Updated: Aug 10, 2022
The Gottman Method
With divorces on the rise and birth rates falling, it's clear that there are issues that need resolving in many contemporary relationships. Couples' therapy is one of the various ways people often look to repair rifts in their relationships. Engagement with couples therapy is growing, too, as millennials are using the service more than any other generation. However, this presents an interesting dilemma: why are divorces and breakups happening more often if so many young people choose to confront their relationship problems using couples therapy? With around 50% of marriages ending in divorce, we must question the efficacy of couples therapy and whether the current mainstream approach is working as effectively as it should. In response to this, Drs John and Julie Gottman have produced a method of couples therapy that is both practical and effective. It addresses many issues stemming from commonly used techniques and allows for a more realistic approach to fixing a relationship. Since its conception, this new form of therapy, termed the Gottman Method, has received high success rates for relationship improvement, partner satisfaction and overall wellbeing within and outside of the couple (Findley, 2020).
Traditional Couples Therapy
Over the last few decades, the most commonly practiced forms of couples therapy have been based around active listening, which is creating a platform for partners to voice concerns. The premise of this method is promising – if partners are taught a technique that allows them to speak and listen openly and honestly, this will resolve many issues before they have the chance to escalate. However, research has shown that this form of behavioral therapy does not display long-term success rates (Weger et al., 2014). One study indicated that the technique was not implemented healthily by many couples in the medium to long term and instead devolved into a way for partners to degrade and insult each other while ensuring their continued attention (Cornelius et al., 2007). Furthermore, another study found that the method was typically only effective as it allowed the speaker to vent and wasn't an effective way for the listener to receive and process criticism (Halford, Hahlweg, & Dunne, 1990). A method of therapy that can result in such a toxic outcome is ineffective at best and counter-productive at worst. There is an apparent gulf between each partner's emotions that hinders communication when practicing active listening. This gap in understanding was filled by Drs John and Julie Gottman, who developed a novel therapeutic approach in response to the unreliable success rates of traditional couple's therapy.
The Gottman Method: Why Does it Work?
The Gottman method moves beyond the traditional couples therapy template and integrates more grounded and holistic principles within its therapeutic approach. It also discards the common pitfalls present within standard behavioral therapy templates (Navarra & Gottman, 2013). The Gottman method uses the Sound Relationship House Theory as a theoretical framework (Navarra & Gottman, 2015). Essentially, this framework outlines the various steps and processes required to foster an understanding of your partner's point of view and feelings and resolve the underlying issues that produce discord in a relationship (Navarra & Gottman, 2015). As a behavioral therapy technique, this approach first involves the creation of 'love maps' by each partner. This document is supposed to express feelings and concerns in a healthier way than face-to-face discussion (Gottman & Gottman, 2017). By beginning the therapy with this step, the Gottman method bypasses much of the emotional intensity inherent in active listening and cinematic immersion that has been evidence to produce frequent conflict between partners.
Once these issues are raised in the love map, the therapy transitions into encouraging partners to share fondness and admiration (Gottman & Gottman, 2017). It is thought that if the couple expresses affection towards each other following the potentially problematic love map, some of the negative emotions associated with that practice can be turned into appreciation for the partner's upsides while having felt that their concerns have been addressed (Meunier, 2017). Partners are then encouraged to reach out to each other and communicate during times of marital discord, in a step labelled the 'turn towards instead of away' phase. They are encouraged to approach issues with a positive perspective and understand each other's outlook. This technique is structured to promote a more wholesome environment to vent frustration, hoping to prevent the toxicity that can emerge in active listening. The ultimate end goal of this therapy is to foster a 'shared meaning' between partners – a way for each to understand the other while simultaneously working together to advance themselves and live a happy life (Gottman et al., 2019).
The Bottom Line
Because of this holistic and considerate methodology, the Gottman method remains the most effective form of couples therapy currently in popular psychology. By negating the volatility of the initial phase of raising concerns and encouraging positive perspectives going into therapy, this method has shown higher efficacy than active listening, as some studies have indicated a success rate of almost 70% (Gottman, Gottman & Abrams, 2019). This realistic and thoughtful approach to couples therapy has been formulated after decades of research on the part of the Gottmans. This is reflected in how well-considered each part of the therapy is, as it provides the benefits of active listening but goes further and encourages a wholesome environment for couples to communicate. If any couple is serious about addressing their issues in an environment proven to work, then the Gottman method is the way to go about it.
Esther is trained in the Gottman Method Couples Therapy Level 3, Gottman Couples & Addiction, and Gottman Treating Affairs and Trauma. She has been personally trained by Dr. John and Julie Gottman. For more information about Couples Therapy click here. Esther provides couples coaching worldwide, coaching does not label one of you as the problem or treating a disorder, it is meant to change the system.
Although you may feel your situation is unique, Dr. Gottman has found in his research that all marital conflicts fall into two categories: Either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual, which means they will be part of your lives forever, in some form or another.” Dr. Gottman says that 69% of marital conflicts are perpetual problems, and these are of particular focus in much of the work performed by Gottman-trained therapists.
The Gottman Method is designed to support couples across all economic, racial, sexual orientation, and cultural sectors.
Some of the relationship issues that may be addressed in therapy include:
Frequent conflict and arguments
Emotionally distanced couples on the verge of separation
Specific problems such as sexual difficulties, infidelity, money, and parenting
Even couples with “normal” levels of conflict may benefit from the Gottman Method Couples Therapy. As a therapist trained in the Gottman method I aim to help couples build stronger relationships overall and healthier ways to cope with issues as they arise in the future.
Cornelius, T. L., Alessi, G., & Shorey, R. C. (2007). The effectiveness of communication skills training with married couples: does the issue discussed matter?. The Family Journal, 15(2), 124-132.
Farrell, W. (2000). Women can't hear what men don't say: Destroying myths, creating love. Penguin.
Findley, K. M. (2020). Therapy at Your Doorstep: Examination of Home-Based Gottman Method Couples Therapy (Doctoral dissertation, California Southern University).
Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (2017). The natural principles of love. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 9(1), 7-26.
Gottman, J., Gottman, J., Abrams, R., & Abrams, D. (2019). Eight Dates: To keep your relationship happy, thriving and lasting. Penguin UK.
Halford, W. K., Hahlweg, K., & Dunne, M. (1990). The cross-cultural consistency of marital communication associated with marital distress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 487-500.
Meunier, V. (2017). Gottman method couples therapy. In Behavioral, Humanistic-Existential, And Psychodynamic Approaches To Couples Counseling (pp. 113-147). Routledge.
Navarra, R. J., & Gottman, J. M. (2013). Gottman Method Couple Therapy: From Theory to Practice. In Case Studies in Couples Therapy (pp. 369-382). Routledge.
Navarra, M. E. R. J., Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2015). Sound relationship house theory and relationship and marriage education. In Evidence-based approaches to relationship and marriage education (pp. 115-129). Routledge.
Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (2017) Couples Therapy for Adults Experiencing Relationship Distress: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines
Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (2015). Active Listening. Martino Publishing
Weger Jr, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.