Couples Work A La The Gottman Method

I’ve recently become more aware of the work of John and Julie Gottman and The Gottman Institute, and find their ideas to be so important  in the area of couples work.

John Gottman, PhD. is a prolific researcher in Seattle, recently voted once of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter century by the Psychotherapy Networker(www.psychotherapynetworker.com).  Over the course of his career, he has piloted 20-30 year longitudinal studies of couples, examining their communication and body language.  He can predict which couples will stay together and which will divorce to approximately a 93% accuracy rate.  In so doing, he’s provided clinicians with clarity on which patterns are toxic to a marriage and which skills are proven helpful to be taught in order to improve a relationship.

The four most toxic facets of couple communication are (not in any order):  Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.   Couples treatment at The Family Resilience Group includes both noticing these barriers to communication (and learning concrete skills to remedy them) and growing what “works” within the relationship.  Stonewalling (refusing to talk, shutting down) —  as an example — tends to occur when a person is so flooded with emotion they are frozen.  Perhaps one partner is so unable to get past their sadness, anger or fear, for example that conversation does not occur.  Teaching emotional regulation skills, including breathing, acknowledging the intense feeling, and other self-soothing skills is important here.  In another example, people who tend to criticize may need to hear themselves taped and learn the language of complimenting or acknowledging effort. 

Other skills that the Gottmans have identified as important for a couple to learn include repair attempts (using humor, choosing to rephrase), learning to accept influence, starting up less harshly and learning psychological soothing.  The goals off therapy include modifying how a couple handles conflict, enhancing friendship and creating shared meaning within the relationship. 

For more information, go to www.gottman.com.  The Family Resilience Group embraces Drs Gottmans’ work and has seen it improve many couple relationships over the years.