John Gottman on Couples Therapy
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|Randall C. Wyatt:||Welcome, Dr. Gottman. Thank you for being with us today and sharing your insights and work with our readers at Psychotherapy.net. Many therapists are familiar with your couple's and marital research, which you have written about extensively in several books and articles. Today I want to focus more on the therapist's end of it as much as the couple's end of it, because this is going to be going out to therapists of all stripes. You have often quoted Dan Wile, who said that when you choose a marriage partner, you choose a set of problems, a whole set of difficulties. That doesn't sound very hopeful. Is that as pessimistic as it sounds?|
|John Gottman:||Well, it's interesting. It changes the way you think about marital therapy.
When we brought couples back into the laboratory four years later to talk again about their major issue in their marriage,
69 percent of the time the couples had the same problems, same issues, and they were talking about them in exactly the same way69 percent of the time the couples had the same problems, same issues, and they were talking about them in exactly the same way, so that the instability in the marital arrangement was enormous. Still, 31% of the problems had been solved.
When we looked at the masters in marriage, how did they go about solving these solvable problems? That's when we discovered this whole pattern of really being gentle in the way they approached solvable problems - a softened start-up, particularly guys accepting influence from women, but women also said things to men, it was a balance, they both were doing it. The ability - again as Dan Wile says - to have a recovery conversation after a fight. So it wasn't that we should admonish couples not to fight but that we should admonish them to be able to repair it and recover from it. That became a focus of the marital therapy that I designed.
In terms of the unsolvable or perpetual problems, we found two kinds of couples, and the optimistic part is we found a lot of couples who really had sort of adapted to their problems.
It's not that they liked it but they were coping with it and they were able to establish a dialogue with one another about it. Okay, you're not happy about it but you learn you can cope with it, have a sense of humor about it, and be affectionate even while you are disagreeing, and soothe one another, de-escalate the conflict. And then the other kind of couple who is really gridlocked on the problem. Every time they talked about it, it was this meeting of oppositional positions; there was no compromising.
Copyright © 2001 Psychotherapy.net. All rights reserved. Published July 2000.
• Expand and question basic assumptions about couples therapy, such as the role of active listening, and other therapy techniques.
• Increase understanding of what makes couples and marriages successful
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