Couples Therapy 101: What Is the Gottman Method?

Never heard of the Gottman Method? We’ve got you covered! The Gottman Method is a research-based approach to couples therapy. It aims to improve verbal communication, increase intimacy, increase respect, increase affection, remove barriers to conflict resolution and create more empathy and compassion within relationships.

Since the Gottman Method is very personalized for each couple, the process involves an initial assessment of your relationship, along with questionnaires to help determine where it stands. You’ll identify your problem areas and create a therapy plan to address them. The therapeutic interventions work on improving three main aspects of your relationship: friendship, conflict management, and creating shared meaning. The Gottman Method can work for all types of couples regardless of sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and cultural background.

Who Invented the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method was invented by the psychologist couple Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Combined, they have 40 years of psychology research experience, in addition to clinical experience that they have used to create their relationship therapy methodology. Dr. John Gottman focuses on marital stability and divorce prediction. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, where he continues his research of couples at the “Love Lab”.

Dr. Julie Shwartz Gottman is a clinical psychologist, who is an expert advisor on marriage, sexual harassment (including rape and domestic violence), same-sex marriage, adoption for same-sex couples, and parenting.

The Gottman couple founded the Gottman Institute in order to provide relationship help for couples and training for mental health professionals who work with couples. The institute is dedicated to the practical application of psychology research in the therapy world, with the goal of improving and supporting relationships, marriages, and families.

The Psychology Behind the Theory

The Gottman Method approach is based on their Sound Relationship House. Think of it as just that – a house, and each floor represents a different relationship goal. The overall structure creates a home built on trust, commitment, and healthy behaviors. Here is a rundown of the Sound Relationship House, floor by floor:

1st Floor: Build Love Maps

It’s all about getting to know each other on a deeper level. You and your partner will create “Love Maps,” which includes your likes, dislikes, childhood, and anything else that reveals your true self. These maps act as guides into each other’s inner worlds.

2nd Floor: Share Fondness and Admiration

There are so many reasons you love your partner, and this is the step where you show it. No matter how big or small, hearing your partner say nice things about you is an incredible feeling. The key is to become comfortable vocalizing to your partner the things you love about them.

3rd Floor: Turn Towards

When you need attention, support, and comfort from your partner, you’re likely to say or do something to let them know. The Gottmans refer to this as a “bid.” If you’ve been turning away from your partner’s bids, it takes a huge hit on your happiness. This is where it is important for the both of you to turn towards each other’s needs, rather than away.

4th Floor: The Positive Perspective

This is about seeing the best in each other! Life is all about perspective, and if you keep it positive, it will work wonders for your relationship. For example, if your partner heads out for work without giving you a kiss goodbye, a Positive Perspective would be giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were just in a hurry and it wasn’t intentional. The goal is to ensure each other that you’re always on the same team.

5th Floor: Manage Conflict

Conflict with your partner is inevitable, so knowing how to handle arguments is key. The first step is to take each other’s feelings and desires into account, rather than doing everything your own way. Second, you should commit to talking about your problems, whether they are solvable or not. Lastly, whenever you feel yourself getting too worked up during an argument, you learn to take a step back to breathe or take a walk to help you stay calm.

6th Floor: Make Life Dreams Come True

This step involves making a plan for each other’s goals. You both want the best for each other, so it’s important to support and encourage each other to make your dreams a reality and do whatever it takes to make it happen.

7th Floor: Create Shared Meaning

Similar to the Love Maps you create on the first floor, the top of the Sound Relationship House is all about understanding your inner world as a couple. The Gottmans describe this step as developing a culture of symbols and rituals that express who you are as a couple. Do you order dinner from the same restaurant every weekend? Choose a special way to celebrate each birthday? Whatever they are, you bolster your bond by creating them together.

The Weight-Bearing Walls of Trust and Commitment

The two pillars on either side of the house represent trust and commitment. The interior floors are essential, but they don’t hold up without those two critical pillars. Ultimately, in a healthy, supportive relationship, you make the choice to have faith in each other, stand by each other’s side, and commit to helping your love grow.

Gottman’s Four Horsemen

Have you ever heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? It’s a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament by conquest, war, hunger, and death. Gottman’s Four Horsemen stem from this metaphor and describe communication styles that predict the end of a relationship:


This isn’t just voicing a complaint or critique. When you criticize your partner, it’s an attack on their character. For example, if you’re upset your partner didn’t call you back, you might tell them how selfish they are or accuse them of not caring about you. In a healthy relationship, you can voice a complaint (“I was worried when you didn’t call me back”) without attacking who they are as a person.


Contempt is usually the result of constant criticism. When you feel contempt for your partner, you stoop to a much meaner level—mocking them with sarcasm, showing disrespect, calling them names, rolling your eyes, scoffing—anything to make them feel worthless. According to Gottman’s research, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce


Defensiveness involves playing the victim or making excuses when being criticized. Unfortunately, all it does is make it seem like you won’t take responsibility for your actions or mistakes. At its core, defensiveness is a way of shifting blame to your partner, which is incredibly unhealthy for your relationship.


This is usually a response to contempt. Stonewalling describes someone who totally shuts down and stops responding to their partner. They turn away, act busy, or simply ignore them, instead of addressing the issue. There’s no possibility of a rational discussion if one partner is in a stonewalling state.

How Does the Gottman Method Work in Therapy?

If you’re ready to engage in therapy using the Gottman Method, a quick Google search can get you in touch with Gottman-certified therapists near you. The Gottman Institute website also provides a referral network.

Gottman Method-trained therapists also offer online therapy through video conferencing. The biggest benefit of this? It means that you have access to a certified therapist, even if there aren’t any in your area. The Gottman Institute also offers private couples retreats that are as fun as a vacation and as helpful as an in-person therapy session.

There is also the option to enroll in private Marathon Couples Therapy online with Dr. John and Dr. Julie Gottman. The Marathon Couples Therapy is an intensive online therapy with the creators of the methodology themselves.

What Kind of Issues Is the Gottman Method Best For?

The Gottman Method breaks relationship problems into two categories: problems that can be resolved, and problems that are perpetual. The Gottman Method focuses on addressing perpetual problems because they will always exist, but can be managed with the right coaching. Their methodology can help you and your partner navigate frequent conflicts and arguments and poor communication skills. It also addresses specific problems like difficulties with your sex life, infidelity, problems related to money, and parenting problems.

The Gottman Method is helpful for any couple, whether you’re struggling with significant problems, contemplating divorce, or are simply looking for a little improvement. It is focused on making your relationship healthier and stronger, and even happy couples can benefit from this type of therapy. Embracing the Gottman Method will help you navigate current problems, as well as conflicts and problems that arise in the future.

Is the Gottman Method Effective?

The Gottman Method is one of the most research-based therapy methodologies for couples. The combined experience of the Drs. Gottman certainly plays a role in its success. The Gottman Method has also been the subject of lots of research. Studies using randomized clinical trials have been published in the Journal of Family Therapy and the Journal of Family Psychology and endorse its effectiveness. International studies have also been conducted and further promote its benefits.

At the end of the day, you should always feel seen and heard by your partner. Remember, you’re in this together! If you establish a solid foundation of trust, commitment, communication, and understanding, you’ll create a happy, healthy relationship— and the Gottman Method can help get you there.


Ambrose Lennon

The author Ambrose Lennon