The Gottman Method of Couples Counseling is a type of couples therapy developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman.
John Gottman has spent over 40 years researching relationships. He observed over 3,000 couples, both happy and unhappy, followed up with them for close to 20 years and developed a theory based on what he saw. He saw specific communications patterns that are destructive and often lead to divorce and he also saw what “good enough” couples did to have happy marriages.
Dr. John Gottman has published over 190 academic articles and more than 40 books about marriages, relationships, and parenting. He has been cited as a relationship expert in the therapeutic industry and takes a spot in the Psychotherapy Networker’s Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century.
Together with his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, Dr. John Gottman founded The Gottman Institute, where he teaches The Art and Science of Love workshops and Levels One, Two, and Three of Gottman Method Couples Therapy Clinical Training.
Gottman Method Background
Approximately 69% of problems between partners are never resolved due to differences in couples’ personalities. It’s what a couple does with these differences that make the distinction.
Of course, all couples argue and have negative interactions. Gottman found that it’s the way couples navigate conflict, how they express their emotions, and how they tend to the other parts of their relationship that will ultimately determine who stays together and who divorces.
Gottman’s research found that empathy, increased communication, and intimacy helped couples remember the respect and affection they had for each other at the beginning of their relationship.
Revitalizing those early feelings helps couples push past stuck areas and become willing to work on the harder issues. It is helpful for working through many common relationship issues, such as infidelity, broken trust, communication problems, lack of sex and intimacy, growing apart, fighting, and more.
For couples who stay together he found they experience at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction during conflict. In addition, couples who broke up exhibited a high level of communication interactions that Gottman refers to as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which include:
Criticism – an attack on your partners character, not just a complaint
Defensiveness – often happens in a response to criticism
Contempt – often judging your partner with an air of superiority
Stonewalling – withdrawing from interaction- shutting down or the silent treatment.
Build love maps: this is how well you truly know your partner’s inner world.
Share fondness and admiration: express appreciation and respect for each other to strengthen your bond.
Turn towards, not away: learning to notice when one’s partner is seeking attention, affection, and comfort (bids for connection) and responding accordingly. Finding ways to have rituals of connection.
The positive perspective: when the connection, friendship, and intimacy is there, we can often see errors as matters of circumstance, not failures of the individual. We can give our partner the benefit of the doubt.
Manage conflict: Many tools are taught at this level to manage conflict. How to process an argument instead of rehashing it, how to fully understand each other’s perspectives and work on compromise if it’s a win-win, learning to repair when your relationship gets off track, and starting conversation in a gentle way-making requests and accepting influence from one another.
Make life dreams come true: supporting and championing one’s partner in their dreams and goals as well as goals for the couple.
Create shared meaning: uncovering the rituals and stories that have shared meaning for you as a couple, becoming a better “we”.
Trust and commitment: The two weight-bearing walls of the Sound Relationship House. Trust enables couples to believe they can rely on one another and feel like they’re a team, and commitment means couples have agreed to stick together and improve their relationship.
The Sound Relationship House represents an opportunity for couples to develop new skills that will strengthen their relationship. Gottman therapists use this theory to drive their work with couples. These tools are taught and worked on together as a couple in session so that you learn the skills to do this at home as well.
Based on his research, John Gottman maintains that even though couples feel their individual relationships are unique, marital conflicts fall into two categories: resolvable conflicts and perpetual conflicts. Since many conflicts are perpetual, the Gottman Method specifically centers on helping couples work on learning to live with this kind of conflict.
Many couples choose therapy because they’re having problems in their relationship that they can’t seem to resolve alone. This is not a sign of failure or divorce; they may just be perpetual problems that you’re not able to overcome. You might feel like you’ve grown apart. You might be experiencing a more drastic marital conflict that seems overwhelming. Learning to work thought conflict, process resentment, and have a plan to do it differently in the future, all are part of couples counseling.
You don’t have to be in the middle of a crisis to benefit from couple’s therapy. Many people use these sessions to check in on their marriage and make sure everything is on the right track or to fine tune a few things. Premarital couples might want to get tips on how to prevent future problems, or relatively happy couples might want to learn how to communicate effectively.
One partner might be open to therapy, while the other is not so sure, maybe they feel it is a waste of time and money or that it won’t really help. In that case, the Gottman Method might be an ideal therapy choice because it empowers the couples to work through their own problems even outside of the therapist’s office. A few sessions may give you the tools you need to continue working on your own.
The Gottman Method is designed to work for all couples and all types of relationship. The concerns raised and the tools used to support the relationship have been applied to couples at every stage of life. If the participants are ready to be vulnerable and looking to reconnect significant progress can be made.
Also, the Gottman Method does not require that your relationship is in a desperate state. Many couples do not consider couple’s therapy until they are experiencing serious problems. In fact, the average couple waits six years in turmoil before seeking therapy. The Gottman Method is based on improving the fundamental building blocks of any relationship. If you learn to care for aspects like respect, turning toward each other, openness and affection before they have degraded, you may stand a better chance of avoiding difficult times altogether.
The Gottman Method is unique in its emphasis on perpetual versus resolvable conflicts. Understanding this difference is part of how this form of therapy can help couples positively change their relationship. By learning new ways to deal with perpetual conflicts, couples can replace negative conflict patterns with healthier ones.
Also, because the Gottman Method is backed by exhaustive research, many of the interventions are specific. They include actionable steps that help couples leave each session understanding what to do to continue to work on their problems outside of therapy.
Besides, learning these steps will help couples in the long term. Even after therapy, they can continue to apply these methods, preventing them from falling back into their former negative patterns.
Couples therapy using the Gottman Method starts with a conjoint session with both partners to learn about your challenges and goals and a plan for how to make your relationship better. In addition, couples may complete questionnaires developed as part of the Gottman Method. The therapist will also speak to each partner individually to establish rapport with each partner and learn relational history. Then the couple will join back together for a thorough picture of their relationship, for the therapist to provide feedback to the couple and decide on the interventions that will be most valuable to the couple.
From there weekly interventions are implemented that help the couple with all levels of the sound relationship house as well as any other problems they may have such as infidelity, rebuilding trust, their sex lives, differences in parenting, money, extended family, etc.
We also have couple therapy weekends if you would like to accelerate your couples counseling experience .
You will want to find a therapist that has gone through training and/or certification from the Gottman Institute. They have gone through involved three-level training and specialize in working with couples.
Regardless of their background, each professional goes through three levels of training before being certified:
- Level One: Bridging the Couple Chasm
- Level Two: Assessment, Intervention, and Co-Morbidities
- Level Three: Practicum Training
This in-depth training guarantees that your therapist has learned from Dr. Gottman’s research and has already applied their knowledge in the field. A therapist who has heard about Gottman’s work is not necessarily trained in it. All therapists at the Relationship Therapy Center are either Certified or have completed level 2 or 3 and have ongoing mentorship and training.