Posts Tagged ‘contempt’

Relationship Notes from Gottman, Hendrix, Gray, and Kasl

August 22, 2009

I’m writing below notes I’ve made from a bunch of different books about relationships for married and unmarried couples.  A few years ago, I got really into the subject as I went to couples counseling with my girlfriend at the time.  As I look at the notes, I guess I got a little obsessed about it.  I underlined the best parts of the books and then typed out those parts.  It is possible that, like Rodney Dangerfield said in “Back to School,” “The guy who underlined those books could have been an idiot.”

(There’s another good line from that movie that I like.  Rodney asks his professor out for a date.  She says, “I can’t tomorrow, I have class.”  He replies, “Ok, why don’t you go out with me when you have no class.”  But enough about a guy who gets more respect than I do…)

Anyway, about the notes from the books, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being as prepared as possible.  It’s fun to wing it sometimes, but you can’t hurt yourself with preparation.  I believe in having a great marriage, not an average one or a good one.  Anyway, I have the notes, so I thought I’d put them onto my blog in case anyone is interested in reading the Cliff Notes versions of these books.

I include Martin Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness,” even though it isn’t specifically a book for couples.  Another book, “Raising the Emotionally Intelligent Child,” by John Gottman, is under the Disabilities, Autism section of my blog.  I am a Gottman disciple.  I think that his books on relationships are great.  So here we go.

Martin Seligman, “Authentic Happiness”

  • Authentic happiness comes from using your best strengths in work, love, play, and parenting.  Meaningful life adds using these strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness
  • Take particular care with the endings of relationships because that’s in large part how they’re remembered.
  • Doing kind and fun actions create a lot more satisfaction than doing things that are only fun.
  • Happy people remember more of the good events than the bad.
  • Happy people spend the least amount of time alone and most time socializing.
  • If you do not allow yourself to express an emotion it will squeeze its way out, usually as an undesirable symptom.
  • People often unravel as they ventilate in traditional talk therapy.  Cognitive therapy techniques, however, get people to change their thinking about the present and future.  Dwelling on anger produces more anger.
  • Change your thoughts by rewriting your past – forgiving, forgetting bad memories.
  • Good things and high accomplishments have surprisingly little power to raise happiness.
  • Once a person is just barely comfortable, added money adds little or no happiness.
  • All emotions about the past are driven by thinking and interpretation.
  • Dwelling on anger produces more anger.

  • Savoring the awareness of pleasure.
    • Sharing with others
    • Memory-building (photos)
    • Congratulation
    • Sharpening perceptions
    • Absorption
  • Gratifying activities
    • Challenging and require skill
    • We concentrate
    • There are clear goals
    • We get immediate feedback
    • We have deep, effortless involvement
    • There is a sense of control
    • Sense of self vanishes
    • Time stops
  • People often choose pleasure over gratification
  • 6 universal virtues
  1. Wisdom and knowledge
  2. Courage
  3. Love and humility
  4. Justice
  5. Temperance
  6. Spirituality and transcendence
  • You have to let yourself receive love in addition to giving it.
  • While real income has risen 16%, happiness has decreased 30%
  • Flow – positive emotion about the present without thinking about the future or the past.

Gottman’s harbingers of divorce as quoted by Seligman:

  • Harsh startup in a disagreement
  • Criticism rather than complaints
  • Displays of contempt
  • Hair-trigger defensiveness
  • Lack of validation (particularly stonewalling)
  • Negative body language
  • Positive signs
    • Partings – before you leave, find out one thing that your spouse will do that day
    • Reunions – at the end of the day, have a low-stress reunion conversation
    • Affection – physical intimacy
    • At least one weekly date
    • Express admiration and appreciation at least once a day.
  • When you have a hot button issue, mention it.   Use the gavel.
  • Raising children – Make sure they know what they are being punished for.
  • The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day.  The meaningful life adds one more component:  using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness.

John Gottman, “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”

  • Do you have affection for each other even during conflicts?
  • Couples who initially had complaints about each other were among the most stable as the years went on.
  • Research shows that marital satisfaction is linked to spouses’ physiological responses to one another.
  • You must have at least five times as many positive as negative moments together.
  • Validating – letting each other know your emotions are valid.  Repeating back what the other said.  “So you’re saying….is that right?”
  • Pick your battles carefully.  “What do you suggest?”
  • You can “agree to disagree.”
  • Show interest.
  • Be appreciative.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Be accepting.
  • Joke around.

Four Horsemen


  • Attacking someone’s personality or character.  i.e., saying “always” or “never.”  However, complaining about a specific event is healthy.


  • The intention to insult and psychologically abuse your spouse.  Name calling, mockery, sneering, curling your upper lip.


  • Believing you are not to blame.  Making excuses.  Cross-complaining.  Yes butting.  Defending yourself.


  • Withdrawing during an argument – a very powerful act.  One spouse withdraws more, escalating the other’s demands.
  • The above four horsemen often fall into two categories of thoughts – innocent victimhood or righteous indignation.
  • Flooding – fight or flight.
  • Use conciliatory gestures – “Please let me finish.” “We’re getting off the topic.”  “That hurt my feelings.”
  • How to improve your relationship:
    • Calm yourself during flooding.  Don’t continue the discussion until you’ve calmed down.
    • Speak and listen non-defensively.  By dwelling on what is wrong, you miss out on what is right.  Recall specific happy memories.
    • Validate each other – “Go ahead, I’m listening,” “I can see why you’d feel that way,” “It makes sense that you’d feel that way,” or even “yeah.” Go far out of your way to validate.
    • Overlearn these principles.  Practice often.  Even when you don’t feel like it.
    • Set a limit of 15 minutes for disagreements.  Pick one major issue.
    • Sex – talk about what is good.
    • Since politeness vanishes early, make an extra effort to treat your spouse nicely.
  • Happiest couples accentuate the strengths and the bright side, downplay faults, elevate shortcomings into strengths.  If the good things about your relationship are considered the norm while the bad parts are fleeting and situational, that’s good.
  • Happiest couples are those who understand limitations.
  • Go out of your way to validate.  Especially during hot-button issues – use gavel.
  • Use “I” as much as possible rather than “you.”
  • Nothing foretells a marriage’s future as accurately as how a couple retells their past.  A negative spin on your past is a very bad sign.  Telling how you met.  Remembering details are good.  It’s best if you glorify your past struggles.  You can make an effort by changing the negatives to positives.
  • Mismatches in marital style aren’t good.

John Gottman, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”

  • Emotional intelligence is a predictor of a child’s success later in life.
  • Most happy couples do not do active listening when they’re upset. (different than Hendrix)
  • There’s a lot of affection and laughter as they hash this out.
  • The key to a happy marriage is finding someone with whom you mesh.
  • Happy spouses do not keep tabs on whether a good deed is payback.
  • No one style of resolving conflict is best – as long as both people have the same style.
  • Most affairs are about seeking friendship, support, understanding, respect, caring, and concern – feeling loved and appreciated.
  • The determining factor for both men and women in whether they feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion is the quality of their friendship.
  • Keys to a successful marriage

–      Expressing little things day in and day out

–      Talk on the phone during the day.  Ask about things like doctor’s appointments.

–      Example – he’s not religious, but he goes to church each Sunday with her because it’s important to her.

–      They positively beam when discussing the life they plan to build.

  • Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. No sense in fighting over differences.

Predictors of Divorce

1. Harsh startup. 96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation by its beginning.

2. Four Horsemen

Criticism instead of complaints.

Contempt (conveys disgust)

–      Sarcasm

–      Cynicism

–      Name-calling

–      Eye-rolling

–      Sneering

–      Mockery

–      Hostile humor

–      Belligerence contains a threat or provocation.


–      Blaming your spouse


3. Flooding – you feel severe emotional distress when dealing with your spouse.  Your body perceives the situation as dangerous.  Fight or flight.

4.  Body Language – The more flooding, the harder it is to respond to repair.

5.  Failed Repair Attempts – The failure of repair attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future.  You can even be high on the four horsemen and still have a good marriage if there are repair attempts.

Quality of the friendship is key.

6. Bad Memories

  • Couples who have a negative view of their spouse often rewrite the past.
  • In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly.  They glorify the struggles they’ve been through.
  • When you find the past difficult to remember – bad sign.


  • Lack of knowledge about each other is bad.  You need to know what the other person likes, dislikes, fears and loves.
  • Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world.  They remember the major events in each other’s history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change.
  • Know each other’s deepest longings, beliefs, and fears.
  • Getting to know each other shouldn’t be a chore.
  • At least once a week just go out and talk.
  • Talk about your triumphs and strivings, the difficult events you’ve gone through
  • Fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in a marriage.  They are antidotes for contempt.
  • How you view your past.  If you put a positive spin on your history, that’s good.
  • Lots of chit chat means you are connecting.
  • There is deep drama in the little moments.  It’s important to turn toward each other every day.  Just remember you shouldn’t take your every day interactions for granted.
  • Asking each other about your day helps relieve stress from other areas that can spill over.  Talk about what is on your mind outside your marriage.
  • You have to let her know that you fully empathize with her problem.
  • Ask her to point out instances in which you are being controlling.
  • You don’t have to resolve all your conflicts.  You can agree to disagree.
  • Share with each other the personal dreams of your life.
    • Make sure your startup is soft and not harsh
    • Look for signs of flooding
    • Be more tolerant of each other’s perfections

John Gottman, “The Relationship Cure”

  • People headed for divorce disregarded their spouse’s bids for connection most of the time.
  • Happily married people engaged each other as many as 100 times in 10 minutes.
  • Humor and affection during a conflict is invaluable.
  • The probability that a person will attempt to re-bid once an initial bid has been rejected is close to zero.
  • Heart to heart exchanges are great.
  • Playfulness is great for relationships.
  • When you look for negativity you find it.
  • Being familiar with the details of each other’s lives can help you to have happier, more stable relationships.
  • The first three minutes of a conversation predict the rest.
  • Say “I” instead of “you.”
  • Don’t dismiss other people’s emotions.
  • 55% of people rely on facial expressions and other body language; 38% rely on tone of voice and pace of speech; only 7% rely on the spoken word.
  • 70% of marital conflicts never go away.  So, how you handle conflicts is huge, and what you disagree on early, you will probably still disagree on late.
  • Digging into each other’s hidden agendas provides a great opportunity for intimacy.
  • Talk about your life dreams.
  • Make list of absolute must haves, then another list of more flexible requirements.

Charlotte Kasl, “If the Buddha Dated”

  • Never try to control another person.
  • Don’t put someone on a pedestal, and don’t set them below you.
  • Confront everything inside that kindles fear or anxiety.  Walk right into your fears, sit down, talk to them, until they become our friends.  You can’t release what you won’t grasp or feel.
  • Live in the moment and appreciate what is life. 
  • Don’t grasp for security or predictability.
  • Emphasis on service, silence, and simplicity.
  • Never abandon yourself by compromising your integrity or discounting your intuition.
  • Gamble everything for love (Rumi).  This means you.  Don’t wait any longer.  Dive in the ocean.
  • Don’t live an isolated life.
  • Be honest about your faults and mistakes.
  • Clear out clutter. 
  • Resolving old hurts and expressing our gratitude releases tension and allows our energy to flow freely.
  • Four tips:
    • Stay tuned into the level of connection
    • Notice the flow of give and take
    • Trust yourself and your instincts
    • Have fun and remember it’s all a passing show
  • As you attune to a higher vibration you will more quickly see when there is potential.
  • If you make a commitment, you take this person exactly as they are.  You agree to the whole package the way it is.
  • The happiest people are the ones dedicated to helping relieve suffering.

Charlotte Kasl, “If the Buddha Married”

  • One step toward experiencing loving – follow your heart and give yourself fully to what you feel called to do.
  • Accept impermanence.
  • Speak simply and clearly from the heart.
  • Don’t hold back. Hiding anger sets off explosions.  Stockpiling anger is one of the most harmful things we can do to ourselves and others.
  • Counterfeit conflicts stem from hardwired nervous system responses to previous experiences.  When we yell at our spouse for being late, it might be a displaced scream at a parent who was unreliable.
  • Anything that reminds us of a childhood experience can cause “flooding.”  Ask yourself, “What are we really arguing about?”
  • Voice your appreciation.
  • There shouldn’t be the threat of someone leaving.

Neil Clark Warren, “Finding the Love of Your Life”

  • Your choice of whom to marry is more crucial than everything else you will do to make your marriage succeed.
  • Spend hours talking about the nitty-gritty aspects of life.
  • Intimacy – sharing deepest thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears, and joys.

John Gray, “Mars and Venus in Love”

  • Voice your appreciation.
  • You let go of your frustrations by talking about them.
  • Sit down and ask how your day went.  Little things mean a lot.  For a woman to talk about her day helps her figure out what’s bothering her.  Don’t try to fix her problems, just listen.
  • Do the little things – taking out the trash, dishes, etc.
  • Write love letters to each other.
  • It’s not good when you have nothing to report from your day.
  • You need to be best friends as well.

Phil McGraw, “Relationship Rescue”

  • Research shows that 70% of couples who attend counseling are worse or no better after one year.
  • Set aside time each day to work on things.
  • Applying logic to relationships doesn’t always work.
  • Don’t let arguments get too personal. 
  • You can agree to disagree. 
  • You have to achieve emotional closure at the end of an argument.  Don’t gunny sack your emotions. 
  • Good sex isn’t everything, but without it you have no chance.
  • Instead of waiting for your spouse to change, you can and will serve yourself much better by looking at yourself instead of your spouse. 
  • You are not a child anymore.  You have the chance to choose what you think, feel and do.  You cannot use events as excuses. 
  • Competition, score keeping is bad.
  • Bad signs: 

–      You make concessions in a negotiating fashion rather than offering them as a gift of support. 

–      You don’t do things to support your partner without making sure that she knows it, including why it created an imposition on you. 

–      You’re a fault finder, telling your partner what she should do.

–      You think everything has to be done your way.  You feel justified in everything you do.

–      Being self-righteous – same as keeping yourself from looking at your faults.

–      You purposely attach your spouse’s vulnerable areas.

–      You seem to thrive on the role of the victim. 

–      Being passive-aggressive, being a controller underhandedly.

–      You keep in the memory bank the problems with your spouse.

–      You interpret many statements and actions of your spouse negatively, based on little or no evidence. 

–      You put the relationship on the line with every problem, with ultimatums.

–      You use threats to manipulate your spouse. 

  • The spirit and attitude with which you do things is at least as important as your actual actions. 
  • You should not be afraid of adopting new thoughts and behaviors.
  • You need to face your fears.  Monsters live in the dark.
  • You need to let her know that you will be a safe, loving place for her to fall onto.
  • Spend a lot of time focusing on things to admire instead of criticize.
  • Better to be happy than right.  The harder you fight to win, the bigger you lose.
  • Make your needs known, and discover the needs of your spouse.
  • You must really know your spouse from the inside out.
  • Make it your goal to understand more about your spouse than you’ve ever known.
  • Take a quiz about your spouse (p. 171).

Harville Hendrix, “Getting the Love You Want” (non-Imago related stuff)

  • The old brain has no sense of linear time.  Today, tomorrow, and yesterday do not exist; everything that was, still is.  That’s why feelings sometimes seem alarmingly out of proportion to the events that triggered them.
  • During intimacy, you aren’t judging each other, or interpreting what your spouse is saying, or being self-absorbed.
  • Don’t use global words like “always” or “never.”
  • As romantic love fades, the power struggle begins.  Couples begin to
    • Stir up each other’s repressed behaviors and feelings.
    • Reinjure each other’s childhood wounds.
    • Project their own negative traits onto each other.
  • You have to take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your spouse.
  • Become more intentional in your interactions.
  • Issues take a while to come to the surface.  So that is why counseling takes a while.
  • You need to throw in a curve once in a while.
  • Isolaters unwittingly recreate the struggle of their childhood by marrying fusers, who have an unsatisfied need for intimacy.
  • You have to understand the reasons behind behaviors to grow.
  • Complaints about your spouse are often descriptions of parts of yourself.
  • Most of your spouse’s criticisms of you have some basis in reality.
  • There is tremendous satisfaction in just being heard.
  • Call once a day just to chat.
  • Any suggestion of an obligation or expectation will reduce the exercise to a bargain.
  • One spouse’s greatest desire is often matched by the other spouse’s greatest resistance.
  • When you make someone else happy, a part of the unconscious mind interprets the caring behavior as self-directed.  Love of the self is achieved through love of the other.
  • Define what you want, ask, and reciprocate.
  • Adaptations that serve useful purposes in childhood drain the life from marriage.
  • The person who unleashes the anger feels equally assaulted, because on a deep level the old brain perceives all action as inner-directed.
  • The more one attacks, the more one retreats, the more one retreats, the more the other feels abandoned.
  • In times of stress, you retreat to old patterns.
  • Instead of fighting, ask for what you want.
  • What you are doing for your spouse is what you are doing for yourself.
  • Love keeps no record of wrongs.
  • People who perceived their spouses to be superior to them felt guilty and insecure.  People who perceived their spouses to be inferior to them reported feelings of anger.  When people perceived themselves to be equals, their relationships were relatively conflict-free and stable.