The Gottman Method
The Gottman Method for Healthy Relationships is a form of couples-based therapy and education that derives from the relationship research of psychologist John Gottman. For more than 40 years, Gottman identified and tested the elements of an enduring relationship. Gottman and his wife, psychologist Julie Schwartz Gottman, created the clinical treatment framework known as the Gottman Method and launched the Gottman Institute, a center for training, research, and education.
One of the major tenets of the Gottman Method is that couples require five times more positive interactions than negative, as negative emotions, like defensiveness and contempt, hurt a relationship more than positive ones heal. As a result, the therapy focuses on developing the skills and understanding necessary for partners to maintain fondness and admiration, turn toward each other to get their needs met, and manage conflict. It also focuses on how couples can react and repair relations when they do hurt each other.
The Gottman Method is a broad-based treatment that serves all couples, at any age, and in any stage of a relationship.
A 12-year study conducted by Gottman found that while gay and lesbian couples have some distinct dynamics, they are comparable to heterosexual couples in many ways, and would benefit similarly from the Gottman Method.
The method can be applied to many relationship problems but may be particularly useful for couples who are:
- Stuck in chronic conflict
- Coping with infidelity
- Struggling with communication
- In a stagnant relationship or emotionally distanced
- Facing difficulties over specific issues, such as money, parenting, or sex
All Gottman Method therapy is based on a couple’s patterns of interacting, and partners learn and implement relationship-building and problem-solving skills together.
Couples begin treatment with an assessment process and an overview of what the Gottman Method is. It continues with:
- Each partner establishing a relationship with the therapist by sharing their history, their relationship philosophy, and their goals for treatment.
- Undergoing a thorough inspection of the union, including engaging in discussion of a topic on which partners disagree.
- Learning the research-derived components of healthy relationships.
- Bolstering the fondness and respect that first brought the partners together.
- Direct coaching from the therapist on interaction skills and developing trust.
- Acquiring tools for checking and maintaining relationship health beyond therapy.
The Gottman Method focuses not only on providing practical skills for managing relationships, but on delivering deeper insight into how the relationship dynamics developed.
The length of treatment depends on the severity of a couple’s challenges. Researchers have studied it using ten sessions as a benchmark, but the duration is ultimately a decision made by the couple and the therapist. In some cases, such as a couple in crisis, treatment is employed intensively over the course of two to four days.
The Gottman Method is built on decades of research and observation into how couples interact. Gottman found that negativity has a strong impact on our brains, and that, unless couples take steps to counteract instances of negativity, they grow apart emotionally. The method identifies and addresses the states of mind and behaviors shown to underlie intimacy and helps partners maintain a positive orientation to each other that can sustain them through upsetting circumstances.
The resulting treatment focuses on the nine components of a healthy relationship, what Gottman calls “The Sound Relationship House.” It includes the following:
- Build Love Maps: Assessing how well partners know each other’s inner world: their hopes, stressors, worries, and desires.
- Share Fondness and Admiration: A focus on the level of respect and tenderness that exists between the couple. Gottman calls this level “the antidote for contempt.”
- Turn Towards Instead of Away: Being aware of your partner and responding when you can sense they need something emotionally.
- The Positive Perspective: Approaching problems and repairing relationship failures with a positive attitude.
- Manage Conflict: While conflict in a relationship is inevitable, and can even sometimes be beneficial, Gottman says, managing it is different from resolving it. Some problems can be fixed, but many relationship conflicts must simply be managed.
- Make Life Dreams Come True: Creating an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about their hopes, values, convictions and aspirations.
- Create Shared Meaning: Understanding important narratives, myths, and metaphors about the relationship.
- Trust: Gottman defines trust as partners knowing that each will think and act in the best interest of the other.
- Commitment: Knowing that your partner will stick with you through the rough patches and work to get through them. It involves a focus on gratitude for who your partner is and what they do in the relationship.
Although individual perspectives and wishes are addressed, all therapy sessions in the Gottman Method are conducted with both partners together, and therapists do not privilege secrets.
While many therapists are familiar with and apply principles from Gottman’s relationship research, a certified Gottman Method therapist has completed several rounds of study and training through the Gottman Institute in Seattle.