The Gottman Approach

Not all practitioners use the same methods in their approach to therapy. When choosing a couples counsellor, it can be useful to understand the different types of methods that exist. All approaches can be effective, however, one may be more appealing or more suitable for you and your partner, depending on your situation.
With that in mind, we thought we would spend some time over the next few blog entries, investigating some of the therapeutic models which many of our therapists employ or draw upon when working with couples.
One such form is the Gottman Method. Developed in the 1980s by Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Julie Swartz-Gottman, the Gottman approach is underpinned by strong observatory research. In particular, the Gottmans systematically observed 130 couples in their ‘Love Lab’ after which they were able to develop a unique coding system for sequences of interaction. This research eventually led to the development of Gottman’s six qualities of a relationship that predict separation.
They are:

  • Harsh Startups -Discussions begin with criticism and/or sarcasm.
  • The Four Horseman – Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling exist in the relationship.
  • Flooding – Negativity is expressed suddenly, shell shocking the other party.
  • Negative Body Language – e.g Poor eye contact and/or arms crossed.
  • Failed Repair Attempts – Little effort is made to de-escalate tension.
  • Bad Memories – Greater focus on bad memories than happy memories.

The Gottmans also developed what is known as the Sound Relationship House. This identifies the nine components of a healthy relationship, and consists of:

  • Commitment
  • Trust
  • Managing conflict
  • Making life dreams come true
  • Creating shared meaning
  • Building love maps
  • Sharing fondness and admiration
  • Turning towards and not away from each other
  • Positive perspective

A therapist utilising Gottman techniques would help couples to identify which of these components their relationship already has, and which need strengthening and development.
One example of a Gottman style therapeutic intervention is a conflict analysis. This involves the couple reviewing a recent argument with the help of the therapist. The therapist guides the couple by reflecting the elements of the Sound Relationship House back to them, identifying the strengths and weaknesses in their communication, and suggesting healthier and more effective alternatives to resolving conflict.
The overall goals of Gottman-based approach to therapy is to assist couples in achieving a greater sense of understanding, respect, awareness and empathy towards each other. In doing so, couples experience an increase in intimacy, affection and interpersonal growth.
If you think the Gottman approach to therapy could benefit your relationship, or if your relationship is in need of support, one of our qualified couples counsellors can assist. Call 8002 1020 to speak to us about making a booking today.


  1. Bradbury, T.N., Fincham, F.D., & Beach, S.R.H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62
    (4), 964–980. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.00964.x.
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