When it comes to choosing a couples therapist, it can be hard to know where to start. There are many different types of couples therapy out there and each one has a slightly different way of getting you to your end goal. One of the most popular methods is Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
You may have heard of Drs. John and Julie Gottman before, especially if you’ve looked at books that can help save your relationship. The Gottmans have written A LOT of great books on love and relationships and they also created the Gottman Method. The Gottman Method marriage counseling approach is unique because it is based on decades of sound psychological research.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman are a married couple who are also therapists and they have spent decades figuring out what makes a healthy relationship work and what causes relationships to fail. Therapists who go through Gottman method training study this research and teach a lot of it to their clients. Honestly, we think this stuff should be taught as a high school class so you at least have the basic knowledge of how to have a healthy relationship. But it’s not so, here we are.
If you’re a science and logic type person, Gottman method couples therapy will likely be a good fit for you. Don’t worry if you’re not though – it won’t always feel like you are being scientific. Kind of like how you don’t feel like you are eating vegetables when you have spinach and artichoke dip.
What is Gottman Method Couples Therapy?
The Gottman Method Couples Therapy approach is great for any type of couple and it’s also an approach that translates really well for online couples therapy. Whether couples are struggling, or doing great, there will always be something to learn through this type of couples therapy. This is because the Gottman method is general enough to help any type of couple, but uses specific techniques to achieve great results.
Couples who try Gottman method marriage counseling will start by learning how healthy couples communicate and treat each other. Then, they learn how to communicate more effectively with their partners through using specific communication techniques. Dr. Gottman describes these techniques in his New York Times Bestselling book, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work. It’s a great read for couples, married or not.
Gottman method therapy can also help you learn how to solve conflicts with your partner. Right now, for example, if you are living with your partner and noticing for the first time that he loads the dishwasher all wrong, the Gottman method for couples therapy would help you learn how to bring this up in a way that would lead to a positive conversation. Before couples therapy, a conversation about the dishwasher could be loaded. (See what I did there?)
Puns aside, has that ever happened to you? You try to talk to your partner about something that seems small, and it ends up being a huge argument that leaves both of you wondering why you are together in the first place? In their research, the Gottmans found that the #1 thing couples fight about is…ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It’s usually the stupid little stuff that leads to out of control fights because it’s all about how you approach it.
The unfortunate truth is, most of us never learned to communicate properly, so when we do try, we end up being too harsh or too defensive and feeling like hurt little kids. The Gottman method can be very helpful in showing you how to express yourself without falling into old patterns.
How does Gottman Method Couples Therapy work?
If you enter into Gottman Method Couples Therapy, you can expect to learn about things that make a relationship work, and things that send relationships straight into the gutter. Let’s first look at what you don’t want to do in your relationship.
Predictors of Divorce: Gottman Method Four Horsemen
Through his research, Dr. John Gottman identified four behaviors that are terrible for relationships. These are called The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse and they are predictors of divorce or breakup in a major way. The 4 Horsemen are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. I talk a lot about these predictors of divorce in my 4 Toxic Behaviors That Are Ruining Your Relationship article, so I’ll just give you a quick overview here.
Gottman Method 4 Horsemen: Criticism
Criticism is when you criticize your partner in a way that makes it clear that you are very unhappy with who they are as a person, not just what they did. An example of criticism is saying something like:
“You always forget to take out the garbage. You are not thoughtful at all. You probably would forget your head if it wasn’t attached to your body.”
As you can see, this is a criticism of your partner as a whole, not just the fact that they forgot to take out the garbage. Using Gottman method couples therapy, you will learn how to use a softened start-up where you share what bothers you about your partner, without making it an all out assault on their character.
Gottman Method 4 Horsemen: Defensiveness
Defensiveness is a very common reaction to criticism, but just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s helpful. Defensiveness happens when instead of taking responsibility for something, you turn around and blame your partner. Couples in Gottman method therapy learn how to take responsibility for their actions, which, in turn, diffuses and reduces conflict.
Gottman Method 4 Horsemen: Stonewalling
Stonewalling happens when you simply shut down and become like a brick wall or shut your partner out by leaving. This often happens in response to contempt and it’s not a fruitful way to communicate.
Gottman Method 4 Horsemen: Contempt
Contempt, the number one predictor of divorce, is criticism’s mean step-sister. It occurs when you treat your partner with disrespect with the intent to harm or abuse them. Examples of contempt include being sarcastic, making fun of your partner, rolling your eyes at them, calling them names, or mimicking their body language in a mean way. Contempt is like criticism on steroids, and it will wreak havoc on your relationship.
Your Gottman certified couples therapist will teach you how to avoid these four hurtful behaviors and what to do instead (aka the antidotes to the 4 horsemen).
Sound Relationship House Theory
The Sound Relationship House Theory is the Gottmans’ way of describing what does work in a relationship. They have broken down healthy relationships into nine parts, which include:
- Building Love Maps
- Sharing Fondness and Admiration
- Turning Toward Instead of Away
- The Positive Perspective
- Managing Conflict
- Making Life Dreams Come True
- Creating Shared Meaning
Each of these represent aspects of relationships that are positive and healthy that you will learn if your therapist uses Gottman method therapy. These areas of the Sound Relationship House are also assessed by the Gottman Relationship Checkup, an online assessment commonly used by Gottman certified therapists.
Gottman Love Map
There are too many components of the Sound Relationship House Theory to cover in this blog post but the Gottman Love Map is an important one that we will take a moment to explore. Your Love Map is the foundation on which your relationship is built. It’s the friendship that you have and maintain with each other.
After years together, some couples stop asking each other meaningful questions that build their love maps and they just default to talking about the kids or running the household. Keeping your Love Map strong is correlated with a strong friendship and long-term romance in your relationship. Check out this blog post we wrote on 4 Ways to Strengthen Your Friendship With Your Partner to learn more about how to rebuild your Love Maps.
Now, let’s take a look at what an actual Gottman method couples therapy session would look like.
What to Expect in a Gottman Method Couples Therapy Session
If you decide that Gottman method couples therapy is right for you, the first thing that your therapist will do is conduct a thorough relationship assessment before jumping right into the therapeutic interventions. This helps you and your therapist get a clear picture of your relationship strengths and growth areas.
Your Gottman Relationship Assessment
Your Gottman certified therapist will usually have you complete the Gottman Relationship Checkup; an online questionnaire that you each fill out individually to tell the couples therapist about your experience in the relationship. It’s quite in-depth (over 400 questions) and takes 1-2 hours to complete. Your couples therapist will also meet with you and your partner together, and separately, to gather information about the two of you as part of the assessment process.
After completing the Gottman relationship assessment, your therapist will help you decide how often to come to therapy and how long your sessions will be. Sessions in our practice are usually 50 or 80 minutes. The Gottmans have found through their research that couples who attend couples therapy consistently on a weekly basis for at least the first 4-6 sessions see the best outcomes as opposed to having less frequent sessions.
Your Gottman Method Couples Therapy Sessions
During your sessions in our practice, your online couples therapist will help you use tools for better communication, such as the Gottman repair checklist, which is a list of phrases like, “I’m feeling defensive” or “I’m sorry that came out harsh” that can help diffuse arguments so they don’t escalate. In Gottman method couples therapy, you learn to manage conflict in a more productive way.
Your online marriage counselor will also help you and your partner become better friends by being nicer to each other, attending to each other’s needs, and rediscovering each other on a deeper level.
By learning to change negative patterns of communicating, and replacing them for positive ones, you and your partner will be able to heal from past hurts, create greater intimacy, and simply be able to be each other’s friends again.
Gottman Method vs EFT (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy)
If you have been steadily reading our blog posts, you might remember an article that Shawntres Parks, LMFT wrote about EFT Couples Therapy, another popular type of couples therapy. You might be wondering what the difference is and which method would work better for you and your partner.
EFT therapy works by identifying each partner’s attachment style and providing eye-opening insights into each person’s behavior. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy helps you identify the cycles you get caught in when arguing with your partner and how to join forces with each other to fight the cycle rather than fighting each other. It will delve a bit more into your early attachment wounding (i.e. your relationship with your parents) than Gottman Method Couples Therapy will.
Many therapists, including the therapists at Couples Learn, use a blend of a few different types of couples therapy. EFT therapy can be used with Gottman Method Couples Therapy so that you get the best of both worlds. Many of our therapists use EFT to understand our clients better while giving them the skills and education provided by the Gottman Method. That way our clients get the best of both worlds!
Finding a Gottman Therapist
As you probably guessed by now, we offer Gottman method couples therapy at Couples Learn. Using online couples therapy, our highly skilled therapists help couples improve their relationships everyday using Gottman method, EFT, and Imago Therapy. If you are interested in learning more about online couples therapy with Couples Learn, book a free 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists today.