What's the Gottman Method and How Effective Is It?

If anyone looks into relationship counseling treatment methods, they’ll quickly come across the Gottman Method. Dr. John Gottman researched over 3,000 couples in 40 years. He found patterns in happy marriages and unhappy marriages. Read on to learn more.
What's the Gottman Method and How Effective Is It?

Last update: 31 May, 2021

Looking for an effective relationship counseling treatment method? Consider the Gottman Method. Believe it or not, psychologist Dr. John Gottman spent 40 years of his life researching over 3,000 couples. He was trying to discover 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 the start of their research in the 1970s, their approach’s popularity increased. It’s now the most widely talked about couples counseling options thanks to 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’s based on research findings. In the 40 years of Gottman’s research, he discovered a lot about relationships and how to help couples in counseling. 

The genius couples counseling approach by John and Julie Gottman is now the most popular and effective method to date. As we mentioned above, they developed it based on research findings. 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. He had cameras installed in the subjects’ houses so he could see how they communicated without a third party. 

This way, he eliminated the possibility of the partners changing the way they act around a therapist. After all, that’s very common in therapy sessions. Through his observations, he found many different patterns that helped shape his counseling method.

Trust is built as you express compassion and empathy for one another’s feelings, and this foundation is essential when you face the inevitable betrayal.”

-John Gottman-

The science of successful marriages

How can John Gottman predict with 94 percent accuracy whether a couple will make it or not? He uses empirical evidence drawn from multiple longitudinal studies of married couples over the last four decades. Believe it or not, the Gottman Method derives from research and practice with more than 3,000 couples of all types. 

That work began in 1986, in an apartment lab at the University of Washington known as the “Love Lab”. There, Gottman discovered how couples create and maintain friendships and romantic love. He also analyzed how it’s related to the conflict. In happy marriages, partners turn to bids for emotional connection in everyday life 20 times more than couples in distress. 

Couples lasting only six years turned to bids for attention from their partner 1/3 of the time. Yet, those who stayed together turned to bids for attention 86 percent of the time. Another Gottman study found a link between change in marital satisfaction and physiological measures, including heart rate. Besides, the more aroused couples were, the happier they were in their marriages. 

Yet, the marriage deteriorated, lasting only up to three years. The Gottman Method aims to increase friendship and closeness in couples. It does this by showing them ways to deal with problems and conflicts in a positive way. However, not all conflicts have a solution, according to Gottman. 

But the theory is that you can learn to live with it, not letting it destroy your relationship. The theory also focuses on building a shared life together. That involves being more attentive and considerate to your partner. Making tiny positive changes in small, everyday things makes the relationship stable. It also makes it more supportive, and stronger, while growing and developing.

Sound relationship theory

The research behind the method suggests that negativity has a huge impact on the brain. If it’s allowed to continue, it’ll emotionally distance and eventually separate a couple. Couples unknowingly react in negative ways which can deteriorate the relationship. Luckily, John and Julie Gottman developed a theory 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 diagram of a house, which represents the relationship, and it has nine different levels in it. Here are the levels:

  • Love Maps. This involves having more empathy and being understanding of your partner. To concern yourself with their feelings and what emotions they’re dealing with.
  • Fondness and Admiration. Couples expressing fondness and admiration are more likely to resolve any problems they may have.
  • Turn to Each Other. ‘Emotional Bank Account’ encourages couples to treat each other with concern and respect, looking to one another for support.
  • Accepting Influence. Relationships involve give and take. Compromise is essential to maintain the balance of power.
  • Problem-solving. By using these strategies, couples can learn to solve their problems. When things get tense, they can soothe the situation and promote constructive dialogue.
  • Manage Conflict. The Gottman Method helps couples manage conflicts, through tolerance and understanding based on respect and concern for one another. 
  • Create Shared Meaning. A couple’s connection is made up of thoughts, words, and actions. It creates lifelong unity, empowering them to get through difficult times.
  • Trust. Knowing that your partner is acting in your best interest.
  • Commitment. Knowing that you’re both staying in the relationship through thick and thin and working on making it better for both.

Gottman’s four horsemen

Some people have negative traits like selfishness, but not all negatives in a relationship are alike. Yet, Gottman identified four negative factors that are the most destructive in a relationship. These factors are found much less frequently in healthy relationships. 

As a matter of fact, the presence of these factors is the biggest predictor of separation and divorce. He called them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, referring to the biblical image of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse:

  • Criticism. Criticizing your partner implies that you think there’s something wrong with them. Saying things like ‘You never’ or ‘You always’ is like a global attack. It’s much better to make a direct complaint about something specific.
  • Defensiveness. Most people defend themselves when they feel that they’re being attacked. This can escalate the scale of the disagreement. Instead, listen to the complaint and accept some shared responsibility for it.
  • Stonewalling. This can involve just refusing to talk or actually walking out on the discussion. Sadly, 80 percent of men use this technique when they feel emotionally overwhelmed. Taking a break and lowering the tone of the disagreement can help.
  • Contempt. Treating your partner as inferior or mocking them is the most serious of the four horsemen. This causes deep hurt and resentment which can be hard to heal, but which with therapy can be overcome.

“The point is that neuroses don’t have to ruin a marriage. If you can accommodate each other’s “crazy” side and handle it with caring, affection, and respect, your marriage can thrive.”

-John Gottman-

What kind of issues is it best for?

The Gottman Method breaks relationship problems into two categories, problems you can resolve and perpetual problems. It focuses on addressing perpetual problems as they’ll always exist, but the right coaching can manage. The therapy helps couples navigate:

  • Frequent conflicts and arguments.
  • Poor communication skills.
  • Specific problems like sex life difficulties.
  • Infidelity.
  • Money problems. 
  • Parenting issues.

The methodology is great for emotionally distanced couples considering separation or divorce. People with significant problems in their relationships turn to therapy. Luckily, the Gottman Method helps both couples with difficult problems and those with no significant issues.  It also focuses on making relationships healthier and stronger.

In fact, even happy couples can highly benefit from this type of therapy. Embracing Gottman’s strategy will help couples navigate current problems. The renowned method also focuses on conflicts and problems that arise in the future. The Gottman Method is the best research-based methodology for couples therapy out there. 

Thanks to the Gottman experience, this theory has now an extremely effective methodology. Studies using random clinical trials were published in both the Journal of Family Therapy and the Journal of Family Psychology, endorsing its effectiveness. Psychologists also had clinical trials outside of America, endorsing the theory’s efficacy.

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  • Gottman, John. Silver, Nan (2013). What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal. SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Gottman, John (1999). Siete reglas de oro para vivir en pareja: Un estudio exhaustivo sobre las relaciones y la convivencia. DeBolsillo