Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
If you've done any couples therapy or spent time researching how to better your relationships on your own, you've probably heard of Gottman Therapy. John Gottman has been one of the most prolific researchers on couples therapy for decades, having authored over two hundred scholarly articles and more than two dozen books. With such a wealth of information, it can feel overwhelming when wondering where to start learning from his work. Today, I want to go over some basic Gottman Therapy concepts that you can start putting into practice in your own life and relationship.
Discovering the Power of Gottman Method Couples Therapy
People always give knowing looks when they say things like "relationships are work" but many people don't actually know what that work entails. Most people chalk it up to thinking that sometimes couples fight, or that things aren't all sunshine and rainbows. While it's true that relationships have challenges unless you're approaching them in a healthy way you're not "doing the work" you're just fighting. The work relationships take is about building and maintaining connection while handling conflict in a productive way that also moves your relationship forward. Let's look at a couple of ways Gottman therapy approaches these things.
Building Strong Connections: The Love Maps of Gottman Therapy
The first thing I really like to educate couples on is Gottman's concept of Love Maps. A Love Map is your road map to another person. It's everything from their favorite color or flavor of ice cream to understanding how they'd prefer to be comforted after a hard day or their relationship with their parents. Learning this information about your partner allows you to interact with them on a level that no one else can. My favorite thing about love maps is that they make your partner feel seen and appreciated as an individual. One way to do this is by using Love Maps to enhance the love languages to be a perfect fit for your partner. For example, if my girlfriend is having a bad day, I could pick up some flowers for her on my way home. This is already using love map knowledge. I have to be taking in love map information consistently enough to know that she's having a bad day. However, this is still just a basic use of the "gifts" love language. I know that McNuggets are her biggest guilty pleasure and if I bring those home instead of flowers she'll be much happier.
By using what we know of one another to improve how we interact, we deepen our connection. One way to put in the work in a relationship is by always continuing to learn about your partner. After a couple of years together many people end up feeling like they know everything about their partner, but we are all constantly changing and growing so you can never stop learning.
Navigating Conflict with Gottman Therapy: The Four Horsemen of Relationship Doom
Next, let's look at some of Gottman Therapy's ideas about conflict. Conflict is challenging and unavoidable in relationships. Unfortunately, just having the fight isn't necessarily putting in the work. For all of us, there is always growing room and work to be done in how we do conflict. The first concept to look at here is how we start conflict. When conflict starts with an attack, the other person immediately gets defensive, even if the attacking partner's frustration is justified. Gottman calls this the "harsh startup." Softening your startup can be hard work. When we're upset about something we want to make our frustration heard. However, a harsh startup accomplishes the opposite of this by putting your partner on the defensive, where they are unwilling to listen. A good way to know if you or your partner are using a harsh startup, or to avoid doing so, is by looking for the presence of Gottman's four horsemen
These horsemen are harbingers of doom for any relationship whether you're seeing them in conflict or anywhere else. These may come up for any couple, but if they do so consistently, it spells the end of the relationship the vast majority of the time. The Horsemen are: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Let's look at these four and how they come up in conflict.
Putting in the Work: Tips for Conflict Resolution and Relationship Enhancement
If you can work to keep these horsemen out of your conflict, you're really putting in the work. One tip I like to give people is to ask themselves what they really want when they engage in conflict. I think the number one answer is to be heard, and to have the conflict resolved. While it may feel satisfying to be sarcastic or petty, these things aren't helping you accomplish what you really want. Reminding yourself that it's in your own best interest to avoid these horsemen can help avoid them.
Your Journey Starts Here: Recommended Reading for Gottman Marriage Counseling
Gottman has a mountain of good literature and we'll be back to look at more concepts from his work! If you want to read about any of this on your own, I highly recommend "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John Gottman. It's a great place to start putting in the work.
Consider Gottman Couples Therapy in Plymouth, MN
Don’t wait any longer to get the Gottman method couples therapy you deserve. Our sex therapists want to help you address sexual and relationship concerns here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Sexual Wellness and Couples Therapy Services in Minnesota
In addition to Gottman method couple therapy, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled sex therapist! Your sex life can be amazing. Sex therapy can be a part of that process for you.
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