The science of healthy relationships with John and Julie Gottman (Transcript)

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Re:Thinking with Adam Grant
The science of healthy relationships with John and Julie Gottman
December 13, 2022

[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking: my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist, and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking.

My guests today have changed how I think about relationships. Actually, they've probably done more good for everyone's relationships than anybody else on Earth. As pioneering psychologists for the past four decades, John and Julie Gottman have done groundbreaking work on the science and practice of healthy marriages. They co-founded the Gottman Institute, and they've written numerous bestselling books together. Their newest release is the Love Prescription.


[00:00:49] Adam Grant:
I have so many questions for both of you, but I guess the place I wanna start is how did you get interested in studying relationships?

[00:00:56] John Gottman:
Well, I got interested in studying relationships 50 years ago, primarily because my relationships were failing. I teamed up with my best friend, Robert Levenson, who's a psych now, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, and his relationships were not going very well either. And I know Bob once said, “John, we can either have a relationship or study relationships, and we're doomed to just study them.” So we built a lab to try to learn from people who have good relationships how to do it.

[00:01:29] Julie Gottman:
And I think I got interested in relationships through John because I began as a psychologist who was working with heroin addicts, folks who were diagnosed as schizophrenics, people who were really traumatized by either war combat, or torture, or sexual abuse or physical abuse. And that had been my private practice for quite some time. But every night John would be sharing data with me and what that data implied. And it was kind of like a dark hole, Adam, where gravitationally, I just got sucked in deeper and deeper and deeper until finally I just couldn’t resist. And I collapsed into the center of the dark hole where John lived, and we decided to work together.

[00:02:19] John Gottman:
I always like to say Julie studied the worst cases. And I dated all of them.

[00:02:27] Adam Grant:
So Julie, you weren't one of the failing relationships then?

[00:02:29] Julie Gottman:
Apparently not. Not yet. It's been, uh, about 35 years and still good.

[00:02:36] Adam Grant:
Well, we, we all know a lot of psychologists who stand in their blind spots, and I love the fact that you not only study healthy marriages, you have one, by all accounts. Uh, when I teach leadership, there is one study of marriages that I always cover, and it's a famous study that the two of you are intimately familiar with, where you have couples come into your lab and they talk about an issue in their marriage, and you can predict their divorce rates with astonishing accuracy, just by coding the little signals they send each other back and forth. And I wondered if you could talk to me a little bit about the story behind that research and what you learned from it.

[00:03:14] John Gottman:
We were able to build a lab back in the 1970s where we synchronized the video time code to physiological measures from each person, looking at heart rate, how much they sweat from their hands, respiration, blood velocity, gross motor movement, things like that.

And then we coded the emotions that they were displaying as well. And we were quite surprised that we could account for almost 90% of the variation in what happened to the couple. Not only could we predict whether they would stay together or get divorced, we could predict when they would get divorced if they were gonna get divorced, and if they stayed together, how happily married they would be, and how they would change over time.

So all of those things together allowed us to have high rates of prediction, which were basically unheard of in psychology before us.

[00:04:11] Adam Grant:
I had never seen anything like it when, when I first read your research, and I, I love getting to see that, that look of shock on my student’s face when I say, listen from a 15-minute interaction, there are experts who can predict your divorce rate over the next 15 years with nearly 90% accuracy. And immediately what they wanna know is, well, “Is my relationship doomed?”

[00:04:33] Julie Gottman:

[00:04:33] John Gottman:

[00:04:33] Julie Gottman:
Yeah. We have to always remind people that these predictions are made with couples who've not had intervention and are not gonna be receiving intervention typically. So if they do receive intervention, it's a whole ‘nother story.

[00:04:48] Adam Grant:
You famously found four patterns in conflict that predict the end of relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, which you've called the four horsemen of marital apocalypse.

[00:05:00] Julie Gottman:
Let's gallop up to the horsemen. Uh, the first horseman we call criticism, and criticism is essentially blaming a problem between the partners on a personality flaw of your partner.

You're so lazy, you're so inconsiderate, you're selfish, you're thoughtless. You know, all those kinds of words are criticisms as well as saying, “You always forget to pick up the dry cleaning.” Always and never are also criticisms because they imply a personality flaw.

The second horseman of the apocalypse is contempt, and contempt is really the most destructive of all the horsemen. It is criticism, but with a touch of scorn, of disgust, looking really very down at the other partner as inferior, disgusting with no value. That's contempt. And contempt not only predicts doom for the relationship, it also predicts how many infectious illnesses the listener of contempt will have in the coming years. So it destroys not only relationship but also the immune system of the listener—

[00:06:20] John Gottman:

[00:06:20] Julie Gottman:
—which is just terrifying. The third horseman is defensiveness, and defensiveness is my favorite. I'm really good at it. I practice it a lot. And defensiveness sounds like “I did too do the dishes”, kind of that whiny, righteous victim. “Don't, don't get mad at me. I did it right.” Or counterattack. “Oh yeah. well, you didn't pay the bills.” So bringing up your own criticism against the other person when you feel criticized. So that's defensiveness, and that's typically the most common of the horsemen and the hardest one to expunge because we all love defensiveness. You know, it protects us, in a way, from criticism.

Then the last is called stonewalling, and stonewalling is interesting. It's a complete shutdown of, of one partner. When they're listening to the other partner, they don't give any body cues, any facial cues, any verbal cues, any words that indicate they're actually listening to the person. They just shut them down and react as if they were a stonewall. Thus, the name stonewalling, and that links to something very important that John and Bob Levenson found in their data when they measured physiology, which was that the people who were stonewalling, and 80% of those were men, often—

[00:08:01] John Gottman:
85% actually.

[00:08:01] Julie Gottman:
Thank you, dear. 85% of them were men, and so what they discovered when people were stonewalling is that those people's heart rates were typically 100 beats a minute or higher, or perhaps if they were super athletes, they'd be beats per minute higher, which indicated that they were in fight or flight. They were really feeling attacked and threatened, and they were turning inwards to try to self-soothe and to shut out the attack. Now, when people are flooded, that's what we call being in fight or flight. What we see is that they have tunnel vision, tunnel hearing. All they perceive is attack. That's it. Nothing else.

Their partner could be saying. “Gosh, you look beautiful today.” “What do you mean? What are you trying to get outta me? You're trying to manipulate me, aren't you?” You know, it's gonna look like that. They're very uncomfortable inside, so they're stonewalling to try and take care of themselves internally.

[00:09:11] Adam Grant:
I, I've long been fascinated by all of these horsemen, and of course, pretty much everyone I know has, has read your work and, and drawn on it in one relationship or another. And I ha—I have some questions about each of the horsemen that I've, I've been curious about. So I actually polled a bunch of friends and colleagues and family members to try to find out what are they curious about and added in some of theirs as well.

So, let's start with criticism. We all have personality flaws, right? So when my wife tells me that I am always late, maybe I wasn't late every time, but I'm late most of the time, and I recognize that that's a shortcoming of mine, and it doesn't bother me when she points it out. So why is criticism so problematic for people?

[00:10:00] Julie Gottman:
Well, it sounds like probably you've made a decision that being late is okay.

[00:10:06] Adam Grant:

[00:10:07] Julie Gottman:
It’s not as if it being late makes you a terrible human being. For example, you know, if your wife told you, “You know, your being late really sucks. I hate it. People around me hate it. Everybody I know hates you being late. They can't stand it. Why don't you change? What's the matter with you?” Now that's gonna sound different, isn't it, than, “Oh honey, you're always late.” Right?

[00:10:37] Adam Grant:
It does. Very different. And so you're talking about the disapproval being the part that really stings.

[00:10:41] Julie Gottman:
Not only the disapproval, Adam, but the, the sense that you're an unworthy human being because you’re late. You know, it’s—

[00:10:53] Adam Grant:
Got it.

[00:10:54] Julie Gottman:
It cuts much deeper than a casual remark.

[00:10:56] Adam Grant:
That makes sense. So, how do you teach couples to overcome that?

[00:11:02] Julie Gottman:
Well, we teach them how to overcome criticism by describing themselves, describing their own feelings. They'll describe the situation. You know, “When we are late to a party, I feel embarrassed. I feel humiliated.” Then, they state their positive need: “I would love it if you would start getting ready earlier so we could be on time.” A positive need is really important to describe, so notice that the individual, your partner, is saying what she feels about what and what she needs, not what she doesn't want or she doesn't like, but what does she want? How can you shine for her? That's what she's emphasizing.

[00:11:54] Adam Grant:
And all of a sudden you feel motivated to rise to the occasion as opposed to having your guard up.

[00:12:00] John Gottman:

[00:12:00] Julie Gottman:

[00:12:01] Adam Grant:
This is easier said than done. So do the two of you actually do this in your marriage?

[00:12:07] Julie Gottman:
We try.

[00:12:08] John Gottman:
Yep, we do.

[00:12:09] Julie Gottman:
Yep. We try. I mean, you know, we can role-play how not to do things really well because we've had a lot of practice at that.

[00:12:19] John Gottman:
Doing it wrong.

[00:12:20] Julie Gottman:
At doing it wrong. But we, uh, have so absorbed what the research has taught us. And what those couples who participated have taught us that we really work on practicing that we're not perfect by long shot. You know, we'll get critical too, or defensive or any, you know, any of them. If we fall down into one of those four horsemen, we'll try to make a repair as soon as possible afterwards.

[00:12:51] John Gottman:
One of the things that was so interesting, Adam, was that when we looked at couples who have happy, stable relationship, we, we call them the masters of relationships, their partners got critical just less often, but when they did get critical, they responded in a very different way than defensiveness.

They would say, “That's interesting. Tell me more about that. You know, wanna know when do I do that? Can you gimme some examples? What do you need from me?” So they would kind of facilitate this softened startup, rather than being defensive. They would kind of like open their, open their hearts to listening to what their partner felt.

[00:13:34] Adam Grant:
I wonder if there's an example from your relationship that would illustrate maybe a piece of criticism that one of you gave to the other, and then what a, a less constructive versus more constructive response might have looked like.

[00:13:46] John Gottman:
Let’s roleplay one.

[00:13:47] Julie Gottman:
Okay. Oh, honey, you know, I don't understand why you never, ever fully clean up the kitchen. You're always leaving things half-done.

[00:14:00] John Gottman:
You don't know, you don't notice all times I, I do clean the kitchen.

[00:14:02] Julie Gottman:
That's ‘cause there aren't any.

[00:14:06] John Gottman:
No, you, you, the problem is you not noticing things. No, it's not me not doing things.

[00:14:09] Julie Gottman:
No, No, listen, I have better—

[00:14:10] John Gottman:
A lot of times I do it right.

[00:14:12] Julie Gottman:
Get outta here. I have better vision than you do. I see all the crumbs. It's like you're blind.

[00:14:18] John Gottman:
It's always, It's always my fault.

[00:14:19] Julie Gottman:
You're right. Okay, so you don't wanna do it that way.

[00:14:23] John Gottman:
Let’s do it the right way.

[00:14:25] Julie Gottman:
Okay. Alright. Honey, I get so frustrated when I walk into the kitchen after it, you've cleaned it and it's still dirty. I still need to, you know, clean up the counters or clean the stove or something. Would you please take a little more time to clean up the kitchen so that the crumbs are gone, the stove is clean? I don't have any more work I have to do.

[00:14:53] John Gottman:
Yeah, that's a good point. I mean, I, when I'm in a hurry, I don't see the kitchen through your eyes. I just see it through mine.

[00:15:02] Julie Gottman:

[00:15:02] John Gottman:
And I have lower standards than you do. I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll try harder, you know, to do that.

[00:15:06] Julie Gottman:
Oh, I'd really appreciate that. That'd be great.

[00:15:10] John Gottman:

[00:15:11] Julie Gottman:

[00:15:11] Adam Grant:

[00:15:12] Julie Gottman:
Here we go.

[00:15:13] Adam Grant:
I, I, I could listen to the two of you do this all day.

[00:15:16] Julie Gottman:

[00:15:16] Adam Grant:
How many hours do you have? I, I can hear the two versions and know what the right one sounds like, but then at least I, and I think this is true for a lot of people, I run into a knowing/doing gap, where I don't take the knowledge that I have and put it into practice in the moment, and I only realized after the fact, oh, you know, I was being defensive. I felt like, you know, the other person was being critical. Do you have… Do you have exercises, tools, practices that help people actually put their knowledge into practice in the moment?

[00:15:49] Julie Gottman:
Sure, sure. Yeah. We have a lot of exercises, Adam. A lot of tools for couples to use to train themselves, to respond differently to their partner. We have a major new software platform we've created called Gottman Connect that has all of our exercise, our tools, even ways you can assess your own relationship, see what the strengths and challenges are, and then get recommendations for tools to practice and use, and all those tools have really great videos of John and I talking about them, but also demonstrating what not to do as well as what to do. And man, did we have fun making those.

[00:16:39] Adam Grant:
I can only imagine. So one of the things I was thinking about as I was, I was listening to you do, the kind of the bad and the good version of this is a classic Rackham study of expert negotiators where he found that one of the differences between highly skilled negotiators and the rest of us is they were more likely to label their own feelings and the other person’s, except when it came to negative behaviors, and I think this is where, this is where things often get really tricky, right?

Because you may be on the receiving end of criticism or contempt and you wanna call that out. Like I, I actually have a family member who said to me, “It did not go, it didn't go over very well when I told my husband that he was showing contempt and stonewalling.” So one of the alternatives, when you catch the behavior in the other person, how do you gently let them know?

[00:17:29] Julie Gottman:
Oh, that's easy. What you can say is, “Honey, I'm feeling defensive. Can you please say that another way? I'm feeling defensive.” You don't go defensive. You say, “I'm feeling defensive.” Or you can say something like, you know, “That felt to me like an insult. I'm wondering if you can say that a different way.” You describe yourself, right? Describe yourself and what you’re feeling.

[00:17:57] Adam Grant:
It's not about you, it's about me.

[00:18:00] Julie Gottman:
Yeah, that's right, right.

[00:18:00] John Gottman:
As soon as you go into you, you're on thin ice.

[00:18:04] Adam Grant:
That seems like a precarious place to live. Okay, so we, we've talked a little bit about criticism and also defensiveness. I wanna ask you a question or two on contempt and stonewalling. Contempt, you described it as the most pernicious of the horsemen, and it does seem fairly deadly in the sense that it signals, you know, “I don't respect you. I strongly dislike you. I may even hate you.” And it's hard to imagine a, a relationship recovering from that. Is there hope?

[00:18:37] Julie Gottman:
You know there is. When there's a regrettable incident that a couple suffers from, where there's been contempt used or some other awful stuff that has left one of the partners or both feeling emotionally injured, we have a tool for that too. It's called How to Process a Regrettable Incident or a Bad Fight, right? The aftermath of a regrettable incident.

And there are five steps to that tool. So, it takes a while. You’re talking through together what went wrong in your communication, and as you listen to your partner's narration of what happened, then you share yours with each of you pausing to reflect what the other person said to make sure you're hearing it correctly and then also talking about your own responsibility for the part you played in that negative interaction and what to do better next time.

Another important part of that is looking at triggers and what triggers are, right? We all have them. We all have them. Nobody escapes earlier life without some kind of baggage. Old injuries, old negative feelings, and those don't necessarily go away as we get older. They just go deep down into our core, but sometimes during negative interactions here and now, those will get triggered.

It's like a button getting pushed and up come those negative feelings. Then you may get flooded as a result of those feelings inside you coming up, then you say something awful to your partner, right? So exploring whether or not during the incident, as you're looking back on it, you had something triggered inside of you and telling your partner what that feeling was and maybe the history of that feeling for you, that really helps both people understand, “No wonder this went so badly. Now I get it.”

[00:20:55] Adam Grant:
That reminds me of the, the Friesen and Kammrath research that came out a a few years back on trigger profiles showing that friends who knew each other's emotional trigger actually had less relationship conflict and got along better.

And I ended up actually doing a, an experiment with work teams where brand new managers shared their emotional triggers with their teams, and they too had less relationship conflict, I think in part because they were less likely to push each other's buttons. And in part, because when they did, they were able to say, “Oh, it wasn't, it wasn't entirely something that I did.”

[00:21:25] John Gottman:
Adam, can you send me those references? I, I, I’m not familiar with them.

[00:21:27] Adam Grant:
Happy to, would love to.

[00:21:30] John Gottman:
Thank you.

[00:21:31] Adam Grant:
I need to publish this study. I think it needs another study to go with it, but I'll, I'll send you what I have so far. And I think one of the, maybe one of the side effects of, of understanding each other's triggers though is that we start to walk on eggshells more than we should. How do you think about navigating that?

[00:21:48] Julie Gottman:
Gosh, that's a good question. I haven't actually seen in my clinical work, people feeling like they have to walk on eggshells when they now understand the triggers. It's typically when they don't know what the triggers are that they're walking on eggshells because they will experience inadvertently tripping on a landmine, their partner will blow up, get really furious at them, will shout at them, yell at them, you know, whatever. The person doesn't know what the heck happened, and when you don't know what's happening, when you don't know where those landmines exist, then you walk on eggshells when you do know where they exist, then it's easy to traverse around them. knowing, no, you're not gonna trigger anything, so it's easier then.

[00:22:45] Adam Grant:
The lightbulb that just went off for me, connecting a couple of dots is sometimes contempt is actually not about the other person, right? It's about you. I may pick up on a microexpression of contempt and say, wait a minute, “I, I can see the, you know, the smirk and the look of scorn, and that means this person hates me, when in reality they may just hate the event that happened.”

[00:23:09] Julie Gottman:
Sure. Or they may even be feeling a little bit of self-hatred there. You never know. Right?

[00:23:17] Adam Grant:
Wow. I have to ask you a question about stonewalling. Is it possible that one person's break is another’s stonewalling?

[00:23:24] Julie Gottman:
There's one portion of taking a break that sounds like it's missing, that makes all the difference in the world, and that is before your partner calls for a break, says they need to take a break to calm down, or whatever, they need to tell you when they're gonna come back to talk. “I'll be back in 20 minutes. I'll be back in an hour, and we can continue this conversation.” That gives the person who's left behind the freedom to know they're gonna be able to complete this conversation.

When you don't know is when you get anxious about it, and you wanna hold on to the other person and keep them there so you can keep talking. Typically, when somebody takes a break and they call for a break, what they're really worried about is themselves getting out of control to where they say the wrong things and they hurt you when they don't wanna hurt you, and so they're actually protecting you and protecting the relationship when they ask for a break so that they don't end up hurting you or damaging the relationship.


[00:24:49] Adam Grant:
Well, one of the things I love most about your, your work is how widely it applies beyond marriages. I, I find myself referencing it in every kind of relationship, in friendships with my kids, with my coworkers, and that leads me to a couple things. I was curious to get your quick takes on the, the first one is, just the simple question of you work together in addition to being a married couple, what from your work has been most helpful for your collaboration, not just your marriage?

[00:25:17] Julie Gottman:
I think what's been most helpful for our collaboration is both of us becoming better listeners to the other person's point of view. We really started working together about 27 years ago or so, and at that time I could listen to the scientific findings ‘cause I've got science in my heart as well. John had a little harder time hearing the clinical perspective because that wasn't his world, you know, science was his world. So we fought a lot at that time and eventually, things really dramatically changed where John changed his point of view, much to his credit, that he could acknowledge that intuition played a role, that timing and pacing in clinical work played a role, that going much deeper than behavior change played a significant role, and so on. Past emotional trauma played a role. So you know, we were able to just listen better to one another's point of view and accept both as a valid.

[00:26:31] Adam Grant:
Sounds like a journey that every mathematician or engineer should go through.

[00:26:37] Julie Gottman:
Thatta boy.

[00:26:39] John Gottman:
And she actually did listen to the equations I wound up creating with James Murray for couple's interactions. So she accepted the math.

[00:26:49] Julie Gottman:
Yes. But he did also notice the eyes that were glazed over when he described it.

[00:26:56] Adam Grant:
It sounds like, uh, mutual support of the best form. I, I'd love to hear your reflections on the pandemic. I, I know we've seen a lot of couple challenges throughout the isolation, but I've also read some evidence that divorce rates went down and that some people actually became closer. So what's changed? How do you think differently about relationships in the context of some degree of lockdown?

[00:27:22] Julie Gottman:
We didn't do research in it ourselves, but what we did observe and other people did study more carefully was that the relationships that were doing well before the pandemic did even better during the pandemic. They really, really strengthened a lot. Those that were not doing well, distressed relationships, got much worse. And the thought about gee, divorce rates went down. I think the jury is out on that one because people, they were quarantined, weren't reaching out to attorneys, they weren't reaching out to lawyers. Simple as that.

[00:28:01] Adam Grant:

[00:28:02] Julie Gottman:
And that when they come out of quarantine and life has really returned to normal for a couple of years, then we'll see what the divorce rate is doing.

[00:28:11] John Gottman:
Because domestic violence went up so dramatically. And as Tom Bradbury's research shows, that is a really great predictor of future divorce.

[00:28:20] Adam Grant:
As it should be.

[00:28:21] Julie Gottman:
Yeah, that's right.

[00:28:23] Adam Grant:
Are there any benefits of contempt? Uh, my colleagues, Shimul Melwani and Sigal Barsade found that if a collaborator shows contempt, you're more aggressive toward them, but you also perform better on the task because you really want to prove them wrong. Do you see anything like that in other kinds of relationships?

[00:28:40] Julie Gottman:
I sure don't. No. And in fact, there's only very few people who wanna prove somebody wrong when they've heard contempt. Those are the people with the strongest egos. Probably most people collapse under the face of it.

[00:28:56] John Gottman:
It's really sulfuric acid in a love relationship.

[00:28:59] Adam Grant:
Wow. All right. Steer clear. Lots of people like to talk about their love languages. What would you say, is there any scientific basis? Is that a conversation worth having?

[00:29:11] Julie Gottman:
Those are all ways that people can show love. John, I'm not sure about your opinion, but I disagree with the whole concept of love languages, that is people having just one preferred way of expressing love. I think people have all kinds of ways of expressing love, and they can learn any way of expressing love given the desire to learn.

[00:29:40] John Gottman:
I think if the conversation about love languages leads people to really take a look at how love was expressed in their families of origin and the limitations of that and the benefits of that, it can be a productive conversation.

[00:29:55] Adam Grant:
One of the things that you've published extensively on is ratios of emotions and the importance of having multiples of positive emotions greater than negative emotions. And one of the things I've taken away from that work of yours is that sometimes trying to eliminate the negative emotion isn't as directly as effective as injecting more positive emotion into the relationship.

And so it's easier to deal with a little bit of criticism or some occasional defensiveness if you have more joy, more love, more gratitude in your connection. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how that works and if there are particular positive emotions that are, are especially important for counteracting the negative ones.

I, I would assume that love is probably the strongest, but I was, I was starting to sort through, do you wanna double down on gratitude? Is it joy? Is it amusement? Is it interest or pride? There's a, a long list of candidates there, and I, I don't know quite how to, how to prioritize them.

[00:30:52] John Gottman:
This is a really important point. What we saw was that the masters of relationships have five times as many positive things they're doing as negative things. And a lot of those positive things are just—

[00:31:07] Julie Gottman:
During conflict.

[00:31:08] John Gottman:
During conflict, right? And outside of conflict, it's 20 to 1. They're not conflicting. So this turning toward, and we talk about this in our latest book, which is called The Love Prescription, is that if you turn toward your partner in moments when there's no conflict, automatically, you get more of a sense of humor about yourself during conflict, and those moments of shared humor reduce physiological arousal, reduce flooding automatically. So, shared moments of humor and affection seem to be the key thing, not intentionally injecting something positive when you don't really mean it, but actually being able to step back a little bit and laugh at yourself and laugh at one another, and in a, in an understanding, compassionate way, an affectionate way really winds up greatly changing the trajectory of the relationship.

[00:32:11] Adam Grant:
I would love to see a role-play of the absence of that and then the presence of that.

[00:32:18] Julie Gottman:
Sweetie, you know, you're just too lazy to pick up your clothes off the floor, and I'm sick and tired of seeing those clothes on the floor. I don't get what the matter is with you. What's the big deal about picking up your clothes?

[00:32:31] John Gottman:
I don't wanna talk about this. I'm tired of talking about this. I'm done. I'm done with this issue. I’m outta here.

[00:32:38] Julie Gottman:
Well see. There you go. I mean, you're just totally avoiding the issue. You're rejecting me.

[00:32:47] John Gottman:
I’m avoiding attack from you.

[00:32:49] Julie Gottman:
I’m not attacking, I just want you to change. Just be a different person. That's it.

[00:32:54] John Gottman:
That’s, you know, that's the key there. It's like, you want me to be somebody I'm not.

[00:32:58] Julie Gottman:
Here’s all I need you to do. Bend from the waist, down towards the floor, reach your hand down to the shirt on the floor, straighten up again, and drop it into the laundry basket. Is that impossible for you?

[00:33:12] John Gottman:
You’re so controlling.

[00:33:15] Julie Gottman:
Get outta here. I'm just trying to have a floor that I can see that isn't covered with clothes.

So now we'll do it right with positive stuff going on, So, hi sweetie.

[00:33:29] John Gottman:

[00:33:30] Julie Gottman:
So I've got something I need to bring up.

[00:33:32] John Gottman:

[00:33:33] Julie Gottman:
Oh. Oh, you're in trouble. Okay. So listen, you know the clothes on the floor?

[00:33:40] John Gottman:

[00:33:41] Julie Gottman:
Those clothes really don't like being on the floor. They wanna be in the basket. They're calling to you to be in the laundry basket.

[00:33:50] John Gottman:
I can hear them now.

[00:33:51] Julie Gottman:
I know. They’re saying, “Please save me, throw me into the basket. I'm afraid on the floor. I'll get stepped on.” See?

[00:34:01] John Gottman:
Yeah. Yeah. That's a good point. I really—

[00:34:02] Julie Gottman:
That’s what they're saying.

[00:34:03] John Gottman:
It doesn't take much effort to pick 'em up.

[00:34:06] Julie Gottman:
You’re right.

[00:34:07] John Gottman:
It really does. It really does bother you a lot.

[00:34:10] Julie Gottman:
You know, it really does bother me.

[00:34:12] John Gottman:

[00:34:13] Julie Gottman:
It drives me crazy because, you know, it, it just means extra work because I'm the one who's always picking them up and picking them up, and I have to take care of my own stuff. Right? So I don't really wanna have to take care of your stuff as well as mine.

[00:34:29] John Gottman:
Yeah, okay. That makes sense. Yeah. I, you know, the thing is that I dislike my job right now so much that, you know, I'm always, you know, stepping on the uniform I have to wear at work. You know, I, I feel so controlled at work and so I come home and take off my uniform and I just stomp on it and then I leave.

[00:34:48] Julie Gottman:
You know, I was wondering where that giant footprint came from.

[00:34:52] John Gottman:
Yeah. That's it.

[00:34:53] Julie Gottman:
Oh, baby.

[00:34:54] John Gottman:

[00:34:55] Julie Gottman:
You’re hating your job. Who knew? I didn't know that.

[00:34:57] John Gottman:
I really… I really hate this job. Yeah.

[00:34:59] Julie Gottman:
Oh, bummer.

[00:35:00] John Gottman:
Yeah, I was meaning to talk to you about that.

[00:35:02] Julie Gottman:
Really? Oh.

[00:35:03] John Gottman:
Yeah. I need to get out.

[00:35:05] Julie Gottman:
You do?

[00:35:07] John Gottman:
Yeah. It's not about the clothes, it's about…

[00:35:08] Julie Gottman:
Well, tell me, do you think if you got a really grand new job, you wouldn't throw your clothes on the, the floor?

[00:35:13] John Gottman:
Yeah. Yeah.

[00:35:14] Julie Gottman:
Okay. I’m going out. I'm gonna pound the streets and find you a new job.

[00:35:18] John Gottman:

[00:35:19] Julie Gottman:

[00:35:20] Adam Grant:
That was hilarious. It's amazing to watch. So I think I have a similar question to one I asked before in this context, which is, how do you find the wherewithal to bring in humor when you're mad at the person?

[00:35:34] Julie Gottman:
You say you're mad, right? But without criticism, without defensiveness. So you're probably not gonna start off humorously, but if your partner listens and you know, maybe gives you a little understanding and asks you what you need, and you talk about what you need, then you can move into a lighter frame of mind because you've discharged your anger and your partner has caught it and listened to it and responded in a good way.

[00:36:10] John Gottman:
You can’t force humor. It's kinda like trying to sneeze. Sneeze when you have to. And what, what we talk about in this new book, Love Prescription, is that when you've turned toward your partner in times when you're not fighting, you automatically get that sense of humor ‘cause you have a little bit more perspective on the issue. You see the issue in terms of the background of how much your partner loves you and shows you that you're loved and cared for. So it's easier to laugh at yourself.

[00:36:43] Adam Grant:
One of the things this makes me wonder as I watch you is people often say, “Don't sweat the small stuff”, but if you only fight about the big stuff, you never get to practice and, and it seems like it's so much easier to bring in the humor and the moments of affection when you're fighting about something much more trivial.

[00:37:03] Julie Gottman:
Yeah, that’s a really good point. That's right. So it's really good to bring up, you know, your small needs, your little needs, and practice with those.

[00:37:15] John Gottman:
And small things often.

[00:37:16] Julie Gottman:
And small things often, which is what our book is all about, is how to create those small things often to improve the general texture of your relationship so that your relationship is stronger. It's kind of made of stronger fabric so that it can carry that heavier stuff too.

[00:37:37] Adam Grant:
I know that declaring a date night is at the end of your seven-day action plan in the love prescription. And I wanna offer a suggestion for day eight, and you can, you can feel free to reject this idea, but one of the things that Allison and I started doing years ago was in addition to date night, a meeting night.

When we had two kids, we started thinking about how we needed a dedicated time to have those conversations where we were actually focused on listening to each other and we started doing these weekly meetings. They were extremely helpful and we found that we, we did pay a lot more attention to each other when we had requests, right? We would then know that, you know, this is actually a bid, right? “I'm, I'm asking for your time or your, your energy or your support on this.” And then we wouldn't, we wouldn't have to bother each other about them the rest of the week. And it, it actually kind of took all the annoying interactions we would have and kind of put them in a box where we could deal with them more effectively. And I wondered what you make of this as a habit.

[00:38:36] John Gottman:
That's a great point, Adam. We recommend that couples have an hour a week that we call the State of the Union Conversation. What’s the state of our union? Where they can really talk to each other about issues and put it in a box like you said, so that it doesn't really permeate the whole relationship. And so your, your idea with Allison of having the air and talk in a box is just a great idea.

[00:39:02] Adam Grant:
I, I also have read some of the Cordova work on marital checkups and the idea that, you know, solving problems when you're not mad at each other can be effective. Are there steps that you recommend as part of that conversation to make sure that you don't have the same fight that you do when you're mad at each other?

[00:39:20] Julie Gottman:
Oh, absolutely. You know, we've created, again, a number of tools. They're almost like blueprints for how to deal with difficult issues between you, big conflicts between you, and we've already described the first, which is how do you bring up a problem, right? So you do it with what we call a softened startup. I feel what emotion about what situation, and here's my positive need. And then what you do is you go into a much deeper layer, what we call the dreams within conflict conversation, which has six very key questions that one partner asks the other to answer, and both people take a turn asking the other person the questions and listening to the other person's responses.

So you both take a turn, and those questions are quite profound. They have to do with beliefs, ethics, values that may be part of your position on the issue. Your old history that may be part of this issue, your position on it. Is there an ideal dream here, that that is part of your position that you haven't shared, uh? And what's your underlying purpose for having this need or your position honored? What's that underlying purpose attached to it?

That's kind of an existential piece. Every person's position on an issue typically. And then in compromise, we talk about how to separate out what you are willing to be flexible about and what you're not willing to be flexible about. Because compromise often fails when people are trying to compromise what they really don't feel they can compromise on. It's like giving up the bones of their body. They just can't do it, and so they end up fighting about it.

[00:41:29] Adam Grant:
As I watched you do those role plays, I started thinking that that activity in itself could be good for relationships, that if, if you got to act out your worst fights and then redo them better, that that might be a learning experience. Have you ever done anything like that or has that been useful in your relationship?

[00:41:46] Julie Gottman:
I don't know if it's useful for people to do at home just for the heck of it. It's a lot of fun if they can, you know, stick with it. I used to give my students that I taught in graduate school the assignment of being the worst therapist they can be and pairing up with somebody who was gonna be their patient and how would they be the worst therapist they could be. And man, there were some real champions in those classes. So, it is a lot of fun, that's for sure.

[00:42:15] Adam Grant:
Well, I, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to talk. It's, it's such an honor to meet you and, and get to learn from you directly your exceptional role models when it comes to bridging science and practice.

I love how rigorous your work is and how novel the insights are from it, but also how useful they are in people's lives, and I just want to thank you for strengthening my relationships and those of countless others.

[00:42:41] John Gottman:
Thank you, Adam.

[00:42:41] Julie Gottman:
Thank you. Thanks so much, Adam. This has really been a fun interview, and I can't wait to eavesdrop on the conversations you'll now have with Allison.

[00:42:52] Adam Grant:
We will be sure not to invite you in.

[00:42:56] Julie Gottman:
That's a common thing we hear.

[00:43:02] Adam Grant:
I came into this conversation thinking the Gottmans’ secret sauce must be their knowledge from research and therapy. Now, I believe it's something more: their deliberate practice. It's like they've been training for the conflict Olympics. They're not just coaches watching other people's highlight reels and bloopers. They're professional arguers. They practice fighting. They review their game tape afterward. Amazing. There's a lot of evidence that what hurts relationships is not arguing frequently. It's arguing poorly, and watching the Gottmans convince me that the best way to get better at fighting is to do it more, and then debrief on what went well and how you could have handled it more effectively, that way instead of duking it out to try to win the argument, you're on the same side trying to improve the argument together. I think we should all give this a whirl, and I know where I'm gonna start.

Hey Allison, if you're listening, I wanna argue again about how to pronounce mayonnaise. Yeah, I know you're right. It's Mayo Nays. Nobody ever says, please pass the man. They say, please pass the mayo, but Mayo Nays just sounds ridiculous to me. Also, why do I even need to say it? I hate Mayo.

ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, and Anna Phelan. This episode was produced in mixed by Cosmic Standard. Our fact-checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.


[00:44:39] Adam Grant:
I have to say I love John pointing out that men are even bigger contributors to the problem than you acknowledged.

[00:44:45] Julie Gottman:
I know. I was trying to be generous, Adam. I've, I, you know, I am the only female in the room right now.

[00:44:50] Adam Grant:
So you're also the only one with a full head of hair.