Couples Therapy – The Gottman Method

‘Got’ The Gottman Method?

Being in a romantic relationship of any kind can be an exciting, fruitful, fulfilling and even euphoric adventure that many people experience and can benefit from. Like any relationship, however, it does not come without its challenges and rough patches. Sometimes, even in relationships without obvious struggles, you need a little bit of help! And there is no shame in reaching out for guidance, whether for strain and concern in the relationship or for ways to maintain one’s already healthy one (since there is always something we can improve and work on!).

First off, What is the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method is an intervention-based approach grounded on the Sound Relationship House Theory. This metaphorical ‘house’ comprises a healthy relationship’s nine most significant and essential components. Each part relies on the other, and the success of each depends on the previous one (almost like stepping stones across a stream). The main goals of the Gottman Method are to improve communication skills, increase levels of partner intimacy and respect, find a technique to resolve conflict that works for the couple and maintain a caring and tender relationship. There are three main components of the Gottman Method: friendship, conflict management, and the creation of shared goals. The method allows couples to learn how to better their interactions, deepen their emotional connections, and teach healthy habits that result in relationship longevity and quality.

The Sound House Theory:

Imagine a typical house with walls, a foundation, and floors. With specific components, the house will be able to stand. Its structure has walls intertwined with trust and commitment to stabilize said ‘house.’ Healthy components of a relationship make up the floors.

The first floor is building love maps: here, couples get to know each other on a deeper and more emotional level, specifically within their internal and personal thoughts. The next floor is shared fondness and admiration: this is where couples openly express their gratitude and respect for each other. Then, is turning towards, not away: this requires both partners to become aware of each other’s needs and be able to give and take (evenly and within reason). Next is the positive perspective: partners put each other in a positive light on this floor, not regard their imperfections as bad or character flaws.

Following is conflict management: using a 3-step process, couples (1) consider each other’s feelings, (2) learn to discuss the issue at hand openly, and (3) when one or both parties begin to feel overwhelmed, they investigate in techniques that work for them and successfully lower stress levels during these times. Reaching one of the final floors is making each other’s dreams come true: this floor is heavily influenced by supporting and being in each other’s corner to achieve their dreams. Next is creating shared meaning: this is the final floor of the Sound House.

It is very similar to the first floor in terms of delving into and understanding each other’s deep and personal thoughts, but here, it focuses on how sharing their internal thoughts has created shared meaning. Finally, the house’s walls are made up of commitment and trust: without the borders, couples would not be able to explore the other floors of the house. Trust allows for mutual reliability and a sense of teamwork. Commitment provides for stability, stickability and overall improvement of the relationship.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

Despite the title, these traits do not cause the end of the world or the implosion of the earth. However, it describes how they can be problematic and bring tension into a relationship, potentially causing an ‘apocalypse.’ The first horseman is criticism: this can include nit-picking the partner’s flaws, calling out disappointments in the relationship or with one another, correcting one partner and making negative comments about one’s friends and family.

While expressing a complaint or concern can sometimes be necessary, avoiding it sounding like an attack (perhaps using ‘I’ statements to mitigate misunderstanding) is crucial. Next is defensiveness: this occurs when one (or both) partner sees a response as being an attack, so they ricochet back with another; one may also tend to put the blame elsewhere – to avoid this, it is essential to be aware of one’s actions and be able to take accountability. Then there is contempt: this typically entails dismissive and sarcastic commentary and body language. Sometimes, it can stem from unaddressed negative feelings, fueling the fire. Utilizing emotional regulations, awareness of self and resolving minor conflicts before they erupt can effectively elude contempt. 

Lastly is stonewalling: a partner completely shuts off verbally or emotionally due to physiological flooding. At the same time, effective communication is unlikely in this state, so pumping the breaks and making a U-turn back to the conversation later is the best option.

The Takeaway:

Overall, Gottman’s Method aims to help couples see ‘eye to eye’ and become closer and more invested emotionally. This method also serves as something that can (and should) be practised both inside and outside the therapist’s office. While it can help with resolvable conflicts, it significantly helps perpetual conflicts; it can answer the question of ‘how do we handle this’ to eliminate or minimize the feeling of hopefully ‘can I do this?’. If you haven’t ‘got’ the Gottman method yet and would like to, it is doable with support, an open mind, and some practice!