The Gottman Method of Relationship Therapy is a specialized type of research-based intervention focused on assisting couples work through barriers of communication and conflict. Couples that opt to can engage in ongoing relationship counseling using Gottman tools.
Over the past 40 years, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman have been quietly revolutionizing the study of marriage, conducting research on what makes a marriage work. Together, the Gottmans have developed tools to help troubled relationships and to strengthen happy relationships.
The Gottman Seven Principles
The Gottmans have found that they can predict marital stability and divorce rates in couples by looking at the presence or absence of 4 negative interactions between couples: being critical of your partner’s personality, being contemptuous of your partner, acting defensively with your partner, and stonewalling or withdrawing emotionally from your partner.
The Gottman method uses 7 principles to increase respect, affection, and intimacy between partners, and to move couples from negative interactions toward positive ones. The therapeutic model enhances a couple’s friendship with each other, their ability to manage conflict and to create shared meaning. At its core, the Gottman method teaches couples to prevent their negative thoughts and emotions about each other from overwhelming their positive thoughts and emotions. Happy marriages require a bedrock of deep friendship.
1. Learning and Building Love Maps
Couples with strong love maps know about their partner’s world. They know about their partner’s fears and stressors, their friendships, their dreams. They keep up to date with the events in their partner’s life. The proverbial daily question for this principle seems to be “What’s up doc?” Asked on a daily basis, this question helps elicit and update your intimate knowledge of your partner’s life.
2. Nurture Fondness and Admiration
Fondness and admiration are vital components for a healthy marriage. If a couple has a functioning system that allows them to feel some measure of fondness and admiration for each other, their marriage is salvageable. Even with a marriage that is in trouble now, if a couple can look back to their past with fondness and admiration, the relationship is workable.
Gottman’s therapeutic method works with these feelings, teaching a couple to enhance them in the relationship. Couples learn to unbury positive feelings and to cultivate feelings of appreciation for their partner. Talking about positive shared past experiences can help fan current positive feelings, recharging a troubled relationship. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, strengthening both the relationship bond and each partner’s feelings toward the other.
3. Learning to Turn Toward Each Other, Not Away
Couples have an emotional bank account. Those who turn toward each other, even about the mundane tasks of everyday living, put money into their emotional bank account. Those who turn away from each other, deplete their emotional savings.
A husband who asks his wife if they are out of carrots while the two are shopping, is making a bid toward his wife. If his wife ignores him, she turns away from him. If on the other hand, she responds that she is not sure but that they should get some just in case, she is turning toward her husband and in that little action, making a deposit into the couples’ romantic bank account.
The Gottman method teaches a couple how to turn toward and rely on each other both to keep the romantic fires burning and to help keep the stresses of life from eating away at the relationship.
4. Letting Your Partner Influence You
Learning to yield ground on a sticky marital matter is often a matter of learning to share power between partners. When one partner is continually unwilling to yield power to the other partner, both partners often end up unhappy. The Gottman method teaches partners to include the other in decision making, leading to positive feelings toward the other partner in the place of continuing conflict. It also means being willing to compromise. This might mean putting the toilet seat back down for a husband, or working through a scheduling conflict between partners rather than insisting on having your own way.
5. Solve Those Problems That Are Solvable
Unfortunately, not all marital problems are solvable. One partner wants children, the other does not; one partner is a clean freak, the other is a slob; one partner wants sex every night, the other wants sex once a week. A couple can spend years arguing about these kinds of differences without ever solving the differences between them.
However, lots of problems are solvable. The trick is how a couple approaches solvable problems. The Gottman method teaches each partner to soften their approach when bringing up touchy issues, how to initiate and accept relationship repair attempts, how to soothe yourself and your partner, how to compromise, and how to learn tolerance for each other’s shortcomings. This is a method of communicating about problems that incorporate respect, humor and finding common ground.
6. Moving Past Gridlock
Feeling hopelessly stuck or gridlocked over an unsolvable problem can feel terrible. Moving past gridlock doesn’t mean solving an unsolvable problem. It means learning to discuss a problem without hurting each other and then learning to live peacefully with it.
Unfulfilled dreams can fuel conflict in a relationship. One of the goals in a good marriage is to help a partner fulfill their dreams. In an unsolvable problem, those dreams may go unexpressed, or when they are expressed, the partners find themselves in opposite corners regarding the issue.
Recognizing and understanding a partner’s dreams is an important first step to overcoming gridlock. It is important to support your partner’s dreams even if those dreams are the issue at gridlock. Soothing ourselves and our partners while making peace with the issue and with each other involves a level of acceptance, and is key to being able to continue to discuss the problem. The Gottman method teaches couples how to uncover dreams and work past unsolvable problems.
7. How to Create Shared Meaning
In a relationship, it is possible and desirable to create a culture together. We create our family customs and our stories that we tell each other over time. We create a deeper sense of being together that moves beyond jobs, and raising children. This shared meaning, or deeper side of our relationships can come from understanding who we are separately and together in our relationships. This deeper level of shared meaning is the “us” and all the things that form and are part of “us.” The Gottman method seeks to help couples uncover and form deeper shared meaning, enhancing the relationship.
Couples, whether in trouble or just seeking to deepen their relationship can benefit greatly from working with the Gottman method. Working with the Gottman method can move your relationship toward more happiness and less conflict, and empower both you and your partner.
PeoplePsych’s therapists specialize in couples counseling. Choosing to see someone is a hard step – take time to find the therapist that is right for you.