The Gottman Method for Couples

By: Katie Murray, MFTC

What is the Gottman Method?

Based on over 40 years of research, Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman developed an approach that aims to increase empathy and understanding in relationships, while also disarming barriers that lead to conflicting verbal communicative patterns and feelings of relational stagnancy. The Gottman Method for couples uses the Sound Relationship House theory, couples work collaboratively with the therapist to achieve the nine elements of a healthy relationship defined by this approach The Gottman model believes that the way couples are able to navigate their outward emotions and conflict toward one another ultimately determines who stays together and who eventually divorces.

The Sound Relationship House

This foundational theory used within the Gottman Method for couples uses a house as a metaphor for what a secure marriage should look like. With seven floors in this metaphorical home and two “weight-bearing” walls, each floor provides the couple with an opportunity to develop a new skill within their relationship in hopes of strengthening the partnership.

Seven Floors

Build Love Maps
The first step to building a “sound house” invites couples to explore one another’s inner psychological worlds, desires, and disinterests.
Share Fondness and Admiration
Here, couples will strengthen their relational bond by expressing overt appreciation and respect for one another.
Turn Towards, Not Away
Couples are involved in learning to notice signs of when their partner is seeking certain emotional needs such as affection, attention, and comfort and then be able to respond accordingly to those needs.
The Positive Perspective
This level assists partners in learning how to see each other more positively. It also encourages viewing errors as matters of circumstance, and not as an individual failure.
Make Life Dreams Come True
This floor’s focus is on supporting and celebrating one partner in their dreams and goals.
Create Shared Meaning
The highest floor reflects back to the first floor by fully understanding the inner world of your partner, but the main difference is that this level will uncover stories or rituals that have shared meaning between the couple.
“Weight-Bearing Walls”
Trust and Commitment
These two walls that support the Sound Relationship House assist couples as they progress through the seven levels of the home. Trust is supportive by enabling couples to believe they can rely on one another and feel it is a collaborative effort, and commitment indicates that couples have agreed to stick together and improve their relationship.

The Four Horseman

The Gottman Method for couples also utilizes the metaphor of the four horsemen to describe various communication and interaction styles within a couple’s patterns that can predict the end of a relationship. Although couples have the ability to examine these styles within their own relationship in order to strengthen a secure partnership, those who do not acknowledge them may lean towards a divorce.

Criticizing within a relationship is defined as an attack on the partner at the core of their character, which can dismantle their whole being.
The problem with criticism is that it makes the victim feel rejected and hurt, which if not addressed can lead further into the following horseman.
“You never think about how your actions are impacting the people around you.”
“You never think of me, you’re just selfish”
Communication in this state is truly mean and disrespectful. The overall target of contempt is to make the person feel worthless or despised in the relationship. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce, therefore it must be eliminated. Also, couples that use contemplating behaviors towards one another have been found to suffer from colds and the flu more than couples who do not.
Mocking with sarcasm and ridiculing
Using body language such as scoffing or eye-rolling
When one partner feels accused and extremely hurt, defensiveness is used to defend one’s character. Reversing blame in an attempt to make the issue the other partner’s fault is also used, which is a strategy that is almost never successful. These excuses often tell a partner that their concerns are not going to be taken seriously and responsibility is not taken for mistakes.
“I don’t understand why you won’t just take the trash out? I am so busy everyday and all you do is sit around the house.”
The fourth horseman is usually a response to contempt. This occurs when the listener withdrawals from all interaction, turns away and stops responding to their partner. Instead of confronting the problem, engaging in distractive behaviors to avoid interaction occurs. This easily becomes a bad habit couples engage with and can be a difficult habit to stop.
Going into room and not coming out all night during the middle of an argument
Engaging in activities outside of the home in order to maintain space from having to engage with the partner

Starting Therapy

If any pieces of this model feel like they may be accurate to your current relationship, learning more about getting involved in couples therapy is your first step. Although this method follows a structured plan, each experience is unique to every couple that goes through it. You can contact our office to learn more about this method of couples therapy and see if it is the right fit for you and your partner to begin to strengthen your relationship.


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