The Gottman Method for Couples Therapy

Ever wondered why some couples stay together and others get divorced? Thanks to John Gottman’s research, we have never been closer to understanding this question.

The Gottman Method is a couples therapy based on 40 years of observational research. John Gottman and colleagues studied relationships for many years, but he developed his findings into a couples counselling method after meeting his wife, respected clinician Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman.

John Gottman and colleagues studied couples by observing them interact in their “love lab,” an apartment where couples would spend time together. The researchers recorded the couples’ interactions and body responses, including how often they moved in their chairs. The couples’ interactions were interpreted and eventually, the Gottmans were able to predict relationship outcomes. They compiled their research findings into the Sound Relationship House, a visual representation of what makes a healthy relationship.

An assumption the Gottman Method makes is that we can learn from the “masters” of relationships. The “masters” are people who have been happily married for many years, and seem to use certain skills without being coached. Some of the behaviours that “masters” practiced were: treating conflicts gently, apologizing when they hurt their partner, and being interested in their partner’s internal world.

The good news is that we can all learn new ways to improve our relationships.

In the Gottman Method, we typically work on strengthening three areas:

(1) improving friendship, (2) managing conflict, and (3) creating shared meaning. Based on the results of the assessment, an individualized treatment plan is developed to strengthen areas of improvement. One of the reasons I like the Gottman research and use it in my practice as a psychologist is that it provides a roadmap for understanding what makes relationships work. Human beings are incredibly adaptive, and we can learn new ways of relating to one another, even if they weren’t engrained in us by our families. 

Resources for the Gottman Method

Gottman, John, & Silver, Nan. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert.

The Gottman Institute

Here's a talk by John Gottman on the Sound Relationship House