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Last update of this archive 07/12/2012

 

Archive of 9 articles on marriage and marriage preparation; marriage intervention and divorce from popular sources.

 

For more up to date and reliable info please go to Gottman's own research FAQ

 

Article 1

Is Your Marriage Bliss, or a Miss? Great Date, Great Mate?

WebMD Feature retrieved from medicinenet.com 07/07/06

March 19, 2001 -- Drinks. Appetizers. Dinner.

It's nearly time for dessert, and the evening has flown by. You can't remember a second date that's gone so smoothly. You like the same wines, the same entrées, the same restaurants. OK, you're sure you could dine out together every night with this person without so much as a minor culinary squabble. But is this relationship going to last, or is it destined for the scrap heap?

Used to be, you'd have to ride out your curiosity about whether this guy or gal is The One. You'd bide your time, look for little clues (Does he talk about you favourably with the old married friends who fixed you up? Does she invite you along to family parties, or say you'd just be bored?).

That's so 90s. These days, predicting the success of relationships has become less of a gut instinct related to whether you both drool over shrimp scampi, or the same web sites. If you want to know whether you're headed into a long, happy union, or destined to part, let go of those romantic, old-fashioned notions and take a long, hard look at the science of your relationship.

More science, less crystal ball

While you've been fussing over what to wear, whether to comb over the bald spot, and whether those dating rule books deserve any attention, a new breed of relationship experts has been watching. Maybe they aren't watching you and your string of never-to-be-seen-again dates, but they've been eyeing plenty of other newly coupled couples, or those hoping to become couples, trying to predict who is well matched and who's not.

And now, they've got some answers. Indeed, so sure are some of these researchers about the science of predicting relationship success, they teach it to other therapists for use in premarital or couples counseling sessions. But anyone wondering if Mr. or Ms. Great Date will become Mr. or Ms. Great Mate can make use of the information they have uncovered, and draw some conclusions on their own.

The success factors

About 25 or 30 factors should be taken into account when predicting relationship success, says Jeffry Larson, PhD, professor and director of the marriage and family therapy graduate programs at Brigham Young University, who recently taught colleagues about the topic in a program sponsored by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Some are obvious factors such as personality differences, says Larson, author of Should We Stay Together?

Among the pairings he feels have little chance of long-term success: Those in which there are significant religious differences, and those in which one person is the party type and the other isn't. Despite the old wisdom that opposites attract, he advises against such relationships. "It makes marriage interesting," he says, "but difficult."

Another red flag: A couple who have a conflict every time they go out, but think marriage will smooth things over. Engaged couples, he finds, chalk it up to pre-wedding pressure or anxiety. But he tells them that marriage is more stressful than dating or living together.

The three-minute litmus test

Aside from personality factors and argument frequency, pay attention to your arguing style, suggest Larson and other therapists. It is telling -- and predictive. There's nothing wrong with arguing, but hostility during arguments is a very bad sign, Larson says.

Fighting style is very much an indicator of whether a relationship will last, agrees Sybil Carrere, PhD, a research psychologist and assistant professor of family and child nursing at the University of Washington School of Nursing, Seattle, who has conducted many studies with John Gottman, PhD, known as the University of Washington's marriage research guru.

After observing couples argue, Carrere and her co-researchers found, they could predict divorce among newlyweds based on the first three minutes of an argument. Couples who ultimately divorced were more likely to start the dialogue with an attack on their partner's character, says Carrere. Something like: You never tell me what is going on. You always hold in everything.

"When someone comes at you that way, it is hard to come back in a positive fashion," Carrere says. And so the fight escalates. "It reminds me of 8-year-olds fighting," she says.

That first meeting

Another big clue: When your beloved tells the story of your meeting, how much detail does he or she include? This, says Carrere, reflects the importance your partner places on the relationship. Happy partners remember minute details of their meeting. For example, she recalls a woman who remembered that her mate, at their first meeting, kissed her hand. And it's not just the happily coupled women who remember such romantic details. So do the happy men.

When stories of first meetings are barren of details, Carrere takes it as a bad sign. Some couples are unable to tell what attracted them to each other initially, another predictor of a failing partnership.

When the University of Washington team followed 95 newlywed couples from the Seattle area for seven to nine years and paid heed to what they said about their spouses and how they referred to them, they could predict with 87% accuracy which couples would still be married four to six years later. That report was published in the spring 2000 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.

A professional's opinion

Based on all the new science about predicting relationship success, growing numbers of therapists, including Larson, conduct premarital counseling and couples counseling. Sometimes, couples who enter this counseling decide they are not meant for each other. Short-term, it's sad, Larson says, but may save a lifetime of grief. He recalls a young couple, ages 23 and 24, who were engaged and consulted him two weeks before the wedding. The man confessed to Larson, "I don't feel much spark."

During the session, the couple said they focused on the fun parts of the relationship but avoided talking about serious issues. There was no real physical attraction on the man's part. When Larson gently pointed out the red flags, and all the factors that predicted failure, the couple postponed and finally canceled the wedding.

Recently, Larson received a wedding announcement from the young man, who had found a more compatible partner. He is hoping to hear from the man's ex-fiance soon.

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based health journalist and regular contributor to WebMD. Her work also appears in the Los Angeles Times, Shape, Modern Maturity, and other publications.
 

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Article 2

New research predicts timing of divorce over a 14 year period

Katie Johannes UW News Lab retrieved from thedaily.washington.edu

    
Predicting whether you're married to Mr. or Mrs. Right may not be the domain of fashion-magazine questionnaires and fortunetellers anymore. Researchers who study American marriages can now predict which couples will divorce, and when they will divorce, according to a paper published in the most recent issue of Journal of Marriage and the Family.

In their paper, The Timing of Divorce: Predicting When a Couple Will Divorce Over a 14-Year Period, Drs. John Gottman and Robert Levenson claim their research model predicted divorce with 93 percent accuracy.

Gottman is a University of Washington professor of psychology and lead author of the study. His colleague, Levenson, is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Gottman and Levenson write that past research identifies two periods critical to the survival of a marriage: the first seven years of marriage, when half of all divorces occur, and during midlife, when couples often have young teenage children.

The researchers found that the dynamics between couples were markedly different for the two critical periods for divorce. The early-divorcing couples were volatile; they fought bitterly and resented each other, said Gottman. The later-divorcing couples were passionless and distant, their relationships characterized by coolness and the suppression of emotions.

Two Distinctive Types of Behaviour

"Couples in the early-divorce group are openly contesting and fighting with each other," said Gottman. "There is an attack-and-defend mode with escalating conflict. They are physically aroused and have high heart rates. These couples are desperate and don't know what's wrong with their relationship. Many of these marriages end in quick bailouts or divorces." Specific issues vary among couples exhibiting this volatile behaviour, according to Gottman. The common thread is that the fighting is constant.

"They fight about money, sex, in-laws, communication, etc.," he said. Citing previous and current research, he also said that the early-divorcing couples have a greater likelihood of divorcing if they don't have children.
 "In our study, the first 16 divorces among newlyweds was for childless couples entirely." Gottman said. However, Gottman added: "Pregnancy is not a good reason to marry." Gottman described the late-divorcing group as "alienated and avoidant."
"These couples stifle things and do not raise issues with their partner," he said. "Their marriages are suppressions of negative emotions and a lack of positive emotions. It is a very passive and distant relationship with no laughing, love or interest in each other. This style of suppression can cause intense loneliness that's almost like dying."

Gottman said that despite the lack of passion and affection, the relationships of late-divorcing couples may still be "good contexts for raising children." The study goes on to say, however, that because neither spouse is able to find personal meaning in the relationship, problems may arise "when a midlife crisis emerges." Partners realize the emptiness of their marriages and jobs, "the need to remain married (e.g., to raise children) becomes less compelling," and they start to look for something better, according to the study. Gottman also claimed that teenage children are important in the scenario of alienation, and there is sometimes an alliance of a parent and same-sex child against the other parent, according to a press release.

The late-divorcing couples exhibit this cool distance early during their marriages. "They are not fighting bitterly at all at time one [the beginning of the study]," he said.

The Purpose

Gottman's outlook is positive regarding the potential uses of this new information. "We now know what determines the two dysfunctional styles of marriage," said Gottman, "and we are hoping to be able to separately help both types of couples."
Although he doesn't have hard data to prove it, Gottman said that "both types of marriage can benefit from marital therapy and don't necessarily have to end." He based what he calls "slim" evidence of the progress of couples attending workshops in the marriage clinic at The Gottman Institute in Seattle, which Gottman co-founded with his wife Julie Gottman (visit www.gottman.com for more information on the Gottman Institute).

A Second Opinion

Dr. Pepper Schwartz is a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author of several books, including, most recently, "Everything You Know About Love and Sex is Wrong." Schwartz thinks this kind of research is helpful as long as it's "not a proverbial death sentence" for the relationship, and "if you assume that you can have an intervention that would change the course of history." She explained: "If you could say this [dysfunctional behaviour] is not a quality of the individuals or an inescapable quality of their relationship, then knowing the potential future makes a difference because, at the very least, it would be a motivating factor for people to go into therapy."

She stresses that using this new information to make a "snap judgment" about the future of the relationship would be irresponsible of any therapist. In some instances the marriage is "just one victim" of an individual's larger problem. For example, one or both partners may be experiencing clinical depression. Recommending a divorce based on statistics would not remedy the potential source of the problem.


Gottman said that dating couples can't use this data to predict the potential success or failure of a future marriage. The research was conducted only on couples who were already married.


Schwartz warns that any therapist who might try to apply this kind of scientific data to a couple planning to get married would really be "playing God." Such predictions may cause the marriage not to happen. Gottman and Schwartz also agree that of the two types of dysfunctional behaviour, those in the potentially early-divorcing group are generally easier to treat. These couples are more engaged than those involved in the icy and distant relationships of the late-divorcing group who grow so removed from each other that they cease to care about each other at all.

"If they're really living parallel lives it's hard to bring people back to the same circle," said Schwartz. Gottman's research supports earlier findings that childless couples seem more likely to divorce. Schwartz explained that it's easier to leave a relationship if children are not involved. Partners who are having trouble go through a "cost-benefit analysis," according to Schwartz. The "cost" is greater if, for example, a mother must consider rearing the child alone, and a father must consider never seeing his child again. Schwartz believes that Gottman and Levenson's study is credible based on her professional opinion of Gottman. He is a "careful scientist," in her opinion, and would try "much more than most people not to make claims that he can't back up." She admits that if most people made the same claims as Gottman, she would be less likely to accept the findings.

How research was conducted

Gottman and Levenson began their study in 1983. They followed the relationships of 79 couples from Bloomington, Ind., for 14 years.
At the beginning of the study, sample couples were fairly young. Husbands averaged 31, wives 29.
Initially, each couple filled out several questionnaires measuring their marital satisfaction. They participated in a marital oral-history interview. Finally, they went to the laboratory after having been apart for at least eight hours, and had three videotaped 15-minute conversations: the events of their day, a topic of ongoing conflict and a mutually agreed upon pleasant topic. Only the first two conversations were examined in the study.

The purpose of the positive conversation was to help couples recuperate if the topic of on-going conflict proved to be particularly upsetting, according to the study. Distressed couples were also given a "list of therapeutic referrals" during the debriefing procedure.
Gottman and Levenson developed a system to carefully code the behaviour exhibited by the couples during the videotaped conversations. They were able to develop a marital-satisfaction scoring system by combining data from the marital satisfaction questionnaires, the oral histories and the taped conversations.
After four years, the original subjects were contacted again. Subjects were contacted periodically after that, until the last contact 14 years after the beginning of the study.
The early-divorcing group consisted of nine couples whose marriages ended after 7.4 years, according to the study. After an average of 13.9 years, 13 couples divorced. By the end of the study, 22 couples, or 28 percent, had divorced.


Katie Johannes is a student at the UW School of Communications News Laboratory.

 

Article 3

Gottman, John M., and Nan Silver. (1999). How I predict divorce,” in The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work (Chapter Two, 25-46). New York: Three Rivers Press (Random House, Inc.).

How Gottman Predicts Divorce Retrieved from utah.edu

The clues to a couple’s future breakup are in the way they argue.

THE FIRST SIGN: HARSH STARTUP

The most obvious indicator that a discussion (and the marriage) is not going to go well is the way it begins. When a discussion leads off with criticism and/or sarcasm, a form of contempt — it has begun with a “harsh startup.”

The research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note, even if there are a lot of attempts to “make nice” in between. Statistics tell the story: 96 percent of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the fifteen-minute interaction!

A harsh startup simply dooms you to failure. So if you begin a discussion that way, you might as well pull the plug, take a breather, and start over.

THE SECOND SIGN: THE FOUR HORSEMEN

A harsh startup sounds the warning bell that the couple may be having serious difficulty. As the discussion unfolds, Gottman continues to look out for particular types of negative interactions. Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that Gottman calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Usually these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Horseman 1: Criticism. You will always have some complaints about the person you live with. But there’s a world of difference between a complaint and a criticism.

A complaint only addresses the specific action at which your spouse failed. A criticism is more global — it adds on some negative words about your mate’s character or personality.

“I’m really angry that you didn’t sweep the kitchen floor last night. We agreed that we’d take turns doing it” is a complaint — it focuses on a specific behaviour.

“Why are you so forgetful? I hate having to always sweep the kitchen floor when it’s your turn. You just don’t care” is a criticism.
Criticism throws in blame and general character assassination. To turn a complaint into a criticism, add the line: “What is wrong with you?”

Usually a harsh startup comes in the guise of criticism.
Complaint. There’s no gas in the car. Why didn’t you fill it up like you said you would?
Criticism. Why can’t you ever remember anything? I told you a thousand times to fill up the tank, and you didn’t. (Criticism. She’s implying the problem is his fault. Even if it is, blaming him will only make it worse.)

The first horseman is very common in relationships. If you find that you and your spouse are critical of each other, don’t assume you’re headed for divorce court. The problem with criticism is that when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen.

Horseman 2: Contempt. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt. So are name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour. In whatever form, contempt — the worst of the four horsemen — is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you’re disgusted with him or her. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation.

Often a person’s main purpose is to demean her or his spouse. Couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses (colds, flu, and so on) than other people.

Contempt is fuelled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner. You’re more likely to have such thoughts if your differences are not resolved. As disagreeing persists, complaints turn into global criticisms, which produces more and more disgusted feelings and thoughts, and finally you are fed up with your spouse, a change that will affect what you say when you argue.

Belligerence is just as deadly to a relationship. It is a form of aggressive anger because it contains a threat or provocation.

Horseman 3: Defensiveness. When conversations become so negative, critical, and attacking, it should come as no surprise that you will defend yourself.

Although this is understandable, research shows that this approach rarely has the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.

You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.

Criticism, Contempt, and Defensiveness don’t always gallop into a home in strict order. They function more like a relay match — handing the baton off to each other over and over again, if the couple can’t put a stop to it. The more defensive one becomes, the more the other attacks in response. Nothing gets resolved, thanks to the prevalence of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness.

Much of these exchanges are communicated subtly (and not so subtly) through body language and sounds.

Horseman 4: Stonewalling. In marriages where discussions begin with a harsh startup, where criticism and contempt lead to defensiveness, which leads to more contempt and more defensiveness, eventually one partner tunes out. So enters the fourth horseman.

Think of the husband who comes home from work, gets met with a barrage of criticism from his wife, and hides behind the newspaper. The less responsive he is, the more she yells. Eventually he gets up and leaves the room. Rather than confronting his wife, he disengages. By turning away from her, he is avoiding a fight, but he is also avoiding his marriage. He has become a stonewaller.

Although both husbands and wives can be stonewallers, this behaviour. is far more common among men.

During a typical conversation between two people, the listener gives all kinds of cues to the speaker that he’s paying attention. He may use eye contact, nod his head, say something like “Yeah” or “Uh-huh.”

A stonewaller doesn’t give you this sort of casual feedback. He tends to look away or down without uttering a sound. He sits like an impassive stone wall. The stonewaller acts as though he couldn’t care less about what you’re saying, if he even hears it.

Stonewalling usually arrives later in the course of a marriage than the other three horsemen. That’s why it’s less common among newlywed husbands than among couples who have been in a negative spiral for a while. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out.”

THE THIRD SIGN: FLOODING

Usually people stonewall as a protection against feeling flooded. Flooding means that your spouse’s negativity — whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness — is so overwhelming, and so sudden, that it leaves you shell-shocked. You feel so defenseless against this sniper attack that you learn to do anything to avoid a replay.

The more often you feel flooded by your spouse’s criticism or contempt, the more hyper vigilant you are for cues that your spouse is about to “blow” again. All you can think about is protecting yourself from the turbulence your spouse’s onslaught causes. And the way to do that is to disengage emotionally from the relationship.

A marriage’s meltdown can be predicted by habitual harsh startup and frequent flooding brought on by the relentless presence of the four horsemen during disagreements. Although each of these factors alone can predict a divorce, they usually coexist in an unhappy marriage.

THE FOURTH SIGN: BODY LANGUAGE

Even if you could not hear the conversation between a stonewaller and the spouse, you would be able to predict their divorce simply by looking at the stonewaller’s physiological readings. When couples are monitored for bodily changes during a tense discussion, you can see just how physically distressing flooding is.

One of the most apparent of these physical reactions is that the heart speeds up — pounding away at more than 100 beats per minute — even as high as 165. (In contrast, a typical heart rate for a man who is about 30 is 76, and for a woman the same age, 82.)

Hormonal changes occur, too, including the secretion of adrenaline, which kicks in the “fight or flight response.” Blood pressure mounts. These changes are so dramatic that if one partner is frequently flooded during marital discussions, it’s easy to predict that they will divorce.

Recurring episodes of flooding lead to divorce for two reasons. First, they signal that at least one partner feels severe emotional distress when dealing with the other.

Second, the physical sensations of feeling flooded — increased heart rate, sweating, etc. — make it almost impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion. When your body goes into overdrive during an argument, it perceives the current situation as dangerous.

When a pounding heart and all the other physical stress reactions happen in the midst of a discussion with your mate, the consequences are disastrous. Your ability to process information is reduced, meaning it’s harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying. Creative problem solving goes out the window.

You’re left with the most reflexive, least intellectually sophisticated responses in your repertoire: to fight (act critical, contemptuous, or defensive) or flee (stonewall). Any chance of resolving the issue is gone. Most likely, the discussion will just worsen the situation.

MEN AND WOMEN REALLY ARE DIFFERENT

In 85 percent of marriages, the stonewaller is the husband. The reason lies in our gender.

Any nursing mother can tell you that the amount of milk she produces is affected by how relaxed she feels, which is related to the release of the hormone oxytocin in the brain. A women is more able to quickly soothe herself and calm down after feeling stressed.

In contrast, a man’s adrenaline kicks in quite readily and does not calm down so easily. The male cardiovascular system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress. For example, if a man and woman suddenly hear a very loud, brief sound, like a blowout, most likely his heart will beat faster than hers and stay accelerated for longer. The same goes for their blood pressure — his will become more elevated and stay higher longer.

When male subjects are deliberately treated rudely and then told to relax for twenty minutes, their blood pressure surges and stays elevated until they get to retaliate.

When women face the same treatment, they are able to calm down during those twenty minutes. Interestingly, a woman’s blood pressure tends to rise again if she is pressured into retaliating.
Since marital confrontation that activates vigilance takes a greater physical toll on the male, it’s no surprise that men are more likely than women to attempt to avoid it.

It’s a biological fact: Men are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than are their wives.

During marital stress, men have a greater tendency to have negative thoughts that maintain their distress, while women are more likely to think soothing thoughts that help them calm down and be conciliatory.

Men, generally, either think about how righteous and indignant they feel (“I’m going to get even,” “I don’t have to take this”), which tends to lead to contempt or belligerence. Or they think about themselves as an innocent victim of their wife’s wrath or complaint (“Why is she always blaming me?”), which leads to defensiveness.

While these rules don’t hold for every male and every female, Gottman has found that the majority of couples do follow these gender differences in physiological and psychological reactions to stress.

Given these dissimilarities, most marriages (including healthy, happy ones) follow a comparable pattern of conflict in which the wife, who is constitutionally better able to handle the stress, brings up sensitive issues.

The husband, who is not as able to cope with it, will attempt to avoid getting into the subject. He may become defensive and stonewall or even become belligerent or contemptuous in an attempt to silence her.

Just because your marriage follows this pattern, it’s not a given that a divorce is in the offing. You’ll find examples of all four horsemen and even occasional flooding in stable marriages. But when the four horsemen take up permanent residence, when either partner begins to feel flooded routinely, the relationship is in serious trouble.

Frequently feeling flooded leads almost inevitably to distancing yourself from your spouse. That in turn leads you to feel lonely.

Without help, the couple will end up divorced or living in a dead marriage, in which they maintain separate, parallel lives in the same home. They may go through the motions of togetherness — attending their children’s plays, hosting dinner parties, taking family vacations. But emotionally they no longer feel connected to each other. They have given up.

THE FIFTH SIGN: FAILED REPAIR ATTEMPTS

While it takes time for the four horsemen and the flooding that comes in their wake to overrun a marriage, divorce can so often be predicted by listening to a single conversation between newlyweds.
By analysing any disagreement a couple has, you get a good sense of the pattern they tend to follow. A crucial part of that pattern is whether their repair attempts succeed or fail.

Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes (“Let’s take a break,” “Wait, I need to calm down”) to deescalate the tension during a touchy discussion — to put on the brakes so flooding is prevented.

Repair attempts save marriages because they decrease emotional tension between spouses and because, by lowering the stress level, they also prevent your heart from racing and making you feel flooded.

When the four horsemen rule a couple’s communication, repair attempts often don’t even get noticed. Especially when you’re feeling flooded, you’re not able to hear a verbal White flag.

In unhappy marriages, the more contemptuous and defensive the couple is with each other, the more flooding occurs, and the harder it is to hear and respond to a repair. And since the repair is not heard, the contempt and defensiveness just get heightened, making flooding more pronounced, which makes it more difficult to hear the next repair attempt, until finally one partner withdraws.

The failure of repair attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future.

The presence of the four horsemen alone predicts divorce with only an 82 percent accuracy. But when you add in the failure of repair attempts, the accuracy rate reaches into the 90s.

This is because some couples who trot out the four horsemen when they argue are successful at repairing the harm the horsemen cause. Usually when the four horsemen are present but the couple’s repair attempts are successful, the result is a stable, happy marriage.

In fact, 84 percent of the newlyweds who were high on the four horsemen but repaired effectively were in stable, happy marriages six years later. But if there are no repair attempts — or if the attempts are not able to be heard — the marriage is in serious danger.

Gottman can tell 96 percent of the time whether a marital discussion will resolve a conflict, after the first three minutes of that discussion.

In emotionally intelligent marriages a wide range of successful repair attempts can be heard. Each person has his or her own approach. Whether a repair succeeds or fails has very little to do with how eloquent it is and everything to do with the state of the marriage.

In marriages in which the four horsemen have moved in for good, even the most articulate, sensitive, well-targeted repair attempt is likely to fail abysmally.

Ironically, we see more repair attempts between troubled couples than between those whose marriages are going smoothly. The more repair attempts fail, the more these couples keep trying. What predicts that repair attempts will work? The quality of the friendship between husband and wife and “positive sentiment override.”

THE SIXTH SIGN: BAD MEMORIES

When a relationship gets subsumed in negativity, it’s not only the couple’s present and future life together that are put at risk. Their past is in danger, too. Couples who are deeply entrenched in a negative view of their spouse and their marriage often rewrite their past.

Gottman says: “When I ask them about their early courtship, their wedding, their first year together, I can predict their chances of divorce, even if I’m not privy to their current feelings.”

Most couples enter marriage with high hopes and great expectations. In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. Even if the wedding didn’t go off perfectly, they tend to remember the highlights rather than the low points.

The same goes for each other. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other.

When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten — for the worse. Now she recalls that he was thirty minutes late getting to the ceremony. Or he focuses on all that time she spent talking to his best man at the rehearsal dinner — or “flirting” with his friend, as it seems to him now. Another sad sign is when you find the past difficult to remember — it has become so unimportant or painful that you’ve let it fade away.

When the four horsemen overrun a home, impairing the communication, the negativity mushrooms to such a degree that everything a spouse does — or ever did — is recast in a negative light.

In a happy marriage, if the husband promises to pick up the wife’s dry cleaning but forgets, she is likely to think, “Oh well, he’s been under a lot of stress lately and needs more sleep.” She considers his lapse to be fleeting and caused by a specific situation. In an unhappy marriage the same circumstance is likely to lead to a thought like “He’s just always so inconsiderate and selfish.”

In a happy marriage a loving gesture, like a wife greeting her husband with a passionate kiss at the end of the workday, is seen as a sign that the spouse is loving and considerate. In an unhappy marriage the same action will lead the husband to think, “What does she want out of me?”

THE END DRAWS NEAR

When a marriage gets to the point where the couple have rewritten their history, when their minds and bodies make it virtually impossible to communicate and repair their current problems, it is almost bound to fail. They find themselves constantly on red alert. Because they always expect to do combat, the marriage becomes a torment. The understandable result: They withdraw from the relationship.

Some people leave a marriage literally, by divorcing. Others do so by leading parallel lives together. Whichever the route, there are four final stages that signal the death knell of a relationship.

1. You see your marital problems as severe.
2. Talking things over seems useless. You try to solve problems on your own.
3. You start leading parallel lives.
4. Loneliness sets in.

When a couple gets to the last stage, one or both partners may have an affair. An affair is usually a symptom of a dying marriage, not the cause. The end of that marriage could have been predicted long before either spouse strayed. The warning signs were almost always there early on if they had known what to look for.

You can see the seeds of trouble in the following:
1. What couples actually say to each other (the prevalence of harsh startup, the four horsemen, the unwillingness to accept influence).
2. The failure of their repair attempts.
3. Physiological reactions (flooding).
4. Pervasive negative thoughts about their marriage.

Any of these signs suggests that emotional separation, and in most cases divorce, may only be a matter of time.

BUT IT’S NOT OVER TILL IT’S OVER

As bleak as this sounds, far more marriages could be saved than currently are. Even a marriage that is about to hit bottom can be revived with the right kind of help. Sadly, most marriages at this stage get the wrong kind. Many therapists will deluge the couple with advice about negotiating their differences and improving their communication.

Gottman was not able to crack the code to saving marriages until he started to analyse what went right in happy marriages.

The key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not in how you handle disagreements but in how you are with each other when you’re not fighting. The foundation is to strengthen the friendship that is at the heart of any marriage.

SAMPLE EXAM ITEMS.

1. Gottman says he can predict a couple’s future breakup (divorce) based on which of the following?
a. the presence of anger in the couple’s arguing
b. the couple’s acknowledgment that their marriage isn’t perfect
c. the way the couple argues
d. a, b, and c
e. a and b only
f. a and c only

2. fill in the blank. In Gottman’s terms, when a discussion begins with criticism and/or sarcasm, it has begun with ________________________ .
a. a burst of contempt
b. a hostile setup
c. negative sentiment overdrive
d. a hostile startup
e. a harsh startup
f. a harsh setup

3. Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that Gottman calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Which of the following ARE NOT of the Four Horsemen?
1. defensiveness
2. complaining
3. stonewalling
4. contempt
5. hostility
6. conflict

a. 2, 5, and 6
b. 2, 4, and 6
c. 4, 5, and 6
d. 2 and 5
e. 5 and 6
f. 4 and 5

 

Article 4

Is parenthood detrimental to marriage?

Not necessarily.. Marital researchers identify a prescription that may buffer newlyweds against stressors. And how to strengthen marital friendship? By teaching couples communication, conflict management, and friendship building behaviours."It makes sense that working with couples to strengthen their marital friendship would help couples to weather their transition to parenthood."

Retrieved from: Smart Marriages

Volume 32, No. 1 January 2001

BY EILEEN M. O'CONNOR Monitor staff

A wife's satisfaction wanes and marriages decline at the onset of
parenthood--so goes the long-accepted assumption. A new study, however,
shows that a strong foundation of friendship between spouses, nurtured
consistently throughout the marriage, could increase marital satisfaction
during the life-changing experience of having a child.

"We found that couples that appeared to have a strong marital friendship
were the most resilient to decline in marital satisfaction when they became
parents," says University of Washington doctoral student Alyson Shapiro, who
conducted the study with renowned marital researcher John Gottman, PhD.
"Thus, it makes sense that working with couples to strengthen their marital
friendship would help couples to weather their transition to parenthood."

The study, "The baby and the marriage: identifying factors that buffer
against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives" in the
Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 1), found that a strong bond that
both partners work to build from the beginning can inoculate couples from
stress.

Specifically, they identified a three-part prescription for strengthening
the marital bond:

1. Building fondness and affection for your partner.

2. Being aware of what is going on in your spouse's life and being responsive
to it.

3. Approaching problems as something you and your partner have control of and
something you can solve together as a couple.

Successful couples, says Gottman, "deal with conflict in a very different
way as well. There was a respectful approach to conflict, a gentler
approach."

Study design and results

Gottman, Shapiro and research scientist Sybil Carrere selected 82 couples in
their first year of marriage and observed them for four to six years. During
that time 43 couples became parents and 39 remained childless. The
researchers studied the newlyweds' relationships to pinpoint patterns in
marital satisfaction and factors that kept a couple strong during the
transition to parenthood.

As revealed in the initial questionnaires and oral interviews, predictors of
a wife's marital satisfaction were her husband's affection and
attentiveness. Conversely, a husband's negativity, disenchantment or a
generally chaotic lifestyle foretold a wife's dissatisfaction. Annual
surveys, including additional marital satisfaction questionnaires
administered upon pregnancy and again when the baby was three months old,
tracked any attitude changes.

The researchers found that women who became mothers initially were satisfied
with their marriages; after having babies, 33 percent reported stable or
improved marital satisfaction while 67 percent reported declines. Among
childless couples, 51 percent of the wives reported stable or increased
marital satisfaction and 49 percent reported a decline.

These results do not suggest that parenthood improves marital happiness but
rather, the figures represent an overall trend as happy newlyweds are more
likely to become the happily married parents. Remaining childless did not
necessarily increase the satisfaction of couples who initially reported
lower rates of marital happiness because "those people who stayed married
and remained childless were higher in marital satisfaction than those people
who stayed childless and divorced."

Gottman notes that "our first 16 divorces were from childless couples" and
dubs this pattern "an attrition effect."

Another thought-provoking finding was that decreased marital satisfaction
was rarely evident during the interview three months after the birth, as
almost half the new mothers who reported declining satisfaction did not do
so until their child's first birthday. This suggests that the joy of
bringing a child into the world temporarily substitutes for marital
satisfaction and dissatisfaction evolves when the life-changing reality of
parenthood sets in. Gottman calls the months following childbirth "a period
of great joy as well as potential problems."

A year later, "new ways of interacting between the husband and wife--or not
interacting as the case may be--have had a chance to become patterns, the
joy of having a new baby has subsided, and the wives are reappraising their
marriage in new less satisfied ways," explains Shapiro.

How husbands feel

The study findings also revealed that husbands' satisfaction declined after
the birth of a baby. However, the percentages were smaller, as only 56
percent of husbands with children reported dissatisfaction.

According to Gottman, a wife's marital satisfaction after the birth of a
child directly influences the husband's reaction to the event.

"The effect is delayed in husbands, but very real," Gottman notes.

A husband's attitude is a crucial component to a happy marriage, he
explains, as "husbands who make the philosophical transition that moms tend
to make when they become dads are closer to their wives."

Ideally, the husband will adjust to considering the whole family before the
self. "What we see over the transition to parenthood is if the husband is
aware of his wife and attentive, it helps them make it through this
stressful time," notes Shapiro. "Similarly, when the wife is aware of her
husband and his contribution, she is more likely to give him the benefit of
the doubt when she may be preoccupied with the baby."

It follows that the relationship between marital satisfaction and the
arrival of a baby is intrinsically linked to the patterns that predict
divorce itself, the researchers conclude. Essentially, happy marriages make
for happy parents. Considering Gottman's observation that "generally it is
the happier couples who move on to become parents," it is no wonder then
that so many births are celebrated with great hope.

"It makes sense that working with couples to strengthen their marital
friendship would help couples to weather their transition to parenthood."

-- Alyson Shapiro University of Washington
 

 

Article 5

Marriage Preparation as Divorce Prevention: Background, Benefits, and Limitations
Monica L. Moore University of Evansville

Retrieved from evansville.edu 07/07/06

I Abstract

Divorce is a significant concern due to the detrimental effects it is proven to have on the psychological and physical health of many couples and their children. Unfortunately, the efficacy of interventions for currently married, distressed couples is questionable, both due to underlying societal influences on marriage and to methodological difficulties in evaluating the therapies, themselves. However, studies of couples have found specific relationship qualities that predict the likelihood of future divorce, and these discoveries can inform and strengthen marriage interventions. This paper presents a review of the current literature surrounding divorce and marriage intervention: the impact of divorce on individual and family health, the nature of the divorce process, psychosocial causes of divorce, and marriage interventions, with an emphasis on marriage-preparation programs and implications for future research.

 
II Table of Contents


I. Abstract                                                                                                   
 
II. Table of Contents                                                                                     
 
III. Why is divorce a concern?
a. Effects of divorce                                                                                
b. Divorce process                                                                                 
 
IV. What causes divorce?
a.  Trends in marriage and divorce: The view from sociology                     
b. Causes and correlates of divorce: The view from psychology   
 
V. What has been done to inhibit divorce?
a. Towards marriage intervention                                                 
b. Efficacy of marriage intervention                                                          
 
VI. What does the future hold for divorce prevention?
a. Rationale for and limitations of prevention                                            
b.  Specific premarital programs                                                               
 
VII. Conclusions                                                                                              
 
VIII. References                                                                                               
 

III Why is Divorce a Concern? Effects of Divorce

The negative impact of divorce can be broken down into two main components: First, divorce brings to an end the positive effects of marriage on the lives of adults and children. Secondly, divorce is usually evidence of marital distress, and marital conflict, compounded by the social and emotional upheaval of the divorce process, has negative effects on the psychological and physiological functioning of the whole family.


To address the first component, a significant body of research has documented the benefits of marriage. The positive effects of marriage are thought to stem from the emotional, social, and physical intimacy of the secure spousal relationship. An extensive literature review by Coombs (1991, Abstract) found that “the evidence is consistent with the protection/support hypothesis that a marital partner who provides companionship and psychic aid buffers the individual against physical and emotional pathology.” Married people are at less risk for specific disorders such as alcoholism, as well as having lower overall mortality rates and higher levels of personal happiness, although the benefits of marriage seem to be more significant for men than for women (Coombs, 1991).


Healthy, supportive marriages promote personal health and well-being. Conflicted marriages have the opposite effect, increasing a person’s risk of physical and psychological dysfunction. Distressed marriages are correlated with increased incidence of “specific illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease and chronic pain (see Schmaling & Sher, 1997)” (Fincham & Beech, 1999, p. 49). Conflict and divorce also have many psychological effects on couples. Research indicates that women suffer more psychological harm than men, possibly due to the increased burdens of singleness and childrearing.

The detrimental effects of conflict and divorce on children continue to be a subject of scrutiny. Guttmann (1993) provided insight into the divorce experience of children compared to that of adults:

For adults, divorce can be viewed as a crisis that starts with marital disharmony and, over the course of time, approaches a potential resolution. For children, divorce represents a traumatic transition from life with both parents to the condition of living with only one, attended by the intermediate stages of personal imbalance, confusion, and disorganization (p. 157-8).

Studies show that divorce comes as a shock to many children, even in households suffering from obvious marital distress (Guttmann, 1993). Despite the admitted surprise of children at the decision to divorce, the dysfunction within pre-divorce homes has been correlated with increased stress and cardiac response to emotions and decreased self-control of emotional responses in children before any divorce has taken place (Gottman, 1994). The factors most predictive of a child’s response to divorce are the nature of family life before the divorce, the adjustment of the parent retaining custody after the divorce, and the level of development the child has reached (Guttmann, 1993).

Overall, marriage problems and divorce have been correlated with higher levels of childhood “depression, withdrawal, poor social competence, health problems, poor academic performance, and a variety of conduct-related difficulties” (Gottman, 1998, p. 170). Unfortunately, the research on individual outcomes is plagued by conflicting reports and confounding variables (Guttmann, 1993). At the societal level, however, the negative impact of divorce on family economic status is clear. Nearly three-fourths of the $200 billion spent annually on welfare is distributed to homes headed by single parents, and eighty percent of children living below the poverty line in the U.S. are the offspring of unmarried or divorced parents (Fagan, Patterson, & Rector, 2002). Some research has also indicated that children of divorce are more likely to divorce, themselves, though definitive evidence has yet to be presented (Gottman, 1998; Guttmann, 1993; Teachman, 2002).


a. The Divorce Process

In 1986, McIsaac conceptualised the divorce process as a series of three levels: psychological, social, and legal (Donohue, 1991, p. 12-3). Kressel and Deutsch (1977) had earlier described divorce as a developmental process consisting of pre decision, decision, mourning, and re-equilibrium stages (Guttmann, 1993). During the first stages of both of these models, the emotional ties of the marriage relationship come undone in the minds of one or both partners. This mental distancing culminates in the decision to divorce and the taking of social and legal steps necessary to fulfill that decision, including physical separation of the spouses (Donohue, 1991). The mourning period begins with this physical separation and continues for an average period of one-and-one-half to two years (Guttmann, 1993). The mourning period is the most emotionally and psychologically threatening phase to both adults and children, highlighting an important consideration for clinicians: Parents undergoing divorce may be the least able to provide care and support for their children at the very time their children most need them. Also notable from a clinical standpoint is the 18 to 24-month time period: Significant disturbances during this time are normal, while continued disturbances may be cause for concern. The re-equilibrium stage is reached with varying degrees of success by individual spouses and children (Guttmann, 1993).

b. What Causes Divorce? Trends in Marriage and Divorce: The View from Sociology

Anecdotal estimates hold that “between 50% and 67% of first marriages end in divorce” (Gottman, 1998, Abstract). Current projective statistics, however, suggest a divorce rate of only 40-45% for new marriages, with remarriages being in the upper end of that range (Whitehead & Popenoe, 2001). Historically, divorce rates rose throughout the 1960s and 70s, finally leveling off in the 1980s (Whitehead, 1996, p. 8). More important than the numbers, however, are the changes in family structure those numbers represent.

Whereas just a few decades ago, a key purpose of marriage was to have children, marriage and parenthood are increasingly seen as separate pursuits. Whitehead sees this as just one piece of evidence for Alice S. Rossi’s observation that “Westerners are shifting from a concern for their children’s futures to a self-orientation that gives priority to individuals’ desires rather than to the needs of spouses and children” (Whitehead, 1996, p. 4). Marriage and parenthood are now seen as personal goals to be achieved or as media for self-expression. This development is concerning because over time, American families have also devolved from extended kin networks to individual couples with children, making those children “dependent on the permanence and stability of marital bonds” (p. 7), and therefore at risk.
           

Divorce has changed both parent-child relationships and the structure of the family. According to Robert S. Weiss, though divorce is often seen as a way to put an end to conflict and thereby benefit the family system, divorce commonly has the opposite effect, creating more conflict and incapacitating the spousal check-and-balance system of effective parenting (p. 216). Citing data on self-reported happiness of divorcing couples, sociologist Maggie Gallagher related that, “the greatest drop in happiness has occurred among married women in their childbearing years,” the very population to whom divorce is often meant to provide relief (1996, p. 238).


The June 2001 report from the National Marriage Project contained the results of a Gallup poll of 20-29 year olds commissioned to measure young adults’ views of marriage. Some of the results are quite encouraging from the standpoint of decreasing divorce. For example, a 1994 survey of the general population found that only 15% or respondents would remain married out of concern for the children of that union. This report found, however, that 40% of young adults would stay married in that situation (Whitehead & Popenoe, 2001, p.16). Unfortunately, the results also indicate patterns of belief about cohabitation that are reason for concern. Research has shown that cohabitation does not improve one’s likelihood of staying married to one’s partner; in fact, cohabitation may even increase the risk of later divorce by decreasing commitment to the relationship (p. 24). Of the young adults surveyed by the National Marriage Project, however, 62% believed cohabitation is effective divorce prevention, and 43% claimed they “would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether or not you really get along” (p. 10).

These misinformed attempts at divorce prevention point towards a significant need for increased public awareness of marital risk factors.


IV Causes and Correlates of Divorce: The View from Psychology

Three theoretical models are commonly used to explain the causes of divorce: enduring dynamics, disillusionment, and emergent-distress.

The enduring dynamics model places the blame for failed marriages on characteristics of the couples’ relationships continuing from their initial stages of attraction and engagement (Huston, Neihuis, & Smith, 2001). The disillusionment and emergent-distress models suggest that newlyweds’ “idealistic notions become more realistic over time,” resulting in a decline in positivity (disillusionment) or an increase in negativity (emergent-distress) (Kurdeck, 2002, p. 4-5).

Huston et al. (2001) and Kurdeck (2002) assessed the appropriateness of these three models in explaining marital dissolution over time. Huston et al. found that disillusionment explains divorce, while enduring dynamics from the beginning of the relationship predict the early timing of divorce or the continuing level of “marital happiness” a couple may experience. Their study cited important differences in the patterns of change in early versus later-divorcing couples. The “early exiters” (divorced after two-six years) showed larger decreases in positive and larger increases in negative appraisals of marriage over the first two years than did couples who remained married. “Delayed-action divorcers” also experienced decreases in positive aspects of marriage during their newlywed periods, but without the increases in negative aspects; hence, the decision to divorce came after a longer period of time.

Although Huston et al. therefore advise that “researchers need to expand their theoretical vision beyond the emergent-distress model, with its focus on conflict and negativity” (2001, p. 118), the differences between early and later divorcers could be the result of simple differences in the speed of disillusionment or of a combination of disillusionment and emergent-distress: The decline in positivity could create vulnerability in the couple to increases in negative emotion and behaviour

The findings of Kurdeck (2002) indicated just such a combination of models. To improve the representative status of previous studies, Kurdeck’s research sample included second marriages and also assessed couples annually over an eight-year period. These considerations strengthen his study because 46% of current newlyweds have been previously married, seven years is the median time for divorce, and statistics show “about 30% of divorces occurring within the first four years of marriage (Clark, 1995a)” (as cited in Kurdeck, 2002, p. 163). An additional strength of the study was that time before physical separation of the couple was measured, rather than the length of time before the conclusion of legal divorce proceedings (Kurdeck, 2002). Physical separation, to review, marks the second level of the divorce process, in which partners actually make social moves to distance themselves; before this step, the divorce is solely cognitive (Donohue, 1991).


In his study, Kurdeck assessed 522 couples by mail-in surveys of four personal marital satisfaction measures: love (sexual desire), like (friendship), trust (surety in the relationship), and psychological distress (p. 165-6). Each partner was instructed to complete his or her survey without consulting his or her spouse. The marital satisfaction variables were examined both as yearly ratings and as overall marriage trajectories for each couple in order to test the “fit” of each marriage dissolution model. Kurdeck’s results showed that both the disillusionment and the enduring dynamics models were required to explain the variability in timing of separation and continuing level of marital satisfaction; “both initial levels and change in how spouses appraise their partners (i.e., love, liking, and trust) are critical in understanding long-term marital outcomes” (2002, p. 177).

Taking a more exclusive stance, Gottman and Levenson (2002) conducted an in-depth investigation of only the enduring dynamics model. Research had indicated that divorces occur in two distinct time brackets, early or later, so the goal of this study was to assess two hypothetical models for the differences in timing of divorce. The first was an “ailing marriage” model in which placement on a continuum of marriage dissatisfaction predicts divorce (the lower the satisfaction, the sooner the divorce). The second model suggested that two different interaction characteristics predicted earlier or later divorce; couples with a “high level of expressiveness” divorce early, while couples with an “absence of affect” divorce later (Gottman & Levenson, 2002, p. 84). 

The fourteen-year longitudinal study ran post hoc analyses on data from 79 Indiana couples collected since 1983. Upon entering the study, the mean marriage length for the couples was five years, and the sample contained a full range of “marital satisfaction” ratings, making it a fairly representative sample. Each couple first gave an oral account of the course of their relationship through courtship and marriage. The couples each then participated in three videotaped discussions, one on that day’s happenings, one on a topic upon which they typically disagreed, and one on a positive subject. During the discussions, bodily measures of heart rate, electrical conductance of the skin (the measure of arousal used by polygraph tests to indicate deceit), and overall movement were taken. At the four-year follow-up session, couples took assessments of relationship happiness and stability. For the next ten years, the researchers attained annual updates of whether or not the couples had divorced (Gottman & Levenson, 2002).

The videotaped disagreement was analysed using the Ekman and Friesen Emotion Facial Expression Coding System (EMFACS), tallying the number of facial expressions during each couple’s discussion. Along with the daily events discussion, the disagreement discussion was analysed for verbal and nonverbal displays of specific affects. The oral history interview was analysed for characteristics indicative of the total negative or positive outlook of each relationship.

At the end of the 14-year period, 21 of the 79 couples had divorced, one set of divorces occurring after 8-9 years of marriage, and another set occurring after 15-16 years. The characteristics of the terminated marriages gave no significant support to the ailing marriage hypothesis regarding relationship satisfaction levels. Instead, communication patterns supported the second hypothesis, with specific patterns predicting earlier or later divorce. According to Gottman and Levenson, “The data may be suggesting two dysfunctional adaptations to marital issues, one that is dysregulated by escalating negativity, and the other that is dysregulated by having no affect” (2002, p. 92).

These results support Gottman’s previous research on the patterns of behaviour and communication that characterize failing marriages, including “criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stone-walling,” his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1998, p. 184). Other traits he emphasized in a review of the literature are entrapping, extended sequences of negative displays and responses between spouses (negative affect reciprocity), interchanges in which the wife makes demands and the husband retreats, and a high ratio of negative to positive verbal and nonverbal behaviour (Gottman, 1998, p. 85), all of which are correlated with levels of physical arousal, suggesting underlying biological processes are also at work in distressed couples.

Marriage research has tested many other hypothetical causes of divorce. For example, the issues about which couples argue have been thought to reflect divorce potential. To test this assumption, a recent study by Stanley, Markman, and Whitton (2002) hypothesized that couples who named finances as their number one topic of disagreement would not differ significantly from couples who listed other specific topics. The researchers interviewed 908 engaged, married, or cohabiting participants and found that money and children were the top two subjects of disagreement for first and second marriages, respectively.

Disproving Stanley et al.’s conflict content hypothesis, couples who reported money as their top disagreement did experience fewer positive interchanges and did display a greater trend towards unhappiness that those who reported other subjects of conflict. Stanley et al. also hypothesized that commitment levels would predict divorce. This hypothesis was proven true for both males and females; higher commitment levels in married participants were correlated with fewer thoughts of divorce or of marriage as a restrictive arrangement.

In addition to these communication patterns, certain sociological traits have also been correlated with divorce. Couples with lower divorce rates tend to hold more esteemed jobs and to have waited till their 20s to get married, rather than wed as teenagers (Donohue, 1991). Divorce is also negatively correlated with completed years of education (Stanley, 2001) and with religiosity (Whitehead & Popenoe, 2001). Extremely young couples, couples in which the husband is in and out of work, and African American couples, on the other hand, are more likely to divorce (Donohue, 1991).

V. What Has Been Done to Inhibit Divorce? Towards Marriage Intervention

Searches for the causes of divorce have led to the development of new conceptualizations of marriage as well as new instruments for measuring those theoretical constructs. For example, Bagarozzi’s (1997) recognition of intimacy as a plausible correlate of marital well-being (see Coombs, 1991) led him to create the Marital Intimacy Needs Questionnaire, a series of Likert-scaled items to measure satisfaction with a partner’s efforts to meet one’s intimate needs.

Bagarozzi’s instrument rates nine subtypes of intimacy: emotional, psychological, intellectual, sexual, spiritual, aesthetic, social and recreational, physical, and temporal (1997, p. 287). This tool is useful both as a self-assessment and as a means to address particular facets of marital dissatisfaction; the questionnaire quantifies and locates areas of the marriage relationship in need of improvement, data often lacking in marital research.

In the same spirit of pinpointing and operationalising marital conflicts in order to lessen their frequency and impact, Fincham and Beech (1999) proposed viewing marriage from a goal orientation. They cited earlier research (Birchler et al, 1975; Burleson & Denton, 1997) that found conflict is not a result of having too few communication skills, but instead of failing to use those skills to recognize and de-escalate disagreements. These findings could be explained by a goals perspective: An individual would be less likely to prevent or end a disagreement if he or she viewed the disagreement as a means of attaining a personal goal. Fincham and Beech (1999) concluded that a goals perspective would help therapists to develop more effective, multifaceted interventions by creating a system for comparison of all research studies, as well as by providing an easily understood basis for client assessments and discussions.

After a 1998 review of the literature, Gottman proposed another conceptualisation of marriage, the Bank Account Model (BAM) (p. 191). Instead of implicating problem-solving behaviour, BAM attributes divorce to the lack of three preventive behaviours. First is the maintenance of a high degree of positive to negative exchanges (a high degree of responsive, warm behaviour), in everyday, non-confrontational situations. The second behaviour is the maintenance of a current love map of one’s spouse’s psyche, “knowing one’s partner’s world and continually updating that knowledge” (Gottman, 1998, p. 192). The third and final behaviour is the ongoing expression of fondness and admiration between the marriage partners (p. 192). According to Gottman, these three behaviours. increase both cognitive and behavioural indices of marital stability and satisfaction, spawning self-perpetuating cycles that build and strengthen marriages. To Gottman, developing these behaviours. is therefore more important than training couples in conflict-resolution skills.


a. Marriage Intervention Today

In a 2002 report from the Heritage Foundation on marriage interventions as a dimension of Welfare reform, Fagan, Patterson, and Rector highlighted findings on the efficacy of a variety of premarital and marriage intervention programs in improving marital satisfaction and preventing divorce. Citing a meta-analysis by Giblin et al. (1985), Fagan et al. reported similar effect sizes for all kinds of marriage interventions: .44 overall, which means couples who complete marriage programs display a higher level of skills and satisfaction than 66% of control couples, although some individual programs’ effect sizes are much higher (2002, p. 5). Despite the development of numerous models for marriage intervention, these efficacy measures remain debatable due to the non standardized, observational data upon which the field of marital therapy is based (Gottman, 1998). However, goals of different interventions allow programs to be classified as either behaviour or insight-oriented to allow for some comparisons between outcome studies (Kadis & McClendon, 1998).

Behavioural interventions emphasize changing interaction patterns to improve the quality of the marriage. Specific dimensions of communication assessed by these therapists include the structure of conflict and “behavior-exchange” relationships (Kadis & McClendon, 1998, p.27-32). Behavioral therapy remains the most extensively studied form of marital intervention, and these programs have an average effect size of 65-70%, meaning a couple undergoing treatment is likely to experience a more positive outcome than 60-70% of couples not in treatment (Christenson & Heavey, 1999, p. 167).

However, as Christenson and Heavey indicate, effect size is relative; a significant effect size does not necessarily translate into meaningful change within a couple’s relationship. Meta-analyses by Jacobson et al. (1984) and Shadish et al (1993), as cited by Christenson and Heavey (1999), found clinically significant improvements in only 35 and 41% of couples, respectively (p. 168-9). These rates are similar to those found in other psychotherapeutic methods (Fagan et al., 2002). Unfortunately, longitudinal data on most marital treatment programs is almost nonexistent, and the few long-term studies that have been conducted indicate a relapse rate of 25-50% within four years of treatment (Christenson & Heavey, 1999, p. 169).

Insight-oriented marriage interventions are based on psychoanalytical principles, and according to Kadis and McClendon (1998), their main goals are to “locate the important affect, then to trace the roots of the affect to the early experience, and finally to understand and explain the current conflict in the context of that early experience” (p. 19). Of use in couple therapy are the object-relations, family-of-origin, and experiential approaches because they address feelings or patterns of interaction that may have been carried into the marriage from past familial relationships. Another insight approach is the strengths perspective touted by Dinkmeyer (1993). Viewing the couple as a self-contained system, the strengths perspective urges spouses to focus and build on relationship successes. In this intervention, the therapist helps clients to assess their own irrational, perfectionistic expectations of marriage as well as to see and gain confidence from the potential within their relationships. The theory is that by focusing on positive aspects of the relationship, the couple will recognize the worth of their marriage and will take ownership of its future (Dinkmeyer, 1993).

Although backed by clinical experience, insight therapies are sorely lacking in supportive empirical data. In their review of the efficacies of various therapeutic methods, for example, Sandberg, Johnson, Dermer, Gfeller-Strouts, Seibold, Stringer-Seibold, Hutchings, Andrews, and Miller (1997, p. 132) found that “nearly one half of the models (eight) [mostly insight-oriented] are backed by one or no outcome studies” with rigorous enough testing procedures to be included in their report. However, in a controversial study in 1991, Snyder et al. compared insight and behavior-oriented interventions and found both therapies equally effective.

Tracing the divorce rates of the two groups of couples, however, the researchers found that 38% of the behavior group had divorced within four years of treatment, while only 3% of the insight group had done so (as cited in Gottman, 1998, p. 189). Snyder et al.’s original comparison of outcomes between insight and behavioral therapies, though in need of replication, nevertheless points out an important observation about the efficacy of marriage intervention: The success rates are very similar across a variety of treatments (Christenson & Heavey, 1999). Even component analyses of behavioral approaches have resulted in no one significant factor most responsible for couple outcomes, leaving researchers in a quandary over why marital interventions work at all (Gottman, 1998).

One area in which marital interventions have made significant gains, however, has been the treatment of specific disorders. Behavioral marriage therapies, for example, have proven especially helpful in cases of substance abuse. Stable marriage relationships have been correlated with lower rates of alcoholism in both men and women (Coombs, 1991). Recent studies cited by the Heritage Foundation reported decreases in physical and voiced spouse-directed aggression, as well as decreased substance abuse and increased relationship happiness among alcoholics and drug addicts in marriage therapies. These results held true when clients were compared to both users receiving no therapy and users only receiving individual psychotherapy (Fagan, Patterson, & Rector, 2002, p. 9-10). Another study reviewed empirical data on the efficacy of marriage interventions and found that the effectiveness of behavior-oriented marital therapy for the treatment of alcoholics was limited by the dedication of the spouses to their marriages (Sandberg et al., 1997).

Marital interventions have also proven effective for the treatment of depression (Fincham & Beech, 1999). Studies have shown that behavior-oriented marriage therapy has similar outcomes to cognitive therapy for clients suffering from depression. An important caveat, however, is that the depression in these studies was linked to marital conflict; for depression due to other causes, improving the marriage relationship was not as helpful as cognitive interventions for the depressed spouse (Christenson & Heavey, 1999).

A small, introductory study by Waring, Chamberlaine, Carver, Stalker, and Schaefer (1995) tested the effectiveness of Enhancing Marital Intimacy Therapy (EMIT) in treating depression. EMIT is an insight-oriented intervention that focuses on the reciprocal disclosure of both spouses’ attributions for the depression, with the therapeutic goals being to teach intimacy skills while alleviating depression (Waring et al.). Though the study was subject to attrition and is in need of replication, the results indicate that revealing intimate cognitive processes to a marriage partner is an effective treatment for female depression, though the effect is linked to the act of disclosure, itself, not to increased levels of spousal intimacy. In sum, research indicates that integrating spousal involvement with cognitive interventions for depression increases the effectiveness of the treatment for populations experiencing marital distress.


b. What Does the Future Hold for Divorce Prevention? Rationale for & Limitations of Prevention


Given the benefits of marriage and the negative effects of divorce, informed by empirical data on relationship qualities that predict impending dissolution, and recognizing the questionable efficacy of treatments for already-distressed couples, preventing the union of ill-suited individuals and the development of later marital conflict should be a top priority of social science professionals. Scott M. Stanley (2001) highlighted four positive effects of marriage preparation programs: encouraging relationship assessment, emphasizing the importance of marriage, informing couples of social supports, and decreasing probabilities of future distress.

First, delaying marriage in order to complete a premarital education program would increase the amount of time for a couple to get to know each other, decreasing their risk of unrealistic expectations going into marriage (Stanley, 2001). The extended engagement period and premarital assessments would also increase the likelihood that high-risk couples would decide not to marry. This hypothesis is supported by program researcher David Olson, who reported that “10-15% of couples taking PREPARE  [a premarital inventory] within 6 months of their intended wedding date decide not to marry” (Stanley, 2001, p. 273). Widespread marriage preparation courses would also raise the status of marriage, which is often demeaned by our mass media, would put couples in contact with social supports such as clergy or counselors to turn to in the event of future marital problems, and would make couples aware of the personal risk factors they might need to combat.

Despite these many projected benefits, marriage preparation programs are sorely limited by their lack of empirically supportive data. The November 1999 Briefing issued by the Australian Institute of Family Studies summarized challenges of the field of premarital intervention: According to Parker (1999), marriage preparation programs typically contain structured assessments of risk factors, group discussions, interaction with a religious official, or some combination of the three. Unfortunately, scientific studies of these programs are fraught with problems. The most troubling aspects are the small numbers and selection biases of participants, the lack of longitudinal data, and the lack of controls or standardized means of comparison between studies.

For example, couples who participate in voluntary marital interventions “are by definition different from those who do not” (Parker, 1999, p. 2). Characteristics of willing participants, such as dedication to marriage, may influence the results. Longitudinal studies are expensive, time-consuming, and subject to high dropout rates, resulting in non-representative final samples. Finally, “Few studies… have focused on the same outcomes or employed the same measures, resulting in a lack of cohesion in the literature” (2). For example, programs measure their effectiveness according to their different goals, and the self-report measures that are often employed by marital studies are subject to the self-serving biases or placebo effects of the participants.


c. Specific Premarital Programs


Les and Leslie Parrott, directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, have developed a Christian-based marriage preparation program called SYMBIS, or “Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts” (Parrott & Parrott, 2003). In keeping with its Christian background, the program emphasizes the strengthening of marriage through the “development and maturity of each marriage partner,” the integration of faith and everyday living (Parrott & Parrott, 2003, p. 211). The program includes skills training and assessments as well as mentoring by a stable couple during the first year of marriage. Disagreeing with an observation made by Gottman that communication skills are used such a low percentage of the time that skills training is of little use, the Parrotts listed numerous benefits of communication training.

They argued that a framework of active listening, a basic communication skill, provides couples with a way to de-escalate heated disagreements. Furthermore, the Parrotts emphasized the representative value of skills training: Participating in this segment of the marriage education program causes couples to devote time to their relationship, as well as introduces a placebo effect of increased confidence through learning new skills. These positive feelings may increase faith in the efficacy of the program, giving time for larger issues within marriages to be addressed (Parrott & Parrott, 2003). Despite numerous rallies and marriage enrichment seminars, empirical evidence on the efficacy of the SYMBIS program is lacking.


Another premarital program, PAIRS, has been shown to cause significant improvements in marital relationships. The Practical Application of Relationship Skills training program is an insight-oriented approach (Durana, 1996) that emphasizes personal responsibility and self, not spouse, control. A study by Durana (1996) examined the effects of the BER (Bonding and Emotional Re-education) segment of PAIRS training on four premarriage classes. BER is a weekend of group exercises meant to improve physical and affective openness through the cathartic release of emotions in dealing with past relationship patterns.

The participants in Durana’s study were assessed on marital adjustment, self-esteem, and well-being four times over the course of the 4-5 month PAIRS course: before PAIRS, before the BER segment, after BER, and after PAIRS (1996). The study found significant increases in self-esteem due to BER and significantly less anxiety for both men and women, as well as less depression in women from pre-BER to the end of the program, possibly indicating a connection between female anxiety, depression, and self-disclosure, echoing the findings of other depression studies (see Waring et al., 1995). Both marriage partners also displayed increased adjustment over the course of PAIRS (Durana, 1996). Initial comparisons of troubled and untroubled couples also found that BER was more effective for troubled couples, though longitudinal data in support of these findings is not available.


The Preventive and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP), as its name suggests, is a preventative treatment that seeks to keep untroubled couples from becoming troubled by teaching “those skills identified by research as predicting happy, healthy relationships and ways in which to thwart those behaviors that predict later marital distress” (Renick, Blumberg, and Markman, 1992, p. 142). The program was based on research studies by Gottman, Markman, and Notarius that found that distressed marriages are characterized by interchanges of increasing negativity, a communication pattern that forms in the premarital relationship and foretells marital strife. From the very beginning, therefore, PREP has valued researching marriage and evaluating the program’s immediate and future efficacy. This empirical orientation sets PREP apart from other premarital interventions, whose outcome studies tend to be much more short-term (Australian Family Briefing, 1999, p. 2). PREP dominates the literature on premarital interventions.

The PREP intervention exists in many formats, the two most common varying only in duration. The lengthier version consists of six weekly small-group meetings of lecture and skills practice. The brief version is typically held as a weekend event, with lectures conducted in a large-group setting and couples being responsible for their own skills-practice (Renick et al., 1992). The lecture topics begin with explaining current marriage and gender-role research and emphasizing the need to build structures into marriages that support positive communication. The first lectures also go about defining communication, describing and practicing good verbal and listening skills, and identifying and avoiding communication patterns that hinder relationships. Presentations then turn to identifying expectations, practicing relationship-enhancing skills such as conflict-resolution, and identifying and communicating spiritual values in relationships, such as “honor, respect, intimacy, and forgiveness” (Renick et al., 1992, p. 143).

Judeo-Christian spiritual images are used in this segment of PREP, but no specific, dogmatic theology is endorsed; PREP can be adapted to fit a variety of religious denominations. The final lectures address communication and physical intimacy and reiterate the responsibility of couples to form and practice contingencies for communication within their relationships (Renick et al.). This behavioral component of PREP further highlights the importance of maintaining high levels of positive interaction and developing “protective factors such as friendship, commitment, teamwork, fun, spiritual connection, and sensuality” while decreasing chances for negativity (Stanley, Markman, Howard, Prado, Olmos-Gallo, Tonelli, St. Peters, Lever, Bobulinski, Cordova, & Whitton, 2001, p. 2).

The efficacy of PREP has been studied by numerous researchers in multiple parts of the world. Renick et al. (1992) presented the results of a ten-year longitudinal study by the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver comparing 20 PREP couples to 24 untreated couples. The couples were evaluated via annual questionnaires on marital adjustment, sexual and relationship satisfaction, perceived problem severity and conflict-resolution styles, as well as through videotaped discussions. The taped interchanges were rated on “verbal and nonverbal communication skills and styles,” as well as by “The Communication Box (Markman & Floyd, 1980), a measure of husbands’ and wives’ perceptions of one another’s communication during interaction” (Renick et al., 1992, 144). Immediate results of the training included increases in skill usage for the PREP group, signifying that the program had effectively transmitted the intended information.

Over the first five years of follow-up, significant differences included increased positive regard for the relationship and a decline in perceived number and severity of troubles for PREP couples, versus decreased positive regard, increased severity of troubles, and increased number of sexual difficulties for control couples. The PREP group also displayed fewer destructive interchange styles and less domestic violence, and “while both groups showed a decrease in satisfaction over time, such declines were greater for the control couples” (Renick et al., 145).  Only eight percent of the PREP marriages failed, but nineteen percent of the untreated marriages ended in divorce, a difference that demonstrates the efficacy of the program.

The University of Denver study also found an important difference between husbands and wives: over time, the differences between PREP and control husbands remained, while the differences between the two groups of wives abated; the wives eventually displayed similar levels of positive regard toward their marriages. Renick et al. (1992) explain that this leveling of differences was due not to PREP wives increasing negativity but to control wives increasing positivity, possibly as the result of other life events such as bearing children. A comparison study by Blumberg (1991) of PREP and Engaged Encounter (EE), another popular premarital program, found similar short-term results to those of the longitudinal study. PREP couples showed higher communication and satisfaction scores than did EE couples. Blumberg (1991) also examined commitment, and another gender-related pattern emerged: men from both groups were more committed to their relationships than women, although the women’s commitment levels rose over time and the levels observed could possibly be due to selection effects (Renick et al., 1992).

Another comparison study highlighted both the efficacy of PREP and its practical use in naturally occurring settings such as pastoral counseling with engaged couples. A 2001 study by Stanley et al. randomly assigned 138 couples to three treatment groups: a PREP course led by a religious official (RO), a PREP course led by a university official (DU), and a group that received the normal marriage preparation counseling offered by their various religious organizations (NO). This study avoided the selection bias because all the participants had signed up for premarital guidance with and were recruited through their own religious leaders.

The participants took a battery of background assessments including a program satisfaction questionnaire, and the couples were also videotaped discussing their top subject of disagreement, the conversations then being coded for positive and negative interactions. Results of this study showed that PREP is totally suitable for clergy use; both RO and DU groups experienced identical increases in marital communication skills, which were significantly higher than those achieved by the NO group. Other self-report measures were the same among the three groups, suggesting that the communication skills-building component of premarital interventions is the most salient. Indeed, communication training was rated as the most helpful part of marriage education by all three groups, and in the PREP groups, 78% of the men and 95% of the women rated the speaker-listener model the most helpful technique presented (Stanley et al., 2001).

In their discussion of the results, Stanley et al. (2001), like the Parrotts (2003), voiced their disagreement with the suggestion of Gottman et al. (1998) to forgo communication skills training. Cole and Cole (1999) also strongly challenged the belief of Gottman et al. that “the use of I-statements, being empathetic, remaining non-defensive, and paraphrasing (central to most active listening models) are not only rarely practiced by normal happy couples in routine discussions by might be impossible and unrealistic in conflict situations” (p. 274). In opposition, Cole and Cole argued that clinical experience and common sense uphold the value of communication training; of course “it would be unrealistic… for couples to use speaker-listener to deal with conflict without training. Isn’t this true with any skill?” (1999, p. 274) As the results of the Stanley et al. study illustrate, the efficacy of PREP at improving communication and the participants’ approval of specific communication techniques indicate that communication training has a definite role in successful marriage preparation programs. Stanley et al. have voiced plans to conduct longitudinal follow-up assessments of the participants in this study, so time will tell what patterns of communication, divorce, and marital success will surface (2001).


VI. Conclusions


To summarize, research from both psychology and sociology has implicated the experience of divorce as causing adverse physical and psychological conditions in children and adults, as well as causing adverse socioeconomic conditions, especially for women. Researchers have determined several specific factors that predict future divorce, including demographic characteristics, communication styles, and underlying cognitions and physiological responses. Although marital interventions have proven effective for the treatment of some specific disorders, their overall effects on marital distress are disputed and subject to relapse.

Therefore, marriage preparation programs should be the focus of continuing research to determine effective ways of preventing marital distress from forming in the first place. Implications for future research include the integration of personality assessments and group interaction in marital therapy, as well as the development of standardized measures and procedures for use in marriage studies and effective means for distributing information about relationship risk factors to the community at large.

VII. References


 
Bagarozzi, D. A. (1997). Marital intimacy needs questionnaire: Preliminary report. American Journal of Family Therapy, 25 (3), 285-291.
Christensen, A., & Heavey, C. L. (1999). Interventions for couples. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 165-190.
Cole, C. L., & Cole, A. L. (1999). Marriage enrichment and prevention really works:    Interpersonal competence training to maintain and enhance relationships. Family Relations, 48 (3), 273-275.
Dinkman, D. (1993). Marriage therapy through strength assessment. Individual Psychology, 49           (3-4), 412-418.
Donohue, W. A. (1991). Communication, marital dispute, and divorce mediation. Hillsdale, NJ:     Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Fincham, F. D., & Beech, S. R. H. (1999). Conflict in marriage: Implications for working with   couples. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 47-77.
Gallagher, M. (1996). Re-creating marriage. In David Popenoe, Jean Bethke Elshtain and David           Blankenhorn (Eds.), Promises to keep: Decline and renewal of marriage in America (pp.            231-46). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Gottman, J. M. (1998). Psychology and the study of marital processes. Annual Review of        Psychology, 49, 169-197.
Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analyses using 14-year longitudinal data. Family Process, 41    (1), 83-96.
Guttman, J. (1993). Divorce in psychosocial perspective: Theory and research. Hillsdale, NJ:           Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Huston, T. L., Niehuis, S., & Smith, S. E. (2001). The early marital roots of conjugal distress    and divorce. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10 (4), 116-19.
Kadis, L.B., & McClendon, R. (1998). A concise guide to marital and family therapy.         Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.
Kurdeck, L. A. (2002). Predicting the timing of separation and marital satisfaction: An eight-year           prospective longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and Family: 64 (February), 163-179.
Parker, R. (1999). A framework for future research in premarriage education. Australian Family Briefing, 8, 1-4.
Parrott, L., & Parrott, L. (2003). The SYMBIS approach to marriage education. Journal of     Psychology and Theology, 31 (3), 208-12.
Renick, M. J., Blumberg, S. L., & Markman, H. J. (1992). The prevention and relationship       enhancement program (PREP): An empirically based preventive intervention program   for couples. Family Relations, 41, 141-147.
 Sandberg, J. G., Johnson, L. N., Dermer, S. B., Gfeller-Strouts, L. L., Seibold, J. M., Stringer-Seibold, T.A., Hutchings, J. B., Andrews, R. L., & Miller, R. B. (1997). Demonstrated           efficacy of models of marriage and family therapy: An update of Gurman, Kniskern,          and Pinsof’s chart. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 25 (2), 121-137.
Stanley, S. M. (2001). Making a case for premarital education. Family Relations, 50, 272-80.
Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., Prado, L. M., Olmos-Gallo, P. A., Tonelli, L., St. Peters, M.,             Leber, B. D, Bobulinski, M., Cordova, A., & Whitton, S. W. (2001). Community-based      premarital prevention: Clergy and lay leaders on the front lines. Family Relations, 50            (1), 67-77.
Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Whitton, S. W. (2002). Communication, conflict, and          commitment: Insights on the foundations of relationship success from a national survey.         Family Process, 41 (4), 659-675.
Teachman, J. D. (2002). Childhood living arrangements and the intergenerational transmission    of divorce. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 64(3), 717-730.
Weiss, R. S. (1996). Parenting from separate households. In David       Popenoe, Jean Bethke Elshtain and David Blankenhorn (Eds.), Promises to keep: Decline and renewal of          marriage in America (pp. 215-30). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Whitehead, B.D. (1996). The decline of marriage as the social basis of childrearing. In David     Popenoe, Jean Bethke Elshtain and David Blankenhorn (Eds.), Promises to keep:       Decline and renewal of marriage in America (pp. 3-14). Lanham, MD: Rowman &         Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Whitehead, B.D., & Popenoe, D. (June 2001) The state of our unions. The National Marriage Project.

Article 6

Excerpt from BLINK Chapter 1 By Malcolm Gladwell

ONE The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way

retrieved from usatoday 07/07/06


Some years ago, a young couple came to the University of Washington to visit the laboratory of a psychologist named John Gottman. They were in their twenties, blond and blue-eyed with stylishly tousled haircuts and funky glasses. Later, some of the people who worked in the lab would say they were the kind of couple that is easy to like—intelligent and attractive and funny in a droll, ironic kind of way—and that much is immediately obvious from the videotape Gottman made of their visit. The husband, whom I'll call Bill, had an endearingly playful manner. His wife, Susan, had a sharp, deadpan wit.


They were led into a small room on the second floor of the nondescript two-story building that housed Gottman's operations, and they sat down about five feet apart on two office chairs mounted on raised platforms. They both had electrodes and sensors clipped to their fingers and ears, which measured things like their heart rate, how much they were sweating, and the temperature of their skin. Under their chairs, a "jiggle-o-meter" on the platform measured how much each of them moved around. Two video cameras, one aimed at each person, recorded everything they said and did. For fifteen minutes, they were left alone with the cameras rolling, with instructions to discuss any topic from their marriage that had become a point of contention.

For Bill and Sue it was their dog. They lived in a small apartment and had just gotten a very large puppy. Bill didn't like the dog; Sue did. For fifteen minutes, they discussed what they ought to do about it.

The videotape of Bill and Sue's discussion seems, at least at first, to be a random sample of a very ordinary kind of conversation that couples have all the time. No one gets angry. There are no scenes, no breakdowns, no epiphanies. "I'm just not a dog person" is how Bill starts things off, in a perfectly reasonable tone of voice. He complains a little bit—but about the dog, not about Susan. She complains, too, but there are also moments when they simply forget that they are supposed to be arguing. When the subject of whether the dog smells comes up, for example, Bill and Sue banter back and forth happily, both with a half smile on their lips.


Sue: Sweetie! She's not smelly. . .
Bill: Did you smell her today?
Sue: I smelled her. She smelled good. I petted her, and my hands didn't stink or feel oily. Your hands have never smelled oily.
Bill: Yes, sir.
Sue: I've never let my dog get oily.
Bill: Yes, sir. She's a dog.
Sue: My dog has never gotten oily. You'd better be careful.
Bill: No, you'd better be careful.
Sue: No, you'd better be careful.. .. Don't call my dog oily, boy.

1. The Love Lab


How much do you think can be learned about Sue and Bill's marriage by watching that fifteen-minute videotape? Can we tell if their relationship is healthy or unhealthy? I suspect that most of us would say that Bill and Sue's dog talk doesn't tell us much. It's much too short. Marriages are buffeted by more important things, like money and sex and children and jobs and in-laws, in constantly changing combinations. Sometimes couples are very happy together. Some days they fight. Sometimes they feel as though they could almost kill each other, but then they go on vacation and come back sounding like newlyweds. In order to "know" a couple, we feel as though we have to observe them over many weeks and months and see them in every state—happy, tired, angry, irritated, delighted, having a nervous breakdown, and so on—and not just in the relaxed and chatty mode that Bill and Sue seemed to be in. To make an accurate prediction about something as serious as the future of a marriage—indeed, to make a prediction of any sort—it seems that we would have to gather a lot of information and in as many different contexts as possible.


But John Gottman has proven that we don't have to do that at all. Since the 1980s, Gottman has brought more than three thousand married couples—just like Bill and Sue—into that small room in his "love lab" near the University of Washington campus. Each couple has been videotaped, and the results have been analyzed according to something Gottman dubbed SPAFF (for specific affect), a coding system that has twenty separate categories corresponding to every conceivable emotion that a married couple might express during a conversation. Disgust, for example, is 1, contempt is 2, anger is 7, defensiveness is 10, whining is 11, sadness is 12, stonewalling is 13, neutral is 14, and so on. Gottman has taught his staff how to read every emotional nuance in people's facial expressions and how to interpret seemingly ambiguous bits of dialogue. When they watch a marriage videotape, they assign a SPAFF code to every second of the couple's interaction, so that a fifteen-minute conflict discussion ends up being translated into a row of eighteen hundred numbers—nine hundred for the husband and nine hundred for the wife. The notation "7, 7, 14, 10, 11, 11," for instance, means that in one six-second stretch, one member of the couple was briefly angry, then neutral, had a moment of defensiveness, and then began whining. Then the data from the electrodes and sensors is factored in, so that the coders know, for example, when the husband's or the wife's heart was pounding or when his or her temperature was rising or when either of them was jiggling in his or her seat, and all of that information is fed into a complex equation.


On the basis of those calculations, Gottman has proven something remarkable. If he analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with 95% accuracy whether that couple will still be married fifteen years later. If he watches a couple for fifteen minutes, his success rate is around 90%. Recently, a professor who works with Gottman named Sybil Carrère, who was playing around with some of the videotapes, trying to design a new study, discovered that if they looked at only three minutes of a couple talking, they could still predict with fairly impressive accuracy who was going to get divorced and who was going to make it. The truth of a marriage can be understood in a much shorter time than anyone ever imagined.
John Gottman is a middle-aged man with owl-like eyes, silvery hair, and a neatly trimmed beard. He is short and very charming, and when he talks about something that excites him—which is nearly all the time—his eyes light up and open even wider.

During the Vietnam War, he was a conscientious objector, and there is still something of the '60s hippie about him, like the Mao cap he sometimes wears over his braided yarmulke. He is a psychologist by training, but he also studied mathematics at MIT, and the rigor and precision of mathematics clearly moves him as much as anything else. When I met Gottman, he had just published his most ambitious book, a dense five-hundred-page treatise called The Mathematics of Divorce, and he attempted to give me a sense of his argument, scribbling equations and impromptu graphs on a paper napkin until my head began to swim.
Gottman may seem to be an odd example in a book about the thoughts and decisions that bubble up from our unconscious. There's nothing instinctive about his approach. He's not making snap judgments. He's sitting down with his computer and painstakingly analyzing videotapes, second by second.

His work is a classic example of conscious and deliberate thinking. But Gottman, it turns out, can teach us a great deal about a critical part of rapid cognition known as thin-slicing. "Thin-slicing" refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. When Evelyn Harrison looked at the kouros and blurted out, "I'm sorry to hear that," she was thin-slicing; so were the Iowa gamblers when they had a stress reaction to the red decks after just ten cards.


Thin-slicing is part of what makes the unconscious so dazzling. But it's also what we find most problematic about rapid cognition. How is it possible to gather the necessary information for a sophisticated judgment in such a short time? The answer is that when our unconscious engages in thin-slicing, what we are doing is an automated, accelerated unconscious version of what Gottman does with his videotapes and equations. Can a marriage really be understood in one sitting? Yes it can, and so can lots of other seemingly complex situations. What Gottman has done is to show us how.


2. Marriage and Morse Code


I watched the videotape of Bill and Sue with Amber Tabares, a graduate student in Gottman's lab who is a trained SPAFF coder. We sat in the same room that Bill and Sue used, watching their interaction on a monitor. The conversation began with Bill. He liked their old dog, he said. He just didn't like their new dog. He didn't speak angrily or with any hostility. It seemed like he genuinely just wanted to explain his feelings.


If we listened closely, Tabares pointed out, it was clear that Bill was being very defensive. In the language of SPAFF, he was cross-complaining and engaging in "yes-but" tactics—appearing to agree but then taking it back. Bill was coded as defensive, as it turned out, for forty of the first sixty-six seconds of their conversation. As for Sue, while Bill was talking, on more than one occasion she rolled her eyes very quickly, which is a classic sign of contempt. Bill then began to talk about his objection to the pen where the dog lives. Sue replied by closing her eyes and then assuming a patronizing lecturing voice. Bill went on to say that he didn't want a fence in the living room. Sue said, "I don't want to argue about that," and rolled her eyes—another indication of contempt. "Look at that," Tabares said. "More contempt. We've barely started and we've seen him be defensive for almost the whole time, and she has rolled her eyes several times."


At no time as the conversation continued did either of them show any overt signs of hostility. Only subtle things popped up for a second or two, prompting Tabares to stop the tape and point them out. Some couples, when they fight, fight. But these two were a lot less obvious. Bill complained that the dog cut into their social life, since they always had to come home early for fear of what the dog might do to their apartment. Sue responded that that wasn't true, arguing, "If she's going to chew anything, she's going to do it in the first fifteen minutes that we're gone." Bill seemed to agree with that. He nodded lightly and said, "Yeah, I know," and then added, "I'm not saying it's rational. I just don't want to have a dog."
Tabares pointed at the videotape. "He started out with 'Yeah, I know.' But it's a yes-but. Even though he started to validate her, he went on to say that he didn't like the dog. He's really being defensive. I kept thinking, He's so nice. He's doing all this validation. But then I realized he was doing the yes-but. It's easy to be fooled by them."


Bill went on: "I'm getting way better. You've got to admit it. I'm better this week than last week, and the week before and the week before."
Tabares jumped in again. "In one study, we were watching newlyweds, and what often happened with the couples who ended up in divorce is that when one partner would ask for credit, the other spouse wouldn't give it. And with the happier couples, the spouse would hear it and say, 'You're right.' That stood out. When you nod and say 'uh-huh' or 'yeah,' you are doing that as a sign of support, and here she never does it, not once in the entire session, which none of us had realized until we did the coding.


"It's weird," she went on. "You don't get the sense that they are an unhappy couple when they come in. And when they were finished, they were instructed to watch their own discussion, and they thought the whole thing was hilarious. They seem fine, in a way. But I don't know. They haven't been married that long. They're still in the glowy phase. But the fact is that she's completely inflexible. They are arguing about dogs, but it's really about how whenever they have a disagreement, she's completely inflexible. It's one of those things that could cause a lot of long-term harm. I wonder if they'll hit the seven-year wall. Is there enough positive emotion there? Because what seems positive isn't actually positive at all."


What was Tabares looking for in the couple? On a technical level, she was measuring the amount of positive and negative emotion, because one of Gottman's findings is that for a marriage to survive, the ratio of positive to negative emotion in a given encounter has to be at least five to one. On a simpler level, though, what Tabares was looking for in that short discussion was a pattern in Bill and Sue's marriage, because a central argument in Gottman's work is that all marriages have a distinctive pattern, a kind of marital DNA, that surfaces in any kind of meaningful interaction. This is why Gottman asks couples to tell the story of how they met, because he has found that when a husband and wife recount the most important episode in their relationship, that pattern shows up right away.


"It's so easy to tell," Gottman says. "I just looked at this tape yesterday. The woman says, 'We met at a ski weekend, and he was there with a bunch of his friends, and I kind of liked him and we made a date to be together. But then he drank too much, and he went home and went to sleep, and I was waiting for him for three hours. I woke him up, and I said I don't appreciate being treated this way. You're really not a nice person. And he said, yeah, hey, I really had a lot to drink.'" There was a troubling pattern in their first interaction, and the sad truth was that that pattern persisted throughout their relationship. "It's not that hard," Gottman went on. "When I first started doing these interviews, I thought maybe we were getting these people on a crappy day. But the prediction levels are just so high, and if you do it again, you get the same pattern over and over again."


One way to understand what Gottman is saying about marriages is to use the analogy of what people in the world of Morse code call a fist. Morse code is made up of dots and dashes, each of which has its own prescribed length. But no one ever replicates those prescribed lengths perfectly. When operators send a message—particularly using the old manual machines known as the straight key or the bug—they vary the spacing or stretch out the dots and dashes or combine dots and dashes and spaces in a particular rhythm. Morse code is like speech. Everyone has a different voice.
In the Second World War, the British assembled thousands of so-called interceptors—mostly women—whose job it was to tune in every day and night to the radio broadcasts of the various divisions of the German military. The Germans were, of course, broadcasting in code, so—at least in the early part of the war—the British couldn't understand what was being said. But that didn't necessarily matter, because before long, just by listening to the cadence of the transmission, the interceptors began to pick up on the individual fists of the German operators, and by doing so, they knew something nearly as important, which was who was doing the sending. "If you listened to the same call signs over a certain period, you would begin to recognize that there were, say, three or four different operators in that unit, working on a shift system, each with his own characteristics," says Nigel West, a British military historian. "And invariably, quite apart from the text, there would be the preambles, and the illicit exchanges. How are you today? How's the girlfriend? What's the weather like in Munich? So you fill out a little card, on which you write down all that kind of information, and pretty soon you have a kind of relationship with that person."


The interceptors came up with descriptions of the fists and styles of the operators they were following. They assigned them names and assembled elaborate profiles of their personalities. After they identified the person who was sending the message, the interceptors would then locate their signal. So now they knew something more. They knew who was where. West goes on: "The interceptors had such a good handle on the transmitting characteristics of the German radio operators that they could literally follow them around Europe—wherever they were. That was extraordinarily valuable in constructing an order of battle, which is a diagram of what the individual military units in the field are doing and what their location is. If a particular radio operator was with a particular unit and transmitting from Florence, and then three weeks later you recognized that same operator, only this time he was in Linz, then you could assume that that particular unit had moved from northern Italy to the eastern front. Or you would know that a particular operator was with a tank repair unit and he always came up on the air every day at twelve o'clock. But now, after a big battle, he's coming up at twelve, four in the afternoon, and seven in the evening, so you can assume that unit has a lot of work going on. And in a moment of crisis, when someone very high up asks, 'Can you really be absolutely certain that this particular Luftwaffe Fliegerkorps [German air force squadron] is outside of Tobruk and not in Italy?' you can answer, 'Yes, that was Oscar, we are absolutely sure.'"


The key thing about fists is that they emerge naturally. Radio operators don't deliberately try to sound distinctive. They simply end up sounding distinctive, because some part of their personality appears to express itself automatically and unconsciously in the way they work the Morse code keys. The other thing about a fist is that it reveals itself in even the smallest sample of Morse code. We have to listen to only a few characters to pick out an individual's pattern. It doesn't change or disappear for stretches or show up only in certain words or phrases. That's why the British interceptors could listen to just a few bursts and say, with absolute certainty, "It's Oscar, which means that yes, his unit is now definitely outside of Tobruk." An operator's fist is stable.


What Gottman is saying is that a relationship between two people has a fist as well: a distinctive signature that arises naturally and automatically. That is why a marriage can be read and decoded so easily, because some key part of human activity—whether it is something as simple as pounding out a Morse code message or as complex as being married to someone—has an identifiable and stable pattern. Predicting divorce, like tracking Morse Code operators, is pattern recognition.


"People are in one of two states in a relationship," Gottman went on. "The first is what I call positive sentiment override, where positive emotion overrides irritability. It's like a buffer. Their spouse will do something bad, and they'll say, 'Oh, he's just in a crummy mood.' Or they can be in negative sentiment override, so that even a relatively neutral thing that a partner says gets perceived as negative. In the negative sentiment override state, people draw lasting conclusions about each other. If their spouse does something positive, it's a selfish person doing a positive thing. It's really hard to change those states, and those states determine whether when one party tries to repair things, the other party sees that as repair or hostile manipulation. For example, I'm talking with my wife, and she says, 'Will you shut up and let me finish?' In positive sentiment override, I say, 'Sorry, go ahead.' I'm not very happy, but I recognize the repair. In negative sentiment override, I say, 'To hell with you, I'm not getting a chance to finish either. You're such a bitch, you remind me of your mother.'"


As he was talking, Gottman drew a graph on a piece of paper that looked a lot like a chart of the ups and downs of the stock market over the course of a typical day. What he does, he explains, is track the ups and downs of a couple's level of positive and negative emotion, and he's found that it doesn't take very long to figure out which way the line on the graph is going. "Some go up, some go down," he says. "But once they start going down, toward negative emotion, ninety-four percent will continue going down. They start on a bad course and they can't correct it. I don't think of this as just a slice in time. It's an indication of how they view their whole relationship."


3. The Importance of Contempt


Let's dig a little deeper into the secret of Gottman's success rate. Gottman has discovered that marriages have distinctive signatures, and we can find that signature by collecting very detailed emotional information from the interaction of a couple. But there's something else that is very interesting about Gottman's system, and that is the way in which he manages to simplify the task of prediction. I hadn't realized how much of an issue this was until I tried thin-slicing couples myself. I got one of Gottman's tapes, which had on it ten three-minute clips of different couples talking. Half the couples, I was told, split up at some point in the fifteen years after their discussion was filmed. Half were still together. Could I guess which was which? I was pretty confident I could. But I was wrong. I was terrible at it. I answered five correctly, which is to say that I would have done just as well by flipping a coin.


My difficulty arose from the fact that the clips were utterly overwhelming. The husband would say something guarded. The wife would respond quietly. Some fleeting emotion would flash across her face. He would start to say something and then stop. She would scowl. He would laugh. Someone would mutter something. Someone would frown. I would rewind the tape and look at it again, and I would get still more information. I'd see a little trace of a smile, or I'd pick up on a slight change in tone. It was all too much. In my head, I was frantically trying to determine the ratios of positive emotion to negative emotion. But what counted as positive, and what counted as negative? I knew from Susan and Bill that a lot of what looked positive was actually negative. And I also knew that there were no fewer than twenty separate emotional states on the SPAFF chart. Have you ever tried to keep track of twenty different emotions simultaneously? Now, granted, I'm not a marriage counselor. But that same tape has been given to almost two hundred marital therapists, marital researchers, pastoral counselors, and graduate students in clinical psychology, as well as newlyweds, people who were recently divorced, and people who have been happily married for a long time—in other words, almost two hundred people who know a good deal more about marriage than I do—and none of them was any better than I was. The group as a whole guessed right 53.8% of the time, which is just above chance. The fact that there was a pattern didn't much matter. There were so many other things going on so quickly in those three minutes that we couldn't find the pattern.


Gottman, however, doesn't have this problem. He's gotten so good at thin-slicing marriages that he says he can be in a restaurant and eavesdrop on the couple one table over and get a pretty good sense of whether they need to start thinking about hiring lawyers and dividing up custody of the children. How does he do it? He has figured out that he doesn't need to pay attention to everything that happens. I was overwhelmed by the task of counting negativity, because everywhere I looked, I saw negative emotions. Gottman is far more selective. He has found that he can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Even within the Four Horsemen, in fact, there is one emotion that he considers the most important of all: contempt. If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.


"You would think that criticism would be the worst," Gottman says, "because criticism is a global condemnation of a person's character. Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism. With criticism I might say to my wife, 'You never listen, you are really selfish and insensitive.' Well, she's going to respond defensively to that. That's not very good for our problem solving and interaction. But if I speak from a superior plane, that's far more damaging, and contempt is any statement made from a higher level. A lot of the time it's an insult: 'You are a bitch. You're scum.' It's trying to put that person on a lower plane than you. It's hierarchical."


Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system. "Contempt is closely related to disgust, and what disgust and contempt are about is completely rejecting and excluding someone from the community. The big gender difference with negative emotions is that women are more critical, and men are more likely to stonewall. We find that women start talking about a problem, the men get irritated and turn away, and the women get more critical, and it becomes a circle. But there isn't any gender difference when it comes to contempt. Not at all." Contempt is special. If you can measure contempt, then all of a sudden you don't need to know every detail of the couple's relationship.


I think that this is the way that our unconscious works. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious is doing what John Gottman does. It's sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is irrelevant while we zero in on what really matters. And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point where thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking.


4. The Secrets of the Bedroom


Imagine that you are considering me for a job. You've seen my résumé and think I have the necessary credentials. But you want to know whether I am the right fit for your organization. Am I a hard worker? Am I honest? Am I open to new ideas? In order to answer those questions about my personality, your boss gives you two options. The first is to meet with me twice a week for a year—to have lunch or dinner or go to a movie with me—to the point where you become one of my closest friends. (Your boss is quite demanding.) The second option is to drop by my house when I'm not there and spend half an hour or so looking around. Which would you choose?


The seemingly obvious answer is that you should take the first option: the thick slice. The more time you spend with me and the more information you gather, the better off you are. Right? I hope by now that you are at least a little bit skeptical of that approach. Sure enough, as the psychologist Samuel Gosling has shown, judging people's personalities is a really good example of how surprisingly effective thin-slicing can be.
Gosling began his experiment by doing a personality workup on eighty college students. For this, he used what is called the Big Five Inventory, a highly respected, multi-item questionnaire that measures people across five dimensions:


1. Extraversion. Are you sociable or retiring? Fun-loving or reserved?
2. Agreeableness. Are you trusting or suspicious? Helpful or uncooperative?
3. Conscientiousness. Are you organized or disorganized? Self-disciplined or weak willed?
4. Emotional stability. Are you worried or calm? Insecure or secure?
5. Openness to new experiences. Are you imaginative or down-to-earth? Independent or conforming?


Then Gosling had close friends of those eighty students fill out the same questionnaire.


When our friends rank us on the Big Five, Gosling wanted to know, how closely do they come to the truth? The answer is, not surprisingly, that our friends can describe us fairly accurately. They have a thick slice of experience with us, and that translates to a real sense of who we are. Then Gosling repeated the process, but this time he didn't call on close friends. He used total strangers who had never even met the students they were judging. All they saw were their dorm rooms. He gave his raters clipboards and told them they had fifteen minutes to look around and answer a series of very basic questions about the occupant of the room: On a scale of 1 to 5, does the inhabitant of this room seem to be the kind of person who is talkative? Tends to find fault with others? Does a thorough job? Is original? Is reserved? Is helpful and unselfish with others? And so on. "I was trying to study everyday impressions," Gosling says. "So I was quite careful not to tell my subjects what to do. I just said, 'Here is your questionnaire. Go into the room and drink it in.' I was just trying to look at intuitive judgment processes."


How did they do? The dorm room observers weren't nearly as good as friends in measuring extraversion. If you want to know how animated and talkative and outgoing someone is, clearly, you have to meet him or her in person. The friends also did slightly better than the dorm room visitors at accurately estimating agreeableness—how helpful and trusting someone is. I think that also makes sense. But on the remaining three traits of the Big Five, the strangers with the clipboards came out on top. They were more accurate at measuring conscientiousness, and they were much more accurate at predicting both the students' emotional stability and their openness to new experiences. On balance, then, the strangers ended up doing a much better job. What this suggests is that it is quite possible for people who have never met us and who have spent only twenty minutes thinking about us to come to a better understanding of who we are than people who have known us for years. Forget the endless "getting to know" meetings and lunches, then. If you want to get a good idea of whether I'd make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around.


If you are like most people, I imagine that you find Gosling's conclusions quite incredible. But the truth is that they shouldn't be, not after the lessons of John Gottman. This is just another example of thin-slicing. The observers were looking at the students' most personal belongings, and our personal belongings contain a wealth of very telling information. Gosling says, for example, that a person's bedroom gives three kinds of clues to his or her personality. There are, first of all, identity claims, which are deliberate expressions about how we would like to be seen by the world: a framed copy of a magna cum laude degree from Harvard, for example. Then there is behavioral residue, which is defined as the inadvertent clues we leave behind: dirty laundry on the floor, for instance, or an alphabetized CD collection. Finally, there are thoughts and feelings regulators, which are changes we make to our most personal spaces to affect the way we feel when we inhabit them: a scented candle in the corner, for example, or a pile of artfully placed decorative pillows on the bed. If you see alphabetized CDs, a Harvard diploma on the wall, incense on a side table, and laundry neatly stacked in a hamper, you know certain aspects about that individual's personality instantly, in a way that you may not be able to grasp if all you ever do is spend time with him or her directly. Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend—or peeked inside his or her medicine cabinet—understands this implicitly: you can learn as much—or more—from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face.


Just as important, though, is the information you don't have when you look through someone's belongings. What you avoid when you don't meet someone face-to-face are all the confusing and complicated and ultimately irrelevant pieces of information that can serve to screw up your judgment. Most of us have difficulty believing that a 275-pound football lineman could have a lively and discerning intellect. We just can't get past the stereotype of the dumb jock. But if all we saw of that person was his bookshelf or the art on his walls, we wouldn't have that same problem.


What people say about themselves can also be very confusing, for the simple reason that most of us aren't very objective about ourselves. That's why, when we measure personality, we don't just ask people point-blank what they think they are like. We give them a questionnaire, like the Big Five Inventory, carefully designed to elicit telling responses. That's also why Gottman doesn't waste any time asking husbands and wives point-blank questions about the state of their marriage. They might lie or feel awkward or, more important, they might not know the truth. They may be so deeply mired—or so happily ensconced—in their relationship that they have no perspective on how it works. "Couples simply aren't aware of how they sound," says Sybil Carrère. "They have this discussion, which we videotape and then play back to them. In one of the studies we did recently, we interviewed couples about what they learned from the study, and a remarkable number of them—I would say a majority of them—said they were surprised to find either what they looked like during the conflict discussion or what they communicated during the conflict discussion. We had one woman whom we thought of as extremely emotional, but she said that she had no idea that she was so emotional. She said that she thought she was stoic and gave nothing away. A lot of people are like that. They think they are more forthcoming than they actually are, or more negative than they actually are. It was only when they were watching the tape that they realized they were wrong about what they were communicating."


If couples aren't aware of how they sound, how much value can there be in asking them direct questions? Not much, and this is why Gottman has couples talk about something involving their marriage—like their pets—without being about their marriage. He looks closely at indirect measures of how the couple is doing: the telling traces of emotion that flit across one person's face; the hint of stress picked up in the sweat glands of the palm; a sudden surge in heart rate; a subtle tone that creeps into an exchange. Gottman comes at the issue sideways, which, he has found, can be a lot quicker and a more efficient path to the truth than coming at it head-on.


What those observers of dorm rooms were doing was simply a layperson's version of John Gottman's analysis. They were looking for the "fist" of those college students. They gave themselves fifteen minutes to drink things in and get a hunch about the person. They came at the question sideways, using the indirect evidence of the students' dorm rooms, and their decision-making process was simplified: they weren't distracted at all by the kind of confusing, irrelevant information that comes from a face-to-face encounter. They thin-sliced. And what happened? The same thing that happened with Gottman: those people with the clipboards were really good at making predictions.


5. Listening to Doctors


Let's take the concept of thin-slicing one step further. Imagine you work for an insurance company that sells doctors medical malpractice protection. Your boss asks you to figure out for accounting reasons who, among all the physicians covered by the company, is most likely to be sued. Once again, you are given two choices. The first is to examine the physicians' training and credentials and then analyze their records to see how many errors they've made over the past few years. The other option is to listen in on very brief snippets of conversation between each doctor and his or her patients.
By now you are expecting me to say the second option is the best one. You're right, and here's why. Believe it or not, the risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes. Analyses of malpractice lawsuits show that there are highly skilled doctors who get sued a lot and doctors who make lots of mistakes and never get sued. At the same time, the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don't file lawsuits because they've been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they've been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them.


What is that something else? It's how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor. What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly. "People just don't sue doctors they like," is how Alice Burkin, a leading medical malpractice lawyer, puts it. "In all the years I've been in this business, I've never had a potential client walk in and say, 'I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him.' We've had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we'll say, 'We don't think that doctor was negligent. We think it's your primary care doctor who was at fault.' And the client will say, 'I don't care what she did. I love her, and I'm not suing her.'"
Burkin once had a client who had a breast tumor that wasn't spotted until it had metastasized, and she wanted to sue her internist for the delayed diagnosis. In fact, it was her radiologist who was potentially at fault. But the client was adamant. She wanted to sue the internist. "In our first meeting, she told me she hated this doctor because she never took the time to talk to her and never asked about her other symptoms," Burkin said. "'She never looked at me as a whole person,' the patient told us.. .. When a patient has a bad medical result, the doctor has to take the time to explain what happened, and to answer the patient's questions—to treat him like a human being. The doctors who don't are the ones who get sued." It isn't necessary, then, to know much about how a surgeon operates in order to know his likelihood of being sued. What you need to understand is the relationship between that doctor and his patients.


Recently the medical researcher Wendy Levinson recorded hundreds of conversations between a group of physicians and their patients. Roughly half of the doctors had never been sued. The other half had been sued at least twice, and Levinson found that just on the basis of those conversations, she could find clear differences between the two groups. The surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three minutes longer with each patient than those who had been sued did (18.3 minutes versus 15 minutes). They were more likely to make "orienting" comments, such as "First I'll examine you, and then we will talk the problem over" or "I will leave time for your questions"—which help patients get a sense of what the visit is supposed to accomplish and when they ought to ask questions. They were more likely to engage in active listening, saying such things as "Go on, tell me more about that," and they were far more likely to laugh and be funny during the visit. Interestingly, there was no difference in the amount or quality of information they gave their patients; they didn't provide more details about medication or the patient's condition. The difference was entirely in how they talked to their patients.


It's possible, in fact, to take this analysis even further. The psychologist Nalini Ambady listened to Levinson's tapes, zeroing in on the conversations that had been recorded between just surgeons and their patients. For each surgeon, she picked two patient conversations. Then, from each conversation, she selected two ten-second clips of the doctor talking, so her slice was a total of forty seconds. Finally, she "content-filtered" the slices, which means she removed the high-frequency sounds from speech that enable us to recognize individual words. What's left after content-filtering is a kind of garble that preserves intonation, pitch, and rhythm but erases content. Using that slice—and that slice alone—Ambady did a Gottman-style analysis. She had judges rate the slices of garble for such qualities as warmth, hostility, dominance, and anxiousness, and she found that by using only those ratings, she could predict which surgeons got sued and which ones didn't.


Ambady says that she and her colleagues were "totally stunned by the results," and it's not hard to understand why. The judges knew nothing about the skill level of the surgeons. They didn't know how experienced they were, what kind of training they had, or what kind of procedures they tended to do. They didn't even know what the doctors were saying to their patients. All they were using for their prediction was their analysis of the surgeon's tone of voice. In fact, it was even more basic than that: if the surgeon's voice was judged to sound dominant, the surgeon tended to be in the sued group. If the voice sounded less dominant and more concerned, the surgeon tended to be in the non-sued group. Could there be a thinner slice? Malpractice sounds like one of those infinitely complicated and multidimensional problems. But in the end it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice, and the most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is a dominant tone. Did Ambady need to sample the entire history of a patient and doctor to pick up on that tone? No, because a medical consultation is a lot like one of Gottman's conflict discussions or a student's dorm room. It's one of those situations where the signature comes through loud and clear.


Next time you meet a doctor, and you sit down in his office and he starts to talk, if you have the sense that he isn't listening to you, that he's talking down to you, and that he isn't treating you with respect, listen to that feeling. You have thin-sliced him and found him wanting.


6. The Power of the Glance


Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.


It is striking, for instance, how many different professions and disciplines have a word to describe the particular gift of reading deeply into the narrowest slivers of experience. In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him or her is said to have "court sense." In the military, brilliant generals are said to possess "coup d'oeil"—which, translated from the French, means "power of the glance": the ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield. Napoleon had coup d'oeil. So did Patton. The ornithologist David Sibley says that in Cape May, New Jersey, he once spotted a bird in flight from two hundred yards away and knew, instantly, that it was a ruff, a rare sandpiper. He had never seen a ruff in flight before; nor was the moment long enough for him to make a careful identification. But he was able to capture what bird-watchers call the bird's "giss"—its essence—and that was enough.


"Most of bird identification is based on a sort of subjective impression—the way a bird moves and little instantaneous appearances at different angles and sequences of different appearances, and as it turns its head and as it flies and as it turns around, you see sequences of different shapes and angles," Sibley says. "All that combines to create a unique impression of a bird that can't really be taken apart and described in words. When it comes down to being in the field and looking at a bird, you don't take the time to analyze it and say it shows this, this, and this; therefore it must be this species. It's more natural and instinctive. After a lot of practice, you look at the bird, and it triggers little switches in your brain. It looks right. You know what it is at a glance."


The Hollywood producer Brian Grazer, who has produced many of the biggest hit movies of the past twenty years, uses almost exactly the same language to describe the first time he met the actor Tom Hanks. It was in 1983. Hanks was then a virtual unknown. All he had done was the now (justly) forgotten TV show called Bosom Buddies. "He came in and read for the movie Splash, and right there, in the moment, I can tell you just what I saw," Grazer says. In that first instant, he knew Hanks was special. "We read hundreds of people for that part, and other people were funnier than him. But they weren't as likable as him. I felt like I could live inside of him. I felt like his problems were problems I could relate to. You know, in order to make somebody laugh, you have to be interesting, and in order to be interesting, you have to do things that are mean. Comedy comes out of anger, and interesting comes out of angry; otherwise there is no conflict. But he was able to be mean and you forgave him, and you have to be able to forgive somebody, because at the end of the day, you still have to be with him, even after he's dumped the girl or made some choices that you don't agree with. All of this wasn't thought out in words at the time. It was an intuitive conclusion that only later I could deconstruct."


My guess is that many of you have the same impression of Tom Hanks. If I asked you what he was like, you would say that he is decent and trustworthy and down-to-earth and funny. But you don't know him. You're not friends with him. You've only seen him in the movies, playing a wide range of different characters. Nonetheless, you've managed to extract something very meaningful about him from those thin slices of experience, and that impression has a powerful effect on how you experience Tom Hanks's movies. "Everybody said that they couldn't see Tom Hanks as an astronaut," Grazer says of his decision to cast Hanks in the hit movie Apollo 13. "Well, I didn't know whether Tom Hanks was an astronaut. But I saw this as a movie about a spacecraft in jeopardy. And who does the world want to get back the most? Who does America want to save? Tom Hanks. We don't want to see him die. We like him too much."


If we couldn't thin-slice—if you really had to know someone for months and months to get at their true selves—then Apollo 13 would be robbed of its drama and Splash would not be funny. And if we could not make sense of complicated situations in a flash, basketball would be chaotic, and bird-watchers would be helpless. Not long ago, a group of psychologists reworked the divorce prediction test that I found so overwhelming. They took a number of Gottman's couples videos and showed them to nonexperts—only this time, they provided the raters with a little help. They gave them a list of emotions to look for. They broke the tapes into thirty-second segments and allowed everyone to look at each segment twice, once to focus on the man and once to focus on the woman. And what happened? This time around, the observers' ratings predicted with better than 80% accuracy which marriages were going to make it. That's not quite as good as Gottman. But it's pretty impressive—and that shouldn't come as a surprise. We're old hands at thin-slicing.


Copyright © 2005 by Malcolm Gladwell

 

Article 7

Retrieved from scienceblog.com 07/07/06

From: University of Washington

First three minutes of discussion about on-going area of marital conflict are predictive of divorce among newlywed couples
University of Washington researchers who have been putting marriages under the equivalent of a microscope say it is possible to predict which newlywed couples will divorce from the way partners interact in just the first three minutes of a discussion about an area of continuing disagreement.


Couples who later divorced began these talks with significantly greater displays of negative emotions, words and gestures and fewer positive ones than did couples who remained married over the course of a six-year study. Results of that study, conducted by UW research scientist Sybil Carrère and psychology professor John Gottman, are being published in the fall issue of the journal Family Process.


"The biggest lesson to be learned from this study is that the way couples begin a discussion about a problem - how you present an issue and how your partner responds to you - is absolutely critical," said Gottman.


"Women need to learn how to soften their approach when they bring up a problem," added Carrère, "and men have to learn how to be more accepting of what she's saying."


Earlier research from Gottman's laboratory and by other researchers indicates that women initiate discussions about problems about 80 percent of the time. In couples heading for divorce, the wife's opening statement is usually in the form of a criticism (a global attack such as, "You're lazy and never do anything around the house") rather than a specific complaint ("You didn't take out the trash last night"). Previous research conducted in the Gottman laboratory has shown that the husband's initial reaction is either defensive in marriages heading for divorce or has shown him not escalating the negativity in more stable marriages.


In the newlywed study, the UW researchers found that the startup of the conflict discussion is key in predicting divorce or marital stability. In stable marriages, both husbands and wives expressed less negative affect and more positive affect at the very beginning of such discussions. All husbands became increasingly negative over the course of a 15-minute discussion, but husbands who eventually will be divorced became more negative more quickly. Husbands in stable marriage became somewhat more negative during the discussion but did not become less positive. Men who eventually will be divorced not only became increasingly negative but also were increasingly less positive. While women also became somewhat more negative as a discussion continued, differences for wives who divorced and stayed married did not diverge as they did for husbands.


To capture the nuances of marital discord, Carrère and Gottman videotaped problem discussions of 124 couples who had been married for less than nine months. The tapes were then coded using a computer-assisted system developed in the UW lab to index facial expressions, voice tone and speech content to characterize the emotions expressed by each couple. Coders categorized affects displayed using five positive codes (interest, validation, affection, humour. and joy) and 10 negative affects (disgust, contempt, belligerence, domineering, anger, fear and tension, defensiveness, whining, sadness and stonewalling).


The couples, taped during a three-year period, mirrored the racial and ethnic makeup of the greater Seattle area. Couples filled out marital satisfaction questionnaires at the start of the study and represented an even distribution of marital satisfaction. At the end of the study, 17 of the couples had divorced.
Prior to having a taped discussion, couples reviewed areas of conflict with a member of the research team, who helped them choose a topic or topics for the session. Communication - people saying they missed their partner emotionally, weren't being understood emotionally or weren't feeling loved - was the most common theme of the marital discussions. Money and finances also were frequent topics.


"Part of what we were doing was showing people how to problem solve," said Carrère. "It's something they often have not done before and this might have been the first time they discussed a problem without being in the heat of battle. At home the same issue develops into a fight because the wife doesn't know how to present a problem to her husband and the husband doesn't know how to respond without becoming negative."


"What typically happens," adds Gottman, "is one person reaches out to the other to get the partner's interest and it just falls flat. The basic problem is emotional connectedness, and people are just asking their partner to 'show me you love me.' Many people live in an emotional desert. That's why they are so needy."

For more information, contact Carrère at 206-543-2968 or carrere@u.washington.edu

To reach Gottman contact Virginia Rutter, who schedules his media interviews, at 206-706-8413 or vrutter@u.washington.edu

 

Article 8

'Til Death Do Us Part? New Tool Said to Predict


University of Washington psychologists have developed a tool that is said to predict with 87 percent accuracy which newlywed couples will divorce within four to six years. Therapists can use the tool to assess marital problems.


Why do some marriages last and others end in divorce? A new study concludes that how newlyweds perceive each other and their relationship can predict whether they will stay married up to nine years later.


The results, published in the March Journal of Family Psychology, were striking. The researchers found that assessing the marital bond of newlyweds with their Oral History Interview predicted who would be divorced in four to six years with 87 percent accuracy. The interview’s predictive accuracy was 81 percent at seven to nine years, according to the article.


The sample was made up of 95 newlywed couples living in the Seattle area who participated in the study within six months of their marriage and were childless. A researcher interviewed them at their home or in a "laboratory apartment" where they were videotaped during the first year of the study.


The participants were followed for five years from 1993 through 1998 and completed mailed questionnaires annually, according to the article.


John Gottman, Ph.D., coauthor and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, told Psychiatric News that the Oral History Interview was more accurate in predicting the rates of divorce among the newlyweds than "paper-and-pencil tests such as the Marital Assessment Test."


According to the article. the interviewer asks the husband and wife to talk about their relationship from the time they met, their philosophy about marriage, and how their parents’ marriages compare with their own,
Meanwhile, an observer codes the positive and negative nature of what couples say about each other and their relationship rather than simply the content of what they say. The couples are rated on three positive items: fondness/affection, "we-ness" (unity), and expansiveness, which includes expressiveness. The three negative scales are negativity, disillusionment, and disappointment.
How couples handle marital conflict is also measured in terms of chaos, volatility, and "glorifying the struggle," meaning that they believe that dealing with the challenges are worth it, according to Gottman.


The researchers found that newlyweds who stayed married referred to themselves as "we" and "us" and displayed fondness, admiration, and affection toward each other.
"They showed a genuine interest in each other, were playful, and could be emotionally supportive when their spouse needed them. They felt their lives were less chaotic and used humor to diffuse conflict," said Gottman.


In contrast, the couples that were more likely to divorce scored low on the positive qualities and high on contempt, criticism, defensiveness, disappointment, and disillusionment, said Gottman. "They also experienced more conflict because they didn’t connect emotionally."
Cybil Carrere, Ph.D., lead author and a psychologist at the University of Washington, told Psychiatric News that "the Oral History Interview is unique because it taps into the couple’s perceptions of each other, which they use to filter their partner’s behaviors."
For example, a wife who has developed admiration and fondness for her husband will tend to give him a break if, for example, he doesn’t get up when the baby cries. In contrast, a wife who is disillusioned and cynical about her husband will think he is a jerk for not getting up, said Carrere.


Gottman, who developed the Oral History Interview with Kim Buehlman, Ph.D., said it can be used to diagnose marital problems at any stage of a couple’s marriage and even before they get married. A 1992 study cowritten by Gottman showed that the interview tool was 94 percent accurate in predicting divorce rates among couples who had been married for five years and had children.


Carrere explained that the somewhat lower accuracy rates in the newlywed study were expected because of the couple’s short history together. "Their relationship is more fluid so certain items in the Oral History Interview such as ‘glorifying the struggle’ were less predictive."
Gottman said he uses the results from the studies on the Oral History Interview in workshops and training materials on marriage at the Gottman Institute. He and his wife founded the institute in 1996 to help couples and families and train marriage counselors.
Gottman said the Oral History Interview could be used to strengthen marriages as well as repair troubled ones.


The Oral History Interview and coding sheet are available in Gottman’s book, The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy, can be ordered from the Gottman Institute Web site at <www.gottman.com/products>.

 

Article 9


Marital confrontation, especially those with harsh start ups, takes a greater toll on the male.

retrieved from: http://www.webnoffice.com/z%20old/ctd/linked/stuff%20for%20calm%20newsletters.htm 23/2/10

Supporting research by Robert Levenson and Loren Carter at the University of California at Berkeley found that when male subjects are stressed, their hearts actually beat faster than females' and they stay accelerated for a longer period of time. Dolf Zillman, a psychologist at the University of Alabama, found that when male subjects are treated rudely and then told to relax, their blood pressure surges and stays elevated until they get to retaliate. In contrast, women experiencing similar situations can generally calm down over a period of twenty minutes. These studies both indicate that marital confrontation-especially those characterized by harsh starts-takes a greater physiological toll on the male, setting him up either to be temporarily disabled or requiring some kind of retaliation in order to get emotional release. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a male should wish to avoid difficult confrontations whenever possible, and it behooves his partner to avoid harsh starts on each and every occasion if she wishes to keep her partner engaged in the discussion and responsive to her concerns.

Anger is the emotion that does most damage to the heart (among men)
• Type A personality is NOT a good predictor of heart disease
• Hostility puts people at risk for heart disease
• "the problem arises when hostility becomes so constant as to define an antagonistic personal style—one marked by repeated feelings of mistrust and cynicism and the propensity to snide comments and put-downs, as well as more obvious bouts of temper and rage" p171

Flooding
? Frequent emotional distress that includes physiological readiness for fight/flight, toxic thoughts, and an inability to think logically
? Ten beats per minute above baseline at resting state
? It takes husbands longer physically to recover from flooding, and men prefer to stonewall rather than to go through the unpleasantness of conflict
? By stonewalling, men calm down, but women’s heart rate soars when their husbands stonewall, leading to more inappropriate conflict
? The limbic tango

Gottman sees a pattern in failing marriages where criticism leads to contempt, contempt to defensiveness, righteous indignation, self-pity and loss of responsibility, and these in turn lead to stonewalling or communication shutdown. When that happens, you're on the rocks. Relentless critical or contemptuous attack results (particularly in males) in emotional "flooding" whereby the physical "flight or fight" response is activated, a state in which effective listening and acceptance is impossible because primitive parts of the brain are loudly yelling "enemy!" Failure to recognise this state of flooding in ourselves or our partner is dangerous because when flooding has occurred in one or both people, a fight can only turn nasty, and does.

The data reported here on crying support the almost ubiquitous finding that females are more emotionally expressive than are males (see for example, Vingerhoets & Scheirs, 2000). In self-reports of emotional expressiveness, women, as compared to men, report greater frequency, intensity, and duration of all emotions except anger (Balswick, 1988; Larson & Pleck, 1999). Larson and Pleck conclude from their review of the literature that it is a consistent finding that adult females report expressing emotions more intensely than do males. Clearly, the majority of research on crying supports these conclusions.
A distinction should be made, however, between differences in emotional expressiveness and differences in emotional arousal as measured by physiological indicators. Larsen and Pleck (1999, p. 39) state that the evidence is against the thesis that males are constitutionally less emotional than females. When emotionality is measured by physiological indicators, Larson and Pleck conclude "Nearly all of this research either finds that men and women do not differ in physiological reactivity or that men are more reactive than women."
Using a time-sampling method, Larson and Pleck found men to be as emotional as women. They focused on immediate reports of emotion as experienced during daily living. Participants were asked to rate their current state of arousal with regard to a number of emotions. It is not surprising to see similarities between these findings and those of physiological researchers on emotional arousal as they both purport to measure inner-emotional experience rather than emotional expression. Therefore, with reference to crying, males and females may be experiencing the same amount of emotional arousal, but females cry more often, intensely, and longer than males.
 
As a group, men are far more aggressive than women, a difference often attributed to social factors. A new study, however, indicates that differences in men's and women's brains—not their upbringing— account for women's greater control over aggressive impulses.
Ruben Gur and colleagues performed MRI scans on 57 men and 59 women between the ages of 18 and 49. The researchers measured the volume of the amygdala, hippocampus, and other limbic areas associated with emotional arousal, as compared to the volume of orbital frontal brain regions that exert control over emotional responses.
After Gur and colleagues adjusted for the difference in overall cranial volume between men and women, they found that hippocampal and amygdala volumes were similar for both sexes. However, women had significantly larger orbital frontal cortex volume than men.
"Because men and women differ in the way they process the emotions associated with perception, experience, expression, and most particularly in aggression," the researchers say, "our belief is that the proportional difference in size in the region of the brain that governs behavior, compared to the region related to impulsiveness, may be a major factor in determining what is often considered 'gender-related' behavior."
-----
"Sex differences in temporo-limbic and frontal brain volumes of healthy adults," Ruben C. Gur, Faith Gunning-Dixon, Warren B. Bilker, and Raquel E. Gur, Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 12, No. 9, September 2002, 998-1003. Address: Ruben C. Gur, Neuropsychiatry Section, Department of Psychiatry, 10th Floor Gates Building, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia PA 19104.
-- and --

"Penn study may explain cliché of 'hot-headed' men," Science Daily, September 18, 2002.
Emotion and Gender
• Physiology and intensity
• Women recall emotional events more intensely and vividly than do men.
• Men experience experience emotional events more intensely than do women.
• Conflict is physiologically more upsetting for men than women.

Emotion and Gender: Physiology
• Males autonomic nervous system is more reactive than females.
• Men are more likely to rehearse angry thoughts which maintains anger.
• Women are more likely to ruminate which maintains depression.
 
 
Emotional arousal in infant boys
 
Why men go to anger – missing the initial emotions underneath
 
About the problem solving model
 
Atypical theft offenders
 
Respecting the client – no matter why they are there – how that assists in change
 
 
Emotions in men – Emotions in Women, Conclusion
 
Research on infant boys has shown that they are more emotionally reactive to the expressions of others than are female infants. If this is so – and (as mentioned in previous newsletters) adult men have also been shown to be more reactive than women to stress and conflict, as well as more prone to emotional ‘flooding’ - why do men seem to be less emotionally expressive than women?
 
The key word her is expressive. In many cases, it is specifically because emotional states may feel so acute and stressful to men that they shut the emotions off (though they still remain bottled up deep inside) – or experience them inside without any real verbal tools to express them to others (or even articulate them to themselves).
 
 Men may then tend to turn to anger as an easy outlet for emotions that they cannot express any other way. Drugs or alcohol may also be easy ways to dampen feelings of confusion, depression, anxiety or stress. Aggressive action – whether on the athletic field or in a bar-fight – may provide an easy avenue to let feelings out.
 
A final – and very sobering note – is that suicide rates for men are far higher than for women (two to four times higher, depending on the study). When there is no way to let emotions out, sometimes suicide is the only escape that can be seen.
 
So instead of taking the stereotypical view that men are less emotional than women, a closer look suggests the exact opposite. This deeper understanding also gives tools for dealing with men and their emotions. This topic – Men in counseling – and the general topic of resistant clients in counseling – will be the subject of our next newsletter.

Supporting research by Robert Levenson and Loren Carter at the University of California at Berkeley found that when male subjects are stressed, their hearts actually beat faster than females' and they stay accelerated for a longer period of time. Dolf Zillman, a psychologist at the University of Alabama, found that when male subjects are treated rudely and then told to relax, their blood pressure surges and stays elevated until they get to retaliate. In contrast, women experiencing similar situations can generally calm down over a period of twenty minutes. These studies both indicate that marital confrontation-especially those characterized by harsh starts-takes a greater physiological toll on the male, setting him up either to be temporarily disabled or requiring some kind of retaliation in order to get emotional release. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a male should wish to avoid difficult confrontations whenever possible, and it behooves his partner to avoid harsh starts on each and every occasion if she wishes to keep her partner engaged in the discussion and responsive to her concerns.

Anger is the emotion that does most damage to the heart (among men)
• Type A personality is NOT a good predictor of heart disease
• Hostility puts people at risk for heart disease
• "the problem arises when hostility becomes so constant as to define an antagonistic personal style—one marked by repeated feelings of mistrust and cynicism and the propensity to snide comments and put-downs, as well as more obvious bouts of temper and rage" p171
Flooding
? Frequent emotional distress that includes physiological readiness for fight/flight, toxic thoughts, and an inability to think logically
? Ten beats per minute above baseline at resting state
? It takes husbands longer physically to recover from flooding, and men prefer to stonewall rather than to go through the unpleasantness of conflict
? By stonewalling, men calm down, but women’s heart rate soars when their husbands stonewall, leading to more inappropriate conflict
? The limbic tango
Gottman sees a pattern in failing marriages where criticism leads to contempt, contempt to defensiveness, righteous indignation, self-pity and loss of responsibility, and these in turn lead to stonewalling or communication shutdown. When that happens, you're on the rocks. Relentless critical or contemptuous attack results (particularly in males) in emotional "flooding" whereby the physical "flight or fight" response is activated, a state in which effective listening and acceptance is impossible because primitive parts of the brain are loudly yelling "enemy!" Failure to recognise this state of flooding in ourselves or our partner is dangerous because when flooding has occurred in one or both people, a fight can only turn nasty, and does.
The data reported here on crying support the almost ubiquitous finding that females are more emotionally expressive than are males (see for example, Vingerhoets & Scheirs, 2000). In self-reports of emotional expressiveness, women, as compared to men, report greater frequency, intensity, and duration of all emotions except anger (Balswick, 1988; Larson & Pleck, 1999). Larson and Pleck conclude from their review of the literature that it is a consistent finding that adult females report expressing emotions more intensely than do males. Clearly, the majority of research on crying supports these conclusions.
A distinction should be made, however, between differences in emotional expressiveness and differences in emotional arousal as measured by physiological indicators. Larsen and Pleck (1999, p. 39) state that the evidence is against the thesis that males are constitutionally less emotional than females. When emotionality is measured by physiological indicators, Larson and Pleck conclude "Nearly all of this research either finds that men and women do not differ in physiological reactivity or that men are more reactive than women."
Using a time-sampling method, Larson and Pleck found men to be as emotional as women. They focused on immediate reports of emotion as experienced during daily living. Participants were asked to rate their current state of arousal with regard to a number of emotions. It is not surprising to see similarities between these findings and those of physiological researchers on emotional arousal as they both purport to measure inner-emotional experience rather than emotional expression. Therefore, with reference to crying, males and females may be experiencing the same amount of emotional arousal, but females cry more often, intensely, and longer than males.
 
As a group, men are far more aggressive than women, a difference often attributed to social factors. A new study, however, indicates that differences in men's and women's brains—not their upbringing— account for women's greater control over aggressive impulses.
Ruben Gur and colleagues performed MRI scans on 57 men and 59 women between the ages of 18 and 49. The researchers measured the volume of the amygdala, hippocampus, and other limbic areas associated with emotional arousal, as compared to the volume of orbital frontal brain regions that exert control over emotional responses.
After Gur and colleagues adjusted for the difference in overall cranial volume between men and women, they found that hippocampal and amygdala volumes were similar for both sexes. However, women had significantly larger orbital frontal cortex volume than men.
"Because men and women differ in the way they process the emotions associated with perception, experience, expression, and most particularly in aggression," the researchers say, "our belief is that the proportional difference in size in the region of the brain that governs behavior, compared to the region related to impulsiveness, may be a major factor in determining what is often considered 'gender-related' behavior."
-----
"Sex differences in temporo-limbic and frontal brain volumes of healthy adults," Ruben C. Gur, Faith Gunning-Dixon, Warren B. Bilker, and Raquel E. Gur, Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 12, No. 9, September 2002, 998-1003. Address: Ruben C. Gur, Neuropsychiatry Section, Department of Psychiatry, 10th Floor Gates Building, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia PA 19104.
-- and --
"Penn study may explain cliché of 'hot-headed' men," Science Daily, September 18, 2002.
Emotion and Gender
• Physiology and intensity
• Women recall emotional events more intensely and vividly than do men.
• Men experience experience emotional events more intensely than do women.
• Conflict is physiologically more upsetting for men than women.
Emotion and Gender: Physiology
• Males autonomic nervous system is more reactive than females.
• Men are more likely to rehearse angry thoughts which maintains anger.
• Women are more likely to ruminate which maintains depression.
 
 
Emotional arousal in infant boys
 
Why men go to anger – missing the initial emotions underneath
 
About the problem solving model
 
Atypical theft offenders
 
Respecting the client – no matter why they are there – how that assists in change
 
 
Emotions in men – Emotions in Women, Conclusion
 
Research on infant boys has shown that they are more emotionally reactive to the expressions of others than are female infants. If this is so – and (as mentioned in previous newsletters) adult men have also been shown to be more reactive than women to stress and conflict, as well as more prone to emotional ‘flooding’ - why do men seem to be less emotionally expressive than women?
 
The key word her is expressive. In many cases, it is specifically because emotional states may feel so acute and stressful to men that they shut the emotions off (though they still remain bottled up deep inside) – or experience them inside without any real verbal tools to express them to others (or even articulate them to themselves).
 
 Men may then tend to turn to anger as an easy outlet for emotions that they cannot express any other way. Drugs or alcohol may also be easy ways to dampen feelings of confusion, depression, anxiety or stress. Aggressive action – whether on the athletic field or in a bar-fight – may provide an easy avenue to let feelings out.
 
A final – and very sobering note – is that suicide rates for men are far higher than for women (two to four times higher, depending on the study). When there is no way to let emotions out, sometimes suicide is the only escape that can be seen.
 
So instead of taking the stereotypical view that men are less emotional than women, a closer look suggests the exact opposite. This deeper understanding also gives tools for dealing with men and their emotions. This topic – Men in counseling – and the general topic of resistant clients in counseling – will be the subject of our next newsletter.

 

 
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