. And the four horsemen. So as well as feelings of loneliness or isolation, those are additional negative interactions. So Kyle Benson says that while anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, that anger isn't necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains that anger only has negative effects in marriage if it's expressed along with criticism or contempt or if it's defensive, you know, it is OK for you to say, man, I'm really frustrated or but especially staying that I feel statements.
[00:25:36] It's not that you make me mad because but hey, I'm really frustrated because I felt like we had an agreement or I'm really sad or I'm really hurt or I worry that or this, you know, I feel like. And so negative interactions during the conflict include also being emotionally dismissive or critical or becoming defensive in body language such as eye rolling can be a very, very powerful negative interaction. Or we've probably seen if our partner has given a sigh or they've turned away from us. And it is so important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why he goes on to say it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction. So five positive interactions to compensate for an eye roll or a sigh or any of those four horsemen and these negative interactions do happy. I mean, they happen in healthy marriages, too, but they're quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy. And I will add ownership and accountability. So the five positive interactions, Gottman says that couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. He said not only do masters of marriage start conflicts more gently, and I love referring to that as a softer, you know, soft entry point. But they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship.
[00:26:57] And so he lists these interactions that he says stable couples use regularly to maintain positivity and closeness. Be interested when your partner complains about something. Do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? So displaying interest includes asking open ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making on eye contact, timely. Has that show that you are listening? I still remember when I used to travel to Japan on business, when I was in the computer software industry and just watching the interactions with my my business partner and some of the people we would meet with. And there was this constant back and forth of just hi. Hi. You know, and I remember asking Yoshida Sun, Hey, why do you keep telling the person hi? And I think I was being a little bit jokey with that. But he said it's just a way of acknowledging and it's almost the. Uh huh. I hear you tell me more, you know, the height, height, and it shows how closely that you're listening, expressing affection. Do you hold hands with your partner? Do offer a romantic kiss. You embrace your partner when you see them or at the end of the day. So expressions of affection often happen in small ways, both within and outside of conflict. Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection will reduce stress. Now, I am not saying that if you are somebody that has been emotionally or physically abused, that this means now apparently I have to hold hands, lean in, give them a hug or kiss.
[00:28:11] But if you're having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, man, this is hard to talk about, but I really love you and I know that we're going be able to figure this out together, you are likely going to feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together. I did an entire episode long ago on oxytocin. It's also called the cuddle hormone. And when there is that connection, even just that, putting one's hand on one's arm or shoulder or knee, that you really do reduce tension or stress. And again, I will I will put an asterisks there unless there has been long standing period of emotional or physical abuse or conflict. But that oxytocin really does reduce or lower the cortisol or the fight or flight risk. And it's pretty fascinating, Sue Johnson has some studies that are, I think, in her book Love Sense as well, and hold me tight and I'm going to butcher this, but it was something to the effect of a woman going in to get, I want to say, a shot or something like that for something. And if she's just by herself, they can measure cortisol level is high. If her husband is in the other room, then the cortisol levels lower. And if her husband is in or maybe it's in the room with her.
[00:29:21] But then if the husband's in the room and they're holding hands, then her cortisol levels are significantly lower. So that is that oxytocin. So another one is to demonstrate that they matter. You know, our motto, Cottman says from making marriage last is that small is small things often that the small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful and ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage. So bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you're putting their interests on par with yours and it shows your partner that you care about them. Culbertson goes on to say, how you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you're able to handle the inevitable disagreements. For example, if your partner is having a bad day and you stop, you pick up dinner on the way home, you're showing them that you're thinking about them. And those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter conflict, it will be easier to engage in a positive interaction and ones that typically outweigh the negative. And I see this often. I mean, I know as myself as an anxious attachment or words of affirmation guy or that I really do love when I get a text from my wife that just says, Hey, I'm thinking about you and I love sending those those texts throughout the day to my kids, to my wife, maybe to somebody that I'm thinking about.
[00:30:35] And so, you know, we want to know that we're seen. My friend Julie Lee, her book I see you. I think about that often as that we want to know that I see you, that you matter to me. And so I feel like it goes a long way to be able to let somebody know that you are thinking about them. I had a beautiful and I'm going to save some additional details of this for a future podcast that a beautiful interaction with a couple in my office very, very recently where there had been some trauma. And but this couple is working really, really hard on their magnetic marriage four pillars of a connected conversation in session, their E.F.T. skills. And and I always say that the way to make sure that, you know, this, whatever this was, won't happen again in the future is to be able to bring up things even when waters are calm, even things that seem small. And this was again, I love this example. The example was the wife said that she was used to after they had been through some pretty rough patches, the husband sitting by her and that she had noticed that it's been a year or so into their their recovery, their work. They're they're really working hard. They're doing amazing. And but the wife mentioned that, hey, I don't even feel like I want to bring this up because I feel like it's petty or small.
[00:31:48] But I notice that it isn't is intentional about sitting by me at around the kids or just whenever we're together. And so she said, but again, I don't I feel like this isn't a big deal. And I said, man, this is the beautiful part where this is a big deal because we want to talk about these small interactions. We don't have to just have these high you know, these these we don't have to put the four pillars in place only on high charged topics like sex and politics and religion and finances and parenting like that. We don't have to do them on just those. Let's do it right here. So we had an amazing session where she was able to say, hey, I'm noticing that you haven't been as intentional of sitting by me. And so dropping those into the four pillars saying to the guy, all right, assuming good intentions, she's not saying that to hurt you and you can't say that's ridiculous or she's wrong, even if you felt like you. That is. But but he didn't. And then he was right there in Pillar three to ask questions before making comments. He said, oh, man, you know, like, when have you seen this? Or tell me when you've noticed this? And she she said, oh, it's been this this often or I've noticed in these times. And then he didn't go into you know, he didn't break pillar four and then not lean in.
[00:32:58] He didn't go run to his bunker and say, OK, fine, let me go get some needle and thread. I'll sew myself to your side and we'll never be apart. You know, he didn't go into victim mode. He just said, I really appreciate you sharing that with me. And I think I have kind of noticed that a little bit. And and he sat there with a little bit of that tension, you know, and because it can be uncomfortable if his answer might be I yeah, I did. I maybe I noticed that or I can understand how hard that would be. And I didn't mean it. And I can do better about that. And that's a perfectly wonderful, fair, beautiful interaction of where both partners felt heard. And so now I guarantee you he's going to be more intentional about it and she's going to feel like he really listen to me or he cares. Intentional appreciation, Gottman says how you think about your partner again influences how you treat them. I think this goes back to that expectancy effect that I talked about by focusing on the positives of your marriage, such as the good moments from your past and your partners, admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship, now negativity is bound into your thoughts, especially during conflict, but intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
[00:34:12] And he says, now turn your thoughts in action. Every time you express a positive thinking, give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, and you're strengthening your marriage. And I would go on to say I almost did an episode on gratitude today because I wanted to go back and revisit the science of gratitude. But I feel like it is absolutely imperative, necessary, and it will help your marriage if you keep a gratitude journal of your spouse, even if it's one thing a day of something unique or different that you value or view or appreciate or are grateful for about your spouse, what does that do? You're looking for those things you can put in this gratitude journal. And even in times where you feel like things maybe aren't as strong, you can go back and say, OK, here's these things I so admire about my spouse. So that is something I am going to absolutely do. And I would I would love it if people did that same thing. And then empathize and apologize, Culbertson says empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection when you empathize with your spouse. You show that you understand and you feel what you do your best to fill your partner's feelings. Even if you expressed sympathy nonverbally through the facial expressions or physical gestures, saying things like, it makes sense to me that you feel that way. We'll help your partner see that you are on their team.
[00:35:22] Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve. And there's no limit to the amount of empathy that you can express. And I would add, and I talked about this in a and a magnetic marriage group called last night, it is OK for a partner to express that they struggle with empathy. That is, again, one of the most touching, beautiful moments I see in my office is when somebody says, OK, I've got to be honest, I struggle with this. It's hard for me not to go right to my needs. You know, I struggle keeping pillar three of questions before comments. And so being that emotionally vulnerable is what can help build connection. And if your partner is upset with something you did or said, maybe start with an apology. If you can find a momentary conflict to say, man, I am so sorry I hurt your feelings, that really does. It makes me feel sad that you can provide a positive and empathetic interaction that can reinforce that bond. And then one of the key things that Gottman talks about is accept your partner's perspective and approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid even when they are opposed to each other. I won't even go down my acceptance and commitment therapy path here, but each one of you is the very only version of you, period, end of story. And we're going to have different thoughts and feelings and emotions because we're different human beings.
[00:36:30] So while you may not agree with your partner's perspective, letting them know that their perspective, that you can understand where they're coming from and that would make more sense when you hear them out, will show them that you respect them. And one of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse's experience. Even if you disagree, it's like, tell me more about that. What's that like for you? How long have you felt that way? How have I shown up in that situation? Because remember that this is so key and I run into this all the time. Validation doesn't mean agreement, but it does signal respect. Because just because you say, man, I can understand that would be difficult doesn't mean you're saying you're right. I'm a horrible piece of garbage, but it does show respect. And I love that Gottman puts in here make jokes, playful, teasing, silliness and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Now, it doesn't always go well, but I feel like it is definitely one of the greatest diffusion techniques is to to even self-deprecating humor or making humor. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. And this highlights the exclusivity that a couple has. But but again Benson adds, however, a word of caution. Remember to to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.
[00:37:39] And I think in this offensive where I've had a couple of times where someone's left my room, they've been really, really upset. And one of the times when I was a brand new therapist, a guy got up, stormed out of the room, and as he tried to slam the door, he hit the back of his own foot. You know, and I remember it was such a tense moment. And then I just looked over at the wife and I felt like, I don't know what to say here, but I managed I default to humor all the time. And I just looked at and I said, I don't think that went the way he thought it would. I don't think that went as well as he thought it would go. And she kind of chuckled. And it really did ease the mood a little bit. And when he finally did come back into counseling, we were able to joke about that and still do at times to this day. So Gottman says or Kyle Vincent, who works for Gartmann, says, test your ratio. Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact for every negative interaction that happens. Are there more positive interactions, not just comments, but interactions, if not take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions, your relationship, and also try and notice the small moments of positivity, positivity that currently exists there and the the things that maybe you've been missing.
[00:38:39] And then I love I was going on my roll about journals and he even says keep a journal for a week that notes positive interactions, however small your marriage is. Dr. Gutman's research has revealed the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be. So I hope that you can now take a look and and as as my my friend, my cohort in the magnetic marriage course, Preston Buckmeier often says, I hope that you aren't necessarily listening to this episode with your elbow. Like, man, I really hope my spouse will hear this. But what are how are you showing up? Are you creating those positive interactions or are you engaged in any of those four horsemen that Gottman describes? And if so, hey, welcome to the World of Awareness. It's it's empowering. It doesn't mean that you'll be all better and doing things completely different by tomorrow, but it definitely means that you're on your way. So I appreciate you joining me. I'd love for you to take a look at your own relationship and feel free to send me any comments that you have. Questions at Contact@tonyoverbay.com and questions I want to get back to. Doing a couple of episodes every every once in a while on answering some questions. They get so many and they're wonderful questions. So have an amazing week and I will see you next time on the.