Monday, January 30, 2012

Gottman’s Research on Successful Marriages

by Rebecca Kirk, MAMFT

Since 1980 Dr. John Gottman has been gathering research on marital interactions and has proven with 94% accuracy the ones that end in divorce based on the partners’ physiological interactions with one another. The important thing to note in couple problems isn’t “how often they fight” but “how they fight.”  Research was done by observing couple’s heart rates, facial expressions, gestures, fidgeting, sarcasm, contempt, breathing, listening, emotional understandings, and inability or ability to agree on their history and laugh at past hardships.  This research has lead to the identification of dissolved marriages.  Research has also refuted popular myths on marriage busters such as financial, sexual, and compatibility problems leading to divorce, etc.  Gottman’s findings contradict Olsen’s speculation that couples who argue aggressively end in divorce.  Gottman’s evidence is gathered from hundreds of couple “x-ray” tests where he observes them with lie detectors, electrodes, pulse devices, blood flow sensors, and microphones.  Couple disagreements were then observed when they arose.

Not only is this research methodically different, but it remains valid across time per couple that has participated.  Spanning close to three decades and using seventy-nine couples exhaustively, the research has stood the test of premature predictions.  It is important to study these long-term successful relationships.

What is some of the most pivotal information found in his research? 
  • Couples need five more positive comments than negative for each other.  (Even couples who have many passionate disagreements thrive when this ratio is kept.)
  • Laughter is important in marriages.
  • The Four Horseman of the Marriage Apocalypse:
    • Criticism
    • Contempt
    • Defensiveness
    • Withdrawal

Remember that one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a healthy marriage, and that these research findings prove that a ratio of five positives to one negative predicts the most important ingredient of hope.  Decreasing the criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and withdrawal by focusing on the positive is truly life. 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. -Philippians 4:8, ESV

Communicate positive interactions with the significant people in your life by speaking them, and writing them on sticky notes and leaving them in surprising locations.  Don’t forget that our facial expressions and laughter screams communication as well.  For more great information on this by Dr. John Gottman, read his book entitled Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: …and How You Can Make Yours Last.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Power of Positive Affirmation

by Rebecca Kirk, MAMFT

The famous adage, “A child doesn’t remember what you taught them, but they remember how you made them feel” can be applied to a child’s most important teacher – his parent.  When we are worried about our children, it is extremely easy to overly warn, discipline, and communicate areas of needed improvement.  Unfortunately, just as you don’t feel motivated to “perform” for your spouse or friends, or other family members, your child can’t grow best when you constantly point out flaws.  Often when working with adolescents and families, I hear a pattern of parents communicating detailed negative traits about their children while vaguely mentioning positive ones.  Not only does the number of positive interactions need to outweigh the negative, but the detailed natures of each need to be balanced as well.  For instance, we all know how easy it is to go into vivid detail rehashing an offensive behavior, but we seldom overlook how surface, superficial, and lacking in affirmation statements like “ You are such a good kid, I’m proud of your good grades, you’re a sweet person, etc.,”  can be.  Instead consider the difference in the statements above to these more affirming and specific ones:

  • You are such a good kid because many have told me how respectful you are.  For instance, Mrs. __________ said….
  • Your good grades tell me so much about you.  They tell me that you are dedicated, disciplined, and that you value your future.  Also, they show that you have a respect for learning , knowledge, and others who have traveled down the road of life more than you.
  • It is easy to see you are a genuinely sweet person because you are always noticing when a friend is hurt and lending a listening ear.  Also, I’ve seen how you consoled your little sister when she hurt herself yesterday.  You not only……., but you also…… which comforted her.

When we focus with as much detail and energy on the positives in our lives as we naturally do the negatives, it is amazing how much deeper we can keep digging.  Consider how the following verse from the New Testament encourages us to truly think about these positives:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  – Philippians 4:8

Our minds are connected to our heart, and we can’t help communicate what we think.  Your child will certainly remember how you make them feel, and it will motivate them to achieve these affirmations to greater degrees.  Tune in next week to discover how scientific research has proven that these positive affirmations have predicted committed marriages.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Academic Resolutions: From a Teacher to a Teacher

by Rebecca Kirk, MAMFT

Now is an excellent time to evaluate your child’s academic progress and set goals for academic accountability.  Unlike at the beginning of a school year,  many of your child’s teachers are familiar with your child’s aptitude and average performance and might recognize important changes that may have occurred.  Depending on the teacher, you may find out critical behavioral and social information since your child spends a significant period of time at school.  Remember that emotional, social, and behavioral encounters with friends and peers can affect academics significantly.  Often times emailing your child’s teacher with specific questions can be the most time efficient method of communication.   Many times an informal e-mail can produce more candid and efficient results than a formal teacher conference where several adults are gathered and communications can be more filtered and hurried.  If you do not desire to communicate with all of his or her teachers, try to choose one or two that your child mentions the most.  Choosing teachers that your child has more positive and negative interactions with could be beneficial.  Send each teacher an individualized e-mail.  From my experience as a high school teacher and therapist, I have found the following list of questions most helpful:

  • Does my child seem to be focused while in class?
  • When considering my child’s academic aptitude, is he/she below, above, or on average for his/her grade level?
  • Is my child performing according to his/her aptitude?
  • Does my child participate in classroom activities?
  • Does my child do his or her homework thoroughly? (You will know their grades from their electronic and paper reports.)
  • How does my child interact socially with peers?  Is social communication too reserved, too vocal, inappropriate, etc.?
  • If you have noticed my child’s social interactions, would you say he or she is socializing with positive peers or negative ones?
  • Do you have any suggestions of goals to work on with my child?

When communicating with your child’s teacher, remember to choose a few important questions that don’t overload the teacher with more work than he or she already has.  Thank the teacher for his or her time.  Be careful that you do not accuse a teacher, but instead ask questions that communicate that you desire clarity from an adult’s perspective (if there has been a confusing incident).  Lastly, as with all communications, remember to say something positive about your child’s experience in his or her class if applicable.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Family Reflections and Resolutions

by Rebecca Kirk, MAMFT

Resolutions for the new year are bombarding us on every radio station, television, and magazine advertisement, and for many, it is a time of beating oneself up.  Countless psychologists and studies indicate that the vehicle of lasting positive change is to see and feel achievement -  not discouragement.  In this new year, take the time to access the positive changes, memories, and achievements you have made with your family.  Think of the best memory of the year.  Did it involve quality time, a mini vacation, a teachable moment?  Make a list of the positive outcomes you have achieved as an individual and as a family.  After you have basked in the growth of last year, resolve to add a few realistic goals to better strengthen your current or future goals.  Also, see if your personal  goals and your family goals need more balancing.  You can even make it a family effort by creating a memory time capsule of 2011 which also lists goals for 2012.  Each family member can write his or her own list for each year, and then each member can read it aloud before burying it. This can become a family tradition that you dig up and rebury each year.   Using this as a family devotion with prayer can be a reverent way to thank God for his gifts of grace and also request his guidance in the year to come.  The time to appreciate the blessings of the previous year will also help prepare us for the inevitable heartaches of the new one because it can help us take time to treasure our many and unique blessings before we lose them.