The Brooklyn 99 Relationship House

The Brooklyn 99 Relationship House By: Therapist Nicki

Over the past couple weeks I have been watching Brooklyn Nine Nine (99), follows the exploits of hilarious Det. Jake Peralta and his diverse, lovable colleagues as they police the NYPD’s 99th Precinct. While consuming the show I noticed how the characters formed a chosen family displaying the main traits of John and Julie Gottman’s Sound Relationship House.

Pioneers in relationship science, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have revolutionized our understanding of marriage, relationships, and couples therapy. They draw upon four decades of breakthrough research with more than 3,000 couples. The Sound Relationship House Theory is the foundation of the Gottman Method, which uses a practical approach to help couples break through barriers to achieve greater understanding, connection, and intimacy in their relationships. I believe this theory can be expanded to all types of relationship from platonic to romantic, as illustrated by Brooklyn 99 squad.

The foundation of the relationship house is love mapping. Love maps are a fundamental element to making relationships work in the long run, even family and platonic relationships. Building a love map means you get or understand the person(s) in the relationship.   In Brooklyn 99 the various characters are continuously learning about each other and they file that knowledge away for a deeper connection.  Just like in real life relationships they never stop learning about each other as they change and evolve over time. Such as when any squad member learns facts and preferences about their leader, Captain Raymond Holt. This brings us to the walls of the house which are trust and commitment.

In Brooklyn 99 the squad is consistently put in life threatening situations and it is important they trust one another to have each other’s backs. It is hard to focus on the task at hand when you do not trust the person in the field with you. Gottman says this is achieved through sliding glass door moments, where an individual chooses to turn towards their partner instead of going about their day. This happens several times over the course of Brooklyn 99. One example is when Captain Holt turns towards Rosa Diez when her girlfriend breaks up with her. This happened during an office ritual of connection, The Jimmy Jab games. Holt tells Diez he is quitting the games and will sit with her in a bar while listening to death metal so she can process her grief.  Holt could have easily ignored her and tried to win the games for the extra day off instead he chose to support a member of his work family and deepen his trust with her. Holt also displayed the other wall, commitment.

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Each member of the Brooklyn 99 is very committed to their relationship with each other.  Even when a person leaves the central unit the others try to remain connected with them. When Gina left the 99 to pursue her talents as an influencer Jake continues to stay in touch. Gina and Jake are childhood friends. Gina obtained her administrative assistant job because of her connections with Jake. Another example is when Holt was transferred briefly to human resources Gina went with him because she was committed to their work relationship.

Now that we have the walls built let’s examine the floors. The second floor is Shared Fondness and Admiration. Sharing Fondness and Admiration are the antidote to contempt and, more importantly, they increases the amount of affection and respect in a relationship.  These two characteristics provide protection for any relationship because at this level we see respect and gratitude. The members of the 99 are consistently showing respect and gratitude for each other even when they make pointed jabs. To some jabs or teasing are a form of affection and belonging.  The squad also show tender moments like when Gina recreated the Boyle sourdough starter. This showed she respected the Boyle family traditions even though she was not thrilled about it. The squad shows appreciation for older members Sully and Hitchcock when they ask for their advise on cases and how they have their own role in the 99 work family.

The third floor is Turning Towards Instead of Away. In his research Gottman discovered relationship that last excel at Turn Towards Instead of Away. At the six-year follow-up, couples that stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time. Turning towards means paying attention and understanding bids for connection. A bid is any attempt from one person to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Bids show up in simple ways, a smile or wink, and more complex ways, like a request for advice or help. Each time a member of the 99 is asking for help from another this is a bid for connection.  Sgt Terry Jeffers made a bid to Holt when he asked for help with his band audition. Holt initially rejected this bid and turned away. Jake made a bid to Amy when he showed her how he could catch peanuts in his mouth. Amy turned towards the bid when she engaged in throwing a handful in air stating, “the secret is quantity.” I would say this is the moment when Jake and Amy realized they could make a romantic relationship work, but that is another blog. Let’s continue up the house with the fourth floor.

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The Positive Perspective is the fourth level of the Gottman’s Sound Relationship House, and it refers to how people see the relationship as a whole. Basically: do you have a positive impression of your partner and your relationship or do you have a negative one? When the relationship has a positive perspective, Gottman calls it “Positive Sentiment Override.” Positive Sentiment Override is looking at the positives in the relationship such as:  celebrating the good times together, reminding and remembering the positive times, and giving to each other and being grateful for what they give you. Gina does this when she is leaving the 99. Gina reminds each person why they are special to her, in her own way. You also see this with Jake and Amy. Amy and Jake are an example of how opposites attract and annoy one another; however, they choose to remember how they balance other. They also celebrate the little things in their relationship. One of the major comedic points in Brooklyn 99 is the conflict between the characters and how they manage it.

Conflict management is an expansive fifth floor of the relationship house. Constructive conflict management begins with the development of six skills: Soften Startup, Accept Influence, Make Effective Repairs During Conflict, De-escalate, Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner, and Compromise. This will be a whole blog in itself due to the amount of content on this floor. The “Pimemento” episode which depicts the squad attending a conflict seminar displays unhealthy forms of communication between characters because they have suppressed their emotions. There are other times when the characters display the healthy forms of conflict resolution such as when Jake gets his father and grandfather to work together on cleaning the kitchen for the sex reveal party for his child. Jake and Amy also compromise and repair when discussing whether or not they want to have children. Again there are so many and will be a blog of its own. Conflict management allows for the next floors Making Life Dreams Come True and Shared Meaning.

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If individuals do not work through the first five floors they will not understand the last two: Making Life Dreams Come True and Creating Shared Meaning. Working together to make each other’s life dreams come true often involves creating shared meaning, and creating shared meaning can be achieved through identifying and pursuing your and your partner’s dreams. Dr. John Gottman discovered that many of the seemingly pointless and frustrating issues are anything but insignificant. In truth, they are rooted in your deepest and most meaningful dreams, hopes, and desires for your own life, as well as the life that you share together. This is seen several times with the 99 squad.  Amy wants to be a precinct captain one day and she also fears Jake with reject her if she becomes his superior officer. Jake understands Amy’s dreams and states he will compromise if they are split up into separate precincts or if she becomes his superior.  We also see the squad recognizing Gina’s and Holt’s dreams.  They are constantly pushing each other to become better people and a better team. They create the shared meaning of being the best precinct in the city committed to protecting and serving its citizens.

Please do not get me wrong there are plenty of flaws in each member of the squad which are over exaggerated, I mean it is a comedy for a reason. I am happy to point out the flaws in another blog. My goal for this piece was to illustrate how the Gottman Sound Relationship House was present in a variety of relationships especially in a pop culture sitcom like Brooklyn 99.

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