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3 Gottman Method Exercises: What to Expect in Couples Therapy

Kathy Kinghorn

October 30, 2023


  • Developed by Drs. John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, the Gottman Method is based on years of research to enhance the connection between couples.
  • Making ‘love maps’ encourages you and your partner to delve into each other’s internal worlds, fostering understanding and reaffirming their interest in each other’s lives.
  • Expressing genuine admiration for one another can help you and your partner strengthen your bonds and reduce the risk of taking each other for granted.
  • By identifying and addressing four harmful behaviors (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling), you and your partner can pave the way for improved communication and emotional intimacy.
  • These exercises can lead to improved communication, strengthened bonds, and overall increased relationship satisfaction. Seeking guidance from a qualified therapist at Therapy Utah can further enhance their effectiveness by giving you impartial and experienced support in a safe space.

At the heart of every relationship is a longing for deep connection and understanding—but achieving this means working together with your partner to overcome numerous challenges. The Gottman Method, developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, is grounded in years of research and has proven to be effective in enhancing the bonds between couples.

Therapy Utah provides couples and marriage therapy services for people looking to breathe new life into their relationships or simply solidify their connection, and our therapists often use the Gottman Method to promote intimacy and affection. In this article, we explain three popular Gottman Method exercises to show you how they can offer you and your partner a unique lens into each other’s hearts and minds.

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Exercise 1: Love Maps

Our internal worlds are vast and ever-changing—and like any area you’re exploring, it helps to have a way to orient yourself. Creating ‘Love Maps’ invites you to chart your partner’s inner landscape. This exercise is designed to promote curiosity and knowledge about each other’s likes, dislikes, dreams, and fears.

Couple making love maps during Gottman Method exercise and taking notes

How to Do It

  • Sit with your partner in a quiet space.
  • Take turns asking and answering questions about each other’s lives, feelings, and memories. For example: “What is a personal goal you have this year?” or “What’s a memory from your childhood that always makes you smile?”
  • Make it a regular practice to update these maps, as people and situations change. Take notes so that you can refer to them over time and recognize your progress.

The Outcome

This exercise does more than show you how your partner thinks and what their priorities are—it also affirms for them that you care about what makes them tick. You’ll not only achieve greater understanding but also foster a sense of safety and belonging.

Exercise 2: The Fondness & Admiration System

Every strong relationship is built upon layers of mutual respect and admiration. This exercise serves as a reminder to consistently express genuine appreciation for your partner.

Couple expressing fondness and admiration for each other during Gottman Method exercise

How to Do It:

  • Both of you write down three things you genuinely admire or appreciate about the other.
  • Exchange notes and read them out loud to each other.
  • Ensure that the feedback is heartfelt, focusing on character traits, actions, or shared moments.

The Outcome

Everyone wants to feel appreciated—especially by their life partners. Regularly practicing this can build a foundation of respect, reducing the chances of taking each other for granted.

Exercise 3: The Four Horsemen

While every couple encounters disagreements, it’s the way we handle them that determines the health of the relationship. Dr. Gottman identifies four behaviors as being particularly harmful. They’re dubbed ‘The Four Horsemen’:

  • Criticism: Going beyond airing grievances to attack your partner’s character or personality. Instead of addressing specific issues, criticism often uses absolute language like “you always” or “you never.”
  • Defensiveness: This is a mechanism where you see yourself as the victim. You might repel a perceived attack with a counter-complaint or play the blame game instead of addressing the issue at hand.
  • Contempt: Arguably the most dangerous of the horsemen, contempt reflects a deep-seated feeling of superiority over your partner. It manifests in sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, and mockery, all of which can make your partner feel despised and worthless.
  • Stonewalling: Withdrawing from interactions, shutting down, and closing yourself off from your partner—usually as a response to feeling overwhelmed or to avoid conflict. This can lead to communication blackouts and feelings of frustration for your partner.
Couple working together during Gottman Method exercise to identify the "four horsemen"

How to Do It

  • Discuss with your partner the definitions of these four behaviors to make sure you agree on how to recognize them.
  • Reflect on any instances when either of you might have exhibited these behaviors and discuss feelings and consequences associated with them.
  • Collaboratively brainstorm healthier ways to express concerns or disagreements in the future. Be careful to avoid blaming each other while you do this—approach it as the two of you against the problem, instead of each one of you against the other.

The Outcome

By recognizing and rectifying these behaviors, you pave the way for more effective communication and emotional intimacy.

The Benefits of the Gottman Method:

By engaging in the exercises above, couples can reap numerous benefits:

  • Improved Communication: A deeper understanding of each other naturally leads to better conversations.
  • Strengthened Bonds: The intentional time spent together in these exercises fosters closeness.
  • Increased Relationship Satisfaction: Recognizing negative patterns and working on them can rejuvenate the feelings of contentment and joy in the relationship.

However, it’s often best to practice these exercises with the support of a qualified therapist who can help you overcome tension or communication challenges if they occur. Therapy Utah can match you and your partner with a couples therapist capable of providing this support so that the two of you can embrace these exercises confidently in a safe environment.

The Gottman Method can provide you and your partner with a compass for navigating the most difficult terrain in your relationship—ultimately guiding you towards mutual understanding and a stronger connection. To learn more about working with us, contact Therapy Utah or browse the FAQ section below. The beauty of your relationship deserves this dedicated effort.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Gottman Method

How does the Gottman Method differ from other couples’ therapy approaches?

While many therapy approaches rely on traditional psychological theories, the Gottman Method is derived from Dr. Gottman’s direct observational studies of couples over several decades. This approach focuses on concrete, actionable strategies and exercises, derived from observing what actually works for real couples.

Is the Gottman Method suitable for all couples, or is it designed for specific relationship issues?

The Gottman Method is versatile and can be tailored to address a wide range of relationship challenges. Whether you and your partner are looking to enhance your relationship, address specific conflicts, rebuild trust after an affair, or simply prepare for marriage, the Gottman Method offers tools and strategies that can be customized to your unique situation.

How long does it typically take to see improvements in a relationship using the Gottman Method?

Every couple is unique, so the time it takes to see improvements can vary. However, many couples report experiencing positive shifts in their relationship after just a few sessions, especially if they actively engage in the exercises and strategies outside of therapy. Long-term success often requires ongoing effort and consistent application of the techniques learned.

What evidence supports the effectiveness of the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method is one of the few relationship therapy techniques anchored in decades of rigorous research. Dr. John Gottman’s studies, which span over 40 years, involve observing real couples and identifying patterns that determine relationship success and failure.

According to The Gottman Institute, this method has a 90% accuracy rate in predicting divorce. A substantial body of peer-reviewed literature also supports the Gottman Method’s effectiveness in improving intimacy between partners.

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