Relationship wellness

The Gottman Method for couples therapy

  • Published Mar 7, 2024

    8 mins read
  • Written by:Chris Boutté
  • Reviewed by:Benu Lahiry, LMFT
The Gottman Method for couples therapy

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The Gottman Method is one of the most popular forms of couples therapy from the top researcher on what makes marriages last.

Dr. John Gottman is one of the most prolific marriage counselors and researchers, and he’s well known for understanding what makes marriages succeed or fail. The Gottman Method is a form of therapy that’s helped countless couples, whether their marriage is going through a rough patch or they’re looking to improve the quality of their relationship. Many couples therapists use this structured approach to marriage counseling, which could also help your relationship.

Today, you’ll learn what the Gottman Method is, how it works, and which types of marriages will benefit the most from it.

The history of the Gottman Method

The Gottman Method is a specific form of therapy for couples that’s rooted in years of research from Dr. John Gottman. There are many different types of couples therapy, but this method is one of the more popular ones for marriage counseling. Back in the 1970s, Gottman started his research into the personality of individuals in relationships. Eventually, Gottman started to research couples as a whole. This further research allowed him to develop his theory that he could learn more about what helps or hurts marriages by researching patterns from various couples.

The primary aspect of Gottman’s research was to study the different ways married couples interact with one another. With his research partner Robert Levenson, Gottman measured how each partner felt during a conflict. After completing the research, Gottman found that he could predict with 90 percent accuracy whether or not a marriage would last.

“The Gottman Method is popular among couples therapists because of its strong foundation in research, practical tools, and a structured approach that can be customized to address the individual needs of each couple.”

-Benu Lahiry, LMFT

What is the Gottman Method?

Through his research, Gottman found that it’s a myth that happily married couples never experience conflict. The reality is that conflict can help strengthen relationships, but it’s how couples resolve these conflicts that make a major difference in whether or not a marriage succeeds. 

The Gottman Method helps each partner remember that they’re in love and working toward the same goals as a team.This specific form of therapy begins with a thorough assessment and then uses research-based methods to assist couples with: 

  • Verbal conflicts
  • Intimacy
  • Respect
  • Affection
  • Stagnancy
  • Empathy

What makes the Gottman Method different from other forms of couples therapy?

The Gottman Method primarily differs from other forms of marriage counseling because of its highly structured approach. From his research, John Gottman found that some essential principles lead to having a successful marriage, which we go over in a later section. 

During each session using the Gottman Method, you’ll focus on these principles to help you and your partner improve your trust and commitment within the marriage.

Graphic discussing how researchers found that the Gottman Method increased marital adjustment and intimacy.

What to expect from a therapist using the Gottman Method

When you find a couples therapist who uses the Gottman Method, you can expect to start with an assessment. It will evaluate the current state of your relationship and help shape the next steps of the therapeutic process.

Following the assessment, each partner discusses their treatment goals along with their relationship history and philosophy. You can also expect the therapist to dive into topics on which you and your partner disagree to learn more about how you handle conflict.

Next, you’ll start the work to strengthen your marriage, which can include:

  • Learning what a healthy relationship looks like
  • Getting back to a place of respect and fondness for one another
  • Receiving advice from your therapist about how to interact in a better way and develop trust
  • Gaining long-term tools to help maintain a healthy relationship on your own

Much like other forms of therapy, couples therapy isn’t meant to last forever. Eventually, you’ll know how to maintain your relationship health regardless of the situations that arise.

Does the Gottman Method work?

Although people have found success with the Gottman Method, there’s no perfect therapy for couples. Each couple is different, and the primary factor is having the right therapist. However, if you decide you want to try the Gottman Method, you can rest assured that it works. 

One study took 16 couples to research the effectiveness of the Gottman Method. During the study, eight couples went through 10 sessions of the Gottman Method while researchers put the control group on a waiting list. For the control group, experimenters wanted to see if the relationship would naturally get better over time without any form of therapy. Through pre- and post-evaluations, the study found that the Gottman Method significantly helped with both marital adjustment and the couples’ intimacy compared to the control group.

How the Gottman Method works 

The Gottman Method is rooted in seven structured principles, which Gottman found during his decades of research. Remember, his primary focus was observing how couples interact with one another, and this gave him the ability to predict the success of marriages. 

Due to Gottman’s research, much of the Gottman Method works by helping couples learn how to interact. The therapist teaches each partner how to observe the mental state and behaviors to better interact in a healthy way.

Gottman created something known as “The Sound Relationship House,” which showcases the principles his method uses to foster a healthy relationship: 

Table explaining The Sound Relationship House principles from the Gottman Method.

In addition to these principles, it’s important to know what holds it all together: trust and commitment. With the Gottman marriage counseling method, these are the walls that hold everything else together. Commitment and trust create a space where each partner has faith in the other while working on the relationship as a team.

Graphic with The Gottman Method's sound relationship house.

Who is the Gottman Method for?

The Gottman Method is great for couples at any stage of their relationship. For those who aren’t in conflict, the Gottman Method can help you improve the quality of your relationship and gain the best tools possible to manage conflict when it arises. 

For others, here are some situations in which the Gottman Method may be helpful:

  • Couples are stuck in conflict
  • Couples are having difficulties communicating with each other
  • One or both partners are emotionally distant
  • There is stagnation within the relationship
  • Lack of physical or emotional intimacy

How the Gottman Method helps relationships

One of the main reasons the Gottman Method is so successful is because it gives couples the tools they need for the long-term. Many relationships have issues because of communication challenges and a lack of understanding. 

With the Gottman Method, you learn to fully understand and empathize with your partner when conflicts arise. It teaches you to communicate more effectively while remembering that you’re both on the same team. 

During your day-to-day life as a couple, couples actively strengthen their relationship by sharing fondness and admiration for each other. When you feel irritated or frustrated with your partner, using a positive perspective will help you self-soothing and see the situation from a different perspective. In the early stages, these tools may feel difficult to use, but eventually, they become a habit.

Managing conflict with the Gottman Method

Dr. John Gottman found that there are two types of conflict in a marriage: solvable and perpetual. Gottman found that roughly 69% of conflicts within marriages are perpetual, so they’ll be part of the marriage throughout the relationship. Fortunately, that’s where a lot of the focus goes when using the Gottman Method.

The following are some examples of solvable problems: 

  • Lack of quality of time
  • Bringing work problems and stress back home
  • Dividing the housework 
  • Money management
  • Being distracted by your phone

Perpetual problems may include:

  • Differences in personality
  • Needs based on a person’s personality
  • Frequency of sex
  • Organization and cleanliness 
  • Family planning

Perpetual problems are problems that couples return to throughout the relationship based on some fundamental differences. The Gottman Method helps both people in the relationship learn how to work through these perpetual problems in a healthy way.  

Graphic of John Gottman's theory for relationship conflict involving solvable and perpetual problems.

Get started with an Ours therapist trained in the Gottman Method today

Now that you have a better understanding of the Gottman Method, the next step is to find the right therapist who can help you through the process. Ours is a virtual platform for couples therapy, and we have a variety of therapists who specialize in using the Gottman Method. 

Rather than searching for the right therapist, let us do the work for you. Once you fill out an assessment, we hand-match you with the right therapist. To get started, sign up today.

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