Not all couples therapies are created equal. I decided to study this method because it enables me to teach couples relationship skills that are proven effective and are based on more than 45 years of research. Dr. Gottman was originally trained as a mathematician. After a failed marriage, he decided to devote his life to finding out what makes relationships work, just like me. I mean, I wasn’t a mathematician, on the contrary I still have nightmares about math. I did, however have a failed marriage that put me on the dogged path to study the relationship skills necessary for a rewarding liaison.
In order to study couples, Gottman and his colleagues developed a “Love lab” in apartments connected to the University of Washington at Seattle. They began their research by analyzing couples communication. In an early phase of the research, Dr. Gottman learned how to differentiate happily married couples (the Masters) from the unhappily married couples (the Disasters). He identified the four most damaging patterns of communication (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling) which he aptly named The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). This finding allowed the research team to predict divorce with a 90% of accuracy. If all four of the corrosive communication stances could be detected in the couples’ communication, they were predicted to divorce within a year or to get sick. Warning: unhappiness in a marriage has a negative effect on your health.
The therapy is based on Gottman’s theory of what is needed to create a deeply fulfilling partnership. He calls it The Sound Relationship House (SHR)theory. The treatment itself starts with an assessment of how a given couple performs on the different levels of that Relationship House ( see picture below)
Based on the assessment, the couple and the therapist develop a treatment plan together. At a minimum, partners will learn how to communicate effectively and repair interactions that went badly. They will receive blueprints for resolving conflict and arriving at a compromise that will satisfy both partners. At the end of therapy, they will have many tools to use for future challenges.
Dr. Dorothee Ischler with Drs. John and Julie Gottman