The Scientific Magic of Gottman Therapy

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The Scientific Magic of Gottman Therapy

If you have sought couple’s therapy before or have a passing interest in therapy, chances are you’ve heard of Gottman Therapy. Gottman Method Couples Therapy is a combination of several therapy approaches and interventions put together in a way that has shown to be one of the most helpful for couples. It was developed by John and Julie Gottman, a researcher and therapist power couple who spent over a decade developing this approach to therapy. John Gottman famously stated that he could predict if couples would stay together or separate with 90% accuracy in the first ten minutes of a meeting using the methods he developed. Gottman therapy is widely taught and used by many different kinds of therapist and can be useful for couples dealing with nearly any issue.

One of the benefits of Gottman therapy is how research-backed it is. Gottman Therapy has been widely studied--both by the Gottmans themselves in developing the theory and in countless research studies since. Part of the development of Gottman Therapy included research in the “Love Lab,” where couples would stay in an apartment for a few days. Here, they would be recorded all day so their interactions could be analyzed by researchers. The partners would be hooked up to equipment that would measure physical reactions like their heart rate, and frequent interviews would be conducted to learn what each person was thinking throughout their time in the Love Lab. This research was vital in the Gottmans developing their basic ideas about how relationships work and what leads them to fail.

Gottman therapy focuses on the communication between partners and helps them to come up with their own solutions to the problems they bring to therapy. Every aspect of Gottman therapy corresponds with an assessment that couples can complete and a specific intervention or skill they can practice. This makes it very easy to focus on exactly what a couple is having trouble with and provides direct results. Some of the basic tenets of Gottman therapy include the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Sound Relationship House.

The Four Horsemen

The Four Horsemen include four different patterns of how partners talk to each other that are unhealthy and tend to lead to more conflict. These patterns include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Criticism includes complaints and verbal attacks that are personal. They are different than genuine complaints in that they are attacks on a person’s character and being rather than intended to solve a problem. Contempt is often viewed as a heightened version of criticism and includes insults and comments that are meant to be sarcastic, wounding, and disrespectful. When present, contempt is considered by the Gottmans to be the single best predictor of if a couple will stay together or separate. Defensiveness is a response to criticism or contempt and is a reversing or avoidance of blame. Stonewalling is when a person withdraws, shuts down, or stops responding to their partner. While some couples may find it helpful to take breaks when arguments get heated, stonewalling is shutting down without explaining or letting the partner know that a break is needed, which can lead to feeling hurt and continued arguments. The Gottmans also identified a solution to each of the Four Horsemen that couples can work to strengthen in therapy.

The Sound Relationship

The Sound Relationship House breaks down important parts of a relationship into levels--or floors of the house--that a therapist can analyze to find strengths and growth areas. Some of these levels focus on how much partners know about each other, how they solve disagreements, and how their goals for their relationship and future align. A therapist can assess a couple to determine what areas are strengths for a couple and which they could improve. A therapist can then guide the couple through exercises that are specifically focused on the areas of the Sound Relationship House that the couple needs to strengthen. 

A broader aspect of Gottman Therapy relies on the couple strengthening their ability to listen effectively and communicate thoughts in ways that are productive. Many tools in Gottman Therapy are described as “speaker-listener” activities, where the therapist helps guide the couple into communicating better with each other rather than the therapist. This helps ensure that partners are building skills with directly, rather than only communicating with the therapist. 

As a whole, Gottman Therapy is very specific and goal-driven. Because of how precise it can be, Gottman Therapy may be completed more quickly than other kinds of therapy. Treatment can be catered to be more short-term and focused on solutions, or it can be drawn out to help a couple of process conflicts and grow stronger over a longer period of time. It can be used as a preventative treatment for a couple expecting a difficult change, or as a way to process an issue after it has happened--whether it happened yesterday or twenty years ago.

If you’re interested in learning more about Gottman Method Couples Therapy, you can check out the Gottmans’ website at www.gottman.com. Sierra Stein is a couple and family therapist intern at Clarity Clinic and is Level 2 trained in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Call us at 219-595-0043 or check out Sierra’s bio at claritynwi.com for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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