The New Science of Couples Therapy

The New Science of Couples Therapy

Highlights from Symposium 2018

By John Gottman, Julie Gottman

May/June 2018

In their featured address, the Gottmans explored what research has revealed about the crucial role the brain’s seven different command systems can play in enhancing the quality of couples’ emotional connection.

In our research, we’ve found that successful couples turned toward their partner’s bids for connection 86 percent of the time. A bid can be something as simple as saying to a partner, “Wow, look at that beautiful boat out the window.” Then the partner can turn away by either ignoring the bid or responding, “Would you stop interrupting me? I’m trying to read.” Or the partner can turn toward the bid with even a simple acknowledgement, like “Huh, look at that.” Every time people turn toward each other in relationships, they’re building up an emotional bank account.

Jaak Panksepp, who wrote Affective Neuroscience, detailed the seven different emotional command systems in the brain. We’ve found that when you’re helping couples turn toward each other, you have to help them do so in all seven of the emotional command systems that are hard-wired into the brain.

So let me describe each one of these in our terms. The first is The Sentry, which is all about the fear system. When one partner feels afraid to go to the grocery store, for example—maybe a shooting just happened near there—what does the partner do? Does the partner turn toward them and say, “Okay, I’ll go instead,” or “I’ll go with you”? Or does the partner say,…

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