[DA0061] Gottman Method

The Gottman Method is a type of therapy which helps couples to improve their relationship. It is based on scientific facts derived from the analysis of the behaviors of thousands of different couples over a long period of time. It aims to increase intimacy, understanding, and respect, and to remove harmful barriers which prevent productive communication and development.

Gottman Method: What is it?

The Gottman method was devised by Dr. John Gottman. He was originally a mathematician who became intrigued about the dynamics of relationships and what makes them work or fail.  In the 1980s and 90s, he set up a laboratory apartment where he observed volunteer couples, doing normal, everyday things. He videotaped the sessions and analyzed them. Later, he began to do more revealing experiments and he would use monitors to observe the heart rates of couples during arguments. Another gadget recorded how much they fidgeted during a confrontation. He continued his research with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, and he began to observe a wider range of couples. He studied over 3,000 different couples of all ages, races, backgrounds, and walks of life. The reactions of the couples were recorded every four years, and over a period of nearly forty years Dr. Gottman built up an incredible amount of data.

Thanks to his statistical background he converted all these observations into usable information. He used a complex coding system to track different emotional signs, like rolling of the eyes, fidgeting, sweaty palms, racing heartbeats, sighs, as well as the spoken words. Then, using advanced computer programs he was able to see trends and to develop mathematical models, formulas, and scales which gave him an incredible insight into human relationships and what makes a marriage function. While every person is, of course, unique, and each relationship different, Dr. Gottman discovered, somewhat surprisingly, that many couples display the same patterns of behavior. He was able to identify different elements which make a relationship last or make it break up and he isolated certain variables which allowed him to predict the future of a relationship.

He claims to be able to predict with a 91-percent accuracy rate, as to whether a relationship will end in divorce, after only observing and analyzing the way a couple behaves during a short argument.  He also discovered that 69-percent of all ‘happily’ married couples never resolve their conflicts. Dr. Gottman has managed to quantify something as intangible as love and marriage.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, John’s wife, a clinical psychologist, started to work with her husband, and in 1994, they decided to unite their talents. The complement of his statistical data and scientific dispassion, combined with her therapeutic knowledge and experience, led them to develop the Gottman Method Couples Therapy.

Gottman Method Theory

The Gottman Method Theory aims to increase friendship and closeness in couples. It does this by showing them ways to deal with problems and conflicts in a positive way. Not all conflicts have a solution, but the theory is that you can learn to live with it and not allow it to destroy your relationship. The theory also focuses on building a shared life together. That involves being more attentive and considerate to your partner. Making tiny positive changes in small, everyday things can make the relationship more stable, supportive, and stronger so that it can grow and develop.

How Does Gottman Method Suggest the Mind Works?

The research behind the Gottman method suggests that negativity has a huge impact on the brain and that if it is allowed to continue it will emotionally distance and eventually separate a couple. Many couples unknowingly react in negative ways which can deteriorate the relationship. The Gottman method suggests that by reducing negative responses and by replacing them with positive ones, the relationship can prosper.

The Gottman Method identifies nine principals which the couple must work through together in order to nourish and maintain their association.

Love maps. This involves having more empathy and understanding of your partner. To concern yourself with how they really feel and what emotions and stresses they are dealing with.

Fondness and admiration. Couples who express their fondness and feelings of admiration towards each other are more likely to be able to resolve any problems they may have.

Turn to each other. The Gottman’s call this the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ which increases in couples who treat each other with concern and respect and look to one another for support.

Accepting Influence. Relationships involve give and take. Compromise is essential to maintain the balance of power.

Problem-solving. By using these strategies couples can learn to solve their problems. When things get tense, they can soothe the situation and promote constructive dialogue.

Manage conflict. The Gottman method allows couples to find ways to manage their conflicts, through tolerance and understanding based on respect and concern for one another. Not all conflicts have a solution, but this method lets couples find ways to deal with conflicts for the benefit of the relationship.

Create shared meaning. Being in a relationship means that you look to improve your life through the relationship. The connection between two people is made up of lots of little thoughts, words, and actions which together can create a lifelong unity which empowers them to get through the difficult times, together.

Trust. Knowing that your partner is acting in your best interest.

Commitment. Knowing that you are both staying in the relationship through thick and thin and working on making it better for both.

Gottman’s Four Horsemen

Gottman identified four negative factors which are the most destructive in a relationship and which are found much less frequently in healthy relationships. The presence of these factors predicts the failure of a relationship. He called them the ‘Four Horseman’, referring to the biblical image of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are –

Criticism. Criticizing your partner implies that you think there is something wrong with them. Saying things like ‘You never’ or ‘You always’ is like a global attack. It is better to make a direct complaint about something specific.

Defensiveness. Most people defend themselves when they feel that they are being attacked and this can escalate the scale of the disagreement. Instead, listen to the complaint and accept some shared responsibility for it.

Stonewalling. This can involve just refusing to talk or actually walking out on the discussion. 80-percent of men use this technique when they feel overwhelmed emotionally. Taking a break and lowering the tone of the disagreement can help.

Contempt. Treating your partner as inferior or mocking them is the most serious of the four horsemen. This can cause a deep hurt and resentment which can be hard to heal, but which with therapy can be overcome.

How Does the Gottman Method Cause Change?

Often, people fall into a way of dealing with their partner which makes disagreements or problems worse. The Gottman method causes change by first identifying problem areas and then learning positive reactions and responses to enhance the relationship, rather than using negative ones that can destroy it. Therapy focuses on replacing negative emotions such as contempt and defensiveness, with positive communication skills that promote the development and continuation of the relationship. Therapy focuses on three key areas- friendship, managing conflicts, and creating shared goals.

What Happens in a Gottman Method Session?

The therapist meets first with the couple to assess the marriage. This may include asking them to discuss a topic over which they disagree. Then, the therapist meets with each one individually and asks them to share their personal version of the history and the future of the relationship. Together they will decide on the frequency of the meetings and the goals of treatment. Therapy sessions are always conducted with both partners present, and the therapist does not take sides or privilege secrets.

First, the couple will be asked to fill out over thirty pages of questions. Their response to these questions allows a trained Gottman Therapist to identify where the problems in the relationship lie. The questions are formulated to give the therapist insight into the dynamics of the relationship so that he or she can guide the therapy sessions in the direction that the couple needs.

In the initial sessions, couples will learn about what are the components which have been discovered through research, that are essential to building and maintaining healthy relationships.

They will then be given simple exercises to do which will build their respect and fondness for each other. This often involves recalling when the relationship started, and the things that initially attracted them one to another.

As therapy progresses, the couple will learn practical skills such as getting over arguments, making up, and how to respond positively rather than negatively. They will be asked to practice exercises both in the session and at home. The couple will be encouraged to learn more about each other. By knowing the innermost hopes, fears, and desires of their partner they can build a stronger empathy and desire to make the relationship work. The therapist will teach them interactive skills which they will be able to use to maintain the relationship functioning after therapy has finished.

Techniques Used in the Gottman Method

The responses noted by the couple in the questionnaires are analyzed statistically and compared with research findings. Sessions are videotaped so that facial reactions and body language can be monitored, and sound recorded to analyze the way in which words are spoken, as well as the words themselves. Frequently heart and pulse-rate monitors are used as well as other methods to measure sweaty palms and other nervous movements.

Couples Therapy

The Gottman method is used mostly with couples, but the principals can also be applied to individuals, children, or to groups, in specially designed therapy courses.

Does the Gottman Method Work?

If the couple is committed to improving their relationship the Gottman method works. Both people need to be open and honest about their goals and aims and have a genuine desire to make the relationship better.

What Kinds of Concerns is the Gottman Method Best For?

The Gottman method can help any relationship improve. It can be used in newly-weds who are just beginning to discover the intricacies of married life. Or, it can work for long-married couples who have just got stuck in a rut. Even happily married couples can discover new ways to enhance their relationship. It is very beneficial in couples where the conflict is repeated and chronic and they cannot find a way to deal with it. Sometimes it can be used in situations of infidelity, abuse, or destructive behavior. Anxiety, trauma, depression, domestic violence, abuse, and multi-cultural issues can all be dealt with using the Gottman method.

How Are Specialists in the Gottman Method Trained?

A certified Gottman practitioner must have completed an intensive training course in the Gottman Method Couples Therapy with the Drs. John and Julie Gottman, at the Gottman Institute. Practitioners are licensed psychotherapists who hold a Masters’ degree or a doctorate. They receive training in four specific levels of the Gottman approach and learn many different ways to identify problems and to develop strategies to deal with them.

The Gottman Institute

The Gottman Institute is located in Seattle. Here, the doctors Guttman train therapists, give workshops and retreats and provide take-home training material for couples seeking to improve their relationship.

Concerns/Limitations of Gottman Method

Some people do not accept the methods used in his research and the validity of the results and figures that Dr. Gottman has published.

Important Practitioners in Gottman Method

Many therapists incorporate Dr. Gottman’s findings and techniques in their treatments.

John Gottman

John Gottman was born in the Dominican Republic, 1959. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology, from the University of Washington and holds various Masters degrees, in Mathematics, Psychology, and Physics. He has published more than 190 papers and has authored or co-authored forty books. He has received many professional awards and honors throughout his career.

How to Find a Therapist

You can find a Gottman trained therapist through their website or Facebook page. Also, your health practitioners may know of certified therapists in your area.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Look for a therapist who has completed the four stages of training at the Gottman Institute, and who holds a current state license to practice psychotherapy. Check out their website to see comments from other couples. Find a therapist with whom both yourself and your partner feel comfortable with, as developing an honest trustful relationship with your therapist is important for therapy to be effective. 

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

-How often will therapy sessions take place and how long does the session last?

-How long is a course of therapy?

-Are the sessions conducted together as a couple?

-Will we have homework?

Find a Therapist Now

You can find a therapist in your area by calling the Gottman Institute toll free at 888-523-9042, or by email to couples@gottman.com or through their website https://www.gottman.com/couples/private-therapy/

The Gottman Method is a scientifically based therapy method which has helped many couples to improve their relationships. Its success depends on the desire of the participants to make positive changes in their behavior to benefit the relationship. Unlearning negative conducts, and learning new positive ways to resolve problems, can help people to overcome conflicts in the relationship, and many people have benefited from the discoveries made by Dr. John Guttman’s research combined with the therapy techniques of his wife Julie.








author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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