What Is The Gottman Method, And How Effective Is It In Relationship Counseling?

By Hailey Davis|Updated June 20, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

If anyone looks into relationship counseling treatment methods, they will quickly come across the Gottman Method. A psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, spent 40 years researching over 3,000 couples to see any patterns in happy marriages and unhappy marriages. After collecting his findings, he and his wife, Julie Gottman, developed an effective approach to relationship counseling. Since starting their research in the 1970s, their approach has been one of the most widely discussed couples counseling options because of how detailed and thorough their research was.

Many couples first hear about the Gottman Method once they start looking into couples counseling options. Their approach is very intriguing because it is based on research findings. In the 40 years of his research, he discovered many things about relationships and how to help emotionally distanced couples in counseling. Before we cover the Gottman Method, let’s talk about relationship counseling and its therapeutic framework as a whole.

What Is Relationship Counseling?

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Every romantic relationship will deal with problems at one point or another. Having disagreements about situations, topics, and opinions is completely normal and can even be healthy. Unfortunately, many couples go through seasons where they can’t ever seem to agree. Some couples find themselves wrapped up in explosive arguments that never seem to end. In situations like the ones described, seeking couples counseling is a great idea to help improve communication skills and reach happiness in the relationship.

Relationship counselors have been around since the 1930s, where they have helped couples find peace and mend their relationships. A primary focus of relationship counseling is making sure clients leave feeling equipped to have healthy conversations and respect each other. For couples who decided to attend therapy sessions with the Emotionally-Focused Therapy approach, efficacy is nearly 75%. It’s safe to say that relationship counseling, in general, is very effective if both partners are willing to take steps to make improvements to their relationship.

What Are Other Relationship Counseling Methods There?

There are many different relationship counseling methods other than the Gottman Method.

Narrative Therapy

This therapy can be a very effective couples counseling method if the pair have specific problems with each other or themselves. In a counseling session where narrative therapy is practiced, clients will describe their problems in narrative form to separate themselves from the problem. This helps the couple realize they are not the problem and that they are just experiencing a problem. The goal is to remove themselves or their partner from the problem to feel more hopeful that the problem can be resolved.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Another effective form of couples counseling is emotionally focused therapy. Just as the name suggests, the couple will focus on each other’s emotional responses in these therapy sessions. The couple will do this by learning to recognize when their partner is happy, sad, or mad. This type of therapy helps to improve communication and make fights less explosive.

Positive Psychology Therapy

Positive psychology, another treatment method, also focuses on emotions. Often, people remember and recognize happy memories when they look back on special moments. Negative memories are usually recognized as they are happening. In relationships, this can make it seem as if the entire relationship is negative, and there are no happy moments. Positive psychology therapy helps couples combat this way of thinking. In a counseling session, the couple will learn to recognize good and happy moments at the time, rather than in the future.

If none of the forms of relationship counseling sound intriguing to you, do completely write off couples counseling. Relationship counselors work with their clients to find counseling that works with them to ensure they are willing to participate in counseling. Any reluctance may make relationship counseling less effective, so finding a comfortable practice method is important. There are also many other forms of relationship counseling, and the ones mentioned only scratch the surface of the options available.

The Gottman Method

The couples counseling approach introduced by John and Julie Schwartz Gottman has become one of the most popular and effective clinical practice methods to date. As mentioned above, it was developed based on research findings then tested through research based interventions. This is very different, as many other methods are researched after developing a theory, and the researchers seek to find evidence to prove their theory. There is nothing wrong with developing counseling methods, as most effective psychology approaches are developed this way. The Gottman Method stands out from the rest because of how different its development was.

During their research, John Gottman and his colleague Robert Levenson observed married couples living their normal lives as if they were in a reality show. He had cameras installed in the subjects’ houses to see how they communicated without a third party around. He did this to eliminate the possibility of the partners changing how they act around a therapist, which is very common. Through his observations, he found many different patterns that helped shape his counseling method.

Research And Findings

A portion of John Gottman and Robert Levenson’s findings were patterns that lead to divorce. With their first 30 couples that they observed, they could predict with 90% accuracy which couples would stay together and which would divorce. They noticed that high levels of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling lead to a divorce 5.6 years after the wedding on average. They also saw couples who have emotional withdrawal and a lack of positivity (humor and forgiveness) during an argument lead to divorce after 16.2 years after marrying on average. This information is incredibly helpful for couples to know before getting tied up in the same patterns and relationship issues noticed by Gottman and Levenson.

Dr. Gottman’s relationship research came up with many findings on how to maintain a happy marriage for life. His findings showed that when a male partner accepts influence from his female partner, the marriage was likely to be happy and stable. He also found that deep friendship shared between the couple is the foundation for making a marriage work. With his research, he was also able to develop what is called the Sound Relationship House Theory.

The Sound Relationship House Theory

Together, John and Julie Gottman developed a theory of therapeutic interventions around making a marriage last against the test of time. This theory is the foundation of the Gottman Method, and counseling sessions work to meet each of the principles listed in theory. They came up with a house diagram representing the relationship, and it has seven different levels in it. Here are the levels:

  • Build Love Maps: Each partner draws a map of everything their significant other loves, likes, hates and dives into their world. This helps each other think about their partner’s deepest desires and needs with a heightened sense of sensitivity.
  • Share Fondness and Admiration: Look at each other as a bank account and make regular emotional deposits into each other. This means making a point to give your partner compliments, gifts, respect, and anything else your partner will appreciate.
  • Turn Towards Instead of Away: Always accept your partner’s “bids” for an emotional connection or special moment. Even if these bids are for something very small and seemingly insignificant, they do matter in the long run.
  • The Positive Perspective: This principle ties back to the importance of the foundation of deep friendship. Develop your friendship with each other and do enjoyable activities or spend time together.
  • Manage Conflict: Be open to compromise with your partner and discuss your problems. Dr. Gottman saw in his research that stonewalling is a large predictor of divorce, so it is important to talk things through rather than push them to the side.
  • Make Life Dreams Come True: Support your partner’s goals and aspirations with all aspects of life.
  • Create Shared Meaning: Have a sense of purpose in your relationship and strive towards building a legacy. This can be very motivating, especially during difficult times with relationships.

The sides of the house are trust and commitment, which must be maintained in the relationship. To do this, the couple is instructed to make being trustworthy a top priority and focus on the positive things about their partner. Frequent negative thoughts do not help make a marriage last.

What Happens In A Gottman Method Therapist Session?

In a therapist session following the Gottman Method, a counselor will educate their client on the Sound Relationship House Theory. They will help the couple make strides towards practicing each principle listed above. The Gottman Method focuses on practicality when improving relationships, so the couple does not get worn out or pessimistic about attending therapy.

Gottman trained therapists aim to disarm conflicting verbal communication and replace negative conflict patterns to build healthy relationships between partners. 

According to the Gottman Institute’s website, couples can expect to assess their therapist. They will also have individual counseling sessions so the therapist can get a good idea of each partner and the relationship. The couple will then decide how long they want to be in therapy and how long each session will be. Finally, the couple will have regular sessions with their therapist to help strengthen their relationship. During these sessions, the therapist will help the couple develop a stronger friendship, help them learn how to manage conflict better, and create shared meaning.

How Effective Is It?

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Dr. Gottman’s findings show that 69% of conflicts in relationships cannot be resolved because they are perpetual. The Sound Relationship House Theory focuses on managing the marital conflicts that will inevitably arise in relationships and bettering communication skills. Many studies show that the Gottman Method is effective for helping couples move past their perpetual issues and enjoy their relationship again.

The Gottman method does not discriminate between couples; same sex couples, heterosexual couples, and non binary couples, regardless of sexual orientation can all be treated by the Gottman method. Ultimately, these mental health professionals aim to fix broken relationship dynamics and help marital conflicts fall aside, by treating same sex relationships and heterosexual relationships equally. 

The most effective relationship counseling is the method both partners are willing to participate in. As mentioned above, pessimism and negativity do not help move relationships in the right direction. The Gottman Method aims to be realistic with therapy sessions rather than practicing methods to deepen emotional connection that can only be done in a therapist’s office. Some couples will enjoy this about the Gottman Method, and some will not. It is important to find a method for conflict management that both you and your partner find useful and effective.

Trying The Gottman Method For Relationship Counseling

If you are interested in starting couples counseling with your partner and want to use the Gottman referral network, be sure to find a therapist who specializes in the approach. Considering the method is so popular amongst couples, it will be very easy to find a knowledgeable, Gottman method couples therapist.

Counselor Reviews

“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”

“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”

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