Relationships are complicated. But getting couples out of gridlocked conflict doesn’t have to be, says Julie Gottman, cofounder of the Gottman Institute. For over two decades, Julie and her husband, John, have studied couples in their “love labs,” equipped with computers, video cameras, and physiological sensors. 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.
“How couples bring up their problems is very important,” Julie says. All couples resort to what she calls “The Four Horsemen” of relationship conflict—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. “But what separates the masters of relationships from disasters,” she says, “is that they recognize all of us are going to make mistakes, so they focus on making repairs following ruptures, and making them early.”
In this video clip from her 2015 Networker Symposium keynote address, “The Myths and Realities of Couples Therapy,” Julie explains how couples can escape negative cycles by following her “Couples Blueprint.” Hear about it for yourself, below.
As Julie explains, the key to helping couples recover from arguments runs deeper than just making quick apologies. Each partner has to explain, in their own words, what happened during the argument, what they felt, what their perspective was during the incident, and acknowledge that each partner’s point of view is valid. Just as important, she adds, is addressing the problem early rather than letting tensions marinate.
“Even when they make mistakes, in the midst of an argument, functional partners will say, ‘What have I just said? Oh no! I’m so sorry. Let’s back up. What was that like for you? What happened?'” Julie explains. “Once that kind of slow start-up becomes a habit within a couple, the ability of partners to process the ups and downs of what happens between them can move to a very different level.”
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.