Relationship Minute: The fortress

Stonewalling, as a term, paints a vivid picture. When a person stonewalls, they’re creating a cold, impenetrable fortress.

That fortress communicates one thing to potential intruders: keep out.

But fortresses also exist to protect what’s inside.

When you or your partner stonewalls, it is usually to protect from feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed.

Thoughts within the fortress might sound like:

I’m feeling attacked.
I can’t take this.
Maybe they’ll tire themselves out if I don’t respond.
If I say anything back, this will only get worse.

However ineffective, stonewalling is a response to wanting to protect and preserve.

The next time you encounter a fortress, it may be best to ask what it’s protecting. It could be your key to getting beyond its walls.

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The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 14 November 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Halloween rituals of connection

Whether you’re dressing up in a costume today or not, Halloween is an opportunity to create rituals of connection in your relationship.

If you haven’t already, have a conversation with your partner about how you would like to celebrate. Here are some questions to get you started.

How did you celebrate Halloween in your family growing up?
What’s your favorite Halloween memory?
How do you want to celebrate Halloween in our relationship/family?

You may decide to celebrate Halloween in a traditional way by carving pumpkins together, or in your own way by watching a movie or cooking a festive meal together.

Regardless of what you do, rituals of connection are important because they build meaning in your relationship.

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 31 October 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: I’m feeling defensive

Feeling defensive is normal and natural. It’s what you do with that feeling that makes all the difference.

When confronted with something that makes you feel defensive (“the sink is full of dirty dishes!”), you have two options.

You can respond defensively: “Some of those dishes are yours! I haven’t had time!”

Or, you can check in with yourself and acknowledge how you’re feeling in the form of a repair attempt: “I’m feeling defensive.”

That statement works to get the conversation back on track.

You will likely feel defensive again in the future, but being aware of your reaction can turn the tide of a conversation for the better.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 15 October 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Tell me your feelings

In healthy relationships, partners are curious about each other’s feelings.

They adopt the motto, “When you’re hurt, the world stops and I listen.”

In unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, partners tend to ignore each other’s feelings.

They think to themselves, “I don’t have time for your negativity.”

So the next time your partner is upset, ask them to share their feelings with you⁠—and just listen.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 1 October 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: The uninvited party guest

Think of a conflict discussion as a dinner party you and your partner are throwing together.

You have certain guests you want to invite (Resolution, Repair Attempts, Humor, Permission to Take a Break). Then, there’s the guest you just know will show up no matter what—Negativity.

Negativity is usually the first to arrive. They smelled something cooking, didn’t bring a beverage or a dessert, and they waste no time making themselves at home.

You and your partner exchange glances. Negativity’s shoes are off and they’re already gnawing on a drumstick (Where did that even come from?).

How can you stop Negativity from taking over the party, alienating your other guests, and telling that same old story too loud like they did last time?


Set boundaries with Negativity early. Don’t let them dominate the conversation.

For every one thing Negativity says, you agree to outweigh it with five positive contributions from the rest of the group. Friendship is there, and they’re on your side.

You and your partner are in this together.

With careful cooperation, you can keep Negativity from getting out of control and overstaying their welcome—at the party and in your relationship.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 17 September 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Marriage Minute: Saying “I’m sorry” is magical

We all make mistakes from time to time. When we do, saying “I’m sorry” is magical because it lets your partner know that you understand and respect them, which helps to bring you both closer together.

Try to be specific about why you’re apologizing, and try to explain how you felt when things went wrong:

I had been very stressed and irritable.
I hadn’t expressed much appreciation toward you.
I had been running on empty.

This will help your partner understand where you’re coming from. It will open you both up to calmly expressing what you need and how you feel.

The Marriage Minute From The Gottman Institute, dated 19 October 2017. You can sign up here to get The Marriage Minute delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Coping with Grief After a Loss

med-1044-depressionGrief is a reaction to a major loss. It can be triggered by the death of a loved one, but people can also experience grief if they have lost a job, experienced an end to a significant relationship, loss of personal property, an illness for which there is no cure, a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion, but it is a normal process that each person must move through. It is not something you get over or can bypass.

Everyone feels grief in their own way. However, there are common stages to the process of grieving. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.

Shock, denial, disbelief, numbness. When you learn that you have lost, or may lose, someone you love, you may find the news hard to accept. Common thoughts include, “This can’t be happening” or “There must be some mistake.” The feeling of disbelief gives yourself some emotional breathing room and protects you from the full effect of the news when you are not ready to accept it.

Anger, blaming others. After you have begun to accept a loss, you may feel very angry. You may blame others or the person who died for the situation even if you know, realistically, that they are not responsible for it. Or, you may let out your frustration by becoming irritated easily or unintentionally doing things that hurt others. All of these feelings are normal. Anger can be a way of hiding your pain when you can’t or don’t know how to express your real feelings.

Bargaining and guilt. Even if you know there is little or no hope for a recovery, you may tell yourself you can do something to solve the problem. You may try to make a deal with the doctors, God, or yourself, promising to make changes if the situation will go away. You may have thoughts like, “I’ll never become angry with my partner or child again if only the cancer goes away.” It’s normal to go over past actions and think, “If only I had done this . . .” Many people also feel a sense of guilt or responsibility that fosters the belief that they can still or should have somehow changed things.

Depressed mood, sadness, and crying. At some point, you will feel the full impact of the loss, and begin to understand what it will mean to go through life without someone you love or whatever you may have lost. At this stage, you may feel very sad and perhaps allow yourself to cry for the first time. Feelings like these usually mean that you are closer to the end of the grief process.

Acceptance, coming to terms. At the final stage of grief, you accept your loss even though you still don’t like this fact. You forgive yourself and others and, perhaps for the first time, may feel a sense of peace about the loss. You may still feel sad, but you have stopped trying to fight reality. You may be able to clean out the room of the person who died or participate again in some of the activities you enjoyed together. At this stage, people often think about trying to find an enduring way to pay tribute to the life of someone who has died.

People’s responses to grief will be different, depending on the circumstances of the event that is causing the grief symptoms. Not everyone goes through all of the stages of grief, or experiences them in the same order and you may also go through a stage more than once. At some point you may think you have moved beyond depression, but you may feel sad again on a holiday or an anniversary. Or, you may get angry when you have to handle alone the everyday difficulties that you used share. Experiences like these are normal.

The grief process can’t be rushed and shouldn’t be. It’s important to let yourself feel the pain and most people find that over time the intensity of the pain will decrease. Even if one denies their pain of a loss, the grief still exists. If it does not affect them at this moment, it will eventually erupt in some way, maybe at an inappropriate moment or during another traumatic event. Most professionals suggest that it is always better to admit our strong feelings about a situation, to feel them, and to move through the grieving process in order to move beyond the event.

It is important to know that grieving is an important, normal, and healthy response to loss. If you feel overwhelmed or very sad for much longer than other people in similar situations, or if you continue to have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying life, you may want to talk with a therapist, social worker, or chaplain.