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How you + your partner can always be on the same team—even in times of conflict

Based on research, this powerful method can transform barriers of hurt and misunderstanding into bridges of connection.

How you + your partner can always be on the same team—even in times of conflict

Leo Tolstoy’s book Anna Karenina begins, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Dr. Gottman’s four decades of research tells a different story.


Following thousands of couples (some for multiple decades), Gottman found that the couples who would eventually divorce were more alike than different. They used the Four Horsemen, ignored bids for connection and failed to accept influence.

Maybe you get upset because your partner spends more money than you do. Or you feel like your partner doesn’t pay enough attention to you, or expects you to take care of household duties and chores. These hurt feelings can act like a snowball rolling down a hill: out of control, exponentially growing in size and eventually smashing into and breaking down the walls of your Sound Relationship House.

If you don’t repair the seemingly minor (and sometimes super big) things, then your Story of Us is bound to focus on the negative events in your memory. This promotes negative feelings towards your partner, and eventually leads to more conflict and more disconnection.

In my work with couples, I’ve found that when each partner is willing to focus on the underlying feelings of the conflict, the problem stops functioning as a barrier to connection. Instead, conflict becomes a catalyst for closeness and understanding.

Conflict as an opportunity

One moment everything is fine in your relationship; the next, a fight breaks out. That’s why it’s important to set aside consistent, dedicated time to talk about what’s on your heart. It gives both partners the assurance that a problem will get the air time it needs and for hurt feelings to be healed.

To help couples facilitate this, Dr. Gottman created what he calls the “State of the Union” meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that both partners feel heard and understood before problem solving together. When couples meet once a week for an hour, it drastically improves their relationship because it gives the relationship space to have constructive conflict and the partners an opportunity to get on the same team.

In Dr. Gottman’s research, he discovered that partners cannot compromise or solve the problem until each of you say, “Yes! You understand me. That’s exactly how I’m feeling.” Doing so opens up both of you to understanding each other’s perspective and to working together to create a win-win solution.

Based on research, this powerful method can transform barriers of hurt and misunderstanding into bridges of connection.

To best prepare before you embark on this State of the Union journey, it’s important to warm up.

The pre-conflict warm up

Going to the gym and starting with my maximum weight on the bench press is bound to injure my body. Instead, if I start with a lesser weight to allow my muscles to warm up and gradually increase the weight, I’m much more likely to have an effective workout and achieve healthy success. Just like in the gym, couples need a pre-conflict warm up before diving right into a discussion.

1. Before you start, grab two notebooks and some pens so you can take notes about your partner’s feelings and your own thoughts.

2. Next, sit down in a quiet place where you both can be available to each other without distractions. (Remember: no cell phones!)

3. Before starting, name five things your partner did for you over the past week that you appreciate.

Why five things? Research from Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab discovered that even during conflict, happy couples maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in their relationship.

It may sound counterintuitive, but expressing gratitude for the minor things will make the conversation go smoother as both partners start from a place of feeling appreciated. Noticing the positive defuses some of the tension and makes it easier for both of you to work together.

For example: Christina wants to tell her fiance how hurt she is that he stayed out later than he said he would. Instead of focusing on this, she starts this meeting by thanking him for cooking dinner the night before.

By focusing on the positive first, Christina creates a foundation of goodwill and fondness to begin their State of the Union meeting. This was a wise move because research shows that how you start a conflict conversation impacts the way it ends. If Christina were to have started with a harsher tone or begin with criticism, it’s unlikely that her fiance would want to work through the problem with her.

When you are receiving an appreciation from your partner, acknowledge your partner by expressing gratitude for each appreciation. This may sound obvious, but partners often forget this courtesy because they are anticipating the approaching conflict part of the discussion. Without a thank you, your partner may feel like you took their appreciation for granted.

Original article by Kyle Benson for The Gottman Institute.

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After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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