The evolution of couples therapy has seen a seismic shift, particularly with the advent of science-driven methodologies pioneered by Dr. John Gottman. Often deemed impossible, Gottman’s pursuit of measurable patterns in relationship dynamics challenged the very foundations of traditional therapeutic approaches. His unwavering dedication to studying observable behaviors laid the groundwork for a scientific understanding of intimate connections, revolutionizing how troubled relationships are comprehended and healed. Dr. Gottman’s journey into the quantifiable intricacies of relationships opened new doors, sparking a transformation that reshaped the landscape of couples therapy as we know it today.

Gottman’s groundbreaking discoveries

One of Gottman’s most important discoveries was that the vast majority of relationship problems (69%) were utterly unsolvable. They were related to differences in families of origin, culture, personal beliefs and values, and personality. Much of Gottman’s discoveries were counter-intuitive and contradicted the then-current seat-of-the-pants couples therapy. These “Perpetual Problems” are a universal aspect of marital intimacy, and require management and attunement rather than specific solutions.

The predictive power of Gottman’s research

Dr. Gottman’s research fascinated the press, and he came to dominate the field of couples therapy because his research was startlingly and unarguably predictive, and replicable. In fact, in seven longitudinal studies, the data held up under scrutiny. Gottman could now predict whether or not a couple would eventually divorce with an astonishing 90% or better accuracy. He was able to stone-cold quantify what many believed was utterly unquantifiable.

Gottman wanted to know:

Were there predictable patterns…that could help us understand why some couples remained loving and connected, while others sank into misery…despite having identical problems?

The “Love Lab” and breakthroughs in emotional coding

His research employed breakthroughs in emotional coding technologies, measuring incidents of Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling (which Gottman called the “Four Horseman of the Marital Apocalypse”). Further metrics in physiology and a fresh approach to clinical interviews were also ground-breaking. Gottman and his research colleagues truly are the fathers of modern science-based couples therapy.

Gottman and his team measured everything they could. Relentlessly. Precisely. Over decades, with over 3000 couples.

In 1986, Gottman spearheaded the design and construction of an apartment laboratory at the University of Washington that was nicknamed the “Love Lab” by the press. There were mounted cameras in the common rooms, and a large two-way mirror with technicians recording and coding marital interactions. “Jiggle meters” were at the bottoms of the chairs to measure physical agitation during conversations. Blood was drawn to ascertain prevailing levels of stress hormones. If they fought, researchers knocked on the door requesting urine samples. Their urine was  tested for changes in the level of cortisol which is a hormone produced by stress. This data is then matched against the recordings of the couple’s words, behaviors, and facial expressions. Gottman and his team measured everything they could. Relentlessly. Precisely. Over decades, with over 3000 couples.

Uncovering emotional disengagement

The “Love Lab” research famously uncovered the hidden realities of marital friendship and intimacy, and how gridlocked conflict could be constructively managed, and long-standing relational rifts healed and repaired. It took Levenson & Gottman 14 years of research, but they uncovered another more subtle dysfunctional pattern; emotional disengagement. It is characterized by a lack of positive affect while in a conflictual discussion (no curiosity, humor, repair attempts, warmth, or, most important…empathy). The uncovering of this pattern completed the clinical timeline.

For the first time in the annals of social science, it was possible to predict not only the likelihood of divorce but now, most amazingly… when. Couples who had marital interactions dominated by the Four Horsemen tended to divorce an average of five and a half years after the wedding, while the newly identified emotionally disengaged couples managed to be divorced more than three times later, just over 16 years after the wedding.

For the first time… it was possible to predict not only the likelihood of divorce but now, most amazingly… when.

The Gottman Method and Sound Relationship House Theory

In 1994, Gottman began to develop with his wife, clinical psychologist Dr. Julie Schwartz-Gottman, a synthesis of decades of research culminating in their groundbreaking, Gottman Method Sound Relationship House (SRH) theory. Many of our clinicians have been deeply involved with the Institute since its start. Gottman Theory was first codified 20 years ago. The Gottman Institute, was then founded in 1996, bringing science-based clinical research and advanced certification training to couples therapists all over the world.

The Sound Relationship House theory evolved over time, incorporating findings from the Gottmans’ ongoing research and insights from other researchers in the field. The theory outlines seven levels of a healthy relationship:

  1. Build Love Maps
  2. Share Fondness and Admiration
  3. Turn Towards Instead of Away
  4. The Positive Perspective
  5. Manage Conflict
  6. Make Life Dreams Come True
  7. Create Shared Meaning

While the Gottmans’ research was central to the development of the Sound Relationship House, other researchers and theories also influenced its evolution. For example, the work of psychologist Robert Levenson on emotional regulation in relationships and the research of psychologist Neil Jacobson on behavioral marital therapy contributed to the Gottmans’ understanding of relationship dynamics.

Gottman training programs for therapists

The Gottman Institute’s training programs have evolved over the years to incorporate new research findings and adapt to the needs of therapists and couples. The institute offers a range of training options, including:

  1. Level 1: Bridging the Couple Chasm
  2. Level 2: Assessment, Intervention, and Co-morbidities
  3. Level 3: Practicum Training (Advanced)
  4. Certification Track for Gottman Method Couples Therapy

These training programs provide therapists with the skills and tools to assess and intervene in couple relationships using the Gottman Method, which is based on the Sound Relationship House theory. The Gottman Institute has a rigorous certification process for therapists who wish to become “Gottman Method Couples Therapists.” The process involves attending a series of training workshops, which cover the key concepts, interventions, and research behind the Gottman Method. Therapists must complete Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 training, each of which builds upon the skills and knowledge acquired in the previous level.

In addition to the workshops, therapists must complete a minimum number of hours of individual or group consultation with a Certified Gottman Consultant, demonstrating their proficiency in applying the Gottman Method in their clinical work. They must also submit video recordings of their therapy sessions for review and feedback. Only after completing all of these requirements can a therapist be certified as a Gottman Method Couples Therapist.

It is ambitious and demanding training. The Gottman Institute wants to know that couples are in good hands with you, particularly if you’re conducting an Intensive Couples Retreat. This training is so important that CTI requires all of its therapists to have advanced training in the Gottman Method before seeing clients here.

The significance of science-based couples therapy

What does science-based couples therapy mean to the world? What does it mean to you? Science-based couples therapy is not only effective, these effects can be life-changing. The positive impact you have on those dear to you can leave an indelible mark on their lives. The science of healing intimate bonds has never been better. The following are evidence-based methods designed to heal and repair troubled marriages:

  1. Gottman Method Couples Therapy: Based on over 40 years of research, this approach focuses on building a strong friendship, managing conflict, and creating shared meaning. The process includes assessment, feedback, and skills-based interventions.
  2. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): EFT focuses on identifying and changing negative interaction patterns and promoting secure attachment bonds between partners. The process involves three stages: de-escalation, restructuring interactions, and consolidation.
  3. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT for couples aims to modify dysfunctional thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to relationship distress. The process typically includes psychoeducation, communication skills training, and problem-solving strategies.
  4. Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT): IBCT combines acceptance and change strategies to help couples improve their relationship. The process involves promoting emotional acceptance, fostering positive behaviors, and addressing problem behaviors.
  5. Solution-Focused Couples Therapy (SFCT) is another science-based approach that has gained popularity in recent years. SFCT emphasizes a future-oriented, goal-directed approach to helping couples build satisfying relationships.

At Couples Therapy Inc. you will find that our clinicians are cross-trained an a number of these science-based couples therapy approaches, to maximize their effectiveness in helping you in an intensive format.


In conclusion, the scientific revolution in couples therapy led by Dr. John Gottman has transformed the landscape of relationship counseling. Gottman’s meticulous research, ranging from facial coding to physiological measurements, unveiled fundamental patterns governing relationship dynamics. His findings, including identifying unsolvable issues and predicting divorce outcomes, fundamentally reshaped therapeutic approaches. The establishment of the Gottman Institute and the Sound Relationship House theory stand as pillars in evidence-based couples therapy.

Despite its remarkable efficacy, the scarcity of trained therapists underscores the urgent need for wider access to science-based methods to aid troubled relationships. As we continue to explore the complexities of human connection, Gottman’s legacy serves as a beacon, illuminating the path towards healthier, more resilient relationships. The future of couples therapy lies in embracing and expanding upon the scientific foundations laid by Gottman, ensuring that the transformative power of evidence-based approaches reaches all those in need of support and guidance on their journey towards lasting love and companionship.