Gottman Couple’s Therapy
About Gottman Couple’s Therapy
Gottman Couples Therapy encourages partners to develop powerful, transformative relationship skills. Research conducted by John and Julie Gottman and the Gottman Institute is an effective predictor of relationship success. From their research, some critical points of focus emerged, including:
- What are the characteristic of a marriage that is in trouble and falling apart?
- How do partners get to a place where they are feeling disconnected from one another?
- How can things be turned around, even if the relationship has been unraveling for quite some time?
- What’s happening in relationships and marriages that are thriving?
Answers to these questions can be found by examining some of the myths and realities of relationships, and understanding how what we believe to be true may influence our expectations.
Relationship Myths and Realities
Myth: Infidelity, whether physical or emotional, is the primary cause of relationships falling apart. In fact, Gottman’s research suggests that the primary reasons marriages and relationships fall apart is a decline in intimacy.
Myth: Gender differences cause relationships to unravel. If that were the case, heterosexual couples would divorce one hundred percent of the time, while same-sex couples would never divorce.
Myth: A failure to communicate is one of the primary sources of conflict in relationships. There are many causes of conflict in any relationship and, approached properly, conflict can, in fact, be used creatively to deepen intimacy and increase trust.
Myth: If a relationship isn’t equally balanced when it comes to give and take, it can cause resentment and create problems. Gottman’s research suggests that this is true for neither happy couples, nor couples who are in trouble in terms of their relationship.
Truth: Positive interactions between partners in working relationships are four times more frequent than couples who are in conflict. Couples who have turned the corner toward splitting up have twenty percent fewer positive interactions than negative ones.
Truth: The two most frequent causes of divorce are a high degree of conflict and loss of intimacy and feeling of connection.
Truth: Communication style between partners can have a big impact on the outcome of interactions, and these interactions create patterns that become ingrained in the relationship.
Truth: The greatest sources of conflict in a relationship rarely get resolved, rather they get managed. As a result, partners end up stuck in a state of perpetual, low-level conflict.
Gottman’s Four Horsemen
Gottman Couples Therapy identifies four toxic behaviors that contribute directly to partner’s feelings of disconnection, isolation and distance. When these behaviors show up consistently, one or both partners tend to feel an increased sense of isolation and loneliness. When these feeling are experience repeatedly, the relationship suffers and may even begin to unravel.
Criticism: Blaming, shaming or attacking with unnecessary harshness or a lack of sensitivity creates animosity and builds resentment. How the criticized partner receives and responds to this kind of interaction sets up patterns of communication that get ingrained in the relationship, influencing the way things turn out.
Defensiveness: Whether being unduly criticized or just having something pointed out, if one partner is consistently defensive, it can cause the other partner to withdraw from trying to interaction him or her, increasing feelings of isolation and disconnect on the part of both people.
Contempt: When either partner responds to the other with contempt, it conveys a lack of respect and suggests to other partner a sense of diminished value. It can also suggest that the person being contemptuous doesn’t like the other person and this undermines, according to Gottman, one of the key elements of successful relationships—friendship.
Stonewalling: Shutting down or withdrawing from a conversation, whether out of self-protection or indignation, blocks communication—even negative communication—setting up a situation where either one or both partners may feel there’s no point in talking about anything, because it always ends in silence.
The Role of Anger
Anger is one of our most basic emotions, and can be seen as an expression of fear or anxiety linked to our basic survival instinct. When we are invested in someone or something, including ourselves, and sense a threat, we tend to respond with anger. It’s not uncommon to view anger as a negative because it’s so often associated with aggression. When couples are in conflict, it’s quite normal—and even healthy—for them to express themselves angrily because they are dealing with something that is, at some level, of great value to them—their relationship.
The Gottman Couples Therapy model reinforces this perspective in that Gottman views anger as a signpost that is saying, ‘This is important to me. Pay attention!’ What’s most important is not that anger has worked its way into the communication mix, but how that anger is expressed and used creatively to reach a positive outcome.
When anger is mixed with any or all of Gottman’s Four Horsemen, or four toxic relationship behaviors, it amplifies the negativity and causes it to escalate. Reacting to anger or an angry situation with criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling damages the relationship. This can erode trust and undermine intimacy, two situations that contribute the collapse of healthy relationship.
Gottman’s Sound Relationship House
The Sound Relationship House is model for healthy relationships and describes nine specific areas that need to be nurtured in order to help a relationship thrive. Attending to these areas increases the likelihood of positive interactions, which, according to Gottman, is one of the primary components of successful relationship.
Build Love Maps: This is an express understanding of your partner’s interior landscape—their inner world—as well as his or her history, worries, conflicts, stresses, joys, hopes and dreams.
Share Fondness and Admiration: This is the antidote for contempt and focuses on the degree of affection and respect each partner brings to the table. Expressing appreciation and respect strengthens fondness and admiration.
Turn Towards: Relationship is all about connection and paying attention to the needs of both your needs and the needs of your partner with strengthen that connection. Ask for what you need and be mindful of your partner’s attempts to connect with you.
The Positive Perspective: Staying positive when problem-solving or working through issues deflects contempt and defensiveness, leading to feelings of enhanced mutual success.
Manage Conflict: Conflict is a normal part of any relationship and has creative, positive aspects. When conflict is ongoing, it needs to be addressed, but when momentary conflicts arise, approaching them positively and with sense of mutual respect will lead to success in problem solving.
Make Life Dreams Come True: Encouraging each other to talk candidly about his or her hopes and dreams, values, convictions and aspiration create a sense of safety and non-judgement.
Create Shared Meaning: Take some time to work through an understanding of the important narratives, visions, myths and metaphors that describe your relationship for both you and your partner.
Trust: Acting and thinking in a way that demonstrates you have your partner’s best interests at heart and take those interests into consideration along with your own engenders trust and a sense of safety.
Commitment: Holding on to the belief that your relationship is a lifelong journey, for better or worse, is essential to creating a strong foundation of relationship. It suggests honoring your partner’s positive qualities and nurturing a sense of gratitude when considering your partner in relationship to others. It also implies not focusing on your partner’s potentially negative qualities and working with him or her to solve problems and resolve conflicts.
Gottman Couples Therapy: My Perspective
For me, as a counselor, the effectiveness of Gottman Couples Therapy—and one of the reasons I love working with the model—comes out of the fact that it is so down to earth, while at the same time being based in research. It includes a lot of different tools and strategies that meet the client right where they are, both as a couple and as individuals. It is useful for helping couples work through all sorts of issues that may be plaguing their relationship, and interfering with both personal and shared growth, including addition, infidelity or trauma.
I also like working with Gottman’s Four Horseman model of toxic relationship behavior. These are a powerful lens through which to view a relationship and quickly see the dynamics and patterns of behavior keeping a couple stuck. For instance, when one partner is stonewalling, the other partner may make an effort to break through that wall. When his or her first attempt doesn’t work, the intensity of the effort increases until it reaches a fever pitch. Dialing things down and helping a couple see how to shift their toxic patterns of communication can completely change the relationship dynamics.
Another great aspect of Gottman Couples Therapy is the acknowledgement that there are some issues and conflicts that are ongoing and will never be genuinely solved. Gottman teaches techniques and strategies for managing these ongoing conflicts, so they don’t become obstacles to nurturing a healthy relationship.
Relationships built on a solid foundation stand the test of time, whatever conflicts may arise. The Sound Relationship House model teaches you how to build your relationship house from the ground up, focusing on an understanding that fosters mutual respect, admiration, trust and commitment.