Faith & George at a training with Drs. Julie & John Gottman.

Faith & George with Drs. Julie & John Gottman.

Seeking out couples therapy can be overwhelming. You’re likely sifting through a matrix of options, therapy types, and practice locations. Whether you’re looking to reconnect, improve communication, or rebuild trust, it’s important to seek therapy that is grounded in research. A therapist who provides care through a reliable, evidence-based model can help you and your partner be more successful in reaching your goals. When it comes to couples therapy, the Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT) is a long-standing touchstone. Let’s explore the Gottman Method a bit further. 

What is the Gottman Method? 

Gottman Method Couples Therapy is informed by more than 40 years of extensive research into what makes marriages succeed or fail. Doctors John and Julie Gottman have spent years developing effective assessment and intervention tools. The tools are specifically designed to alleviate distress in various aspects of a relationship. 

The Sound Relationship House is the framework that Gottman Method practicing therapists use to help couples explore, understand, and intervene upon the most challenging areas of their relationship. This framework also helps in highlighting the couple’s strengths. Your therapist will help you navigate the following areas throughout treatment based on the principles in The Sound Relationship House: 

  • How to nurture the friendship of the relationship
  • The importance of expressing fondness and admiration
  • What it means to turn toward your partner (instead of turning away) during everyday moments
  • How to enhance a feeling of positivity in the relationship
  • How to manage conflict effectively (without defensiveness, criticism, stonewalling, or contempt)
  • Ways to support each other’s personal goals and dreams
  • Opportunities to create rituals of connections (e.g., regular walks together, connecting texts during the day).

When couples are able to better manage conflict and experience more fondness, admiration, and appreciation for one another they are more likely to experience the “magic ratio”. Happier couples or “masters of relationships” as John Gottman would call them experience a 5:1 ratio; meaning, for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage will have 5 or more positive interactions. The goal is not perfection. Conflict is inevitable in relationships; however, working to experience more positivity in the relationship will help to diffuse conflict and negative interaction more frequently. 

What to Expect with Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT)

Step 1: Couple Assessment

The assessment phase of GMCT is structured and comprehensive. Typically, your therapist will first meet with you and your partner in one, 80-minute session. In the initial session you will discuss your presenting concerns but you will also explore your relationship as a whole. For instance, you may discuss how you and your partner met, your first impressions of one another, family of origin relationships, etc.  Additionally, your therapist may want to see how you interact with one another when you are discussing a topic that is a source of tension or stress. This is called a conflict discussion. This exercise helps your therapist identify negative ways of communicating that may be destructive to your relationship. Your therapist is also looking for positive interaction such as your ability to use repair attempts or gentle start-ups. 

Step 2: Individual Assessments

After the joint session, your therapist will conduct individual interviews with each partner. This typically amounts to two separate 45-50-minute sessions. These individual sessions help your therapist to gather a deeper understanding of each partner’s perspective on the presenting concerns. These solo sessions also explore your individual hopes and goals for the couples therapy. 

Your therapist will likely have you and your partner complete the Relationship Checkup Assessment between sessions and review those results with you jointly. Your therapist will examine the results and compile them with the information gathered during the couple and individual interviews. All of these assessment elements and exercises can help your therapist provide meaningful feedback on your relationship. You, your partner, and your therapist will work together to collaborate on goals and general treatment planning for the therapy.

Step 3: Subsequent/Follow-up Sessions

Following your assessment sessions, you and your partner will begin working on the areas that were identified as challenges. For instance, perhaps it has become difficult and painful for you to manage conflict. If this is the case, your therapist may begin utilizing Gottman interventions. These specific interventions can help you interact with more empathy, respect, and understanding, even if you have differences of opinion. 

Gottman interventions are designed to help slow down communication. This can help you and your partner better understand and communicate your needs and complaints. By slowing down your communication, you can discuss concerns more effectively without escalation or saying things that can damage your relationship. During subsequent GMCT sessions, your therapist will guide you and your partner to learn evidence-based communication strategies that can help you to:

  1. Prevent or better manage emotional flooding
  2. Accept your partner’s influence, which means to better understand your partner’s perspective
  3. Learn how to have effective dialogue about issues instead of fighting about them 

The length of therapy can vary greatly from couple to couple. Most couples will engage in GMCT for at least 3 months with sessions occurring weekly/bi-weekly. At the 3 month mark, your therapist will evaluate your progress by revisiting the Relationship Checkup tool. Together with your therapist, you will determine if continued sessions are necessary. Many couples can find relief from their concerns within 6-12 sessions. However, it can certainly be longer if issues such as affairs, addiction, trauma and other complicating factors are part of the couple’s presenting concerns. 

Are you ready to give the Gottman Method a try?

We know that it can feel intimidating to confront your relationship concerns in therapy. At Connect Couples Therapy, we understand that you may be caught in a web of damaging and hurtful communication patterns with your partner. This can feel chaotic and exhausting. Gottman Method Couples Therapy can provide you and your partner with the structure, education, and practical tools and skills to combat those destructive patterns. You can work towards building connection and enjoy life with your partner. 

To learn more about the Gottman Method, take a look at this video from John and Julie Gottman discussing their research and theory development. Additionally, if you feel like you and your partner could benefit from skills and interventions Gottman Method Couples Therapy has to offer, please consider contacting us for an appointment. We have several therapists who are certified or trained in GMCT and are ready to help.