The Gottman Method for Couples Therapy

The Gottman Method

We are going to continue our discussion of couples counseling by examining The Gottman Method. If you have not yet read it, check out our previous blog post on Ingredients to Good Couples Counseling, which provides an introductory overview of what to look for in a couples counselor.  

As you consider whether couples counseling is the right choice for you, the Gottman Method is one particular option that many people enjoy and find helpful. This method is designed to help couples, who struggle with communication, who face conflict, and who are emotionally distant. It also helps couples with specific relationship problems (for example, infidelity, sexual difficulties, parenting, and financial stress).

The Gottman Method is named after John and Julie Gottman. John Gottman is well known for his research on marital stability and the factors that contribute to divorce. He has written many books and won awards for the work he completed.  Julie Schwartz Gottman is a clinical psychologist. She conducts research on many topics related to relationships. She continues to work in private practice in Seattle.

:: See our related post: 10 Ingredients for Good Couples Therapy ::

Together, the Gottmans founded the Gottman Institute, which conducts research, offers training to counseling professionals, and provides workshops for couples looking to improve their relationship.

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Principles of the Gottman Method

According to the Gottman Method a few key behaviors can make a key difference to whether a couple makes it or breaks up. They call these ‘the four horseman of the apocalypse’ and they include:

  • Criticism-complaining about your partner and ascribing problems to some defect in them
  • Defensiveness-not hearing or considering feedback from your partner, not taking responsibility
  • Stonewalling-withdrawing mentally from a conversation so that a resolution cannot be found
  • Contempt-displaying disgust towards your partner, putting them down

In contrast, the Gottman Method describes healthy relationships within the context of ‘The Sound Relationship House Theory.’ This is comprised of nine components:  

  • Building Love Maps-knowing your partner, knowing their psychological stresses and hopes
  • Sharing Fondness and Admiration-showing affection and respect to one another
  • Turning Towards Instead of Away-stating your needs to one another, responding to needs
  • The Positive Perspective-taking a positive approach to problem-solving
  • Managing Conflict-conflict is natural and healthy when relationships handle it in a positive way
  • Making Life Dreams Come True-creating space for each person to discuss values and aspirations
  • Creating Shared Meaning-understanding each other’s vision for the relationship
  • Trust-knowing that your partner will act in your best interest
  • Commitment-sticking with the relationship for better or worse, both working to improve it

What does the Gottman Method involve?

When you participate in couples counseling that uses the Gottman Method, your couples therapy work will start with an in-depth assessment of your relationship. The assessment starts in a joint couples session and is followed by individual interviews for each partner. The couple can also complete questionnaires for collecting additional information. This assessment leads to feedback on the state of the relationship and helps to identify the appropriate treatment plan and approach.

Once you have your feedback and know your options, your couples counselor will help you decide on how often you will meet and how long those sessions will be (the therapeutic framework). As you meet, your therapist will use interventions to improve three key areas of the relationship. These areas include: friendship, conflict management, and creation of shared meaning/goals.

As you work through therapy, you will be able to process through and repair any past hurts you may have experienced. Your therapist will help you to develop new approaches to your interactions. These will replace harmful or negative communication styles that might have been creating conflict. The therapy will also help you to strengthen your emotional connection, closeness, and intimacy.

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Does the Gottman method really work?

John Gottman himself has been active in research throughout his career. The development of his method is based on research about relationship stability. Various aspects and components of his theory and approach have been examined by research. For example, research on the Gottman institute workshops indicates that each component was helpful in increasing relationship satisfaction. When components were combined, the relationships showed the greatest improvement.

Psychologists and counselors can become certified in the Gottman Method Couples Therapy through the Gottman Institute. However, some counselors may also obtain Gottman Institute materials and complete training on their own. Still other therapists will integrate components of this approach with other couples therapy approaches for an eclectic couples treatment.

Gottman-Based Self-Help Resources

There are some excellent books based on the Gottman Method that many couples enjoy reading on their own to help strengthen their relationship. These include:

  • The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Works
  • Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage
  • What Makes Love Last
  • The Relationship Cure
  • Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

If you have money and time, you might consider attending one of the Gottman workshops in Seattle, Washington. Five times per year, the Gottman’s present their The Art and Science of Love workshop. Alternatively, you can purchase a DVD program for at-home study. However, it may be difficult to fully apply all the techniques described without the assistance of a skilled counselor.

Final Recommendations

Books and DVD programs can be helpful as you establish your relationship. However, if you have been considering couples counseling, chances are your relationship may already be at a point of needing help beyond just self-help. In this case, you will want to pursue couples counseling. Working with a couples counselor provides the benefit of having someone, who can get to know you and your relationship. This allows for a thorough assessment, so they can recommend interventions that exactly match your needs.

If you feel like the Gottman Method (or components of it) may be the right fit for you, then you can look for a provider nearby that knows how to apply this method. Many skilled providers also integrate other approaches, as needed. Simply search online for providers in your area (for example, ‘Couples Counselor in Brooklyn’). Then, you can view their website and ask questions to learn more about their approach.