Why do couples seek counseling? Couples often seek help when they cannot come up with resolutions on their own. Often this leads to anger, hurt feelings, resentment and both parties feeling discouraged. Common issues that arise and are discussed in couples therapy include:
- Communication Issues.
- Premarital Counseling
- Sexual Issues.
- Infidelity and Unfaithfulness.
- Assistance Managing Other Relationships.
- Nontraditional Relationships
- Blended Families
- Financial Stressors
- Family planning
- Fertility treatments
- Work Stressors
- The End of a Relationship.
Stacey’s preferred method in couple’s counseling is to incorporate a range of treatments specifically geared towards helping couple’s increase tolerance and improve on communication. Stacey incorporates the teaching of the Gottman Method to help strengthen couples through education, interventions and normalizing couples’ interactions.
What is the Gottman Method?
The Gottman Method approach is based on the Sound House Theory, which identifies the essential foundations of any relationship. The Sound House Theory is similar to the version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are nine essential parts of a relationship that build on each other to help you and your partner achieve a successful, fulfilling relationship. Each step is predicated on the success of the previous step. The theory has the belief that the foundation of all romantic relationships is understanding each other’s worlds. Once you establish this level of understanding, you can learn to share closeness and liking your partner which will encourage you to lean on one another, embrace positive perspectives, manage conflict, achieve your dreams and, finally, create shared meaning. This results in happier and healthier communication and day to day interactions.
Each of the levels is paired up with different activities that can help you and your partner achieve the goal. One of the first steps in trying to understand your partner’s world is building love maps that detail your psychological world, your histories, anxieties and hopes. After you have a better understanding of each other, you can then focus on expressing appreciation and respect for your partner. This can strengthen the amount of love and admiration in your relationship. After completing this level, you focus on learning how to state your needs in the relationship. In turn you become more responsive to your partner’s needs and you will find that you will begin to rely more on one another. In turn, you will have a healthier partnership.
Next you and your partner will learn to problem-solve through a positive perspective. Establishing a positive perspective allows you to manage conflict more effectively allowing you to move on to the next step. You will begin to learn how to effectively manage conflict by focusing on management and not on the resolution. You both will be equipped to manage solvable and ongoing problems. In this type of atmosphere, you and your partner will allow one another room to discuss your hopes and dreams together, as a couple.
By understanding your partner’s goals and vision, you can create a shared meaning. This is the ultimate goal of any successful relationship. This model also makes room to build off of one another through trust and commitment. In the Gottman Method, “trust means believing that your partner will think and act in order to maximize your interests and benefits as well as their own”. Know that commitment means believing that this relationship is a life-long process, and it means embracing and expressing gratitude for your partner’s positive values. The psychology of the theory is hard for most to implement on your own, which is why you and your partner should find a Gottman therapist to guide you through the process.
Gottman’s Four Horsemen
In addition to the Second House Theory, the Gottman Method uses the Four Horsemen analogy to characterize ineffective and often harmful communication styles and responses that can destroy your relationship.
The four horsemen is based on the analogy of conquest, war, hunger, and death. Dr. Gottman realizes that good or bad communication can be what makes or breaks a relationship. In this analogy, the Gottman’s four horsemen are:
Each of these things alone can create major problems in your relationship. It is very important to be able to identify each of these four horsemen when they are present in your relationship. Working towards implementing healthier language and more effective communication techniques can decrease animosity and hurt feelings. For each horseman, there is an anecdote that you can use to communicate kindlier and more effectively.
Criticism is the first horseman. In any relationship but most importantly when you are with your partner, it is never helpful to criticize your partner’s character. If you are unhappy with something they did, it may be necessary to express your complaint. However, it is important to do so without emotionally or verbally attacking your partner for who they are. Instead of criticizing your partner it is better to bring up your complaints by using “I” statements to talk about what you need from your partner. This will help bring down defensiveness and increase the likelihood of being heard.
Contempt is the second horseman and is a bit more awful than criticism. If you or your partner express contempt in your communication style know that you are assuming a morally superior position which often brings up resentment. This can show up as ridiculing your partner or mocking them through sarcastic words. Contempt is often fueled by unaddressed negative feelings towards your partner. Instead of approaching a conflict with contempt, it is important to state the qualities that you like in your partner by starting off recognizing the positive things they do. It is also important to address small conflicts as they arise to avoid stewing over insignificant things. This can lower distress and improve connection.
The third horseman is defensiveness and is often a response to criticism. Being defensive can involve finding excuses and trying to reallocate blame. This method of communication is never constructive. If you find yourself acting defensive, try to take accept your partner’s opinion, apologize, and moving on. It may feel abnormal initially to try communicating this way.
The fourth and final horseman is stonewalling. This is typically a response to the emotion – contempt. Stonewalling occurs when you or your partner completely shut down and tune out during a conversation. Stonewalling, very often, is a result of physiological flooding. There can be too many emotions at once. This can often be difficult to speak effectively while in this state. In order to avoid stonewalling during an argument, you should try to acknowledge that you are overwhelmed and tell your partner you are overwhelmed. Then move away from the topic until you feel that you can talk about it rationally and kindly. Sometimes you may even have to remove yourself physically to allow for space and time to think.
Initially this may seem like a lot. Do not be discouraged. Through identification of the four horsemen, you will develop more effective communication strategies. With the help of your couple’s counselor, with practice and time, you will find that you and your partner are aligned in common goals and your overall relationship will have improved.
Monrovia, CA 91016
© 2023 by Stacey Inal, CA LMFT #120626 Los Angeles, California.