First published February 18, 2018

Gottman Rapoport: An Intervention in Couples Therapy

One night over dinner, John Gottman was discussing his work with other renowned thinkers in psychology. His discussion reminded one of the attendees of the work of Anatol Rapoport.

Anatol Rapoport was a prominent psychologist and mathematical biologist. Dr. Rapoport made significant contributions to the study of complex systems, conflict resolution, peace research and game theory.

He advocated using a mathematical and rational approach to understanding and resolving conflicts on an interpersonal and international level.

Gottman realized that he could incorporate his thinking into his research on couples therapy. After starting his famous Gottman Institute, training other couples therapists, it became known as the Gottman-Rapoport Intervention. Of his many interventions, the Gottman Rapoport blueprint is one of his most important.

It is a bedrock intervention in our science-based marriage retreats.

Gottman-Rapoport Exercise

A couple picks a topic of importance that you just don’t see eye-to-eye about. Each person takes turns as both a speaker and a listener. Clipboards and pens for note-taking are essential.

Rapoport suggested that if you find positive qualities within yourself, look for those traits in others. If you find negative characteristics in your partner, try to see some of these traits in yourself as well. 

Speakers and Listeners

The Gottman Rapoport Intervention has two distinct roles; the Speaker and the Listener. Each person takes a turn  for twenty minutes as a speaker and listener.

Ask the person who starts as the speaker to pause, reflect and prepare. A deep breath often helps.

The Gottman Rapoport Intervention encourages spouses to discuss something important that they disagree about. They then summarize each other’s views. Can you see the positives in their arguments? Do you see the negative issues in your own point of view?

Eliminate the Four Horsemen. Focus on talking from your own perspective and not putting down your partner’s ideas.

The Speakers Job

The role of the speaker is to discuss this topic, including their hopes, dreams, and positive needs. Encourage the speaker to talk without interruption while the listener takes careful notes for up to 20 minutes.

Behind every complaint is a longing or need. Within every need, there is a recipe for its satisfaction. That satisfaction requires a mental shift and changing a complaint into a positive need.

The speaker’s job is to:

  • refrain from criticizing by framing complaints in a positive manner
  • don’t “blame” or make YOU statements
  • use only “I” statements about a conflictual situation
  • state a positive need. Ask for what you want, and describe it in detail
  • allow the listener to console and befriend
  • help the listener answer, “What can I do to meet your needs?”

The Listener’s Job

The role of the listener is to listen carefully and suspend judgment. Your primary role is to try and understand the speaker. Avoid defending your perspective or attacking your partner’s viewpoint.

The listener must take careful notes and self-regulate for these 20 minutes.

Then, when the speaker is finished, honestly summarize their point of view until they think you really understand.

As the listener, you must be willing to cooperate with the speaker by doing the following:

  • Postpone your own agenda
  • label the speaker’s emotions
  • feel the emotion behind their words
  • ask clarifying questions about needs and feelings to improve understanding (no set-up questions)
  • hear and repeat the needs and feelings of the speaker
  • summarize the needs and feelings of the speaker to the speaker’s satisfaction.

The Gottman Rapoport intervention is a powerful exercise aiming to foster emotional intelligence, improve communication skills, and strengthen partners’ friendships and emotional bonds.

The goal of this exercise is to help couples overcome challenges, know each other more deeply and enhance their relationship satisfaction.