What Is the Gottman Method?

Illustration of the Gottman's Sound Relationship House theory

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method is a kind of couples therapy developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Interventions used in the Gottman Method are research-based and grounded in the Sound Relationship House theory, which specifies nine elements of a healthy relationship.

The Gottman Method aims "to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy, and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship."

Background

The Gottman Method is based on decades of research. Over more than 40 years, John Gottman has performed hundreds of empirical studies with over 3,000 couples. During that time, he and his colleague Robert Levenson performed a series of longitudinal studies that found that some marriages end in divorce while others succeed due to the way couples interact.

Married couples' interactions are fairly stable over time, and approximately 69% of problems between partners are never resolved due to differences in couples' personalities.

Of course, every couple argues and has negative interactions. Still, Gottman found that it's the way couples navigate conflict and the emotions they express that will ultimately determine who stays together and who divorces.

First, couples who stay together experience at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction during conflict. In addition, couples who broke up exhibited a high level of behaviors that Gottman refers to as the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," which include:

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Contempt
  • Stonewalling, or withdrawing from interaction

Gottman's research led to his work with his wife, Schwartz Gottman, which resulted in creating the Sound Relationship House theory and the interventions employed by the Gottman Method.

Techniques

The Sound Relationship House theory is the foundation of the Gottman Method. It uses a house as a metaphor for a secure marriage. The theory identifies seven "floors" that a couple can move through to improve their relationship, along with two "weight-bearing walls," which are essential to holding the couple together. These are as follows:

  • Build love maps: This is the first floor of the Sound Relationship House and involves couples getting to know one another's inner psychological worlds.
  • Share fondness and admiration: On this floor, couples learn to overtly express appreciation and respect for each other to strengthen their bond.
  • Turn towards, not away: This floor involves learning to notice when one's partner is seeking attention, affection, and comfort and responding accordingly.
  • The positive perspective: This floor helps partners learn to see one another positively, enabling them to see errors as matters of circumstance, not failures of the individual.
  • Manage conflict: On this floor, couples learn to manage conflict through a three-step process. First, partners take each other's feelings into account. Next, partners learn to discuss their problems. Finally, when a partner starts to feel overwhelmed during conflict, they learn techniques to self-soothe to keep their cool.
  • Make life dreams come true: The second to last floor centers on supporting and championing one's partner in their dreams and goals.
  • Create shared meaning: The top floor mirrors the first floor in that it involves understanding an inner world, but in this case, it's the couple's inner world and entails uncovering the rituals and stories that have shared meaning for them.
  • Trust and commitment: The two weight-bearing walls of the Sound Relationship House help couples work through the seven floors. 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 stick together and improve their relationship.

Clearly, each floor of the Sound Relationship House represents an opportunity for couples to develop new skills that will strengthen their relationship. Gottman therapists use this theory to drive their work with couples.

What the Gottman Method Can Help With

Based on his research, John Gottman maintains that even though couples feel their individual relationships are unique, marital conflicts fall into just two categories: resolvable conflicts and perpetual conflicts. Since a majority of conflicts are perpetual, the Gottman Method specifically centers on helping couples work on learning to live with this kind of conflict.

Given The Gottman Method takes this as its focus, it can help with a wide array of relationship issues, from frequent arguing to infidelity and emotional distance, which may seem unique but at their core are often the result of perpetual conflicts.

The Gottman Method can even help couples who don't feel their level of conflict is problematic but are looking to understand their relationship better. The therapy is designed to help people at any stage of their relationship and regardless of race, class, or cultural identity. Research has shown it is also effective for same-sex couples.

Benefits of the Gottman Method

The Gottman Method is unique in its focus on perpetual versus resolvable conflicts. Understanding this difference is part of how this form of therapy can help couples positively change their relationship. By learning new ways to deal with perpetual conflicts, couples can replace negative conflict patterns with healthier ones.

Also, because the Gottman Method is backed by rigorous research, many of the interventions are specific. They include actionable steps that help couples leave each session understanding what to do to continue to work on their issues outside of therapy.

Moreover, learning these steps will help couples in the long term. Even after therapy, they can continue to apply these skills and techniques, preventing them from falling back into their former negative patterns.

Effectiveness

Studies have demonstrated that the Gottman Method is highly effective. In addition to seeing an individual therapist, the Gottman Institute also offers workshops and retreats.

A randomized clinical trial assessed couples one year after taking either a one-day and two-day workshop or after a workshop followed by nine sessions of Gottman Method couples therapy. The trial found all to be effective. Although the most effective option, which also resulted in the least relapse, was combining a two-day workshop with nine therapy sessions.

Similarly, a study on Gottman Method couples therapy found that after 10 sessions, it was an effective treatment for improving married couples' relationships, compatibility, and intimacy.

What to Expect

Couples therapy using the Gottman Method starts with an assessment, which begins with a joint session between the couple and the therapist.

The therapist speaks with each member of the couple individually. In addition, couples may complete questionnaires developed as part of the Gottman Method. Together, this will enable the therapist to form a thorough picture of the relationship that they can then use to provide feedback to the couple on the stability of their partnership and decide on the interventions that will be most valuable to the couple.

Gottman Method interventions are designed to improve a couples' friendship and their ability to manage conflict. As a result, in therapy, couples will learn to improve interactions to move from negative to positive, deepen emotional connection, and create shared goals.

Gottman Method therapists don't just focus on improving skills within the relationship but also use the research on which the therapy is based to educate couples about the components of healthy relationships. This gives couples increased insight into their relationship dynamics and tools for maintaining their relationship in the long term.

Things to Consider

One of the key things to consider before deciding to see a Gottman therapist is your commitment to working on your relationship. The Gottman Method can be rigorous and intense, and therapists expect couples to continue to use the skills they learn in therapy outside of 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, the Gottman Method is not recommended for couples that suffer from physical domestic violence. While this form of therapy can help with many relationship issues, couples counseling can't change patterns of physical violence. Instead, this issue should be handled by a domestic violence specialist, a shelter, or the police.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How To Get Started

If couples therapy seems like too big a commitment, the Gottman Institute currently offers a two-day workshop, two-day couples retreats, webinars, and a self-paced online coaching program. Workshops and retreats can be completed in-person and online, giving couples extra flexibility. These options will get you started with the Gottman Method and may even be all you need, depending on the level of help you're seeking.

The Gottman Institute offers a directory of Gottman-certified couples therapists for those who want to do couples therapy. In addition to being licensed therapists with an MA or PhD, Gottman therapists have undergone additional training through the Gottman Institute and attained certification in this particular method of couples therapy. In addition to in-person sessions, many Gottman-trained couples therapists are also available for online sessions.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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