Relationships ebb and flow, like the waves of the sea. They flow with intimacy, passion, and fun and then at times wane through periods of separateness, conflict, and stress. Relationships require active attention, effort and care, especially during the hard times. Regardless of where you are—in the highs of attachment and connection or the lows of conflict and disconnection, couples therapy can be an incredibly valuable experience to help strengthen and anchor your bond. There are several different approaches to couples therapy. One of the most popular is the Gottman Method. Developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, the Gottman Method has successfully helped countless couples repair and restore their partnerships. Our therapists use Gottman Method interventions to help clients develop positive dynamics with their partners.
Happily ever after simply means that both partners are known, valued, accepted for who they are and who they are becoming. The goal is to be able to love your partner more deeply each and every year you’re together.”John M. Gottman
Steps in the Gottman Method
The idea to start couples counseling is often one that couples have played with, but often avoided until absolutely necessary. You and your partner may feel nervous or unsure of what to expect from this type of therapy. Learning about the process can help ease any anxiety you may have about starting therapy.
Gottman Method couples therapy begins with a thorough assessment of the relationship and each partner’s emotional state which is done through an extensive questionnaire about the important areas of your relationship. Typically, the therapist speaks with both partners in a joint session before interviewing each person individually as part of the assessment process.
The Gottman Method involves several broad goals that help you understand and address the problems in your relationship.
Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts.”John M. Gottman
Building the Sound Relationship House
One of the main philosophies of the Gottman Method is the Sound Relationship House, which is a representation of the nine components of a healthy relationship. The house has two pillars, commitment and trust, which are necessary for upholding the other levels of the house. According to the Gottman Method, the other seven qualities of a strong relationship include the following:
- Build love maps: Understand your partner’s inner world, including their history, stressors, hopes, and joys.
- Share fondness and admiration: Develop oand/r strengthen your affection for one another.
- Turn toward instead of away: Communicate your own needs and respond to your partner’s needs.
- The positive perspective: Take a positive approach to solving problems, including allowing your partner to influence you rather than viewing your partner as an adversary.
- Manage conflict: Accept that conflict is a natural part of a relationship and learn to handle it in a healthy way.
- Make life dreams come true: Take steps toward achieving your and your partner’s hopes and dreams.
- Create shared meaning: Cultivate rituals, roles, and symbols within your relationship.
These goals begin with the ground floor of the Sound Relationship House and work their way up. With the Gottman Method, couples will address these goals in order. Each one lays the groundwork for the next goal, so you’ll start with the lower levels and continue until you reach the last step.
Happy relationships aren’t relationships where there is no fighting. They are relationships where repairs are made after regrettable incidents happen—and where a couple connects with each other day to day. Happy couples are not so very different from unhappy couples; they are simply able to make repairs to their relationship easier and faster so they can get back to the joy of being together.”John M. Gottman
The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse
The Gottman Method outlines the positive qualities of a relationship with the Sound Relationship House theory, but it also is important to be aware of the negative traits that can erode a relationship. Gottman’s Four Horsemen are the four behaviors that can bring about the end of a partnership:
- Criticism: If you or your partner constantly point out the other’s flaws or mistakes, unhappiness will quickly grow. Instead of criticizing your partner, the Gottman Method encourages you to address complaints with “I feel” or “I need” statements as a way to soften start-up.
- Contempt: When one partner feels superior to the other, contempt can develop. This may lead to problems with ridiculing, mocking, or insulting. One of the goals of the Gottman Method is to affirm the qualities in your partner that you love, which can prevent feelings of contempt.
- Defensiveness: In response to frequent criticism and contempt, you or your partner may become defensive. This involves deflecting blame and avoiding taking responsibility. You and your partner can avoid defensiveness by addressing problems as a team, acknowledging each other’s feelings, and apologizing when needed.
- Stonewalling: This happens when one partner completely tunes out the other, refusing to communicate entirely. Stonewalling is often the last of the Four Horsemen to appear, and it can be a sign that you’re flooded with emotion and need to self-soothe during conflict.
Identifying the Four Horsemen in your own relationship can be difficult. These issues often start small and escalate, so you might not even realize that you and your partner are engaging in these behaviors. Much of the work in couples therapy can be identifying the Four Horsemen and working to remove them.
Perfection is not the price of love. Practice is. We practice how to express our love and how to receive our partner’s love. Love is an action even more than a feeling. It requires intention and attention, a practice we call attunement.”John M. Gottman
Who Can Use the Gottman Method?
All couples can use the Gottman Method to address problems within the relationship. The ideas behind the Gottman Method theories are consistent across all economic, racial, and cultural groups, and Gottman Method couples therapy is as effective for same-sex couples as it is for opposite-sex relationships.
According to the Gottman Method, there are two types of relationship conflicts: those that can be resolved and those that will always be present in the partnership. Much of the work involved in Gottman Method couples therapy addresses these perpetual issues. Although the conflict itself may not go away, you and your partner can use the Gottman Method to learn to understand and work with it.
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