Gottman Method 101: History, Overview and How it Can Save Your Relationship

What is the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method is an approach to couples therapy that is based on the Sound Relationship House Theory. The Gottman theory assesses your relationship, and helps you and your partner address your problems with research-based interventions derived from the Sound House theory (described more below). The Gottman Method aims to improve verbal communication, increase intimacy, increase respect, increase affection, remove barriers to conflict resolution and create more empathy and compassion within relationships.

The Gottman Method is very personalized for each couple. The beginning of the process involves individual and conjoint therapy sessions, in addition to questionnaires that help you judge the status of your relationship. After the initial assessment you and your partner work with your therapist to decide the frequency of your therapy sessions. After you have established the therapeutic framework (fancy phrase for your therapy schedule and plan), you will begin therapeutic interventions to help address the problem areas in your relationship. The therapeutic interventions work on improving three main aspects of your relationship: friendship, conflict management, and creating shared meaning. The Gottman Method can work for all types of couples regardless of sexual orientation, socio-economic status and cultural backgrounds.

Who invented the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method was invented by the psychologist couple Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Combined, the Drs. Gottman have 40 years of psychology research experience, in addition to clinical experience that they have used to create their relationship therapy methodology. During his career Dr. John Gottman focuses on marital stability and divorce prediction. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, where he continues his research of couples at the “Love Lab”.

Dr. Julie Shwartz Gottman is a clinical psychologist, who is an expert advisor on marriage, sexual harassment (including rape and domestic violence), same-sex marraige, adoption for same-sex couples and parenting. The Gottman couple founded the Gottman Institute in order to provide relationship help for couples as well as training for mental health professionals who work with couples. The institute is dedicated to the practical application of psychology research in the therapy world, with the goal of improving and supporting relationships, marriages and families.

The Psychology Behind the Theory

The Gottman Method approach is based on the Sound House Theory, which identifies the essential foundations of any relationship. The Sound House Theory is a bit like the relationship version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are nine essential parts of a relationship that build on each other to help you and your partner achieve a successful, fulfilling relationship. Each step is predicated on the success of the previous step. The theory holds that the foundation of all romantic relationships is understanding each other’s worlds, and that once you establish this understanding, you can learn to share fondness, which will encourage you to lean on one another, embrace positive perspectives, manage conflict, achieve your dreams and, finally, create shared meaning.

Each of these levels is paired with different activities that can help you and your partner achieve the goal. In order to understand your partner’s world, you should each build love maps that detail your psychological world, your histories, anxieties and hopes. Once you have a better understanding of each other, you can focus on expressing appreciation and respect for your partner to strengthen the amount of fondness and admiration in your relationship. After this level, you focus on stating your needs in the relationship and being responsive to your partner’s needs, so that you learn to rely more on one another.

Following this step, you and your partner will learn to problem-solve through a positive perspective. Establishing a positive perspective in this step will allow you to manage conflict more effectively in the next step. Once you learn how to effectively manage conflict (by focusing on management not resolution) you will be equipped to manage both solvable and perpetual problems. Creating this type of atmosphere will allow you and your partner to discuss your hopes and aspirations, which will lead you to achieving your dreams as a couple.

Finally, understanding your partner’s goals and vision will help you create a shared meaning, which is the ultimate goal of a successful relationship. The theory also holds that these things can only build off of one another if you and your partner establish trust and commitment through the entire process. In the Gottman Method, trust means believing that your partner will think and act in order to maximize your interests and benefits as well as their own. Commitment means believing that this relationship is a life-long process that involves embracing and expressing gratitude for your partner’s positive values. The psychology of the theory can be hard to manage on your own, which is why you and your partner will need to find a Gottman certified therapist to guide you through the process.

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Gottman’s Four Horsemen

In addition to the Second House Theory, the Gottman Method uses the Four Horsemen analogy to characterize poor communication styles and responses that can destroy your relationship. The analogy borrows the horsemen metaphor from the four horsemen (conquest, war, hunger, and death) of the apocalypse in the New Testament of the Bible, which is perhaps why the theory seems a bit dramatic... But the Gottmans know that communication can be what makes or breaks a relationship. In this analogy, the Gottman’s four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Each of these things can create major problems in your relationship. It’s important to be able to identify each of these four horsemen when they are present, and work towards using more productive language and communication techniques. For each horseman, there is an anecdote that you can use to communicate more kindly and more effectively.

In this analogy, criticism is the first horseman. In a relationship, it is never helpful to criticize your partner’s character. If you are unhappy with a specific thing they did, it may be necessary to express your complaint, but it’s important to do so without attacking your partner for who they are. Instead of criticising your partner, you should bring up your complaints by using “I” statements to talk about what you need from your partner.

Contempt is the second horseman, and is a degree meaner than criticism. If you or your partner express contempt in your communication style, you assume a morally superior position and critique your partner from that position. This can manifest in ridiculing your partner, mocking them or using sarcasm. Contempt is often fueled by unaddressed negative feelings towards your partner. Instead of approaching a conversation or a conflict with contempt, it’s important to affirm the qualities that you like in your partner and affirm positive things they do. It’s also important to address small conflicts as they arise to avoid stewing over insignificant things.

The third horseman is defensiveness, which is often a response to criticism. Being defensive often involves finding excuses and trying to reallocate blame, which is never constructive. If you find yourself being defensive, try to take responsibility by accepting your partner’s opinion, apologizing and moving on.

The fourth and final horseman is stonewalling, which is normally a response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when you or your partner completely shut-down and tune out during a conversation. Stonewalling is a result of physiological flooding, and it can often be difficult to converse effectively in this state. To avoid stonewalling during an argument, you should acknowledge that you are overwhelmed and take space from the topic until you feel that you can talk about it rationally and kindly.

Don’t be discouraged if this seems overwhelming! Identifying the four horsemen and developing more effective communication strategies can be very difficult, which is why you need a certified therapist to help you work through this.

How does the Gottman method work in Therapy?

If this sounds totally awesome and you and your partner are completely sold on pursuing therapy in the form of the Gottman Method, you might be wondering how to participate. If you google something like “Gottman Method therapists near me” you will find a list of Gottman certified therapists in your area. You can also go to the Gottman Referral Network found on the Gottman Institute website: https://www.gottman.com/couples/find-a-therapist/ to find a list of certified therapists.

One benefit of Covid-19 is that Gottman Method-trained therapists are offering online therapy through video conferencing. This means that you can address your relationship problems without having to risk going to an in-person therapy session. It also means that you have access to a certified therapist, even if there aren’t any therapists exactly in your area! The Gottman Institute also offers private couples retreats. Think of the retreats as a super romantic weekend getaway, that will also improve your relationship. The retreats are currently on hold because of the epidemic, but a new calendar of retreat options will be released shortly.

In addition to these therapy options, it is also possible to enroll in private Marathon Couples Therapy online with Dr. John and Dr. Julie Gottman. The Marathon Couples Therapy is an intensive online therapy with the creators of the methodology themselves. This option involves three days of therapy with five hour sessions each day, so it’s intensive to say the least. While this can seem like a huge commitment, meeting with the actual creators of this theory will help you and your partner overcome any relationship problem you are experiencing. The intensive format can also help you address your problems in a super efficient way, helping you avoid weeks of shorter therapy sessions.

The various therapy formats make the Gottman Method approachable and convenient for all couple’s regardless of your location or time constraints. AKA time to stop making excuses about why you aren’t addressing the problems in your relationship and try the Gottman Method.

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What kind of issues is the Gottman Method best for?

The Gottman Method breaks relationship problems into two categories, problems that can be resolved, and problems that are perpetual. The Gottman Method focuses on addressing perpetual problems, because they are problems that will always exist, but can be managed with the right coaching. The therapy methodology can help you and your partner navigate frequent conflicts and arguments, poor communication skills and specific problems like difficulties with your sex life, infidelity, problems related to money, and parenting problems.

The methodology is also appropriate for couples that are emotionally distanced and are considering separation and/or divorce. Most people turn to therapy when there is a significant problem in their relationship, and as we explained, the Gottman Method is perfectly equipped to help you and your partner sort through difficult problems. But, the methodology can also work well for couples that aren’t having any significant problems. The Gottman Method is focused on making your relationship healthier and stronger, and even happy couples can benefit from this type of therapy. Embracing the Gottman Method will help you navigate current problems, as well as conflicts and problems that arise in the future.

Is the Gottman Method Effective?

The Gottman Method is one of, if not the most, research-based methodology for couples therapy out there. The combined experience of the Drs. Gottman has informed this theory and led to an extremely effective methodology. In addition to being research-based, the Gottman Method has also been the subject of lots of research. Studies using randomized clinical trials have been published in the Journal of Family Therapy and the Journal of Family Psychology endorsing the effectiveness of the Gottman method.

In addition to these studies, many clinical trials have been conducted outside of the United States that also endorse the efficacy of the theory. The Gottman Institute is also in the process of conducting additional research to prove the efficacy of the therapy method. If you’re not sold by the extensive amounts of clinical research, you can also search for testimonials online from couples who have gone through the therapy method themselves. There are lots of videos available online featuring real couples that used and fully endorse the Gottman Method.

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