One of the key predictors of a romantic relationship’s success or failure, says Julie Gottman, is how partners dialogue about their differences. As cofounder of the Gottman Institute, Gottman and her husband, John, have spent over two decades studying couples in their “love labs.” Their understanding is so vast, that after just minutes of watching two partners interact, they can predict with 90 percent accuracy how the relationship will look six years down the road.
So what have they learned about helping partners dialogue better?
“The idea that transformed couples therapy emerged from attachment theory and the belief that what’s needed in marriage isn’t better contracts, but looking at marriage for a safe haven,” Gottman says. “Beyond that, the big paradigm shift was bringing emotion into couples therapy. You really have to express emotions and validate them.” By helping partners create a safe space to explore each other’s point of view from an emotional standpoint, Gottman says, therapists can begin the healing process.
In this video clip from her 2015 Networker Symposium keynote address, “The Myths and Realities of Couples Therapy,” Julie uses the story of renowned therapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl to illustrate how partners can uncover each other’s life dreams and create shared meaning from mutual understanding. Take a look for yourself and let us know what you think.
As Gottman notes, a great deal of conflict springs from partners’ inability to see how their lover’s belief system is deeply tied to their innermost dreams. “Therapists need to develop a system of shared meaning within the couple that has an existential base,” says Gottman. “When partners aren’t compromising in their essential conflicts, it’s because they feel as if the compromise means giving up a core part of themselves.”
The solution, she says, is getting at the meaning of each person’s position in a conflict in order to resolve it. It’s also necessary, she says, to look at intentionally building shared meaning in order to create a connection that’s fulfilling. A sense of shared purpose, like a caring for a child or relative, co-participating in religious practices, or doing volunteer work all qualify.
Julie Gottman, PhD, Co-Founder and President of The Gottman Institute and Co-Founder of Affective Software, Inc., was recently honored with the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Psychotherapy Networker for decades of work revolutionizing couples therapy. Winner of the Washington State Psychologist of the Year, she has co-authored seven books, including the popular Ten Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy; and And Baby Makes Three; and Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. She is also the co-creator of the immensely popular, The Art and Science of Love weekend workshop for couples, and co-designed the Gottman Method Couples Therapy Clinical Training Program, which she has taught nationally and in over 15 countries. Learn more at Gottman.com.