Happiness/Have a Happy Relationship/John Gottman/Glossary

Legend edit

Terminology edit

Accepting influence

Sharing power; making one's spouse a partner in one's decision making by taking their opinions and feelings into account. The happiest, most stable marriages are those in which, when the couple disagrees, the spouses actively search for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way. Accepting influence does not mean never expressing negative emotions toward one's partner.

Gottman's data indicate that as a general rule, women accept influence from their husbands. Using one of the four horsemen to escalate a conflict is a telltale sign that a man is resisting his wife's influence. Studies have shown that marriages where the husband resists sharing power are four times more likely to end or drone on unhappily than marriages where the husband does not resist. When a husband accepts his wife's influence, his open attitude also heightens the positive in his relationship by strengthening his friendship with his wife. This makes it far easier for him to deepen his love map, bolster fondness and admiration, and turn toward his wife as a matter of course. This occurs not just because the absence of frequent power struggles makes the marriage more pleasurable, but because such a husband is open to learning from his wife.

For a compromise to work, one can't have a closed mind to one's spouse's opinions and desires. One doesn't have to agree with everything one's spouse says or believes, but one has to be honestly open to considering his or her position. (SPMMW 100-102, 105-106, 181)

Active listening

A popular method of conflict resolution in which the partners take turns expressing themselves and repeating back what the other has said to confirm that they understand. In classic active listening, the sole responsibility for remaining calm and keeping the discussion on track belongs to the listener. The problem is that everybody gets defensive when under attack. The Gottman-Rapoport Blueprint sidesteps this problem by making the speaker as responsible as the listener for success. Both partners have rules they must follow so that neither feels threatened. (WMLL 111)

Amorous scale

A way of communicating one's level of arousal, with 1 being "no thanks," 5 being "I'm convince-able," and 9 being "oh, yes!" Also known as a "sexual readiness scale." (WMLL 189)

Attachment injury

A wounding experience that leaves one partner feeling vulnerable and unsafe. This is a category of turning away that can demolish a relationship after just one episode and requires serious intervention. An attachment injury destroys the implicit contract between partners to be there and nurture each other, to impart the feeling of security that attachment figures (usually parents) often provided during childhood. When the person one has entrusted with one's deepest vulnerabilities is unavailable or unresponsive to a deep-seated need, the result is anger, panic, and intense loneliness. The hurt remains a part of one's active memory. (WMLL 101-102)


Six specific bullet points that the speaker and listener must follow in the Gottman-Rapoport Blueprint. The speaker's job is awareness, tolerance, and transforming criticism into wishes and positive needs. The listener's job is understanding, nondefensive listening, and empathy. (WMLL 114)


The desire and the ability to understand and respect your partner's inner world. Attunement offers a blueprint for building and reviving trust in a long-term committed relationship. When couples can understand each other at a deep level and lovingly express that knowledge to each other, real intimacy exists between them. The most frequent stumbling block to attunement is a disparity in how each partner "feels about feelings," especially negative ones. (WMLL 31, 83-84)


Paying attention to one's words and manner to avoid making one's partner feel cornered and defensive. The goal is to discuss the problem without triggering flooding in one's partner. Three pointers to help one remain aware of one's delivery style are to stick to I-statements; to specify right away which particular issue or event is under discussion, to stay on-topic; and to be sensitive to one's partner's triggers. (WMLL 114-116)


A form of aggressive anger that contains a threat or provocation. Belligerence is a close cousin to contempt and is considered just as deadly to a relationship. An example of a belligerent response would be "Well, what are you going to do about it?" (SPMMW 31)


Being unwilling to sacrifice for the other partner and the relationship. Betrayal is the secret that lies at the heart of every failing relationship. It is there even if the couple is unaware of it. Betrayal is on display when partners turn their video recall dials in opposite directions. Her loss is his gain, and vice versa. They often feel happy when the other feels worse. Betrayal can be a red flag that calls attention to deficiencies in a relationship that led at least one partner to feel lonely and devalued. But it is not impossible for it to lead to a stronger commitment if its causes are understood and addressed. Some other ways of betraying a lover besides sexual infidelity are conditional commitment, a nonsexual affair, lying, forming a coalition against the partner, absenteeism or coldness, withdrawal of sexual interest, disrespect, unfairness, selfishness, and breaking promises. (WMLL xvii, 14, 42-43, 67-79)


A request, in words or deeds, for support and understanding. Every bid made in a relationship initiates a sliding door moment. (WMLL 32)

Bidding ladder

A metaphor for escalation to more important requests for connection and emotional support. When little bids go ignored or dismissed, the couple don't move up. (WMLL 102)


Attributing fault for a situation to one's spouse. However justified one may feel in blaming one's spouse, this approach is not productive. Even if it does lead the spouse to engage in the desired behavior, it also leads to increased tension, resentment, defensiveness, and so on. (SPMMW 164)

Buehlman Scoring

A way to quantify what people say during the Oral History Interview and how they say it. This assessment is extraordinarily accurate in predicting the death of a relationship. Such predictions are easy to make because there is little gray area in how partners describe their past. Either they emphasize their good times and make light of the rough spots, or they accentuate their failures and not their successes. Likewise, they either underscore their partner's positive traits in favor of their more annoying characteristics (cherishing), or they do the opposite (trashing). The five dimensions of the Buehlman Scoring are the fondness and admiration system, me-ness vs. we-ness, a love map of the partner's inner world, glorifying your struggles vs. flailing in chaos, and disappointment vs. satisfaction.

A relationship is salvageable if not all five dimensions are negative. The complete loss of a positive story doesn't happen quickly. Often, there is time to rescue the relationship.

But once the Negative "Story of Us" switch is thrown, it is very hard to reverse. Any intervention is almost certainly too little, too late. Even if there's a positive change in one partner's behavior, the other remains suspicious. At this point, it is usually best for the partners to acknowledge the death, mourn the loss, and move on. (WMLL 205, 222)

Committed relationship

A contract of mutual trust, respect, nurturance, and protection. Anything that violates that contract can become traitorous. Relationship killers are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid unpleasant conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection that seems unavailable from the partner. (WMLL 66)


Addressing a specific situation or behavior or a specific action at which one's spouse failed. A complaint is less global than a criticism; it does not attack one's partner's personality or character. (SPMMW 27-28, 164)

Cognitive repair

A repair that focuses on engaging the partner's thought process to defuse tension. (WMLL 105)

Conditional commitment

A situation in which the underlying attitude is "I'm here for you until someone better comes along." In some cases of conditional commitment, one partner isn't comparing the other to someone else, but to something else. Intimate partners need to open up about what they consider the purpose and significance of their life together. When couples ignore or avoid discussing deep issues, they are left with a shallow commitment. To prevent this, couples can intentionally take time to discuss their goals and dreams, rather than wait for the opportunity to occur. (WMLL 67-68)


Verbal that implies the partner is inferior, conveying condescension and disgust toward one's spouse. Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor are types of contempt. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one's spouse and is considered the worst of the four horsemen. It is a corrosive that, over time, breaks down the bond between spouses. The antidotes to contempt are fondness and admiration, since a person who maintains a sense of respect for their spouse is less likely to act disgusted with them when they disagree. Put another way, the antidote for contempt is to express our appreciation and respect for each other, to each other, in small ways, every day. (ABMT 59; SPMMW 29, 67; WMLL 39)

Conflict resolution

Negotiating and finding common ground and ways that the spouses can accommodate each other. (SPMMW 185)


Adding onto a complaint blame and negative words about a spouse's character or personality. Criticism is very common in relationships, but when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen, viz. contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

There are two sources of chronic criticism in a spouse. The first is an emotionally unresponsive partner. The other comes from within. It is connected to self-doubt that has developed over the course of one's life, particularly during childhood. In other words, it begins as criticism of oneself. (SPMMW 27-29, 264)


Customs, rituals, and myths. A culture can be created by just two people who have agreed to share their lives. The culture that a couple develops together incorporates both of their dreams, and it is flexible enough to change as the spouses grow and develop. (SPMMW 244)

Deep friendship

A mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other's company. (SPMMW 19)


Responding to an attack by making an excuse or blaming one's spouse, saying in effect, "The problem isn't me, it's you." Typically, the attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. Rather, defensiveness escalates the conflict and raises the tension. We can defend ourselves by (1) attacking back ("Well, so what if I'm late. You're a lousy cook"); (2) proclaiming our innocence ("I'm almost never late"); (3) being righteously indignant ("How dare you say I'm late — it's only three minutes past six"); or (4) whining like a victim ("I couldn't help it. My boss kept me late"). The antidote is to accept responsibility for some of the problem; to openly acknowledge our part in messing things up. (ABMT 58, SPMMW 31-32, WMLL 39)


A situation in which the partners don't have faith in each other, and each partner selfishly takes the stance that their partner should change their behavior so that they can maximize their own payoffs. When distrust abounds, neither partner includes the other's well-being in their calculations. (WMLL 6-7)


A hope, aspiration, or wish that is part of one's identity and gives purpose and meaning to one's life. Often one's deepest dreams are rooted in childhood. Dreams can cause problems if they are hidden or not respected by one's spouse. When this occurs, they may either have open battles over the issue, or it may go underground and be expressed symbolically. Happy couples understand that helping each other realize their dreams is one of the goals of marriage. When either spouse doesn't fully appreciate the importance of supporting his or her partner's dreams, gridlock is almost inevitable.

One good indicator that one is wrestling with a hidden dream is that one sees one's spouse as being the sole source of the marital problem. It may indicate that one doesn't see one's part in creating the conflict because it has been hidden from view. Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge. The dream is unlikely to emerge until one feels that the marriage is a safe place to talk about it. (SPMMW 217-221, 224)

Emotional abuse

Social isolation, sexual coercion, extreme jealousy, public humiliation, belittling, or degrading, threats of violence or other acts that induce fear, or damage to property, pets, or children. (WMLL 66-67)

Emotional intelligence

Being in touch with emotions and able to understand, respect, and honor others and relationships with others, and get along with others. (SPMMW 3)

Emotional repair

A repair that attempts to lower the tension level by understanding and then acknowledging the partner's feelings, soothing the partner, and disclosing one's own feelings. These approaches are more effective than cognitive repairs. (WMLL 106)


When a spouse's negativity becomes so overwhelming as to leave one shell-shocked, so that one protects oneself from the onslaught by disengaging emotionally from the relationship. Recurrent episodes of flooding lead to divorce because (1) flooding signals that at least one spouse feels severe emotional distress when dealing with the other; and (2) the physical sensations of being flooded — e.g. increased heart rate, adrenaline secretion, and sweating — make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion, due to reduced information processing (i.e. attentive listening) and creative problem solving abilities. Flooding leads to the most reflexive, least intellectually sophisticated responses, viz. to fight (act critical, contemptuous, or defensive) or flee (stonewall). When flooded, most likely one thinks thoughts of righteous indignation ("I don't have to take this anymore") or innocent victimhood ("Why is she always picking on me?") In the vast majority of cases, when one spouse does not "get" the other's repair attempt, it's because the listener is flooded and therefore can't really hear what the spouse is saying. (SPMMW 34-36, 177)


Pinpointing one's emotions by tuning into one's body as one considers different descriptions of one's mood. (WMLL 94)

Fondness and admiration system

The retaining of a fundamental sense that one's spouse is worthy of being respected and even liked. If a couple has a functioning fondness and admiration system, their marriage is still salvageable. Even if the road to reviving the marriage will not be easy, it can be done.

Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance, and they are antidotes to contempt. Having a fundamentally positive view of one's spouse and the marriage is a powerful buffer when bad times hit. A couple with this reserve of good feeling will not have cataclysmic thoughts about separation and divorce each time they have an argument. It is common for spouses to lose sight of some of their fondness and admiration over time. There are many couples in whom the fondness and admiration system has not died but is buried under layers of negativity, hurt feelings, and betrayal. Reviving the positive feelings that still lie deep below is the crucial first step for salvaging such a marriage.

When a sense of fondness and admiration is completely missing from a marriage, the relationship cannot be revived, because without the fundamental belief that one's spouse is worthy of honor and respect, there is no basis for any kind of rewarding relationship. The best test of whether a couple still has a functioning fondness and admiration system is usually how they view their past; in some relationships, the antagonism has metastasized like a virulent cancer, even going back in time and destroying the couple's positive memories.

During the Oral History Interview, happy couples tell their tales with warmth, affection, and respect for each other. Spontaneous compliments are common. In contrast, couples with a weak fondness and admiration system tend to recall unfavorable first impressions of their partner. Their words convey coldness rather than fondness and contempt rather than admiration. (SPMMW 62-63, 65-67; WMLL 205-207)

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Certain kinds of negativity that, if allowed to run rampant, are lethal to a relationship. The four horsemen (in the order in which they usually occur in a relationship) are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Defeating the Four Horsemen will not be enough to resolve all of a couple's problems. That can be achieved only by healing and reestablishing mutual trust. Still, it is critical to avoid letting these horsemen trample them during disagreements because they "egg on" the negativity that keeps them trapped. (SPMMW 27, WMLL 38)

Germ of betrayal

The roach motel and a preponderance of negative comparisons. (WMLL 52-53)

Gottman-Rapoport Blueprint for Constructive Conflict

A "couples only" version of the great social psychologist Anatol Rapoport's approach to negotiations between hostile political groups or countries. In the context of a committed relationship, this tenet means the partners do not move on to negotiating a compromise until they can say to each other, "Yes! You got it. That's exactly my position and what I'm feeling." To get there, the blueprint has the partners take turns speaking and listening in a structured manner. First, the speaker shares all their thoughts, feelings, and needs on the issue. The listener digests the other's perspective and communicates back a thorough understanding of the partner's position. Then the two switch roles. This approach is similar to active listening. (WMLL 110-111)

Gottman's Aftermath Kit

An attunement-based approach to help couples shut the door on lingering conflicts. This recovery kit is not to be used until the couples has some emotional distance from the incident and can discuss it without getting back into it. After offering each other appreciations, the partners follow these six steps, taking turns as speaker and listener: recall and name the emotions out loud; discuss your subjective reality; identify the deep triggers; recount the history of these triggers; take responsibility for your contributions and apologize; and figure out how to make it better next time. (WMLL 140-144)

Gottman's Trust Revival Method

A system for healing after an affair that leads couples through three stages, atonement, attunement, and attachment. (WMLL 161)


Gridlock is that which occurs when a conflict makes one feel rejected by one's partner; they keep talking about it but make no headway; they become entrenched in their positions and are unwilling to budge; when they discuss the subject, they end up feeling more frustrated and hurt; their conversations about the problem are devoid of humor, amusement, or affection; they become even more unbudgeable over time, which leads them to vilify each other during these conversations; this vilification makes one all the more rooted in one's position and polarized, more extreme in one's view, and all the less willing to compromise; and eventually they disengage from each other emotionally.

No matter how entrenched in gridlock the couple is, all that they need in order to get out of it is motivation and a willingness to explore the hidden issues that are really causing the gridlock. The key will be to uncover and share with each other the significant dreams they have for their life. Unrequited dreams are at the core of every gridlocked conflict. The endless argument symbolizes some profound difference between the spouses that needs to be addressed before they can put the problem in its place.

The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue; to "declaw" the issue, to try to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of great pain. The gridlocked conflict will probably always be a perpetual issue in the marriage, but one day the spouses will be able to talk about it without hurting each other. They will learn to live with the problem. (SPMMW 132-133, 217, 234)

Griping session

A sanctioned time, after both spouses have had time to themselves to decompress after work, to come together and talk about each other's day. During a griping session, each person gets to complain about any catastrophes that occurred while the other is understanding and supportive. Also known as a "whining session". (SPMMW 188-189)

Harsh startup

The leading off of a discussion with criticism and/or sarcasm, a form of contempt. The research shows that if a discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note, even if there are a lot of attempts to 'make nice' in between. Harsh startup is often a reaction that sets in when a wife feels her husband doesn't respond to her low-level complaints or irritability. The best remedy is for the spouses to work together on the first four principles: enhancing their love maps, nurturing their fondness and admiration, turning toward each other, and accepting each other's influence. This causes the wife's startup to soften as a matter of course. Complying with a wife's minor requests avoids having the situation escalate. (SPMMW 27, 163)

Honoring and respecting one another

The spouses' sharing a deep sense of meaning and supporting each other's hopes and aspirations, and building a sense of purpose into their lives together. (SPMMW 23)


Phrases starting with "I". I-statements are less likely to be critical and to make the listener defensive than statements starting with "you". If one's words focus on how one is feeling rather than on accusing one's spouse, the discussion will be far more successful. (SPMMW 164-165)

Intimate conversation

A beginner's approach to attunement that involves putting one's feelings into words, asking open-ended questions, following up with statements that deepen connection, and expressing compassion and empathy.

Intimate trust

A state of romance and passion. (WMLL 177)

Love Lab

The facility at the University of Washington in Seattle, where long-term romance is subjected to scientific scrutiny. (WMLL xiv)

Love map

That part of one's brain where one stores all the relevant information about one's spouse's life, such as their worries, hopes, and goals in life; the major events in their history; and the facts and feelings of their world. Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other's world. They have made plenty of cognitive room for their marriage. Happily married couples use their love maps to express not only their understanding of each other, but their fondness and admiration as well. (SPMMW 48, 60)

Magic five hours

Couples' devoting five hours a week to giving their marriage a concentrated refresher course in the seven principles for making marriage work. (SPMMW 260)

Marital poop detector

A list of questions to ask oneself once a week to guide one in assessing how one's relationship is faring. It is an early warning system to let one know when one's marital quality is in danger of deteriorating. (SPMMW 262)


How people feel about feelings. (WMLL 84)


The stories the couple tell themselves (whether true, false, or embellished) that explain their sense of what their marriage is like, what it means to be a part of their group. (SPMMW 244)

Nash equilibrium

A situation in which both people end up in a position where they are receiving their maximum payoff and will not benefit more if they try to change the situation by themselves. (WMLL 7)

Nasty box

A box that holds a partner's negative behavior, including displays of anger, criticism, belligerence, bullying, defensiveness, sadness, disappointment, fear, tension, whining, disgust, stonewalling, and contempt. (WMLL 10)

Negative sentiment override

When spouses' negative thoughts about each other are so pervasive that they tend to supersede their positive feelings. Everything gets interpreted more and more negatively. Under NSO's force, people enter their Nasty box more frequently. On average, people who suffer from NSO fail to recognize their partner's positive gestures 50 percent of the time.

Negative overrides reinforce the belief that the partner is not just thoughtless on occasion, but is a selfish person. If one or both partners end up rewriting their relationship memories with a persistent negative spin, this heralds the death of their love. It is challenging to switch off NSO once it begins, because circumstances are not black and white. There will be times when suspicion is justified — the partner is being selfish. But there will also be times when the other is falsely accused. The assumption and anticipation of a partner's negativity harms the relationship, helping to transform the Nasty box into an inescapable prison. Negative Sentiment Override is a litmus test for a troubled relationship. (SPMMW 21, WMLL 35-36)

Negative comparison

When one compares one's partner to someone else, real or imaginary, and one's partner loses. A tendency to make such negative comparisons primes the partner for future betrayal. A partner who engages in frequent negative comparisons is feeling buyer's remorse and believes, "I can do better than this."

Negative comparisons are at the heart of nonsexual disloyalties just as much as they form the core of affairs. In these cases, when the partner comes up short compared with another, the disgruntled member doesn't cheat but instead expresses disrespect and devalues the relationship in other ways. In some cases, the partner compares the other unfavorably with a situation rather than a person. (e.g. "If only I had taken that job in New York and not married, everything in my life would be better." (WMLL 48, 50, 65-66)

Neutral box

A box that holds a partner's blah reactions that are neither positive nor negative. (WMLL 10)

Nice box

A box that holds a partner's positive emotions and behaviors such as interest, amusement, humor, laughter, excitement, joy, validation, and empathy. If there is a high level of trust, partners can access the Nice box for brief but critical moments during an argument, allowing for repair and thus a constructive (or, at least, less destructive) discussion. (WMLL 10, 25)

Oral History Interview

A detailed script used to assess each partner's Story of Us. This list of questions includes the kind of "getting-to-know-you" queries that you might ask a couple you meet at a dinner party, as well as deeper questions that you might employ during a conversation with a close friend. In the interview, couples are asked how they met and their first impressions, details about their dating, how their relationship has changed over time, their philosophy of relationships, and their opinion of other people's.

The oral history interview is such a strong measure of relationship satisfaction because the couple's present attitude and concerns color what they recall about the past, shifting both their memories and what they emphasize about their history together. There is a biological basis for this phenomenon. Recent research by neurobiologists into the brain's processes shows that it rewrites and reorganizes memories based on what they mean to us right now. Our identity — how we perceive ourselves, who we think we are, where we come from — depends upon neural networks that continue to develop. For that reason, later experiences influence and even alter what we remember. (WMLL 203-204)


The state that arises when you nurture a strong and at times almost obsessive interest in your partner that includes desire, curiosity, and attraction. (WMLL 177)


Benefits that rational people seek to maximize. (WMLL 3)

Perpetual problem

A conflict that will be a part of the spouses' lives forever, in some form or another. 69 percent of marital conflicts fall into this category. Couples who remain very satisfied with their marriages despite these differences have hit upon a way to deal with their unbudgeable problem so it doesn't overwhelm them. They have learned to keep it in its place and to have a sense of humor about it. These couples intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of a relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as one gets older. They may not love these problems, but they are able to cope with them, to avoid situations that worsen them, and to develop strategies and routines that help them deal with them. Psychologist Dan Wile writes in After the Honeymoon, "When choosing a long-term partner . . . you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you'll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years." Marriages are successful to the degree that the problems the spouses choose are ones they can cope with.

In unstable marriages, perpetual problems eventually kill the relationship. Instead of coping with the problem effectively, the couple gets gridlocked over it. Because they make no headway, they feel increasingly hurt, frustrated, and rejected by each other. The four horsemen become ever more present when they argue, while humor and affection become less so. Gradually they become physiologically overwhelmed. They start becoming emotionally disengaged from each other. They are on the course toward parallel lives and inevitable loneliness — the death knell of any marriage. (SPMMW 129-132)

Positive comparison

When one compares one's partner to someone else, real or imaginary, and one's partner wins. Early in a committed relationship, positive comparisons reinforce the conviction that "this is the right relationship for me." Partners begin to cherish each other to an increasing degree and feel grateful for their mate's positive qualities. Simultaneously, they minimize their partner's negative traits. Couples who enjoy an overall positive comparison denigrate alternative matches and develop a sort of "us against the world" attitude. Their number of "pro-relationship" thoughts increases as their dependency on the relationship to meet their emotional needs rises. They come to believe that losing each other would be catastrophic. When times get rough for a couple, the cumulative results of these positive comparisons can help pull them through. (WMLL 49-50)

Positive sentiment override

When spouses' positive thoughts about each other are so pervasive that they tend to supersede their negative feelings. It takes a much more significant conflict for the spouses to lose their equilibrium as a couple than it would otherwise. Positive sentiment override and the quality of the friendship between the spouses help determine whether repair attempts will work.

Happy couples are susceptible to positive sentiment override. They perceive each other's neutral acts as positive and don't take personally their partner's negative emotions. (SPMMW 20, 41; WMLL 36)


A marital disagreement, all of which fall into the category of either solvable or perpetual. The basis for coping effectively with either kind of problem is communicating basic acceptance of one's partner's personality. Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless they feel that that person understands them. If either or both partners feel judged, misunderstood, or rejected by the other, they will not be able to resolve the problems in their marriage. (SPMMW 149)

Proof of alliance

Demonstrating being on one's partner's side and having their back, even in small ways; evidence that he or she does not operate out of sheer self-interest nor form coalitions against them; proof that he or she takes their interests to heart. (WMLL 236)

Regrettable incident

An eruption of conflict that becomes an unfortunate part of the couple's history. Each regrettable incident chisels away a bit at the couple's mutual trust. A pattern of turning away followed by an inability to acknowledge and repair the breach brings couples a giant step closer to the roach motel. Unless they are confronted and understood, unhappy memories push couples closer to negative sentiment override. (WMLL 33-34, 140)

Repair attempt

Any statement or action, silly or otherwise, that prevents negativity from escalating out of control; an effort the couple makes to deescalate the tension during a touchy discussion so flooding is prevented. What separates stable, emotionally intelligent marriages from others is not that their repair attempts are necessarily more skillful or better thought out, but that their repair attempts get through to their spouse. This is because the air between them hasn't been clouded by a lot of negativity. In unhappy marriages, even the most eloquent repair attempt can fall on deaf ears. Because repair attempts can be difficult to hear if one's relationship is engulfed in negativity, the best strategy is to make one's attempts obviously formal in order to emphasize them. When one's partner announces a repair attempt, one's job is to view the interruption as a bid to make things better and accept the attempt in the spirit in which it was intended. This entails accepting one's partner's influence.

Repairs are the life jackets of all romantic partnerships. Their effectiveness determines whether a relationship will live or die. By working on their ability to make repairs, partners can elevate the level of trust between them. (SPMMW 22, 39, 170, 172, 176; WMLL 24-25)

Roach motel

An absorbing state of negativity. Long occupancy in the roach motel kills a couple's trust in each other and faith in their relationship. The underlying culprit behind this flooding and failure of repairs is the dynamic between the couple, specifically a deficit in attunement. There is a specific, five-step trajectory: there's a sliding door moment; a regrettable incident occurs; the Zeigarnik effect kicks in; negative sentiment override takes over; and the four horsemen wreak havoc. (WMLL 29, 31-37)


The state that occurs when two people both nurture and encourage acts and thoughts that cherish the other as unique and irreplaceable. (WMLL 177)


A practice that entails both people agreeing to give the romance priority over other goals and dreams. (WMLL 14)


Taking a break from a discussion and spending at least twenty minutes doing something soothing and distracting like listening to music or exercising, and avoiding thoughts of righteous indignation and innocent victimhood. Many people find that the best approach to self-soothing is to focus on calming the body through a meditative technique. (SPMMW 178)

Set point

The degree of positivity at which a marriage gets set. Most marriages start off with such a high, positive set point that it's hard for either partner to imagine their relationship derailing. (p. 21)

Seven principles for making marriage work

Seven telltale ways in which happy marriages are alike. Viz., the spouses enhance their love maps; nurture their fondness and admiration; turn toward each other instead of away; let their spouse influence them; solve their solvable problems; overcome gridlock; and create shared meaning. (SPMMW 18)

Shared meaning

A spiritual dimension to marriage that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for the spouses' roles and goals that link them, that lead them to understand what it means to be a part of the family they have become. When a marriage has a shared sense of meaning, conflict is much less intense and perpetual problems are less likely to lead to gridlock. (SPMMW 243-244)

Sliding door moment

When one partner expresses a need for connection. The other's response is either to slide open a door and walk through (turning toward the partner) or keep it shut and turn away. Any response that doesn't demonstrate interest and connection slides the door shut. (WMLL 32)

Soft startup

The leading off of a discussion without criticism or contempt. This approach entails making a straightforward comment about a concern and expressing one's need in a positive fashion. It is the opposite of assaulting the other's character. To ensure that one's startup is soft, one can complain but not blame; make statements that start with "I" instead of "You"; describe what is happening rather than evaluating or judging; be clear; be polite; be appreciative; and don't store things up. The three elements of gentle start-up are: Say what you feel; describe the problem neutrally, with no blame; and say what you need (not what you don't need). (ABMT 60; SPMMW 161, 163-165; WMLL 38)


A sense of "we-ness" between husband and wife. An important part of putting one's spouse first and building this sense of solidarity is not to tolerate any contempt toward one's spouse from one's parents. (SPMMW 189-191)

Solvable problem

A conflict that can be resolved. One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones. That is because when the couple argues over a solvable problem, their focus is only on a particular dilemma or situation. There is no underlying conflict that is fueling the dispute.

Just because a problem is solvable doesn't mean it gets resolved. When a solvable problem causes excessive tension, it's because the couple haven't learned effective techniques for conquering it. If a couple becomes increasingly resentful and entrenched in their positions concerning a solvable problem, the conflict could deepen and take on more symbolic meaning, evolving into a gridlocked, perpetual problem. (SPMMW 133-135)

State of the Union meeting

A formal encounter in which both people use attunement skills to gain perspective on the argument. As couples become more adept at this systematic process, they are able to use attunement skills right away when there is a misunderstanding, rather than waiting for a scheduled meeting. (WMLL 110)


Tuning out; disengaging; becoming unresponsive. Stopping giving the usual cues that one is listening (head nods, eye contact, brief vocalizations). Acting as if one couldn't care less about what is being said, if one even hears it. Avoiding a fight in a way that also avoids the relationship. Usually people stonewall as a protection against feeling flooded. In 85 percent of marriages, the stonewaller is the husband.

The antidote to stonewalling is that if we get too overwhelmed, we need to take responsibility for our bodies' condition by taking a break, soothing ourselves, and making sure we come back to our partners within a reasonable time period. In this way, we can continue to talk to our partners more calmly in order to stay tuned in to them. Better yet, we can try to stay calm in the first place. Focusing on our breathing when we begin to get upset can be a big help. Finally, to counteract stonewalling, we can signal to our partners that we hear them, even if we only nod our heads or gaze into their eyes. These gestures reassure our partners that even if we don't agree, we're at least still there and wanting to listen. (ABMT 60; SPMMW 33-34)

Story of Us Switch

A gauge that detects the cumulative trust or distrust and betrayal quotient in a relationship based on how either partner thinks about their shared past. This indicator is a switch rather than a dial because one rarely sees gradations in what people recall about their romantic history. They either have joyful memories or bitter ones. There is little middle ground. If the switch is on positive, it acts as a strong buffer against momentary irritability and emotional distance. A negative setting is the end point of negative sentiment override, in which one assumes the worst about the partner. Even if only one partner's switch is "off," it heralds the relationship's death. In the lab, each partner's Story of Us is assessed through a detailed interview script, the Oral History Interview. (WMLL 202-203)


Acknowledgement of and respect for opinions one doesn't share; acceptance of one's partner's flaws and foibles. Often, a marriage gets bogged down in "if onlies": if only one's spouse were taller, richer, smarter, neater, or sexier, all of the couple's problems would vanish. As long as this attitude prevails, conflicts will be very difficult to resolve because one will not be able to compromise successfully. Instead, one will be on a relentless campaign to alter one's spouse. To a certain degree, being tolerant of each other's faults comes down to having good manners. It means treating one's spouse with the same respect one offers to company. People are sensitive to the guest's feelings, even if things don't go so well. (SPMMW 158, 185; WMLL 118)


The state that exists when each partner is willing to change their own behavior to benefit their partner. The more trust that exists in a relationship, the more the partners look out for each other and have each other's back. In a trusting relationship, each partner feels pleasure when their partner succeeds and troubled when their partner is upset, and just can't be happy if achieving their payoffs would hurt their significant other. Trusting each other doesn't mean that the partners will always put the other's needs ahead of their own, but it does mean that their happiness will be interconnected. They will change their own behavior to increase the other's payoffs. Trust removes an enormous source of stress because it allows partners to act with incomplete information.

Trust and trustworthiness usually go together. But this is not always the case. It is not uncommon for a newlywed couple to rate high in trust but low in trustworthiness. (WMLL xix, 6-7, 13)


A partner's willingness to sacrifice for the relationship, to sometimes put his or her own needs on the back burner because the partnership matters most. When couples are trustworthy they send each other the message that they and the partnership are unique and irreplaceable. (WMLL 13-14)

Turning away from each other

Not connecting with one's spouse; not letting one's spouse know they are valued during the grind of everyday life; not being there for each other during the minor events in each other's lives or the minor moments in each other's day. Responding unfavorably to one's spouse's bids for attention, affection, humor or support.

Turning toward each other

Connecting with one's spouse; letting one's spouse know they are valued during the grind of everyday life; being there for each other during the minor events in each other's lives or the minor moments in each other's day. Responding favorably to one's spouse's bids for attention, affection, humor or support. Partners who characteristically turn toward each other rather than away are building up emotional savings that can serve as a cushion when times get rough, when they're faced with a major life stress or conflict. Because they have stored up all of this goodwill, they are better able to make allowances for each other when a conflict arises. They can maintain a positive sense of each other and their marriage even during hard times. Turning toward each other is the basis of emotional connection, romance, passion, and a good sex life. (SPMMW 79-80, 82)


Avoiding making judgments about one's partner's anger, sadness, or fear. (WMLL 121-122)


Letting your partner know that you consider their perspective and feelings legitimate and justified. (WMLL 128)

Video recall dial

An apparatus used by Gottman as a trust-o-meter. It allows partners to give moment-by-moment feedback by twisting the dial in a negative or positive direction. (WMLL 8-9)


Correcting your partner in ways that are focused on your partner's payoffs, not your own. At times, expressing disapproval of your partner's deeds can be the most loving and supportive action you can take. Too often, however, a partner's withdrawal of support is not a form of whistle-blowing but a selfish betrayal. (WMLL 81)


Certain emotional tasks that husband and wife need to accomplish together for the marriage to grow and deepen. These tasks come down to attaining a rich understanding between husband and wife. A marriage needs this understanding in order for both people to feel safe and secure in it. When these tasks are not accomplished, the marriage feels not like a port in the storm of life but just another storm. (SPMMW 187)

Yielding to win

The aikido principle that the more able one is to compromise, the better able one will be to persuade one's spouse. (SPMMW 182)

Zeigarnik effect

People's tendency to have better recall for events that they have not completed than for those they have. People are almost twice as likely to recall "unfinished issues" compared with those they have processed or in some manner put to rest. Between lovers, arguments that end with confessions, amends, and deeper understanding of one another tend to be soon forgotten, although their legacy is a stronger, more enduring relationship. But when a sliding door moment leads to a regrettable incident that goes unaddressed, thanks to the Zeigarnik effect, the hurt remains accessible in their activity memory, available to be rehashed again and again. Like a stone in one's shoe, the recollection becomes a constant irritant that leads to an increase in negative attitudes about the partner. (WMLL 34-35)

Zero-sum game

A contest in which each side wants to maximize its own payoff and prevent the opponent from achieving anything. (WMLL 3)