It’s a scenario all too familiar to many couples therapists: partners in session get riled up to the point that therapy quickly unravels into name-calling, accusations, and even shouting matches. It’s an ordeal that’s equally exhausting for both clients and therapists. So what’s the best course of action?
Renowned couples therapists John and Julie Gottman have spent more than four decades studying couples’ everyday interactions in their “love lab.” What they’ve come away with is a blueprint that can predict with startling accuracy the potential for a relationship’s success or failure. And de-escalating from fiery situations, where one or both partners get emotionally “flooded,” is a prime focus of their work.
In this video clip from John and Julie’s 2015 Networker Symposium address, “What Works in Couples Therapy,” Julie shares a surprisingly simple solution for helping flooded partners and getting therapy back on track.
Scientific assessments have radically changed the way couples therapists practice, says Julie. What’s more, she adds, these studies have humanized couples who make mistakes. Even partners in successful relationships use criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. But what distinguishes their relationships from disastrous ones is that these partners focus on making repairs following ruptures in their relationship and making them early.
“The couples we see are often in terrible distress,” says Julie. “Don’t they deserve the best we can give them? Couples therapy, like any form of psychotherapy, is an art form at its best. But underlying the art, we need methods built on the truth of what couples need to succeed, rather than those based in myths patched together out of stereotypes. Science is the avenue that can best lead us toward truth.”
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.