Can Stressful Life Events Really Bring a Couple Together?

Are you and your partner experiencing the stress of a major life event such as moving to another house, adding a new baby to the family, or considering a job change?

What if I told you there was a way to discuss one of these stressors with your partner that would actually cause a reduction in stress, not turn into a fight, and ultimately improve your sex life?

Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher who can accurately predict divorce in 91% of couples he meets within the first five minutes, has outlined a shift to the daily “how was your day dear” conversation to one that can have a significant benefit to your relationship, especially if used on a regular basis.

couple practicing stress reducing conversation at Thrive Therapy in Tampa Fl

The Stress Reducing Conversation

The intention of this conversation is to help each partner manage the stress that is not caused BY your relationship, but the stressors you encounter in your daily life OUTSIDE of the relationship.

Problems in your job, or with friends or family members often end up creeping into relationships fueling conflict without the awareness of the couple.

The stress reducing conversation is recommended so that these outside triggers don’t seep into your relationship creating more conflict than it should.

Couples who are drowning in stress who do not talk about it with each other tend to see their emotional attraction to each other fade, and subsequently experience suffering IN the relationship unnecessarily due to these outside stressors.

The emotional attraction you have for your partner is largely determined by the ways in which you regularly communicate, so using this technique may cause a decrease in conflict in your relationship and help increase feelings of attraction toward one another.

The main rule that is critical to follow in having a stress-reducing conversation is: it can only be about stress OUTSIDE of your relationship.

This does not work when discussing areas of conflict within the relationship. It also does not work if you take this as an opportunity to instruct your partner how to fix things. It’s an opportunity to offer support – which does not mean it is a time for creating solutions.

Understanding what your partner is going through should always precede offering any kind of advice.

If these conversations aren’t even about the relationship, how could it possibly improve things?

Research shows emotional attraction is equally as important as physical attraction in a relationship. The stress reducing conversation actually increases emotional attraction which, in turn, can positively affect a couple’s sex life!

Emotional attraction – and ultimately sexual attraction – develops when a partner feels they are being listened to, when they experience respect, when they feel accepted, and when they sense genuine caring from their partner.

The stress reducing conversation allows you to connect to your partner on a more intimate level and intensify your feelings toward one another.

This is the secret to great sex. By enhancing the emotional attraction in your relationship, great sex is a potential bonus for those who engage in this conversation on a regular basis.

So try it out!

How do I do it?

Drawing from the technique of “active listening,” the stress reducing conversation has 7 rules to guide the discussion towards success in building intimacy in your relationship.

1. Take Turns. Each partner gets to be “the complainer” for fifteen minutes, so identify who gets to go first, and focus solely on that issue.

2. Don’t offer advice. This is not the time for solutions or problem solving. In order to help your partner decrease their stressful feelings, it is very important that you convey understanding to your partner – as this has to come first before giving advice.

3. Convey genuine interest. Stay focused on what your partner is saying, ask questions to better understand what they mean, maintain eye contact, show your partner that you care what they are talking about.

4. Communicate that you understand. As your partner is expressing themselves, let your partner feel you share in their feelings and understand what they are saying. When you feel the urge to give advice, instead say something like:

“I can see why that would make you feel upset.”

“That sounds very upsetting”

“It’s so reasonable for you to feel that way”

“I’d be angry too.”

“That would have hurt my feelings too.”

5. Be on your partner’s side no matter what. By adopting a “we against others” attitude, your partner feels the two of you are in this together as couple practicing stress reducing conversation thrive therapy floridaa team. And yes, this means being supportive, EVEN IF you might disagree with your partner’s perspective. If the goal is to reduce stress/enhance intimacy in your relationship, that goal is likely more important than your opinion about what you think happened or should have happened.

Remember, all emotions have value and it’s your job to step into and understand what your partner is feeling and why before offering any kind of advice or making assumptions about what you think might be going on.

6. Show affection. Physical touch (with your partner’s permission) can be a great way to convey your affection. Hold your partner’s hands while talking, rub their feet, put an arm on his or her shoulder, and/or say, “I love you.”

7. Validate your partner’s emotions. Make your partner feel their emotions are reasonable. You can do this by simply naming the emotions you see: “you feel mad” or “that makes you feel sad.” Tell your partner their feelings make sense to you.

It can help if you set up a time that works for the both of you to regularly have the conversation, as you may find some partners want to immediately talk when they get home and others may want some time to decompress. Allow for 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted or dedicated time to each other, which can feel difficult, but is ultimately worth it.

Remember these issues have nothing to do with your marriage, so do everything you can not to bring issues with your marriage into the discussion. And honor all emotions that arise.

You may find yourself feeling uncomfortable if your partner is expressing fear, sadness or anger, so it may be important to check with yourself as to why that may trigger you so much. Some people have been raised to think expressing negative emotion is bad, however all emotions have value and should be welcomed into this conversation.

Sometimes this conversation is easier said than done, and it can be helpful to practice in a controlled setting such as a counseling room.

Thrive Therapy exists to support couples, both happy and unhappy, to learn and practice basic techniques proven to enhance a relationship in which you feel safe.

The next time you’re feeling stressed about an event or something outside of your relationship, practice this technique to deal with your stress, feel closer to your partner and ultimately enhance your sex life!

Want more tips and techniques for a healthy and satisfying relationship? Subscribe to the Thrive Therapy newsletter.

couple practicing stress reducing conversation at Thrive Therapy in Tampa Fl


Drift and Divorce

Are you concerned your relationship is heading towards divorce?

Many people believe the dissolution of a relationship is due to a major event such as an affair. While these kinds of events can lead to the termination of a relationship, a major cause of divorce is emotional distance or a gradual drift apart.

This drift occurs due to lack of intimacy and when attention is not given to continuing to develop friendship.

couple working on accepting influence from each other in tampa florida

Dr. John Gottman has received much attention for being known to be able to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. He, along with his wife, have written many books about their years of research and train therapists on working with couples. According to Drs. John and Julie Gottman, there are 8 predictors of divorce:

1. More negativity than positivity – Outside of conflict, couples who are more “functional” generally have a 20:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones. This does not mean you can’t have negative emotion or should not have conflict, as all emotions have value, it just needs to be outweighed with positivity. When satisfied couples are in conflict, their positive to negative ratio tends to be around 5:1.

Does it feel like your relationship is in a negative spiral or the negativity is outweighing the positive? Therapy can help to change the dance you’re stuck in and start a new path for your relationship.

2. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – Dysfunctional relationships tend to display a pattern of negativity in conflict by displaying criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Gottman has determined contempt to probably be the biggest predictor of divorce. Couples who are better at accepting influence from each other, making effective repairs, deescalating and compromising tend to fair better when having an argument.

Couples can work in therapy on instead implementing a gentle start up, taking responsibility, building a culture of appreciation, and learning to self soothe to calm down.

3. Emotional Withdrawal – Relationships where a partner is disengaging or not displaying any interest in their spouse is a red flag. One thing that can help with this drift is turning towards versus turning away or against your partner. Couples often make bids, or attempts at connecting, and responding to your partners bids are critical to the relationship.

couple res[pnding to bids after making repair attempts in tampa, floridaTherapy can provide support to your partner in:

1) identifying when you are making bids and 2) allowing your partner to learn your attempts at connecting so they can respond in the way you so desperately desire.

Therapy will also assist you in:

1) recognizing bids from your partner and 2) responding in a way that helps to meet their needs, as well.

4. The failure of repair attempts – Gottman has shared this can be the most important difference between the “masters” and “disasters” of relationships. The goal of therapy is not to prevent fights or arguments, but to process hurt feelings and miscommunication, and be able to repair the relationship when there has been a hurt.

Therapy is a place where couples learn repair attempts that are already being made but not recognized and can also be a place to learn new ways to make repairs in order to increase positivity in the relationship.

5. Negative Sentiment Override – In happy couples, partners have a tendency to minimize or justify negative traits. However when negative sentiment override is present, anything the partner does or says is viewed with a negative lens, even if what the partner is doing is something positive or neutral. This occurs when a negative perception of the partner serves as the subtext defining all interactions regardless if they are positive or negative.

Does it ever feel like your partner more of an adversary than a friend?couple working on repair attempts and increasing positivity in relationship in tampa florida

In therapy, we address this by working on techniques that assist in enhancing the friendship.

6. Feeling “Flooded” and Maintaining Vigilance – One predictor of divorce is when partners become physiologically aroused or overwhelmed by their partner, creating a desire to flee or become more aggressive.

Partners are in a state where they sense danger possibly without experiencing a threat.

Rehearsing distress maintaining thoughts can prolong the physiological reaction and establish longer term vigilance as it relates to their partner even when conflict is not present.

Counseling assists in learning ways to calm your body in order to manage this ongoing physical response towards your partner.

7. Chronic Diffuse Physiological ArousalDo you notice sweaty hands, a red face or your heart racing during an argument? Physiological arousal while in conflict can impact one’s ability to take in or comprehend information. It leads to an increase in defensiveness, difficulty problem solving, and challenges in one’s ability to listen and empathize.

Therapy assists in working on techniques to allow you to both feel heard and understood, while also allowing your partner to feel the same way.

8. The failure of accepting influence – According to Gottman, men’s emotional withdrawal or disengagement from their wives in a heterosexual relationship (which often sad about relationship in tampa floridaleads to mutual disengagement) can be a predictor of divorce. This looks like patterns of increased control along with increased negativity characterized by contempt, domineering, defensiveness or belligerence in response to something as simple as complaining.

Guys are so critical to the success of a relationship!

Therapy can be a place for you to process safe options and potential next steps for your family depending on the level of commitment in the relationship.

I’m nervous because I relate to all these things!

Many couples do. The good news is: areas of particular concern can be specifically addressed in a counseling or a workshop setting. I would encourage you not to wait, because relationships are more likely to receive benefit from therapy when there is commitment in the relationship.

So do not wait until things get so bad that one partner already has their foot out the door!

Are you already considering divorce?

Thrive Therapy in Tampa, FL can help be a place to process your next steps and assist your family with this life transition.


couple making up after learning to manage conflict at thrive therapy in tampa florida


To learn more about the Gottman Method, click here.