My colleague Jenny Jo and I recently went to our Level I training with Psychologists John and Julie Gottman, the leading Couples Therapy Experts in the United States What we learned about couples therapy was fascinating. The Gottman's have spent 40 years researching what makes marriages work; including what therapies are completely useless for couples, which, by the way, they would say are most therapies because, as their research has shown, they don't get to the real issue.

What is the real issue, you may wonder? It may serve to first discuss what is NOT the issue according to the Gottmans: 69% of all arguments are perpetual; they never get resolved 80% of arguments are about the same thing; they are literally the same fight! The issue is not that folks fight It is that each party focuses on the fight, or trying to resolve (or for some, "win") the argument instead of mastering the skills surrounding any and all arguments. The Gottmans describe couples as either being "Masters" vs. "Disasters". Masters scan the room for positives and compliments to say to their partner while Disasters scan the room for their partner's mistakes; they look to instruct and correct their partner.

Conflict often arises as a result of individuals failing to connect emotionally to each other It is not the conflict itself that is the problem, but HOW the conflict is approached.

For example, the Gottmans describe the 4-Horseman of the Apocolypse which they say can destroy any relationship. They are: Criticism (attacking your partner's character) Defensiveness (seeing self as victim) Contempt (attacking partner's sense of self with intent to insult them) Stonewalling (big predictor of divorce~withdrawing to avoid conflict) Most people communicate with their spouses using one or more of the 4-Horseman, which do not create a positive outcome.

Gottman therapy provides couples with extensive tools for changing the way people communicate in a special therapy called Gottman Therapy. They begin with a number of assessments to gain an accurate understanding of the relationship's foundation.

Both individuals learn how to communicate in healthier ways, while using the therapist as a witness and gentle guide as the couple progresses and changes.

For instance:

Instead of Criticism, individuals are taught to use a gentle start up; Instead of Defensiveness, individuals are taught to take responsibility for their part; Instead of Contempt, individuals are encouraged to share how they feel and what they need; Instead of Stonewalling, individuals are encouraged to self-soothe (i.e., breathe, count to 10).

Along with this, couples are encouraged to give 5 positives to 1 negative. This is often challenging for folks, especially if they have a tendency to use the 4-Horseman. However, it improves a couples relationship and can actually help when conflict arises.

This week, notice if you use the 4-Horseman; write down when you used them and with whom. Then, practice using the healthy alternatives. Document your changes. Also, practice using 5 positives to 1 negative. Notice that this may be really hard but you can do it. It will likely be awkward at first, but will feel better than how you have been communicating. Remember, it is not about solving your perpetual conflict; it is about learning how to communicate in ways that keep you both connected and feeling heard and understood.

Relationships are the hardest job you will ever have, but they are worth it. With practice and commitment, your relationship will improve.

* The Gottman's do not encourage Gottman therapy if there is domestic violence or a betrayal (affair) and/or addiction. They suggest that the person with the addict, as well as their partner, get specialized therapy first before starting Gottman therapy. This is to ensure that each person is stable and that everything is out in the open.

Remember YOU ARE WORTH IT! Enjoy this last week of 2014 and the beginning of a bright new year!

Namasté, Candice