Putting Your Feelings Into Words and Asking Open-Ended Questions by Ellie Lisitsa

As we all know, emotions are devious creatures. They elude our understanding for a vast number of reasons, among which are the inescapable facts of daily life. Unfortunately, with so much focus being invested in the small crises and stressors that arise in our jobs and daily activities, it is difficult to find a moment to truly connect with what we are feeling.

As a result, our emotional lives often spiral out of our control, and internal pressures build up. At a certain point we explode, and this affects our relationships with those we are closest to – potentially harming our bonds with those we care about the most.

If we cannot identify our own emotions, how are we supposed to understand them or process them? If we cannot understand and process them, how can we communicate about them with others? How can we expect our partners to be a source of comfort and support?

These are problems we all struggle with! If you feel frustrated in your inability to have intimate conversations about your deepest feelings with your partner, you are not alone. Right now you’re probably thinking that “misery loves company” isn’t particularly helpful. But that’s not our message. Our message is that we can help.

As exhausting and frustrating as all of this is, Dr. Gottman encourages us not to feel too overwhelmed. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, have designed an incredible approach to help us achieve focus and explore our feelings, ultimately gaining the skills we need to discuss them with our partners.

In What Makes Love Last, Dr. Gottman describes some incredibly effective and largely unknown techniques for identifying our emotions. Identified by renowned scientists, including a number of research psychologists, there are certain physiological signs that can help us to understand what we are feeling. This week, we are excited to offer you a few tips that you can use in your own home to build intimacy with your loved ones. We wouldn’t want to reveal all of Dr. Gottman’s secrets, but here’s a teaser!

Ask open-ended questions

If you ask questions that require only a yes or no answer, you are destroying conversations before they even have a chance to begin. You are accidentally slamming the door that you are trying to open. This door is unfortunately labeled “Intimacy.” Instead of “Did you watch that movie?” ask, “What was your favorite part?” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask, “You seem upset – what’s going on?”

Stop and breathe

If you are bothered by your inability to label your emotions, stop and meditate for a moment. Clear your mind. Search for a word. When a word comes to mind and your body relaxes, you have hit the spot. Here are a few examples you can use in this activity. Remember, these are just a starting point!

Positive Emotions

  • Amused

  • Appreciated

  • Lucky

  • Satisfied

  • Silly

  • Turned On

  • Joyful

  • Safe

  • Proud

  • Powerful

  • Playful

  • Fascinated

Negative Emotions

  • Alienated

  • Tense

  • Misunderstood

  • Powerless

  • Ignored

  • Inferior

  • Criticized

  • Ashamed

  • Betrayed

  • Numb

  • Unsafe

We share a few more skills for building intimacy with you in our following blog post, What Makes Love Last: Expressing Compassion and Empathy. This post will show you the fundamentals of deepening connection in your conversations and expressing compassion and sympathy.

If you want to build a deeply meaningful relationship full of trust and intimacy, then subscribe below to receive our blog posts directly to your inbox:

Source: Gottman Institute


9 Real Statistics About Long-Distance Relationships by ERIKA W. SMITH

College is starting, which, for many students, means that their relationship is about to change. Over the next few months, many people will experience their first long-distance relationships as they and their significant others head to separate colleges. But will they stay together long-term?

The path from high school relationship to long-distance college relationship to breakup is so common that there's even slang for it: “the turkey drop.” That's what it's called when college freshmen head home for Thanksgiving and break up with their high school partners.

But not all high school relationships end with a “turkey drop,” or even end at all. In fact, more and more young couples are choosing to make long-distance work for a few years, or even permanently. “It's becoming a lot more common because the world is becoming so much more accessible than what it used to be,” Channa Bromley, Lead Coach for Relationship Herorecently told Refinery29. “You have people going to different universities and staying together, and when we get promotions and job opportunities, they might not be in the same city as our partner.”

Will your long-distance relationship end in a breakup? We can’t answer that, because it really depends on each individual couple. But we can share nine real statistics about long-distance relationships.

Almost half of all daters are open to long-distance.

According to 2019 OKCupid data, 46% of women and 45% of men are open to a long-distance relationship with the right person.  

More than half of all long-distance relationships make it long-term.

According to a 2018 study conducted by sex toy brand KIIROO, 58% of Americans in long-term relationships will stay together.

Lack of physical intimacy is the biggest challenge.

In the same KIIROO study, 66% of respondents said the hardest thing about being in a long-distance relationship was the lack of physical intimacy, and 31% said the lack of sex was the hardest part.

Most college students will be in a long-distance relationship.

According to a 2005 studyup to 75% of college students report having been in a long-distance relationship at some point in their lives, and 35% of college students are in long-distance relationships at any one time.

Long-distance relationships don’t last as long, on average.

2010 German study found that the average length of a long-distance relationship was 2.9 years, less than half the length of a proximal relationship, 7.3 years.

Long-distance relationships may be more stable...

One 2007 study found that people in long-distance relationships reported more idealism, positive reminisces, perceived agreement, communication quality, and even romantic love than people in geographically close relationships.


What’s the difference between the the Maters and Disasters?

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman describes two types of couples: the Masters and Disasters.

The Masters remain happily married, while the Disasters either break up or stay together and are unhappy.

What’s the difference between the two? 

Disasters struggle with conflict. They use the Four Horsemen and they have a hard time repairing.

Masters understand that conflict is inevitable. They manage it by listening to each other’s needs and expressing empathy.

source: Gottman Institute


Safety neeed for emotional connection— by Ellen Boeder

The latest research in neurobiology shows that emotional safety is one of the most important aspects of a satisfying connection in a loving relationship. We need to feel safe before we’re able to be vulnerable, and as Brené Brown reminds us, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” 

Some people get turned off by the idea of prioritizing safety in their relationship because they equate a “safe” relationship with a “boring” one, but it turns out that the secure relationship we all long for is cultivated best when we feel safe. 

Stephen Porges, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of neuroscience and one of the world’s leading experts on the autonomic nervous system, confirms that we have an imperative for safety deeply wired into our minds and bodies.

Porges’ Polyvagal Theory describes how our autonomic nervous system mediates safety, trust, and intimacy through a subsystem he calls the social engagement system. Our brain is constantly detecting through our senses whether we are in a situation that is safe, dangerous, or life threatening. 

When our body and mind experience safety, our social engagement system enables us to collaborate, listen, empathize, and connect, as well as be creative, innovative, and bold in our thinking and ideas. This has positive benefits for our relationships as well as our lives in general. 

Most couples I see in my practice aren’t dealing with life threatening situations. Instead they are navigating chronic relationship disconnection, tension, defensiveness, or irritability that signals danger to their senses, which ultimately takes a toll on their relationship. 

Our brain’s ability to be aware of these signals is a phenomenon called neuroception, a term coined by Porges to describe how our nervous system relies on feelings in our body to assess our level of risk and safety. This awareness lies outside of conscious thought. Our brains are wired to provide a continual analysis of information through our senses to decide how and when to initiate and be open to connection with each other. 

When we perceive safety through neuroception, our social engagement systems can function and help us create warmth and connection. When we perceive danger, all our resources move towards assessing the level of danger we may be in and protecting us from it.

The subtle threats of disconnection

Christine and Jack, married and in their late thirties, both have high-stress jobs and travel a lot for work, sometimes spending weeks apart from each other.

When they finally reunite, instead of feeling joy and connection, they argue. The cycle goes like this: Jack is critical, Christine counter-attacks, Jack gets flooded and shuts down, Christine feels abandoned. Neither partner feels secure. 

We roleplay a reunion scenario in my office. Their faces, voices, and bodies are tense, reflecting the anxiety they feel inside. Christine and Jack are signaling danger to each other without even realizing it. As humans, we have a capacity to sense threat at its most subtle levels, beyond logic or cognition. This deeply wired system is firing whether we want it to or not. 

Neuroception also mobilizes our defenses when we detect a threat, which is what’s happening with Christine and Jack. Even though they “know” cognitively that they’re safe with each other, their senses are receiving very different information through each other’s voices, eyes, facial expressions, and body language. 

When we don’t feel safe, our bodies don’t want to engage, connect, or provide the emotional warmth our relationships need in order to thrive. 

Creating a secure and safe bond

How does a couple convey emotional safety to each other under stress? How do they consciously pave the way for a connection that leaves them inspired and wanting more?

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, the developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT), incorporates neuroscience to teach couples how to recognize the safety and security system of their relationship to create and maintain lasting love. 

In learning how to cultivate a sense of safety on a neuroceptive level, Christine and Jack began to intentionally communicate feelings of interest, acceptance, and love to each other.

They focused on being more intentional about greeting each other in a way that reassured and invited the other in. As they practiced this, their eyes and faces softened, and their voices became calmer and friendlier. Soon, a new way of connecting was possible between them. 

Instead of dreading their reunions, they begin to look forward to them. 

The beauty of a nervous system that helps us survive life threatening events is that it also supports us in deepening our feelings of closeness and connection with one another. 

Our relationships are far from boring when we feel safe. Emotional safety enables us the freedom to collaborate, dream, be wildly creative, share bold ideas, feel increased compassion, and express ourselves freely with one another.

The more we understand how our bodies play a role in our relationships, the more we can make them work for us instead of against us.



What can I learn? — source Gottman Institute

Stephen Covey writes, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.”

Accordingly, it is likely our first impulse to build a defense of our behavior any time our intentions are misinterpreted.

I’m not a bad person! If only I could make you understand. 

It’s a difficult impulse to corral.

Next time you find yourself thinking, “How can I make them understand?” try asking, “What can I learn from this?” instead.

What can you learn so that, in the future, your behavior and your intentions will be more closely aligned? How can you make sure your partner is getting the message you intended? 

Source: Gottman Institute


Context is everything

Imagine your partner standing in front of you, holding a hammer.

What do you assume it’s for?

If it’s been a good week and you enjoy a strong friendship with one another, you might assume they’re going to hang that art you’ve been meaning to put up. They might even be constructing a shelf or a birdhouse.

But if Negative Sentiment Override has kicked in, you may assume your partner is up to something nefarious. Are they about to throw it through a window? Destroy something?

A hammer can be used to build something or to take something apart.

What if you assumed your partner was there to build something with you?

—Source: The Gottman Institute


QUESTION: What is the best way to call it quits without hurting my spouse?

QUESTION: What is the best way to call it quits without hurting my spouse?


Don: Since you are thinking about ending your marriage, it is likely that you have already “called it quits” by withdrawing emotionally from your relationship. You tuned-out, and this has already hurt your wife, deeply.

John and Julie Gottman discovered that there are four things that poison a marriage: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt (Resentment), and Stonewalling (tuning out.) According to their research, the number one complaint that men have about women is that they are critical. The number one complaint women have about men is that they tune-out or stonewall or shut down emotionally—leaving before you actually leave. Criticism and stonewalling work against each other. The person criticizing will say, “I am just trying to get your attention.”  The person stonewalling will say, “I am trying to calm things down so you can stop and hear me.” Over time, if this dynamic is left unchecked, the couple moves into a mental/emotional divorce. Their interactions become factual, organized more around the children, finances, or projects, rather than emotional connection. They begin to lead parallel lives. Actual divorce is often the result. It sounds like this is where you are headed.

I suggest returning to counseling with a therapist trained in the Gottman Marriage Therapy. You can find therapists to help you at this website: http://www.gottmanreferralnetwork.com. They are trained to help you face the reality of your situation, to assess whether you really want a divorce, and to help you process that with the least harm and the most understanding. If you are not ready, get some individual therapy to help you emotionally prepare for the divorce conversation and the ensuing divorce process. Both would probably be best. It may cost some money, but an even greater cost would be in not tending to the emotional process of ending a marriage. Ending well requires skilled help and patience.

Also, if your wife is really trying now in noticeable ways, be prepared for your adult children to pressure you into trying again. Though they are adults, ending your marriage will hurt them. Why? Divorce hurts. It just does. You can make it hurt more or less, but it hurts everyone. And, how you have been living with your wife has hurt you, too.

In summary, you have already hurt your wife, and the divorce will hurt her more. Do it with skilled help if you do choose divorce. This will help you, as well as your family, face one of the most difficult situations adults and children face with mindfulness and compassion.



Don Elium, MA MFT

925 256 8282

Walnut Creek, CA 94596