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

Updated May 27, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

If you’ve been considering trying couple’s therapy, you might have encountered a type of relationship therapy called the “Gottman Method.” In this article, we’ll discuss the history and theory behind the Gottman Method, evidence on its effectiveness, and how you can find a licensed therapist who practices this type of therapy. Additionally, we’ll explore other common types of couple’s therapy approaches, such as emotionally focused therapy and narrative therapy, and how to choose the kind that might work for you. 

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What is couple’s therapy?

Couple’s therapy is a type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) in which a licensed therapist works together with a couple to help them improve their relationship. Oftentimes, the focus of couple’s therapy is on learning healthier communication skills, addressing recurrent conflict, and helping to build a stronger connection. 

In general, couple’s therapy can be helpful for most couples, even those with minor disputes or challenges. By addressing issues proactively, it’s thought that therapy can strengthen the bond, emotional and physical intimacy, affection, respect, and mutual understanding, while reducing the likelihood that the relationship ends in divorce or breakup. 

The Gottman method, emotionally focused therapy, Ellen Wachtel’s approach, and cognitive behavioral therapy are all commonly used types of couple’s therapy. 

History of the Gottman Method

In 1996, psychologists and spouses, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, co-founded the Gottman Institute after decades of empirical research. Using research-based methods in the laboratory, they developed the Gottman Method to help couples, “disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship." 

Unlike many other approaches to couple’s therapy, the Gottman Method was originally Dr. John Gottman’s research project, where he was trying to assess why some marriages end in divorce and others do not. It only became a model of couple’s therapy when Dr. Julie Gottman utilized John’s research to identify why successful couples were successful. At its core, the Gottman Method proposes that successful relationships are rooted in a combination of commitment and trust.  

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The Gottman method relationship framework

The framework of the Gottman Method is the Sound Relationship House theory. This theory utilizes the imagery of a seven-story house to identify the seven levels of secure relationships and two “weight-bearing” walls (trust and commitment). Here are the levels: 

  • Build love maps: The first floor of the house in which partners become more familiar with each other’s worlds, including their loves, likes, hates, desires, and needs. Building love maps can help couples gain a deeper sensitivity and understanding of each other. 
  • Share fondness and admiration: The second floor is intended to counteract contempt. Couples can engage in this level by routinely telling each other why they’re fond of, proud of, and impressed by each other. Giving compliments, recognizing efforts, gifting small things, showing respect, and otherwise taking time to express care for your partner can help them feel appreciated and loved.  
  • Turn towards instead of away: The third level of the house is turning in towards your partner, rather than away. You can do this by accepting their “bids” for emotional connection. According to the Gottman Method, most fights occur because of turning away from each other (either by suppressing thoughts or leaning into the attack-defense mode). 
  • The positive perspective: The fourth level is about letting your partner be an influence on you rather than combatting each other in a power struggle. Couples who do this search for common ground instead of trying to be “right.” 
  • Manage conflict: On the fifth floor, partners utilize a three-step process to manage conflict by accounting for each other’s feelings, developing language to share their challenges, and learning self-soothing skills to manage overwhelming emotions. 
  • Make life dreams come true: Near the top level of the house, couples learn to support their partner’s goals and aspirations and invest in their future.
  • Create shared meaning: The top floor of the house entails using rituals, goals, symbols, and other things to establish meaning in give purpose to the shared life of the couple. It may be thought of as building a legacy for the relationship, and it can provide motivation and inspiration during harder moments. 

With the weight-bearing walls of trust and commitment, couples know that they have each other’s best interests at heart, that they can believe and rely on one another, and that they’re both committed to working together to build a healthier relationship.

Research and findings

Drs. John Gottman and Robert Levenson investigated patterns that were correlated with divorce rates. With the first 30 couples they observed, they noted that they could predict with 90% accuracy which couples would stay together and which would divorce. 

The strongest predictors of divorce were high levels of what became known as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”:  

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness 
  • Contempt
  • Stonewalling

They also found that 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 research became the basis of the Sound Relationship House Theory and the Gottman Method. 

Peer-reviewed research conducted by third parties also tends to support the effectiveness of the Gottman Method. For example, a 2018 semi-experimental study of 16 couples found that Gottman’s couples therapy positively improved marital adjustment and intimacy, and these benefits were sustained over time

What happens in a Gottman method therapy session?

In the initial Gottman couple’s therapy session, a licensed therapist will typically begin with an assessment that’s attended by both partners and the therapist. They will evaluate how you interact as a couple, and they may also speak to both partners one-on-one. 

In some cases, the therapist may ask you to fill out questionnaires or assessments, and then they will use all the information they’ve gathered to educate their clients on the Gottman Method, how the couple currently interacts, and where they can strengthen their relationship.  

Towards the end of the first session, the therapist may provide a suggested therapeutic approach and help the couple determine goals and duration for therapy sessions. The following sessions will work to continue strengthening the relationship, and couples will likely be given “homework” to work on together between sessions.

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Trying the Gottman method for relationship counseling

Many couple’s therapists have training and experience using the Gottman Method. To find a licensed mental health provider, you could look through trustworthy online databases, reach out to your insurance provider (if applicable) to see if they cover couple’s therapy, or use an online couple’s therapy platform like Regain

This platform allows you to match with a licensed remote couple’s therapist who’s trained in the Gottman Method, and many couples find that online therapy can be more affordable and convenient than in-person therapy. 

Additionally, a 2021 peer-reviewed study found that online couples therapy and in-person therapy can both be equally effective, with both effectively improving client’s relationship satisfaction and mental health symptoms. 

Other types of relationship counseling 

Though the Gottman Method is one of the most well-known types of couple’s therapy, it’s not the only kind. Here are some other common types of couple’s therapy you might encounter:  

  • Narrative therapy
  • Emotionally focused therapy
  • Positive psychology therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Sex therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy

Many therapists are trained to utilize a variety of different therapeutic modalities and will combine them to form a unique, personalized approach for their clients. If you’re unsure which method might be a good approach for you and your partner, it might be a good idea to go ahead and try any evidence-based method that sounds appealing to you. Your therapist can likely adapt their approach for you, and if you find that they’re not a good fit for your needs, you can always change therapists. 

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.”

Takeaway

The Gottman method is an evidence-based form of couple’s therapy that is rooted in psychological research. This type of therapy is based on the theory of the “Sound Relationship House,” which can help couples build a stronger, healthier, more stable relationship. 

Research supports the effectiveness of the Gottman method when conducted in both in-person and online settings, and you can likely find an online couple’s therapist through sites like Regain who is trained in the Gottman method. 

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