Unraveling the myths surrounding marriage is crucial, especially when they perpetuate misconceptions about the dynamics of relationships. One of the most damaging falsehoods is the notion that therapy for couples is a prolonged, uncertain journey lacking specific direction or measurable outcomes. Let’s debunk this myth by exploring a case study of Jody and Frank*, a couple who embarked on a transformative therapy experience, guided by the Gottman Method’s Sound Relationship House Scales. This intensive weekend format, marked by its specificity, measurability, attainability, relevance, and time-limited approach, offers hope and structured guidance where it’s needed most.

This post uses an assessment and treatment plan for helping Jody and Frank*, a middle-aged couple with three children. We outline how the Sound Relationship House Scales, (Gottman Method), provides a treatment plan in an intensive weekend format that is:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • attainable
  • relevant and
  •  time limited.

What is the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method was developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman over a 40 year period. It is research-based, and includes nine elements:

The goals of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy; and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship. -Gottman.com

Each goal has measurement tools and interventions which are linked to those goals. Training in the Gottman Method involves four levels- three training seminars and formal certification process. After applying for the certification track and being accepted, certification requires a minimal number of hours of consultation, and the approval of videotaped demonstrations of the trainee’s skill in providing four particular intervention in their care. This final level grants you the title: Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapist. The author has that designation.

What is a treatment plan?

A Gottman treatment plan incorporates the following goals:

  • to identify specific, concrete areas of relationship strengths and distress
  • to use well-researched tools that allow us to provide before and after measurements of the couple’s progress
  • to make these goals pragmatic, understandable and attainable for any couple
  • to tie these goals to what the couple hopes to achieve in couples therapy (relevance), and
  • to chart out the path to getting there, both over a weekend and in aftercare (time-limited).

The couple

Jody (42) and Frank (45), married 17 years ago, presented for a weekend therapy retreat in considerable distress. They have two school-aged children and one teen and own a home in a major metropolitan area. They traveled a considerable distance to give their marriage “one last shot.” Jody and Frank reported chronic fighting that left them feeling hopeless about their relationship. They had a number of big issues that they couldn’t calmly talk about without becoming upset. They felt lonely, isolated, and disconnected.

Previous weekly marriage counseling had been unsuccessful at providing answers or helping them to move closer to each other.

The couple’s goal

They wanted to become more intimate, stop fighting, and enjoy each other more. However, like most couples, these goals (i.e. “intimacy”) weren’t specific enough to offer a clear direction. The therapist needed to help them frame to become workable and manageable.

  • What specific actions did they need to take?
  • How likely were they to be able to attain those goals?
  • How long would treatment ultimately take?


Before traveling for their weekend intensive, Jody and Frank were asked to answer hundreds of questions online as part of the assessment process. These questions originally designed as Gottman couples therapy worksheets in a true/false format, were included as part of a standard assessment tool. These were later shortened by the Gottman Institute and put online.

The results indicated that they both were committed to putting their full energies into trying to make their marriage work. Of particular note, they were generally compatible as indicated by The Marital Adjustment Test (MAT). In addition, neither was strongly considering divorce (Weiss-Cerreto Martial Status Inventory (MSI)).

Also included were categories asking for narrative descriptions of their family of origin, social, educational and career, friendships and related matters.


Jody grew up in a large European immigrant family where fighting was a common occurrence. Her parents had become less combative over time.

Frank and his brother had parents who seldom fought. His parents were both professionals who expressed little overt affection.

Jody had witnessed parental cursing and raised voices but no physical violence. Neither Jody nor Frank reported direct verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in their family of origin.

Their relationship was free of extramarital affairs. They felt that they parented well together and had a peaceful relationship with their in-laws. Their answers to the Gottman love map questions suggested that they knew each other very well.

Abuse assessment

They reported no behavior between them that would constitute abuse. However, their fights escalated quickly, and neither felt heard nor respected when they disagreed.

Sexual assessment

They had sex infrequently, despite having compatible sexual styles. Passion, romance, quality and frequency all suffered given their chronic conflicts.


Regarding stressors, Frank owned a small IT company that had recently expanded with the help of “angel investors.” According to Jody, her husband worked “24/7” and barely ate. Jody worked part-time, over long shifts, “per diem” in healthcare. Their oldest son was recently diagnosed with ADHD and is receiving help to learn effective coping strategies. Jody’s mother was hospitalized 2 years ago because of a chronic disease but it currently stable.

Face-to-face diagnostic assessment

While the online assessment provided a lot of information, the Gottman Institute has taught that no written document can replace clinical face-to-face time. During our two-hour evening time, I took a problem history and conducted the Gottman-Buehler Oral History. During this semi-structured interview, the couple describes:

  • their first meetings
  • dating and courtship
  • how they decided to get married
  • the ups and downs they’ve experienced and
  • how the relationship has changed over its history.

Jody and Frank met in graduate school and talked warmly about their long courtship. They purchased a house before getting married. They frequented live music venues, especially folk and folk rock. Music remains important to them decades later, despite having little time to enjoy it.

It was a pleasure to listen to them tell the elaborate tale of how Frank’s wedding proposal took Jody by surprise. They were animated, smiling, and finished each other’s sentences.

Perpetual issues

Their perpetual issues included:

  1. their dramatically different sleep schedules;
  2. their different opinions about whether Frank’s angel investors were a wise move and;
  3. whether to sell their home and move school districts.

Fighting sample

The following morning, during the 10-minute fighting sample, they chose to discuss whether or not to sell their home. We used pulse oximeters to measure heart rate. Both registered elevated heart rates over those 10-minutes which Gottman labels as “flooding.” The conversation began harshly and neither could offer proper repair attempts to prevent it from escalating.

It was video recorded so that I could look at it more carefully over lunch, but the findings were pretty clear:

  • Neither knew how to prevent the fight from escalating.
  • Three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse were present: Criticism, Defensiveness, and Contempt.
  • Their fight veered off in many directions. By the end of this brief disagreement, they argued not about selling their home but instead “why they never updated their downstairs bathroom.”

Individual sessions

The final part of the assessment were individual hour-long meetings with each spouse. Both reported that conflict increased after Jody pulled an all-nighter. Frank expressed longing to listen to music in the evening like they once had. He told me that it had been six years since they’d attended a live concert together. Jody expressed her overwhelm at juggling work and parenting and her worry about Frank’s health.

Feedback and planning session

It was impossible to ignore that this couple was exhausted. Dr. John Gottman’s research confirms that improved communication leads to intimacy and creates shared meaning. But to do that, they both needed to be well-rested.

Neither recognized how important it was to devote energy to building intimacy, respect, and affection. Their marriage was the last to receive their precious time. But the Oral History demonstrated that both did still feel a great deal of fondness for one another. This is crucial for impactful work.

The feedback session after lunch was targeted and designed to be educational. I talked objectively about how they were a strong couple. This took them by surprise, as it does most couples who fight poorly.

Both were in an engrossing state of negativity Gottman calls a “Roach Motel for Lovers: They check in but they can’t check out.” This overall negativity shaded their capacity to accurately view their relationship. Instead, they only saw the negative and it left them feeling hopeless.

Learning how to manage conflict was going to be the center focus of this intensive. Creating a workable work life was also an important consideration.

Both came from families that didn’t model good fighting skills, but these abilities could be learned. I discussed how fighting was not inherently harmful to a relationship if they could do it effectively. They felt more hopeful that they could learn how.

I proposed a variety of Gottman interventions directly related to improving conflict including the following:

  • Gottman Repair Checklist pdf
  • Dreams within Conflict pdf
  • Compromise Ovals pdf

…and explained the logic of using these particular exercises.

None of these pdf’s are available online to the general public as they are copyrighted materials used with permission by the Gottman Institute. However, professionals can purchase them here.

Benefits of treatment planning

Without a clear roadmap both couple and therapist flounder. Without a competent and timely assessment, done ahead of treatment, neither can answer the question: “Can this marriage be saved?”

Treatment planning assists both clinician and the couple. For the former, it increases confidence and guides treatment. For the latter, it offers concrete hope that change is possible without blame or shame.

A treatment plan allows the couple to know what to expect out of therapy. The ability to explain their relationship through a science-based lens both structures our time together, and provides a rationale that’s both hopeful and easy to follow. In the hands of someone highly qualified, it opens up a new era of couples therapy heretofore unavailable.

Training in the Gottman Method has been a great resource for my clinical work as well as the couples I work with. Regardless of your particular clinical approached however, a good treatment plan is essential for all relationship work.


In the realm of relationships, clarity and structure can be the cornerstones of positive change. For Jody and Frank, their journey toward healing their relationship began with an in-depth assessment and a carefully constructed treatment plan rooted in the Gottman Method. Through specific interventions and measurable goals, they found hope in structured sessions and a roadmap to revitalizing their bond. Ultimately, a well-crafted treatment plan not only aids the therapist but also serves as a beacon of hope and direction for couples seeking to rebuild their connection.”

* for confidentiality reasons, this couple is a composite and does not represent an particular couple I have worked with.