What is the Gottman Method?
Updated: Sep 29
The Gottman Method for Healthy Relationships is a form of couples-based therapy and education that draws on the pioneering studies of relationships by psychologist John M. Gottman and clinical practice conducted by John Gottman and his wife, psychologist Julie Gottman. Nearly 40 years of research have led John Gottman to identify the elements it takes for relationships to last—among all types of couples across all phases of life. There are nine components of what the Gottmans call The Sound Relationship House, from partners making mental maps of each other’s world to learning how to break through relationship gridlock. One of the reigning insights of the science-based approach is that in the dynamics of relationship systems, negative emotions like defensiveness and contempt have more power to hurt a relationship than positive emotions have to help a relationship.
As a result, the structured therapy focuses on developing understanding and skills so that partners can maintain fondness and admiration, turn toward each other to get their needs met (especially when they are hurting), manage conflict, and enact their dreams—and what to do when they mess up (because everyone does).
When is the Gottman Method Used?
Because The Gottman Method is derived from research and practice with more than 3,000 couples of all types and can be applied at any stage of life, the couples therapy may be used to educate committed partners in the early stages of a relationship as well as to restore healthy functioning to distressed couples, whether stuck in chronic conflict, coping with infidelity, or engaging in other destructive patterns. All therapy is based on a couple’s patterns of interacting, and partners learn and implement relationship-building and problem-solving skills together. Gottman-based therapy is sometimes employed in intensive form over the course of two to four days for couples in crisis.
What to Expect from Gottman Therapy
Gottman therapy involves:
Each partner establishing a relationship with the therapist through sharing their history, their relationship philosophy, and their goals for treatment
Undergoing a thorough assessment of the marriage, including engaging in discussion of a topic on which partners disagree
Learning the research-derived components of healthy relationships
Bolstering the fondness and respect that first brought partners together
Learning and practicing skills for each element of a good relationship, from developing trust to repairing attacks and other regrettable incidents
Direct coaching from the therapist in the use of interaction skills
Acquiring tools for checking and maintaining relationship health beyond therapy. Therapy focuses not only providing skills for managing relationships but delivering deeper insight into why partners create the relationship dynamics they do.
How the Gottman Method Works
The Gottman Method is predicated on observations and predictions demonstrating that there is a real science to that most ineffable of experiences, love. It is built on research showing that negativity makes a big impact on the brain, and that unless they take steps to counteract instances of negativity, couples grow apart emotionally. It identifies and addresses the states of mind and behaviors shown to underlie intimacy and helps partners maintain a positive orientation to each other that can sustain them in upsetting circumstances. Although individual perspectives and wishes are addressed, all therapy is conducted with both partners together, and therapists do not privilege secrets.
What to Look for in a Gottman Method Couples Therapist
All Gottman practitioners are licensed psychotherapists with a Master’s degree or doctorate who have undergone special training in the Gottman Method. While many therapists are familiar with and apply findings and principles from the relationship research of John Gottman, certified Gottman Method therapists have undergone four specific levels of training in the Gottman approach and have learned an array of strategies and interventions for identifying problems and helping couples. Gottman therapists work toward the goal of creating a Healthy Relationship House. In addition, they have undergone training in specialized relationship-assessment techniques. Certified Gottman therapists have received training through The Gottman Institute in Seattle.