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Gottman Method & Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Couples therapy is becoming more and more popular with each passing year. Relationships are complicated sometimes. Whether you've been married for decades or have just been dating for a few years, couples therapy can be a great way to build strong, resilient relationships. There are two main approaches to couples' therapy: The Gottman Method and EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy).

Let's examine these two methods of couples therapy and uncover the benefits of each approach.

The Gottman Method

A technique developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, The Gottman Method is a form of couples therapy that aims to ground its theory in science and structure. It does this by using skill-based interventions and what they call the Sound Relationship House Theory. The Method attempts to give the couples insight into their relationship dynamic while also giving them the tools needed to manage negative interactions within the relationship.

All couples argue and have negative interactions. Gottman refers to "The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse," which are common negative behaviours exhibited during these conflicts: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling or withdrawing from the interaction. The Gottman Method says that how couples navigate harmful conflicts are what dictates the success of a relationship.

Therefore, the goals of The Gottman Method are:

  1. Undo conflicting verbal communication

  2. Increase intimacy, respect, and affection

  3. Remove barriers that create stagnancy in conflicting situations

  4. Create more empathy and understanding within the relationship

Sound Relationship House Theory

Like mentioned earlier, The Gottman Method is based on The Sound Relationship House Theory, which consists of 9 elements. It uses a house as a metaphor for a secure relationship, and each element represents a floor or wall. Picture this house:

  1. Build Love Maps is the first floor. Here is where couples get to know each other; their history, worries, stresses, and hopes.

  2. Share Fondness and Admiration is the second floor. This is where couples share their appreciation and respect for each other and their relationship.

  3. Turn Toward Instead of Away is the third floor. On this floor, couples share their needs and learn to notice when their partner is seeking attention, affection, and comfort and responding accordingly.

  4. The Positive Perspective is the fourth floor. This floor helps couples use a positive approach to problem-solving and look at each other more positively.

  5. Managing Conflict. The fifth floor teaches couples that not all conflicts can be resolved, but they can be managed and teaches them techniques to manage conflict and self-soothe.

  6. Make Life Dream Come True is the sixth floor. Here is where couples are encouraged to share their hope, dreams, values, and convictions while supporting their partner's dreams and goals as well.

  7. Create Shared Meaning is the top floor. This floor is meant to mirror the first floor; however, instead of focusing on the couples as individuals, they focus on shared experiences within the relationship.

  8. Trust is one of the walls of the house. It represents a weight-bearing role within the relationship. Each individual must believe they can rely on each other through thick and thin.

  9. Commitment is the second wall. Like trust, it is weight-bearing. Couples must believe that their relationship is long-lasting and must commit to improving their relationship if it starts to deteriorate.

As a couple moves through and explores each floor, they gain opportunities to develop skills that can be applied outside of therapy.

Is the Gottman Method Right for Me

Not all conflicts can be resolved. There are two different kinds of conflict, resolvable and perpetual. The Gottman Method focuses on learning to deal with perpetual disputes in a healthy way. Through this, it can help with various relationship issues like frequent arguing, infidelity, and emotional distance. It can even help couples who just want to understand their relationship better and learn skills to handle conflicts when they arise.

Not all couples benefit from the Gottman method, however. This type of therapy can be intense and rigorous therefore both parties must be fully committed to improving the relationship for the techniques to be successful. Individuals who are struggling with violent behaviour and domestic abuse will not find success with this method. Those couples should seek help from a shelter, hotline, or treatment center.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) views love as an attachment bond. Therefore it takes an attachment-based approach to couples' therapy. It focuses on the ways we interact with each other and how we can alter unproductively or unhealthy patterns of behaviour within a relationship. EFT works to strengthen emotional bonds rather than change behaviour. The treatment is meant to help couples form secure emotional bonds, resulting in improved communication and stronger relationships.


There are three stages that guide the EFT process:


In this first step, the couple must focus on identifying negative interaction patterns that contribute to arguments and conflict. They must take note of the emotions related to and brought up by these conflicts and look to understanding how these emotions reframe the disputes. This can help couples identify how their negative responses may perpetuate a cycle of conflict and how insecurities and fears may influence those emotional responses.


In this stage, each partner shares their emotions, needs, and fears to create new emotional experiences. They are encouraged to show acceptance and compassion for one another and learn to be more aware of each other's needs. The stage is meant to reinforce the emotional bond by being vulnerable with each and their emotions. This can disrupt the cycle of conflict by rebuilding bonds from a place of understanding.


The final stage consists of creating new communication strategies with the help of a therapist. It is a time where the couple can practice new health forms of conflict resolution and realize that the cycle of conflict does not have to continue.

EFT works through issues as they come up in conversation in real-time. Meaning that when problems arise, they will be recognized, and the emotions and pain behind the conflict and new actions are created based on new emotion right away. EFT can provide better emotional functioning and communication skills, develop stronger bonds, and improve interpersonal understanding (meaning the awareness of your partners needs from a place of empathy)

Is EFT Right for Me

EFT can be a form of couples therapy, individual therapy, or family therapy. It can help people who are struggling with conflict, distress, and poor communication skills. Couples struggling with addiction, depression, chronic illness, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will likely benefit significantly from EFT. Like the Gottman Method, this form of therapy can be intense, so it will be more successful if both parties are fully committed to the process.

Looking for a skilled Gottman Therapy or EFT therapist? Call Nomina Integrated Health to see how we can help.


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