The Gottman Method of therapy, developed by John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, is remarkably successful at helping couples who are dealing with entrenched conflict. Some of the effectiveness of this method originated in the opportunity the researchers had to observe happy, healthy couples who volunteered to participate in their studies. These “masters of marriage” helped researchers identify the specific behaviors that contribute to friendship and create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill among members of a couple.
Helping a couple reaffirm or rebuild the friendship aspect of their relationship is a critical factor in addressing problematic conflict. Three elements of friendship are emphasized in this approach.
Building Love Maps
Developing a “love map” about your partner involves knowing his or her inner world, personal history, values, beliefs, and attitudes. Partners who are effective in relationships frequently update their knowledge of their partner’s world through observation and conversations. Picking up on the details of their partner’s stresses and dissatisfactions, as well as keeping in touch with their hopes and aspirations, helps partners to know how the other person views and experiences the world.
We can sometimes go on autopilot in relationships, especially when we have been with one person for a long time and it seems as though we already know everything about him or her. People who express curiosity and active concern about their partner’s thoughts, emotions, and opinions are consistently happier and more fulfilled in their relationships.
Fondness and Admiration
Each couple constitutes its own world, integrating each person’s personal and family history, personality, and the things that give meaning to their lives. Couples who have strong fondness and admiration have succeeded at creating a culture of appreciation together. In these relationships, each person feels cherished and appreciated for who he or she is, with all his or her quirks and foibles. These couples frequently affirm and validate one another in small, everyday ways as well as through special events and celebrations.
Couples who practice and express fondness and admiration give the relationship a lot of “care and feeding.” Just as we think about getting the minimum daily requirement of nutritional content in our meals, people need emotional nutrients as well. When we feel acceptance in our relationships and are able to experience our home life as a refuge from the stresses and demands of our daily lives at work and in the public arena, it nourishes us quite literally, enhancing the function of the immune system and contributing to our well-being and longevity.
The phrase “turning toward” refers to a conversational pattern that was coded by researchers. It’s what happens when one partner initiates a conversation and the other person acknowledges and responds. It has nothing to do with simply turning and looking at your partner when you’re speaking. Turning-toward behavior is natural and spontaneous, not a forced or fake way of interacting with your partner. You can, however, increase the amount of turning toward in your relationship just by being conscious of the value and importance of this way of interacting. It doesn’t have to mean agreeing with your partner; you can simply say, “Yeah, I know,” or “Oh, really?” and this counts as turning-toward behavior.
This model of therapy is strengths-based and helps couples identify which aspects of their relationship are working well in addition to addressing any areas of concern. The Gottman research team spent 12 years studying gay and lesbian relationships, and their findings have been found to apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
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