Gottman Method

Approaches to Couples Counseling: The Gottman Method

Gottman Method Couples Counseling is one of the most popular and contemporary approaches to couples counseling used by couples therapists today. What makes it so unique in the therapeutic landscape is that it is entirely based on research findings from couples researcher John Gottman’s own studies of married couples.

John Gottman and Julie Gottman
John and Julie Gottman: Founders of the Gottman Method, a research based approach to making relationships work better

A Research-Based Approach to Couples Counseling:

John Gottman is a psychologist and researcher who has spent more than 40 years researching couples. Based on his research, he claims to be able to predict which married couples will divorce and which will stay married with 90 % accuracy.

One of the innovations of Gottman’s approach to research was that he observed how couples interacted in a live-in environment just like in the show Big Brother. Through the multiple cameras installed, he was able to see how couples interacted naturally. By studying hundreds of couples this way, he was able to catalogue the behaviors in people who stay married, as well as identify behaviors in those who get divorced.

Based on his research Gottman has constructed a theory of all the behaviors successful couples engage in, which today has become known as “The Sound Relationship House”

The Sound Relationship House:

John Gottman's Sound Relationship House

The Sound Relationship House contains all the elements found to predict relationship success in what is now called the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling.

First we have the pillars of the relationship: Trust and Commitment. These are fundamental to creating the boundaries for there to even be a relationship. They involve being faithful to each other and developing the trust needed to be emotionally vulnerable. According to Gottman, without these pillars in place, you cannot build a sound relationship.

Once the boundaries of the relationship have been established, couples can begin to focus on creating a house in which they want to live.

friendship system
The Gottman Method emphasizes the importance of building a strong “friendship system”. Investing energy in building a positive connection and knowledge of each other’s inner worlds will make your relationship more fulfilling, and will also make it more resilient to weathering storms

The foundation of a good relationship is what Gottman Method Couples Counselors refer to as “the Friendship System”. The friendship system contains all the elements that make a marriage worthwhile.

In what Gottman calls “Build Love Maps”, the goal is for couples to develop a clear and accurate knowledge of what makes each other tick. You have to allocate “room” in you brain for the other person and to truly know who they are. You have to have a “map” of your partner’s world, otherwise, who are you really in a relationship with, but yourself?

In the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, couples are also advised to build each other up through creating a culture of sharing their fondness and admiration for each other.

An interesting novelty of Gottman’s research is the idea of “turning towards”, which denotes all the little micro interactions we engage in where we drop what we are doing to respond to something our partner is interested in. They are little moments of connection that seem minor and insignificant, but start to wane when couples grow distant or begin to not like each other much.

Finally, Gottman advocates that partners find ways to laugh at disagreements, give their partners the benefit of the doubt, and otherwise adopt a positive and lighthearted perspective.

Together these four elements create a strong friendship filled with love, affection, and intimacy.

Only when couples have a strong friendship as their base is there enough love in the “love tank” to make them endure the more difficult times and the many disagreements in values and preferences that are bound to happen over time.

The upper elements of the sound relationship house include conflict management skills, as well as creating shared meaning in the relationship. Conflict management is about learning to communicate with your partner in ways that do not make them defensive, and yet makes you feel heard. “Creating shared meaning”, refers to creating dialogue around each partner’s dreams and growth ambitions, and having conversations about where the relationship is headed.

How Can Gottman Method Couples Counseling Help Me?

The Gottman Method of Couples Counseling is about teaching couples the skills needed to build their own sound relationship house. The assumption is that couples can learn to emulate ways of interacting and doing things that have been observed in couples that end up staying together.

The Gottman Method is a skills-based approach to creating a strong relationship. By doing more of the right things, and doing less of the relationship-damaging things, you can make your relationship grow in the direction of greater intimacy and satisfaction.

A novelty in the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling is that the therapist acts as a coach or facilitator who helps couples interact with each other by using new rules and guidelines. The goal is for couples to become independent of the therapist and for the therapist to transfer his or her own skills to the couple.

Does the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling Work?

Man wondering if he has a personality disorderLearning some of the skills of successful couples communication and friendship building can be immensely useful to couples who are often turning to a couples therapist because they just don’t know what to do.

Making a relationship work definitely involves skill, and having some knowledge about what to do, can be very helpful.

One of the limitations of the approach is that it can seem very technical.

In my opinion, couples need more than skills to succeed in their relationships. They also need a deeper understanding of their own needs and desires, and an emotional experience of greater closeness with their partner.

There are simply times when the therapist has to stop being a coach who teaches skills, and has to become the facilitator of greater access to buried emotions and fears in each partner.

In my own couples therapy practice I therefore believe in combining multiple approaches to couples counseling. Although I have training in the Gottman Method and frequently teach my clients new skills, I also have a sound understanding of other more emotion-focused approaches.

Ultimately I believe couples need an emotional experience of change rather than simply a set of techniques.

More Couples Therapy Resources:

If you would like to learn some of the techniques utilized by couples therapists to help couples build happier relationships, sign up for my free e-book: The Secrets of Happy Couples (click on image):

Couples Guide

Also, if you are in the mood for more in-depth articles on common issues faced by couples, visit my relationship blog: Couples Insight:

relationship blog

For more information about the Gottman Method, have a look at the following articles:

heart symbolizing intimacy> 5 Easy Ways to Improve Intimacy in Your Marriage

Learn 5 simple Gottman techniques that can help you improve intimacy in your marriage…

Broken heart symbolizing divorce

> 4 Signs that Your Marriage is Headed for Divorce

Learn the 4 behaviors John Gottman has identified as being the most destructive to a relationship…

How to make up after a fight > How to Make Up After a Fight (and Learn From It)

Learn John Gottman’s 5-step method for resolving arguments after a big blow up has happened…


Dr. Rune Moelbak

About Me: I am a psychologist and couples therapist in Houston Texas. I have received training in the Gottman Method as well as other couples therapy approaches. To read more about couples therapy, visit my website:

3 thoughts on “Approaches to Couples Counseling: The Gottman Method”

  1. Dear Rune J enjoy reading your articles. they are also very helpfull. Your thougts are clear, simple and also have a deep investigation and holistic approach. The advises 1,2, 3 you give are really helpful. I am family therapist and now i am attending a course about emotional couple therapy in Greece. I agree with you that this model is very helpfull in couple therapy, especially if somene uses it in compination with other approaches.
    My regards and wishes for the best in your life,

    1. Vasso, thank you for contributing your thoughts. It is great to have an international readership. I myself am pursuing certification as an emotionally-focused couples therapist and find that it is extremely helpful.

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