Okay, Let’s Start with the Research
John Gottman’s research on the longitudinal course of relationships began in 1972 when he and Bob Levenson asked the question: What predicts divorce? At the time there were only six studies on divorce and none were at all helpful. John and Bob did not exactly have a vote of confidence from the academic and research community. John, a professor at the University of Washington, and Bob a professor at UC Berkeley, received much skepticism with responses characterized by the question: “Social scientists can not predict individual behavior very well, how can you predict relationship behavior?” John and Bob’s research outcomes surprised even them; relationship behavior is predictable, they indeed found out what is associated with relationship breakdown and with relationship stability.
The three areas of John and Bob’s research involved: interactions, physiology, and perception. It turns out that each of these areas have significance in understanding and determining relationship trajectory: either towards stability or instability. What they discovered was that relationships have a balance between negativity and positivity, called”set points”. In dysfunctional relationships these set points are habitually toward negativity with a dynamic of blame and/or withdrawal, referred to as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. With over 90% accuracy John and Bob could predict what would happen to the relationship with the knowledge collected in just a few hours. The consistent escalation in negativity impacts the couple’s ability to repair hurts and conflicts just as the consistent calm characterized in the healthy relationships was an indicator for relationship stability.
The research was multi-dimensional, involving over 3,000 couples from every major racial and ethic group in the United States, and included a twelve year study of committed gay and lesbian relationships. This is pretty compelling stuff, but what happens next sets this cutting edge research in a unique category of research. It is one thing to have learned about these relationship patterns and dynamics that provide a way of understanding and predicting relationship trajectory, but it’s quite another thing to make use of it in a very practical and applicable way. It wasn’t until John began collaborating with his psychologist wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, that methods were developed to help couples. The outcome of this innovation of blending science and practice was a relationship model developed by the Gottmans, the “Sound Relationship House (SRH) theory. The SRH model provides a map for working with couples involving three different components of relationship – Friendship, Conflict, and Meaning – broken down into 7 different levels. The SRH model is a non-linear, interactional model, with separate but related levels that effect each other.
Now Let’s Talk About What They Did with the Research
Together, Drs. Julie and John Gottman co-founded the Gottman Institute, a vision aimed at helping couples and training therapists in this research-based approach of couple therapy. The Gottmans created “Art and Science of Love: A Weekend Workshop for Couples, an intensive experiential workshop where couples are provided tools and given information on what emerged from the research.
Additionally, through Gottman Institute has trained countless therapists over the years and has developed training program options with opportunity to deepen the understanding and application of the SRH model. In the spirit of “pass it on”, the Gottmans have transitioned from providing all the training to training Certified Gottman Therapists to be trainers and to continue what has been this important work. What a gift it has been to be a part of this work. Untold hours have been spent by the Gottmans and their team under the able direction of Etana Dykan Kunovsky (who has been there from the start), and Alan Kunovsky, developing and continuing to evolve the workshops for couples and the the training workshops for therapists.
I’m not intending to write this article as an advertisement, but rather as an acknowledgement and public appreciation of a brilliant model of research and practice that has developed into a process of bringing important information about relationships to couples and to therapists.
What I believe drives the success of this model is the underlying philosophy John and Julie hold, that the SRH theory and methods of intervention are continuing to evolve and be developed and deepened. Like all healthy relationships, growth is ongoing, we are never really done in the sense of reaching a certain stage of development – “Whew, we have arrived”. Rather the ups and downs, success and failures all lead to a sense of continuing change and growth.
What This Has Meant To Me
Over 10 years ago I began my own research with couples in recovery from addiction. This work has continued with the support of the Mental Research Institute (MRI), where I am a Research Associate in addition to my private practice. It turns out that we know a lot about how addiction affects couples, but not very much about how to actually help relationships impacted addiction. I too have been met with skepticism over the model I have developed helping couples in recovery, because couple therapy traditionally is discouraged unless they have years of recovery.
Much to my own surprise I have found striking similarities with SRH model and my Couple Recovery Development Approach (CRDA). What I didn’t have, however, were interventions to help couples. This is where Gottman Method therapy enters. I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with John Gottman in developing my own adaptation of Gottman therapy for recovering couples. This research/practice model developed by John and Julie Gottman has motivated and inspired me, and provided a road map of sorts on how to develop this model and get the work out to couples and to recovery professionals and therapists. Both Julie and John express their continued support and mentoring in developing a workshop for recovering couples and tools for clinicians in helping recovering couples.
Couples in Addiction Recovery Empowerment (CARE), is a concept of relational approach to recovery, one that supports individual recovery in the context of the couple relationship, essentially creating a “Couple Recovery”. As I have learned from the evolution of John’s research to a model of practice:
- I am grateful for beginning this phase of work with the support from the Gottman Institute and John & Julie
- I aspire to innovate and continue to collaborate in developing couple recovery approaches.
- I hope to be a part of creating a vision of couple recovery as a widely accepted practice within recovery circles
- Perhaps others will feel motivation and continue to motivate me in carrying this forward
A Road Map for the Journey: A Gottman Workshop for Couples in Recovery from Addiction, is a two-day workshop I developed in collaboration with John and Julie Gottman and sponsored by the Gottman Institute. After a decade, this is quite a dream come true. I am very grateful to be a part of the Gottman Community, and I look forward to my journey in this work.