Studying for the NCE – Gottmans


This paper provides a review of an assigned video titled, “Building Trust, Love and Loyalty in Relationships”.   It is a videotaped lecture of John & Jill Gottman, who have devoted their work to understanding relationships.

Question One: “What do these therapists identify as the key ingredients to promoting successful marriages?”

The assigned video this week, we hear John and Julie Gottman discuss the results of almost 30 years of research on marriage.  According to their studies, approximately 69% of all conflicts in a relationship are unsolvable and a byproduct of temperamental differences and lifestyle preferences (Building Trust, Love and Loyalty in Relationships, 2013).   Based on their research they could predict with 90% accuracy the status of a relationship in five years time (Building Trust, Love and Loyalty in Relationships, 2013).   The key to their predictive accuracy lies in examining how the couple handles conflict.   He describes these couples that have participated in his studies as falling within two general categories:  masters and disasters.  The disaster couples become more visibly agitated during conflict. In fact, these disaster couples often display signs that the relationship is doomed in what John Gottman describes as “The Four Horseman of The Apocalypse” (Building Trust, Love and Loyalty in Relationships, 2013).   During a conflict, disaster couples engage in finger pointing, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (Building Trust, Love and Loyalty in Relationships, 2013).  In contrast, master couples are able to maintain calm during conflict, and display empathy, interest, and respect.  The key to long-term success in such cases is an attitude of appreciation and respect even through ongoing conflict.   Criticisms handled with an attitude of pointing toward rather than away.  Describing gently what one wants and how one feels then prevents defensiveness, and the other individual is able to respond with listening and acceptance.   Over time, these couples develop an appreciation and respect and learn to look at their lives together in terms of what they have to be grateful for.

Question Two:  “Do you think that it is possible to build healthy marriages in a counseling session?”

At one point in the video Julie Gottman, describes a counseling session with a couple from Alabama.  In a session, she describes how the wife shares something pivotal, about how her father kidnapped her at night as a young child after divorcing her mother.  As a result of the trauma associated with being separated from her mother, she vowed that she would never let anyone control her again.  This insight was pivotal for the couple, and helped her husband understand why she was always so controlling.  After describing this story, Julie Gottman discusses how this pertains to their theory of marriage.  The uppermost levels of their marriage theory pertain to the notions of shared meaning.  Understanding the perspectives at which the other person is able to take in life experiences is critical.  Are you able to honor and appreciate their meaning system, and how their life experiences and actions reflect this?   Examples, such as this, provided by the Gottman’s show how effective their theory of marriage has served their efforts as therapists.  I do believe that it is possible to build healthy marriage in counseling sessions, given that the couple is motivated and willing to work on the relationship.    Insights such as what is provided in the Gottman’s theory of marriage, when coupled with pragmatic changes can transform the quality of a relationship.

Question Three: “For you as a counselor, what do you view as obstacles or difficulties in conducting successful marriage counseling?”

One key obstacle to conducting successful marriage counseling is if each individual entered with divergent long-term views of the relationship.  If one couple was much less motivated than the other to work on the relationship, there would be limitations to the degree of success.    Other obstacles and difficulties to marriage counseling would include severe mental illness and substance abuse.  Finally, histories of abuse and/or trauma during childhood may complicated the degree of success in marriage counseling, unless these past events were worked through first.

Question Four: “Do any of the issues that are presented differ for same sex couples vs. heterosexual couples?”

In the assigned video, Dr. Gottman didn’t find any significant differences between heterosexual and homosexual couples.  For example, regarding the issue of stonewalling, both lesbian and gay couples, appeared to engage in this behavior equally (Building Trust, Love and Loyalty in Relationships, 2013).  It is important to note, that the Gottmans’ research was based on a laboratory study.  The couples spent weekends in a camera-equipped apartment and observations were isolated to this context.  I do firmly, believe differences between same sex and heterosexual couples would have been observed, if real-world behavioral analysis could have occurred.  For example, Patterson, et al, (2009) briefly mentions challenges unique to same-sex couples including: prejudice, same-couple composition, lack of social-support.   Examining the couples, contend with issues such as these may provide unique insights not found in the Gottman’s studies.

Question Five: “Share one (or more) new insights into marriage counseling that you learned from this video.”

From this video series, I learned that my hubby and I are actually doing very well.  We displayed several ongoing habits common in the Master couples, described by Gottman.  The biggest insight that stuck with me, from this personal perspective was their description of the three love stages.  In the final stage of love, commitment appears to reflect a feeling of gratitude, which involves the fourth level of perspective taking from their marriage theory.   The rose-colored glasses notion involving seeing the best in your partner related to this idea.  It also pertained to how one choose to take in the experience of life, were you seeking for things to be grateful for or criticize?  As I understand it, this final stage of commitment is a feeling of gratitude that permeates all things that transpire between a couple.  Underlying this insight is the simple realization that it is how I’m looking at something and not just what I’m looking at, that is critical.  This video gave me a renewed appreciation for my marriage and the life I’ve created with my husband.


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