Gottman Therapy: How it Can Help Your Relationship

No one ever said relationships are easy. What’s important is that when things get tough, you and your partner work together to get to a place where you both feel safe and that you can trust the other person. And for many couples, a little guidance and support can make all the difference in finding success together.

Gottman therapy is one process counsellors or therapists give couples the tools they need to build a stronger relationship. Learn more about how the Gottman Method may be part of creating a healthier, more fulfilling partnership between you and your loved one.

What Is the Gottman Method?

This form of therapy was specifically designed to help couples based on the Sound Relationship House Theory. This asserts that by mastering the seven levels or “floors” of a house that make a strong relationship, couples can accomplish their goals for their relationships, including:

  • Improving Communication
  • Disarm Conflicting Verbal Communications
  • Increase Intimacy
  • Grow the Respect Each Partner Has for Each Other
  • Increase Affection
  • Remove the Barriers
  • Eliminate Stagnancy
  • Increase Empathy and Understanding Between Partners

The method aims to accomplish these goals by strengthening each of the nine levels set forth by the theory through various techniques.

How the Gottman Therapy Started

The history of this form of therapy starts with John Gottman. He observed relationships for years until he could identify the predictors to determine with 83% accuracy which couples would divorce or not. By asking a couple to resolve an ongoing dispute, these six signs were predictors of breaking up:

  • Harsh Start to the Conversation — If you start in the negative, you’ll likely end there too.
  • The Four Horsemen of Negativity — Contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling.
  • Flooding — When the negativity is so harsh that it leaves the other shell-shocked.
  • Body Language That Shows Distress — Increased heart rate, rising blood pressure, and adrenaline spike.
  • Failed Discussion Repair Attempts — If one partner tries to de-escalate a conversation but cannot.
  • Bad Memories — Rather than looking back on early days together with admiration, they focus on bad memories without romanticisation.

Based on these predictors, John Gottman began working with his wife, Julie Gottman, to create interventions to improve how couples communicate to work their disagreements more effectively.

The Techniques of the Gottman Method

According to the Gottmans’ Sound Relationship House Theory, there are seven levels to the house and two walls. To communicate effectively and grow together, couples must build their houses with all two walls and seven floors. The Gottmans developed these nine techniques that anyone using the Gottman Method should follow to build each wall and floor.

Create Love Maps

This is the first floor of the house and a crucial foundation. Through Gottman therapy, each partner learns more about the other and how their psychological world works. Some questions you may tackle include:

  • What were the easy times in your life (the smooth roads)?
  • What were the low times (the most challenging climbs)?
  • How has your journey looked so far?
  • Do you have a secret ambition (where do you think your map is taking you)?

Until you understand the other person, you can’t truly come to an agreement on things easily.

Express Fondness and Admiration

Nobody’s perfect, and you’ll never love everything your partner says and does. However, to combat contempt (one of the four horsemen of predicting a break-up), you must enjoy and appreciate what you do love. Expressing your admiration is a simple way to remind yourself what you love most about your partner.

Additionally, by looking back and appreciating the good memories, you’ll avoid dwelling on the bad memories the way doomed couples often do.

Turn Towards Each Other

Rather than turning away from your partner to seek interest, respect, affection, etc., turn towards your partner.  When your partner is seeking affection or conversation, acknowledge and express interest in what they have to say.

Every time you turn towards your partner, you’re making a deposit in the shared, emotional bank account. Then, when going through hard times and you’re feeling unable to turn towards each other, you can rely on those “savings” in your emotional bank account.

Use the Positive Perspective

Your partner will make mistakes, big and small. Errors will be made, whether that’s saying the wrong thing, being forgetful, or not always being considerate. The real question is whether you see every error as a situational slip-up or a moral lacking/an inherent character flaw.

By using a positive perspective in interactions, you can avoid failing repair attempts and keep conversations productive and meaningful.

Manage Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in any close relationship. So rather than avoiding or solving every conflict, the goal of the Gottman Method is to manage the conflict better and ensure conversations are productive. This is done by both partners sharing their feelings. This should be done without criticism or blame.

Next is not to jump into an argument but soothe each other. If you’re becoming flooded with emotion, take a break and allow both of you to calm down. Only then should you proceed with the discussion.

Finally, recognise that not all problems are solvable. The Gottman Method recommends identifying your inflexible, core values and finding a compromise around what is flexible.

Make Life Dreams Come True

To truly be each other’s biggest fans, you need to know what you’re each fighting for. Where do you see yourself, both in the long-term and short-term? What do you want for your life and career?

Once you have identified any of these dreams, even if they’re not fully formed yet, share them with your partner. Ensure that you always create a safe space for the other to share as well without judgments or shame. Now it’s each partner’s job to support the other in achieving their dreams.

Create Shared Meaning

The first step of Gottman therapy is understanding the inner workings of the other person. Now it’s time to understand the inner workings of your relationship.

How does each of you view your relationship? What symbols or narratives are important in defining who you are as a couple? By delving deeper into how you view your relationship, you can begin to make those narratives stronger while dispelling any harmful myths.

The Two “Walls”

As you move through the above seven floors of the house, the two walls of the house must be ever-present and should be strengthened: trust and commitment. While your therapist may spend one session working on creating shared meaning, the two walls should be the foundation of everything you do as a couple.

Trust

Building the seven floors of your Sound Relationship House can put both you and your partner in vulnerable positions. Sharing your secret dreams, outlining the relationship narratives you tell yourself, and mapping out your psychological mind is revealing.

However, each of you must trust the other to be respectful and admiring throughout rather than judgmental or harsh. Without trust, you won’t be able to begin speaking honestly and building your house.

Commitment

Suffering in silence or just breaking up is often the easier route. Working hard to truly build a stronger, better relationship is challenging. But when both people are committed to making things work and willing to do what it takes to improve, Gottman therapy can find true success.

Who Benefits from this Form of Therapy?

According to John Gottman, 69% of what couples fight about are perpetual or “unsolvable” problems. These are the fights you’ll come back to repeatedly due to a difference in core values. However, with Gottman therapy, you can learn how to have these important conversations, find compromises, and disagree without letting contempt enter the picture.

If you want to make things work with your partner but keep getting hung up on the same repetitive fights, it may be time to try Gottman therapy.

Who Shouldn’t Use This Technique?

The Gottman Method is designed for couples needing to get past negativity and back to intimacy, love, and admiration. However, it isn’t intended to solve issues of domestic violence. In fact, the American Domestic Violence Hotline doesn’t recommend therapy with an abuser.

If you’re experiencing domestic violence, call your local domestic violence hotline and seek shelter from someone you trust or a local organisation.

Getting Started with the Gottman Method

Think Gottman therapy may be best for your partner but don’t know where to get started? Here are some things to consider.

What Sessions Will Look Like

Gottman therapy always begins with an assessment of your relationship with your partner. Once your therapist has a complete picture of your relationship, they will get to work on a specific plan that will be most beneficial for you.

While you’re with the counsellor, be prepared to be honest and vulnerable for the best results. The Gottman Method only works when both partners are willing to do the work.

Additionally, the Gottman therapy must extend beyond your therapist’s office. Use the techniques you learn with the counsellor at home as well, and don’t be surprised if you even get assigned a little “homework”.

Where to Go

Signing up with any couple’s therapist may not lead you to a Gottman therapy practitioner. If you’re looking for a counsellor who specialises in Gottman therapy, such as the Counselling in Melbourne psychologists, take a close look at their website or give them a call.

If you don’t have counsellors near you who practice Gottman therapy, there are also free resources on the Gottman Institute’s site to learn more or discover webinars and retreats for you and your partner to attend.

Start Strengthening Your Relationships

If your relationship is worth fighting for, and you’re willing to put in the work, Gottman therapy is an excellent form of intervention to save a couple that’s been flooded by negativity. If you think you and your partner would benefit from the Gottman Method, discover counsellors near you, so you can start improving your relationship today.

No one ever said relationships are easy. What’s important is that when things get tough, you and your partner work together to get to a place where you both feel safe and that you can trust the other person. And for many couples, a little guidance and support can make all the difference in finding success together.

Gottman therapy is one process counsellors or therapists give couples the tools they need to build a stronger relationship. Learn more about how the Gottman Method may be part of creating a healthier, more fulfilling partnership between you and your loved one.

About the editor, Harshani Algiriya

I'm a Senior Counsellor with over 15-years of experience as a counsellor supporting clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. I treat Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, PTSD, Grief, Trauma and Parenting issues, with Relationships (marriage and individuals) being a special interest that I have a lot of passion working with. I use a range of treatment modalities based on the presenting issues and often uses them in combination to achieve the best result for my clients. Find out more about Harshani here.
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