What is the Gottman Method?
The Gottman Method is a type of couples therapy that helps partners learn more helpful ways of coping with relationship issues. It was developed by Judy and John Gottman, who have backgrounds in clinical psychology and research. They aimed to create an approach suitable for all couples, irrespective of race, religion, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
The therapeutic goals of the Gottman Method are to:
- Stop conflicting communication
- Increase intimacy, respect, and affection
- Remove barriers
- Improve empathy
Read on for more information to help you decide if the Gottman Method is a good fit for you and your partner.
What can the Gottman Method help with?
The Gottman Method was designed for any couple experiencing relationship issues, such as:
- Sexual difficulties
- Communication problems
- Conflict resolution
- Transition to parenthood
That said, you don’t need to be experiencing relationship strain to benefit from couples therapy. Gottman Method practitioners also encourage the participation of couples with healthy relationships to strengthen their relationship.
Does the Gottman Method work?
There is research supporting the effectiveness of the Gottman Method in improving marital adjustment and intimacy (1) and The Gottman Institute itself has conducted numerous studies supporting its efficacy.
How does the Gottman Method work?
The therapeutic strategies of the Gottman Method aim to strengthen relationships. Therapists focus on the couples’ relationship in three areas:
- Friendship: Increasing closeness and intimacy, and deepen emotional connection.
- Conflict management: The therapist helps couples identify unhelpful patterns of conflict and learn new, more positive ways of interacting. There is a focus on repairing past hurts.
- Creation of shared meaning: Creating change, including changes to friendship and conflict management that enhance the couples’ shared goals.
The interventions used in Gottman Method are based on The Sound Relationship House Theory, also developed by the Gottmans. According to this theory, a healthy relationship consists of the following components:
- Build love maps: Knowing your partner’s inner world
- Share fondness and admiration: Affection and respect
- Turn towards instead of away: Communicate your needs, connect, and be aware of your partner’s efforts to connect with you
- The positive perspective: Take a positive approach to solving problems
- Manage conflict: Handle the inevitable conflict in relationships
- Make life dreams come true: An atmosphere where each partner can talk honestly about their hopes
- Create shared meaning: Understand important visions and narratives about your relationship
Length and frequency of Gottman Method sessions
The frequency and duration of sessions are decided between the couple and therapist, based on individual needs. Couples experiencing relationship strain often need around 15 to 20 sessions.
Structure of Gottman Method sessions
Therapy begins with an initial assessment to determine the strengths and needs of the couple. A conjoint session with the therapist and couple is followed by individual sessions between each partner and the therapist. Here, each partner has the opportunity to describe what has brought them to therapy. Both partners complete questionnaires, and a conflict discussion is filmed.
The therapist uses this information to provide feedback to the couple about their relationship. This feedback from the therapist’s assessment is then followed by goal-setting and discussion with the couple.
Once goals have been agreed upon, the therapeutic intervention starts, as described below.
What happens in a typical Gottman Method session?
The content of a session depends on the needs of each couple and point of progress through therapy.
Typically, however, a session begins with a discussion of current concerns and emotions, which becomes the focus of the session. This is relevant because the Gottman Method is experiential; the therapist works with the couple on emotions and experiences occurring in the present moment, in the therapy room.
Depending on the couples’ goals, the therapist might then teach the couple alternative patterns of interacting with each other. This involves learning skills for:
- Decreasing negative emotion during conflict: This might involve reviewing and discussing conflicts, acknowledging their part, and considering what could be improved; or learning physiological exercises for decreasing their arousal (relaxation exercises to reduce heart rate, for example).
- Managing conflict: In the framework of the Gottman Method, conflict is considered an inevitable and functional part of a relationship. Accordingly, the goal is not to eliminate conflict, but instead to learn more helpful ways of managing it and preventing it from escalating.
- Increasing positive emotions during conflict and outside of conflict situations: This might involve building love maps (described earlier), and encouraging a culture of appreciation for one another.
- Creating shared meaning in the relationship: This might involve discussing shared goals and values, or making rituals of emotional connection (for example, deciding together what dinner time should be like).
What to look for in a therapist for the Gottman Method
There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a Gottman Method therapist, including:
Specialization: Look for a couples therapist who has completed training in the Gottman Method through The Gottman Institute. Therapists often include this information in their biography on their website or online profile.
Qualifications: With so many different provider types available, it can be difficult to decide which type of mental health professional to see. The most important thing is to look for a currently licensed couples therapist. This ensures that your therapist has completed the appropriate level of education to practice. All therapists on Zencare have already been vetted for this purpose.
Personal fit: The trusting relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy. It’s important to work with someone both you and your partner trust and feel understood by - therapy is more likely to be successful when you both feel that the therapist is unbiased and non-judgemental.
The best way to judge how you might feel about a therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. This also allows you to ask about their Gottman Method training, experience, and what therapy will be like. Try to speak to a few different therapists before deciding.
Find therapists specializing in Gottman Method
Find therapists who specialize in Gottman Method on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!
- Davoodvandi, M., 2018, “Examining the Effectiveness of Gottman Couple Therapy on Improving Marital Adjustment and Couples' Intimacy”. Accessed online February 2020 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6037577/
- The Gottman Institute, https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/
- Gottman, J., & Gottman, J., 2008, “Gottman Method Couple Therapy” in “Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy”. PDF accessed online February 2020 at http://ssu.ac.ir/cms/fileadmin/user_upload/vonline/etiad/manabeamoozeshi/Couple_therapy.pdf#page=155