The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy and the Importance of Finding a Certified Gottman Therapist

By Terri A. Ammirati, LCPC.

Does love really cure all? Over the past 50 years, social epidemiologists have proven that loving relationships, whether romantic or friendly, contribute to a longer and healthier life.

But, it takes hard work for love to stay strong and unleash its potential. It’s almost unfair the way negative emotions can creep into a relationship and refuse to let go while trust can be lost in a second. So how can you bring positive emotions back? How do you build trust and commitment?

The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy provides you with easy-to-follow tools to deepen your relationship with your partner and find long-term happiness. The Gottman Approach is the result of over 40 years of research and 12 studies with over 3,000 couples.

In this post, we’ll discuss briefly how the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy was developed and what it involves. We’ll also explain how a certified Gottman Therapist differs from other couples therapists.

The Findings of Dr. John Gottman’s Research 

In 1972, Dr. John Gottman in collaboration with Dr. Robert Leverson began doing research on relationships. They observed over 3,000 couples and followed with some for up to 20 years. The research was multidimensional and extensive. Gottman’s research was able to predict with 90% accuracy which couples will divorce and which will stay married. They identified that couples who were in happy stable relationships had a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions during disagreements. Happy couples in stable relationships also showed more affection, interest, and humor during conflict discussions.

But not all interactions are corrosive. They identified that there are four ways of interacting that are the best predictors of divorce and labeled them the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”.

  • Criticism: expressing disapproval and placing blame on your partner. The focus is on their overall character instead of a specific incident (e.g., “You’re lazy” or “You never do the dishes”)
  • Contempt: similar to criticism. Except that it comes from a position of superiority and includes mockery or faces of disgust. Contempt is the single most detrimental behavior that jeopardizes not only the future of a relationship but also the immune system of the recipient.
  • Defensiveness: as a response to criticism, the accused partner refuses to take responsibility and tries to shift the blame.
  • Stonewalling: as a response to contempt, the partner enters a fight-or-flight mode and shuts down communication.

The antidotes to the Four Horsemen are expressing a complaint, accepting responsibility, and showing appreciation.

Another dysfunctional communication pattern that was identified later on is emotional withdrawal. Emotional withdrawal is characterized by the absence of positive behavior during conflicts, such as humor, empathy, or affection.

Exhibiting positive behavior during a quarrel can prevent stonewalling. A little joke or an understanding head nod mitigate the recipient’s physiological arousal and, therefore, restore their access to empathy and active listening. Playing nice doesn’t work like magic, though. A partner will respond positively to humor or any other repair attempt only if the overall behavior of their partner has consistently been respectful and kind.

The Development of The Sound Relationship House Theory

Following his research, Drs. John and Julie Gottman began to develop the Sound Relationship House theory in 1994. The theory pinpointed the nine components of a healthy relationship:

  • Build love maps to get to know each other’s inner world.
  • Share fondness and admiration by showing appreciation and respect.
  • Turn towards instead of away by being honest about your needs and leveraging every opportunity to connect with your partner.
  • The positive perspective is following a positive approach to problem-solving and repair attempts.
  • Manage conflict according to whether the problem at hand is circumstantial or symptomatic of a perpetual situation, like differences in character. It’s also important to understand that conflict has a healthy component and can bring positive change.
  • Make life dreams come true by fostering an environment in which each partner is encouraged to speak openly about their aspirations.
  • Create shared meaning by understanding the inner workings of your relationship.
  • Trust that your partner always acts in your best interest and will provide consistent support.
  • Commitment through believing that this relationship is for life and working towards improving it. Focusing on negative qualities will lead to an “I can do better” thinking, which can make you turn to imaginary or real alternatives. Eventually, lack of commitment unmistakably leads to betrayal and dissolution.

What to Expect During the Gottman Method Couples Therapy

The first step of the Gottman Method Couples Therapy is assessment. The couple does two rounds of interviews with the therapist, the first one together and the second one separately. They also fill out individually online questionnaires that will give the therapist extensive feedback as to the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship.

After the assessment period, the therapist and couple meet for a feedback session. In this session, the therapist and the couple will agree on the duration and frequency of therapy as the therapist explains the interventions.  Based on the principles of The Sound Relationship House Theory, the interventions focus on three primary areas: friendship, conflict management, and the creation of shared meaning. The goal is to help the couple establish healthy and open communication and deepen their relationship and intimacy.

Why Should We Choose A Certified Gottman Therapist?

A certified Gottman Therapist has gone through extensive and comprehensive 3-level training. Therefore, finding a certified Gottman Therapist guarantees that this person knows how to do couples work, (which in and of itself is highly specialized) and processes a skill set based on the “Gold Standard” of couples therapy.

You don’t have to be in a turbulent relationship or marriage to seek counseling. The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy can benefit any couple that wants to maintain a strong relationship that is based on healthy communication, commitment and trust.

Terri A. Ammirati
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