We write often here about the importance of community and how it's an essential ingredient for resilient living. Not only do people's support and aid offer solutions our own shortcomings can't address, but their encouragement, support and partnership fulfill our lives in ways isolation cannot.
As our podcast with Pulitzer prize-winning author Sebastian Junger explored, humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to co-exist in community with others. Deriving self-worth from our relationships is simply a fundamental feature of the human species.
But relationships are messy. No two people are exactly alike and disagreements are inevitable. So when conflict arises, how can we navigate through them in ways that strengthen our relationships rather than tear them asunder?
A classic case in point: here at PeakProsperity.com, a very common form of relationship conflict our readers experience is what we refer to as "reluctant partner syndrome". One partner learns about The Three Es and develops a strongly-felt sense of urgency to prepare for coming crisis. The other partner doesn't understand this transformation and simply wants life to continue along as it always has been — who needs all the doom and gloom anyways? And the conflicts quickly ensue…
Anyone for whom that situation resonates will enjoy hearing from this week's podcast guest, Michael Basta. Mike has worked in mental health for 30 years and is a certified Master Gottman Therapist. (Those who read Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink may remember the chapter on John Gottman, whose decades of research studying couples enables him to determine with 94% accuracy after just a few minutes of observation whether a couple will stick together or not.)
In this week's podcast, Mike pinpoints the most common threats that can derail a relationship when it confronts conflict, and he shares the top success strategies that the Gottman Institute's research has identified for rescuing, repairing and strengthening relationships through adversity.
These insights apply to nearly any relationship — your spouse/life partner, family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor. Anyone looking to co-exist in better harmony with the people in their life should find the insights within this discussion of real value.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Michael Basta (51m:07s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity Podcast, I am your host, Chris Martenson, and it is September 27, 2017. Now, in our free market, Peak Prosperity, you know there are eight forms of capital. And if you were at least partially fulfilled in those eight forms, you will be far happier and far more resilient than someone who has only a lot of money. Further, you’ve heard me say that of the eight forms that the most important of them all is your emotional capital. If you lack emotional resilience, you can have all the money in the world. You could have a fantastic homestead and deep skills, but if you fall to pieces anyways at the first sign of trouble, then those won’t amount to very much. Further, in a longer emergency, such as what is being faced in Puerto Rico right now as a consequence of Hurricane Maria, social capital, the deep bonds of trusted knowing that can exist within and among a group of people are essential.
Both emotional and social capital requires maturity in having a rich toolset at your disposal to navigate the tricky world of inter relating. Now, said simply, your emotional capital is a function of your relationship to yourself and your social capital is your ability to meet other people, where they are, and truly help to enrich their lives with your presence. So, it’s the inner world and the outer world..Where these come together most intimately for most people, in is their primary love relationship. Now to help us explore this area is a practitioner of the Gottman Method. He’ll explain what this is in a moment. With us today is Michael Basta. He’s a licensed Clinical Social Worker with 30 years’ experience helping emotionally distressed couples and families to improve their relationships and develop more effective interpersonal skills. Basta began training as a Gottman Method Couple’s Therapist in 2002, and this method has become the central focus of his practice. Welcome Michael, I’m so happy to have you with us today.
Michael Basta: Great to be here, Chris.
Chris Martenson: Well, before we get to the Gottman Method Michael, what would you describe as emotional resilience, what does that look like to you?
Michael Basta: Ooh, emotional resilience, well I would say having that ability to adapt to one’s circumstances individually, but my framework as a couple’s therapist is that I see things in this kind of systemic web. So, I guess what I would say is that it’s how one then relates, I think what you’re calling, you’re talking about social capital, how one relates to others in their environment, especially those closest to them. Their intimate partner, in particular, is intimately caught up in that.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, and we look at emotional resilience as the ability to adapt, as you mentioned, and to meet the changing times. So as circumstances change, how do you adapt, how do you move, how do you change with those experiences? And I would be interested also in your experience. You know part of what we look at Peak Prosperity from the outside in, is that there’s some ecological stressors going on, there’s certainly economic stressors going on, there’s some very big picture things going on that when people pop their heads up and look at them, that can create an emotional reaction more than an intellectual reaction. And that emotional reaction is sometimes like oh-oh, they have that tightening sense. And that certainly seems to have come to the fore. I don’t really want to discuss that with you today, but that’s the backdrop is that given these large stressors that are happening out there, they are really in many ways, reflecting a breakdown in our relationship as a species to the ecological world, our disconnection from nature. And if you break that all the way back down to where you work and where I think all the transformation and the story happens, it’s how are we relating to ourselves and to those most intimately with us? Because I don’t think it’s possible to have a great relationship with the big picture if you have a poor one was a small picture.
Michael Basta: Absolutely.
Chris Martenson: Great, do you have anything to add to that?
Michael Basta: Well, I guess I would add a couple of things. My read, first of all in terms of the resiliency literature, is that one of the key factors always, especially if you look at kids and how kids can come from quite difficult, deprived backgrounds and still come out doing quite well in the world. One of the primary factors is always around relationships, so it would be having a strong mentor in one’s life. And when we look at factors that would predict longevity in life, in the reading that I’ve done, it looks like even more than genetics, having a strong intimate partner in one’s life that’s reliable and trustworthy in a person’s life, comes out as the number one factor. So I would say relationship is intimately tied in with resiliency in the way that I look at it.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, that’s a great point you bring up, and there’s been some very troubling articles of late, one in “The Atlantic” recently that talked – I think the title of it, if I’m going to paraphrase, is “Have Smartphones Killed the Generation,” or destroyed the generation.
Michael Basta: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: And the idea being that the relationships that are happening now are through the thumbs, across texting, and to snap chatting, and very two-dimensional, very fast but not direct face-to-face interpersonal, which is a much trickier landscape to navigate in terms of subtlety in developing actual bonds that seem to provide us with that meaning and purpose that you say can lead to things that we can measure, like longevity and happiness.
Michael Basta: Exactly, I don’t know that article – I haven’t read “The Atlantic” article, but I recently heard a research psychologist from, I think it was San Diego State, talking about the tracking of mental health measures, and was specifically looking at teen depression. And what she noted was that there was a doubling of the incidence of teen depression starting in 2012. When they reduced down all the factors that may have been involved, what they were really looking at was exposure to screen time. Not the content of the screen time, but just the fact that kids are growing up with so much exposure to screens.
Chris Martenson: Well, let’s turn to this idea of relationship then, because the screen time obviously is one form of entertainment and its relationship with the device, but it’s not a human relationship.
Michael Basta: Exactly.
Chris Martenson: So let’s talk now about the Gottman Method. What is first, what is it and when and why was it developed?
Michael Basta: Well Gottman Method is a method of couple’s therapy, and it stems from the research of Dr. John Gottman, and one of his main collaborators was Dr. Robert Levinson. The two of them collaborated way back in the beginning in the early 70s at the University of Indiana. And later, Levinson went on to UC Berkeley and Gottman went on to University of Washington. But what they did, and what they would say if you interviewed them, is that they had a series of failed relationships, and they were very brilliant researchers with many frustrations in their love life. So they turned the scientific method to love, and they started something called The Love Lab, and they started longitudinal studies on couples that were both E dimensional that were looking not just at sort of interviews and questionnaires and scale to satisfaction, but they were also looking at the coding of nonverbal behaviors, live in the recording of physiological measures. And then what they would do is have the couples come back to the lab every four years, over a number of years, and they would see what they found in terms of how these relationships were doing in terms of stability, but also in terms of relationship satisfaction. They had initially five major studies that they had initiated, and those studies were looking at all different sorts of folk. They had newlywed couples, they had couples that were middle-aged and older couples, they had couples of all different socioeconomic backgrounds, and what they found was that there were four factors that they could use listening to a couple in conflict that would very reliably predict misery and breakup, about 93% accuracy. And then they found a number of factors that were predictive of relationships doing well over time. They were really pointing at what they called Masters of Disasters. What are the characteristics of couples that do well over time, and what are the characteristics of couples that are really daily in a relationship. And then from that, John and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman turned that research into a theory, and then into a workshop for couples, and then into a couples therapy venue.
Chris Martenson: Now Michael, would this just apply to people who sort of already detected that their marriage is on the rocks, are these techniques and things that really only apply once the Masters of Disasters have started down that path?
Michael Basta: I think that they really tapped into some universal principles, first of all, so what they’re really looking at in looking at couples that are doing well and then couples that are struggling, are some principles that really sit for all of us. And I think that the – one of the mottos of the Gottman Institute, which is the organization that they founded, is that we are all in this soup together. You know that they’re not particularly relationship gurus, John and Julie Gottman, they would have the same struggles as any of us have. And so these principles again, they’re not just for distressed couples, they are for everybody.
Chris Martenson: All right so they did some research, form to theory, ultimately developed a workshop and some ways of – how would we put that, helping people, looking at things differently.
Michael Basta: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: But let’s start with the research. What were the kind of think that they were finding that over time, they were able to say with a reasonably high degree of accuracy, that these two people just aren’t going to make it if they continue on this path?
Michael Basta: Well, I think that’s the right way of saying it, is the if they continue on the path there is a belief that we have the ability to make changes. But I think the most startling finding that they came up with was this discovery of what they call the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And that was really teasing out four factors that if you saw those four factors emerging at a high frequency, within a 10 to 15 minute sampling of a conflict discussion between a couple that hit about 92 to 93% accuracy. You could predict that in five years that couple would no longer be together.
Chris Martenson: Now these Four Horsemen, I’m looking at it list here, it’s Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, and Contempt. Take us through some examples, what with those look like. I mean these be like the obvious giant displays of contempt or are these just like would you notice just like a little eye roll at a certain moment; what are we talking about here?
Michael Basta: It could be very subtle. So, what they’re talking about there would be even be as Dr. Paul Ekman has identified in his research on the expression of emotion through facial expression, the rolling of eyes and the curling up of left side of the face, that over time even the expression of contempt at that level, nonverbal expression of contempt, can have the same effect as name-calling, put down language, all of those sorts of things as well. So yeah, contempt could show up in quite a subtle form, and seems to have the same deleterious effect on couples relationship.
Chris Martenson: Now I want to put a point on this, because I’m reading here from an article you wrote in 2007 with a Marcia Gomez, it’s titled “Got Gottman,” in the sentence here is high expression of contempt in families has been found to be predictive of a significantly higher incidence of physical illness and premature death in all family members living in the home. That’s a strong statement.
Michael Basta: Strong statement and this is an idea that was put forth by the Gottman’s, but then also there were studies that really backed up that idea at Ohio State University. What they noted in the study at Ohio State; what they had done is they had taken small samples of blood, looking for stress hormones, and then they have their couple’s in conflict and then observe their behaviors over time and they monitored, as well, the physical health of those couples and family members. And what they noted is, in the couples that had high conflict, there was a statistically much higher incident of illness in their children, and in the recipient of the contempt. And that when they looked at, in Gottman’s study, when they looked at contempt over time, again these first studies go all the way back to 1971, as they follow those folks forward, and they look at the high contempt couples, what they found is that there’s a significant difference in lifespan when you look at the couples where there isn’t contempt, and then couples where there is contempt. And I think what John Gottman would say is that if you live in a relationship with chronic contempt, you’re probably losing about five years off of your life.
Chris Martenson: Ouch. And the mechanisms for those I assume we’re starting to understand them biochemically and how those would really translate.
Michael Basta: Yeah, what they’re theorizing about that, is that the recipient of contempt, you know his exposed to essentially an abusive environment, and that that environment creates more stress hormones, cortisol, adrenalin, and that the chronic exposure to those stress hormones then inhibit immune function. And then having inhibited immune function over a long period of time, they’re theorizing then, would lead to more infectious disease and shorter life.
Chris Martenson: Alright, so let’s turn to the Method itself. Let’s imagine a hypothetical couple, they have a desire to improve where they’re out, they’re intrigued by this idea that maybe there’s something to learn, maybe there’s new tricks, maybe there’s some tools they could gather, but they would want to improve their relationship, they have that. What would the Gottman Method entail for this hypothetical couple?
Michael Basta: Well, for a couple like that, you know first of all what I would recommend is not necessarily couples therapy.
Chris Martenson: Uhm-hmm.
Michael Basta: But, perhaps considering a couple’s workshop, the workshop that is sponsored by the Gottman Institute, it’s called the Art and Science of Love, which is a two-day workshop, and then there’s a follow-up to that, which is another two-day workshop. Or, a couple could tap in on any number of webinars or DVD presentations or read Gottman’s most popular book, which would be “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” through any of that kind of exposure. Or there’s actually another workshop which is less experiential, but just covers the material in that “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” book. And what they would find in there, is there would be a lot of material about friendship and building connection and specific tools on how to do that. Tools also, on how to manage conflict, and then tools on how to develop shared meaning in a relationship.
Chris Martenson: Interesting, so if somebody – one of the pieces that I picked up from your writing was this idea of turning towards rather than turning away, just to give people, when you say tools, I want to make this specific. So let’s talk about that idea of turning towards versus turning away, and how somebody might use that.
Michael Basta: Okay, well if I can go back and talk about how they discovered that, it might be interesting.
Chris Martenson: Sure, absolutely, context is great.
Michael Basta: So the idea there is that at the University of Washington, as part of this laboratory that Gottman had set up, they created something called the Apartment Lab. And the Apartment Lab was essentially, I think John would say, a bed and breakfast like any bed and breakfast, except you would have to give a blood and urine sample when you checked in and you checked out and there was a camera in three corners of the room. And you wear a holter monitor measuring seven different indexes of your physiology except when you were going to the bathroom or sleeping. So they would watch these couples for 24 hour periods and just see what they would do. And what they saw is they kind of laboriously looked over videotape of the couples, is that inevitably one partner would make a bid to the other for something. It could be conversation, affection, a back rub, anything. And that the other partner, in this somewhat naturalistic setting would either turn towards that bid and that would look like saying, if it was a bid for conversation, would be to engage in the conversation, or at least mumble a couple of words. Or they would turn away, which would basically look like them ignoring their partner, or they might just get ignored and they might turn against their partner and say something harsh.
And so, what they found when they just measured that, is that couples that turn towards at a high right like 86% of the time, those couples predictably did well. The couples that were these disaster couples tended to turn towards about 33% of the time. So they kind of looked at that and theorized about that, and so that the theory basically says that each one of those incidents of turning towards, is like a piece of emotional currency, if you will. And then we would imagine then that the couple has a kind of shared emotional bank account, and that each one of those moments of turning toward is like a piece of currency that goes into that bank account, except that when there’s a turning away or a turning against, we theorize there are five pieces of currency that come out. And that comes from observing couples and seeing again, with these master couples, they tend to have a rate of five positive behaviors to every one negative behavior, even in conflict. Where, if you look at these couples that end up breaking up, they tend to have about .8 positive behaviors to every one negative behavior. And I’m saying positive and negative behaviors meaning making critical comments or showing signs of contempt or the other kind of nonverbal expressions that would be negative.
So, the idea there is that turning towards is sort of the mechanism of creating this emotional bank account, if you will. And then when you think about that bank account as being like a buffer against stress for a couple. So there’s a resiliency factor for you right there on a couples level, that the idea would be if there tends to be a lot of turning towards, and there’s not much turning away, then the couples got this healthy bank account. And then when they’re facing the stresses of daily life, they tend to be able to ride through that, like there’s a shock absorber in the relationship.
Chris Martenson: So, an example might be when a partner comes up and puts their hand on the other from behind or something, and then the receiving end of that they can either turn towards and reciprocate that or acknowledge it in some way, or they can do nothing, or worse, they could turn away and actually break to contact and not reciprocate.
Michael Basta: That would be a good example. And of course it’s more complicated in the sense that going with that example of course, individuals have all sorts of different tolerances around trust, and trauma. Experiences can affect that and certainly conflict in a relationship can affect that. So often times, it’s not – it’s a simple formula but if they boil it down to its basic essence, yeah, it’s the act of making some sort of bid. It could be like that, a nonverbal touch one, or it could be a verbal one. And then the responses either turning towards, turning away, or turning against. That’s sort of the mathematics of it.
Chris Martenson: Now, how would this particular example of turning towards, away, or against, how would that map into say other relationships in your life that are not your primary in this case?
Michael Basta: Well, I think you can apply the same ideas to work situations, you can apply it to family situations, you can apply it to other kind of social situations that, for example, working in a work situation, there are bids that we put out all the time to coworkers, to join us on a project, to join us for lunch, to be part of something after hours or within hours in a collaborative way. And how people respond to their coworkers, you could use this same kind of way of thinking. That there tends to be the sort of emotional bank account idea that goes on, and if there tends to be this turning away, if a team tends to turn away from other members, or other members of the team tend to turn away from each other, that team is not going to have much cohesion, and there’s not to be much resiliency among that group.
Chris Martenson: You know Michael, this is making me think that life could be sort of viewed as Improv Theater, and the first rule of Improv Comedy is that no matter what the other partner does, you always respond with yes and, because as soon as you say no but, the joke dies and it’s over, right?
Michael Basta: Exactly. Yeah I knew that rule but I hadn’t put that one together, that’s very apt.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, so that yes and, it does build the connection and gives us a place to sort of keep moving and all of that. So I like this idea, there is a bank account, and you’re either putting in or you’re withdrawing from it. How does that, I’ve heard that similarly described with respect to a word that you used earlier, which is trust.
Michael, my question is about trust, and in my own life I understand trust with another person in two ways. And you mentioned the word trust earlier, so I want to come back to that, it seems like a really important word in relationships. So in my life, I’ve discovered there are two ways that I trust people. One, their repeated consistent actions tell me I can trust those actions, somebody’s always on time, I begin to trust on that basis. In a different type of trust is around knowing someone well enough to trust that I understand how they are going to act even if I don’t agree with that, or necessarily approve of it, or whatever. So, those are the two types of trust that I have in my life, and I’m interested in your expression and understanding of how trust works into a relationship. And in particular, what happens when it’s been violated or in some way broken in a couple, knowing that again with this bank account idea, I’ve often heard that trust is like that same idea of the bank account, you’re adding to it or you’re withdrawing from it, but it’s incremental on the way in, and it just floods out on the other direction.
Michael Basta: Yeah, yeah, well said. You know, in terms of Gottman’s theory, trust and commitment are two elements that are later arrivals to the theory. In the reason for that is when they did the initial studies, they identified these kind of seven areas, the seven principles that have to do with friendship, conflict, management, and shared meaning. But John Gottman has written a book subsequent to the original studies called “The Science of Trust.” And he wrote that in part because he really said this theory is not – it’s lacking something, this is not holding up the way it should, and so we looked at trust and looked at commitment, and sees that there’s this process that goes on with couples, in which a couple will meet, they may or may not fall in love, but typically there’s some sort of process where in the beginning, they have a strong emotional reaction to one another. But that eventually, there’s going to be a kind of a crisis of trust that will go on, if you will. And that would be really the asking of a question, if we’re going to go forward is this somebody that I can trust will have my back? And when that question is answered, that then there’s the possibility of moving on to the building of real commitment, which is that idea that this is a partner who’s there for me that really is like no other. Because the strongest predictor of betrayal in a relationship is when a partner starts to look around and make negative comparisons. You know, look around at the neighborhood and say geez, my husband never goes out and plays with the kids but look at Fred across the street, how he does that, or this other partner is so affectionate with my friend over here, but I don’t get that. When we start to see those kind of comparisons, what is found in the research is that that is kind of the tipping point, if you will, potentially for a relationship to start to have betrayal. And then I would say, in terms of betrayal in a relationship, it is a devastating thing. It’s been written about a lot. Attachment theorists will just say it’s a rupture to the relationship, it’s a trauma to the relationship. And what we find is that there has to be a special kind of work that a couple does to recover from betrayal in a relationship. Especially if it’s emotional betrayal, sexual betrayal, but even financial betrayal. This is a big blow to relationship.
Chris Martenson: All right, well what would couples need to do if they had experienced some form of betrayal. And again, there’s a spectrum of betrayals, this doesn’t necessarily mean the big one, affairs or something like that, but they could be small or increasing in size on this spectrum. Somebody might be completely faithful in one area but being sort of betraying routinely in others. You know, not backing your partner up in public or throwing your spouse under the bus as a parent in conversation with kids, whatever happens, right. How would you go about beginning to address that in the therapeutic sense?
Michael Basta: Well, with the – if we just looked at the smaller bits of betrayal like not standing up for you with your mom or with my mom, maybe that’s even more to the point, with my mom. And having you feel like you were left out in the cold, what we would say is couples need to get really good at having an aftermath discussion, and that aftermath discussion really needs to involve being able to talk about underlying emotions that were present during this event, and to say, to listen well and to show understanding, to say validating things to one another about how they felt during this incidence. And then, especially, although in many interactions they say it takes two to tango, but especially in a betrayal incident where one party clearly has stepped out of bounds with the other, the important thing then is to get into a kind of what we call and admitting mode, and to take responsibility for one’s actions, to atone for one’s actions, make apologies. And then to come to some sort of plan how to do it differently. And I guess that I would add, with the bigger betrayals, I would say all those things that I just said are true, but would say that – with a sexual or an emotional affair where there’s been secrecy involved, the important thing there is for the partner that stepped out on this relationship that has betrayed the relationship, absolutely important for that partner to atone for actions by admitting one’s actions and by being willing to answer any of the questions that their partner house, because what we tend to see is there is this trauma response when there’s been betrayal in a relationship. The person who has been betrayed often times we’ll have all the symptoms of PTSD. You know, will have hyper vigilance, will have ruminative thoughts, will be avoiding certain kinds of interactions or situations that may trigger essentially those same feelings. So there has to be this sort of answering your questions so that a person doesn’t jump to all kinds of conclusions in one’s mind, and this is a very rigorous process to go through, a very demanding process. And then a couple would need to learn to reattune to one another, to create really a new kind of relationship with a more solid foundation and be able to listen to each other, the good and the bad, so to be able to learn to tolerate difficult conversations with one another and really listen. And then to figure out how can we do something different in the future not to get back in that situation again. And what would be the ways that we would do that, to have a better like cell wall around this relationship to keep that kind of boundary?
Chris Martenson: Yeah. Michael, I’m sort of keying in on this particular aspect of this word betrayal, because it showing up a lot recently and how people are talking to me about their experience of this current administration or the healthcare bill or whatever it is. People are starting to feel betrayed even generationally where millennial’s are going hey, who ate my cheese, right?
Michael Basta: Right.
Chris Martenson: Thanks Boomers, nice debt piling and crumbling infrastructure, that’s awesome. You know so there’s that sense of betrayal and what I wanted to surface in this is what you did beautifully is that it’s really impactful, and you can’t just sort of swallow it and forget it and move on and hope for the best, it’s going to kind of sit there until it has some way of being processed.
Michael Basta: Exactly, I’ve thought of it in the same way in a larger context, but I believe that the same principles apply. And I think that at the level, at the more microscopic level with a couple, what you oftentimes see is a partner who has, again, broken trust with their intimate partner, and may have the feeling, understandably, can’t we just move on, can’t you just get over this. You know, I’ve been tortured already, I’ve said a thousand apologies, can’t we just forget about this. But the truth is, that it doesn’t go that way; there needs to be accountability, there needs to be the honest answering of questions. Because otherwise, our minds are such that we can think of all kinds of horrible possibilities that are probably worse than reality unless we get honest answers, and forthright answers that we can buy into, we will conceal and you just think about all sorts of things. And so, yeah, I think that’s how trust is rebuilt.
Chris Martenson: Right, exactly, and one of the reasons I keep bringing up the macro versus the micro, is that as a parent it took me a while to catch on to this but I started to realize that as my kid were going through certain developmental stages, it was like I was reliving my own at the age the kid was, right. So if something happened to me when I was three, when my kids three I’m not aware of what’s happening, all of a sudden – it took me a while to figure out Michael, that I was re-experiencing my own childhood wounding and traumas and other things as my kids went through this stage. So I raised this if there are macro betrayals going on, I think it’s only logical to understand that that might be scratching at your own scabs, your own wound of betrayal that’s sitting there unacknowledged in your relationship. I just find these times where the world is sort of on fire as it were. That is often a catalyst for re-examination and servicing of things within relationships. It can happen that way.
Michael Basta: Absolutely, yeah, yes, I would say that is absolutely right.
Chris Martenson: So, we talked about one specific type of rupture with betrayal, but let’s say a couple, they’ve done the workshop, they’ve done the books, but they look like they are looking for – there at a kind of precarious stage; they want may be more of an intervention, what do they go through?
Michael Basta: Okay, in that case, I’d say the thing that really differentiates a workshop from couple therapy is that we start off with a very rigorous assessment. When couples come to a workshop, what we’re doing in that case is kind of just a very simple questionnaire to make sure that this would be a good experience, that this wouldn’t put people under undue stress or create any kind of safety problems. But we’re not doing any kind of assessment at all, and so this is – a workshop is really not therapy.
Chris Martenson: Right.
Michael Basta: Therapy entails an assessment that takes at least three, one and a half hour sessions the way we do it. It starts out with an hour and a half with the couple together. We have certain protocols we go through in terms of talking about the concerns that the couple is bringing in to discuss. We have a couple do the same thing that was done in the love lab, where we say please talk about an area of conflict, preferably the one that brings you in, but it really could be any area of conflict between the two of you. And while a couple does that, we ask that they wear pulse sock centers, because we want to have an idea of what goes on with them physiologically. And often times we videotape because we want to look at nonverbal behaviors as well, and that’s about 10 or 15 minutes that we may do that, and then we take a very thorough history of the couple’s relationship in between the first session and the next time we see the couple, we either have them go online to a secure website and complete a packet of questionnaires, or we actually hand them a physical packet, depending on what they’re comfortable with. And then we score that packet and come back to the next set of meetings, which is either to separate individual meetings, or another hour and a half that we divided the two portions, one for one partner and one for the other partner. And we use a lot of what we’ve learned in the first meeting and then in that questionnaire packet, asked more questions individually of this partner to learn about this partner and their personal history as much as we can, and their view about relationship, any comorbidities, meaning issues with violence, issues with trauma, with other mental health issues, with substance abuse; we want to get as much information as we can about the individual.
And then, in the third session, we put all that together using the sound relationship house theory, which is the theory that comes from Gottman’s research. We use that as a template to give feedback to the couple in reference to the areas in which they are complaining about. And then, to shed light on what they may do to have improvement, and we give them specific suggestions about what they can do in the therapy and outside of the therapy and are there any additional services that may be helpful to them that would help them move towards goals that we would establish along with them that would be in line with, again the sound relationship house house theory to these kind of presenting complaints they have. Things like being emotionally disconnected in the relationship for having conflict that escalates, or not being able to talk about conflict, and being in gridlock around that, or having betrayal of trust, or having questions about commitment in the relationship, or having a lack of shared meaning. You know often time it happens just in the normal cycle of the family that we launch the kids, and we go into retirement, or one person is working less and we don’t know where we’re going anymore as a couple. There needs to be a rebuilding of shared meaning. So we focus on whichever areas are important and we see if the couple is willing to continue work in therapy on that.
Chris Martenson: And I assume you started this in 2002, that’s 15 years ago with this method, and I assume you stuck with it because it’s effective.
Michael Basta: I believe it’s effective, I see – my own experience in the practice I see it’s effective. My colleague that went through the training with me works in the same practice and she sees very much the same thing. What I would say is that Gottman Institute and the profession as a whole, there is a group of professions, helping professions as a whole, need to do more outcome oriented studies. There’s some of this that’s been done but there needs to be more. You know a lot of the outcome research on couples has been done with couples that are kind of, if you will, worried well couples. And we can see with traditional methods of couple’s therapy, they go from being if you will, worried well couples to couples that are reasonably happy. And in the clinical practice we tend to see very, very distressed couples. And we need to see more measures that look at the kind of work that we do to see how are we doing with those couples. There is some research; there needs to be more.
Chris Martenson: Okay, now I’m interested in this idea that there’s a whole resentment industry that’s built up around couples breaking apart. With 50% of marriages ending in divorce, and there’s a legal profession that just feasts on that whole process. Understanding that sometimes this may fail and people may end up separating with that sort of sense of blame and resentment, is there not also, and if this is a tricky question, please tell me, but what about the idea that sometimes that people are attracted to each other initially based on early childhood wounds or family patterns and things like that. But that once they work through those issues they find that the spark of attraction that really drew them initially, is no longer there. That is, can people just outgrow each other but in a good way, and part not with blame and resentment but just say oh, that’s part of our life just seems to have worked itself through?
Michael Basta: It could be, but that’s interesting, that could be the case. The thing that I think that we see primarily with couples is that couples who tend to come together not because of similarities but because of differences. And so, for example, I guess you could say tangibly it could be that there’s a person that tends to be introverted, and they pick a partner that they see is quite vibrant, and they’ll say boy, this person really lights me up. But then, what they find over time, is that very characteristic that was the thing that attracted them, is now something they have a hard time dealing with. And that now, I’m this introverted person and my partner wants to have the whole church group over, and that’s like way too much for me. I can’t handle that, and so I’m wanting to go hide in the other room. And so you will see that kind of thing happening often times in couples, and that is in this research, or from this research what Gottman identified as perpetual problems. He would say 69% of the problems at any couple faces, are ones that they could never solve. And they are ones that will always be with you. For example, one person’s introverted one person’s extroverted, one person likes to talk about their feelings and the other one says I’m really more of a cogitative person and I get overwhelmed when you show so much emotion. Or, one person wants to spend a lot of time together and the other one says that’s too much for me. Those tend to be personality styles that don’t change much over time, yet we see 69% of the problems in couples that are successful as well as 69% of the problems in couples that are not successful. This is something, this is just personality differences, and that’s not predictive of a couple falling apart or not. The thing that seems to be the solution, if you will, to the unsolvable problem issue, is that those couples that can learn acceptance, and can learn how to be in dialogue with one another, do well over time. And those couples that are not able to talk about it, that there are these problems that get so big that they get into what we call kind of a gridlock, where they just say let’s not talk about it, it’s too painful, and couples will tend to drift apart from one another. So we tend to see that in large numbers.
I would say that’s a big swath, but in terms of, I guess, back to your original question of changes that can happen, I think that certainly couples can outgrow each other, and especially if they are not in dialogue about, they’re not keeping up with one another, their losing track of one another. That certainly can be the case.
Chris Martenson: Well, what’s interesting is this idea of perpetual problems as you describe them in our language at Peak Prosperity, we differentiate between problems and predicaments. Problems have solutions, predicaments have outcomes. If you spend your time trying to seek a solution to a predicaments, you’re wasting your time. It just has something you have to manage as intelligently as you can, but you know you can’t shift its course on the macro scale. It’s like demographics, that’s not a problem, it’s just a thing, it’s a predicament, right. So if you suddenly have a lot of aging people in a society, unless you’re willing to do something really unthinkably draconian, it’s a predicament. And so you have to manage towards that and figure that out. So it sounds like there’s a similar thin;, if you can begin to parse through your relationship and say these are the things that we can work on, but these are things that were just going to have to negotiate around or navigate around. They are like rocks in the river, they exist.
Michael Basta: Exactly, yeah, we would say conflict needs to be managed. That the idea that you’re going to go say to see this great therapist and you’ll be able to resolve your main problems, we would say that’s a fallacy. That, if what you can learn instead in the management of that conflict is how to be in dialogue with these areas where you’re perpetually different, that’s as good as it gets. So I would say yeah, it falls in with that kind of an idea of a predicament. That is a predicament of your relationship.
Chris Martenson: Uhm-hmm, well fantastic. That makes a lot of sense. And we are out of time. I could just keep talking with you forever. Mike, first, thank you so much for your time today but second, you practice out of Santa Rosa; I’m wondering how can people find out more about the Gottman Method generally and find yourself or another qualified practitioner, if this has sparked an interest in them?
Michael Basta: You bet. The website www.gottman.com is the central hub for all of this, and there’s a drop-down on the menu that says help for couples. Within that there is information about couples workshops, the one that the Gottman’s do in Seattle as well as the ones that the rest of us do all around the country, which have the same curriculum. There’s also part of that menu that says find a therapist, and I’m on there, my colleague Marcia Gomez is on their, and many, many other therapists. It would show you all the therapists within your geographic area; you could set parameters so you can do that kind of search. And it will show you if someone is certified in the method, such as myself, or if they’ve taken up to level II training. There is a three step process of trainings, and then beyond that there’s a certification track that involves all kinds of rigorous stuff they make us go through in order to get certified. So you can see the level of training and you can see who’s in your area off that website.
Chris Martenson: Well that’s www.gottman.com and we’ve been talking with Michael Basta, Michael thank you so much for your time today.
Michael Basta: You bet, enjoyed it.