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This is the first CTI Blog Post by Tim Donovan. Tim practices in the Baltimore area and is a Certified Gottman Therapist. He’s an expert on external stress in marriage.
Tim comes by this expertise honestly.
Tim’s wife, Dr. Marianne Cloeren, is a physician who is busy working to protect health care workers from COVID-19.
Her expertise involves personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers on the front lines. She develops programs to track exposure so her hospital can identify and control the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Tim was thinking about how critical stress-reducing conversations were for him and Marianne right now.
I asked him to share this essential couples therapy intervention in detail with you.
Neil Jacobson was a psychology professor at the University of Washington who was known for his research on domestic violence, marital therapy, and depression.
Analyzing his own work with highly distressed couples, Jacobson discovered that the majority of his couples relapsed, but some couples who practiced something he called a “stress-reducing conversation” actually improved in their couples therapy.
These couples were able to make their relationship a sanctuary in times of external stress… a place to be accepted no matter what. They were ready to fight their external stress… and not each other.
As Dr. John Gottman tells the story, Neil Jacobson didn’t care about these findings at first, because he had not been looking for them.
However, Gottman was impressed by Jacobson’s findings. He asked his friend and colleague if he could use this tool in his own couples’ research and clinical work.
That’s how the stress-reducing conversation was incorporated into Gottman Method Couples Therapy. It is a core intervention that we teach couples to manage external stressors.
COVID-19 is a source of growing anxiety. There are many issues that couples are managing; sharing a workspace at home, child care, worry about loved ones, and uncertainty about the future. Couples can use the stress-reducing conversation to build resilience and buffer their relationship from external stress.
This tool is a highly effective way to reconnect on a daily basis intentionally.
This is about listening, understanding, and showing empathy.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman describe this as similar to a “Vulcan mind-meld” as Dr. Spock performed on Star Trek.
Here are the instructions for having a stress-reducing conversation:
For example, some couples notice more quality time with children than previously possible. As your balance is shifting in these uncertain times, the stress-reducing conversation will help you use your relationship to stabilize all that is happening.
Now for some of the nuts and bolts to the stress-reducing conversation…
The stress-reducing conversation is an essential tool for couples to reduce external stress.
This intervention has been carefully researched, and they help couples insulate their relationship from external stress and stay connected on a daily basis.
Neil Jacobson may have discovered the benefit of the stress-reducing conversation by accident.
But Dr. John Gottman took his friend and colleague’s discovery and refined them into the stress-reducing conversation to help couples buffer their relationship against external stressful times.
If ever there was an external stressor, COVID-19 is one!
So how do I really know it works? Personally, I use it with my wife to manage external stress all the time. In fact, I asked her to edit this piece, and she even said, “I notice you use this with me, and I appreciate it.” Nothing like getting something right with your spouse!
Try it, and don’t worry about getting it right. That is what connection is — it is the getting it wrong and coming back.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.