The Gottman Method for Couples Therapy

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 “Ten Ingredients to Good Couples Counseling,” which provides an introductory overview of what to look for in a couples counselor.  

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As you consider whether or not couples counseling is the right choice for you, it is helpful to understand the range of therapeutic options available. Named after John and Julie Gottman, the Gottman Method is designed to help couples who struggle with communication, face conflict, or are emotionally distant. It also helps couples with specific relationship problems (for example, infidelity, sexual difficulties, parenting, and financial stress). The Gottmans are both well respected researchers and clinicians known for their expertise on relationships. Together, they founded The Gottman Institute which conducts research, offers training to counseling professionals, and provides workshops for couples looking to improve their relationship.

We’ll take you on a brief overview of this method to see if it may be a good fit for you.

Principles of the Gottman Method

The Gottman Method lays out those factors that can destroy a relationship and those that contribute to a healthy one. Let’s take a look.

Factors that destroy- aka ‘The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse’:

  • 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

Factors that strengthen- aka ‘The Sound Relationship House Theory’:

  • Building Love Maps: knowing your partner, along with their psychological stresses and hopes

  • Sharing Fondness and Admiration: showing affection and respect towards 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: understanding that conflict is natural and that healthy 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 partners doing the work to improve it

What does the Gottman Method involve?

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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 also completes questionnaires for additional information. This assessment leads to feedback on the state of the relationship and helps to identify the appropriate therapeutic framework and interventions.

Once you receive feedback and understand your options, your couples counselor will help you to 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: 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 and strengthen your emotional connection, closeness, and intimacy. In addition, your therapist will help you to develop new approaches to your interactions to replace harmful or negative communication styles that might have been creating conflict.

Does this method really work?

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John Gottman has conducted extensive research on relationships throughout his career and developed the Gottman Method based off of research specific to relationship stability. Various aspects and components of his theories and approach have been examined and critiqued by experts in the field and their validity reinforced. Researchers looked at the Gottman institute workshops and their findings indicated that each component was helpful in increasing relationship satisfaction. What’s more, when components were combined, the relationships showed the greatest improvement. Knowing that the method is not only based in research, but has undergone scientific review in and of itself is reassuring that this is a sound approach to relationship counseling.

Who can apply the Gottman Method?

Psychologists and counselors will ideally become certified in Gottman Method Couples Therapy before they apply this approach. Training is offered by the Gottman Institute, however, some counselors may elect to obtain Gottman Institute materials and complete some training on their own or may integrate components of this approach even if they are not fully certified. If you are interested in working with a counselor who offers the Gottman Method, ask about their certification and training to have a better understanding of the level of expertise they can offer.

Gottman-Based Self-Help Resources

There are some excellent books based on the Gottman Method that couples will read 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 the financial resources 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

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Books and DVD programs can be helpful as you and your partner establish your relationship, but if you feel that your relationship is at a point of needing support beyond self-help or if you have already been considering couples counseling, then we recommend that you move ahead and pursue couples counseling. Working with a couples counselor provides the benefit of having a professional with knowledge of many useful interventions get to know you and your relationship, so they can provide 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. At Mind Body Seven, Beth Wecksell, PsyD works with couples and uses elements of the Gottman Method and other couples therapy methods.