Gottman Therapy

What is Gottman Therapy?

Gottman Therapy is a research-based therapy that aims to help couples build stronger relationships. The therapy posits that conflicts in relationships fall into two categories. They can either be resolved or they are perpetual. Perpetual conflicts are always part of the relationship. They arise from fundamental differences in personalities or lifestyle needs. According to the theory, couples should learn to manage rather than eliminate or avoid these perpetual, unresolvable conflicts. The therapist helps the couple to develop the skills and understanding to do this. Gottman therapy was developed by clinician and researcher John Gottman and is based on his research findings.

How does Gottman Therapy work

Gottman therapy uses the Sound Relationship House as a metaphor for a secure relationship. The House comprises two weight-bearing walls and seven floors. The weight-bearing walls of trust and commitment are considered essential to the overall stability of a relationship. 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 stay together and improve their relationship. The floors provide the structure used to lead the couple through the therapy.

These floors are:

  • enhancing the love
  • nurturing the admiration
  • turning toward each other
  • allowing influence
  • solving the issues that can be changed
  • overcoming gridlock, and
  • creating shared meaning.

The therapist guides the couple through these successive floors to help them achieve a successful, fulfilling relationship. Gottman therapy also identifies factors considered to contribute to relationship difficulties. Referred to as the Four Horsemen, these are: criticism of the partner’s personality, defensiveness, stonewalling or refusing to interact, and contempt. The therapy addresses these factors within the Sound Relationship House framework. Gottman therapy draws on its research base to customise the treatment and enable each couple to manage their particular issues and interaction patterns.

What is Gottman Therapy used for

Gottman therapy focuses on helping couples to develop the skills and understanding they need to manage their perpetual problems. Specific relationship issues that may be addressed include frequent arguments, poor communication, emotionally distanced couples and problems such as sexual difficulties, infidelity, money, and parenting. The therapy is designed to help people at any stage of their relationship, regardless of race, class, cultural identity or sexual orientation.

What can I expect from Gottman Therapy

The therapy generally involves between six and twelve sessions although this can vary depending on the particular interaction patterns and challenges of each couple. The therapy begins with a thorough assessment of the couple’s relationship. This comprises a joint session between the couple and the therapist, followed by individual sessions between the therapist and each partner. Each partner may also be asked to fill in a questionnaire either during the first session or undertaken as ‘homework.’ The therapist draws on this initial assessment to provide feedback to the couple and together develop a treatment plan. Once the treatment plan is agreed upon, the couple attend regular sessions for therapeutic interventions and exercises. The pillars and levels of the Sound Relationship house provide the framework for these activities with each level of the House being linked to different activities. Through participating in the therapy, couples learn to replace negative conflict patterns with positive interactions.

When doesn’t Gottman Therapy work

For the therapy to be effective, both people in the relationship need to be willing to cooperate and contribute. Couples will need to continue using the skills they learn outside the sessions. As a result, those who aren’t prepared to focus on improving their relationship in this way may not benefit from the Gottman Method. In addition, Gottman therapy is not recommended for couples that suffer from physical domestic violence. This issue should be handled by a domestic violence specialist, a shelter, or the police.

Things to consider before choosing Gottman Therapy

Both partners need to be committed, prepared to complete ‘homework’, and willing to apply the skills and understanding outside therapy sessions. The treatment should be undertaken by an appropriately certified therapist.

Harshani Algiriya - Psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne

This content has been reviewed and edited by Counselling in Melbourne Counsellor Harshani Algiriya.

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