It might surprise you guys to know about a month ago I started learning The Gottman Method, especially since I am a die-hard fan of EFT. I moved to a new practice recently and they encouraged me to learn Levels I and II of Gottman. I was excited about this, for a few reasons. Other than glancing through some systemic work from Virginia Satir and Salvador Minuchin in grad school, I really don’t have the foundational training in couples therapy the way a therapist who comes from an MFT program might have, so any extra learning about couples and marriage is helpful. I also really like the idea of being able to speak intelligently about other models and why I choose to use EFT. Also, I love learning this stuff, it’s all so fascinating!
Something I think The Gottman Method does really well is their assessment process. I wanted to share a little of that here in case it would be helpful for you guys to use any of this in your work. They do the same set up as EFT, where you have the couples intake, and an individual session each. They also have an online assessment the couple takes (individually) that is an extensive review of how they are feeling in different categories of their relationship.
In the in-person intake, there is a way that the Gottmans ask questions I have found particularly helpful in understanding the couple’s relationship journey. They ask, sequentially:
1. How did you guys meet, and what led to you dating?
2. What led to you moving the relationship forward to the next step?
3. How did you decide to get married?
4. What was the first year transition of being married like?
5. How did you decide to have children?
6. What has the adjustment of becoming parents been like?
These aren’t mind-blowing questions, I’m sure we all ask a version of this, but the way they phrase the questions as, basically, what was the decision making process like, how did you decide to move to the next relational step, I have found gives back way more fruitful answers than I got in the past. It’s helpful to hear if it was a situation that moved things forward (sick parent, job move, pregnancy) or if it was choice based on feelings only. It’s also helpful to hear how much agency each person feels like they have in the relationship. Do they feel like they “have to” go along with decisions because their partner is making them? I feel like I’m getting a more thorough view of their relationship history with these questions.
The online assessment also gives me a view into their relationship I wasn’t seeing before. The online assessment measures so much I can’t cover it all today, but I wanted to highlight one standout today:
This measures how well each partner feels like they know the other’s world. What did they eat for lunch that day? Who are the people they work with? What does it look like when you partner is a stay-at-home parent? What is your partner's favorite way to relax? This might sound small, but I hear so many issues with a couple coming from not understanding the other’s world. If someone really doesn’t understand the work and exhaustion of being a stay-at-home parent, then they have less patience with them, less empathy for things not being done in a certain way. If someone doesn’t understand how lonely their partner feels at a new job, they don’t understand why they want to talk to them more when they come home at the end of the day and are frustrated when that’s not happening. Even before taking the assessment, I hear somewhat frequently that this is a place of hurt for a partner. I hear things like, “she couldn’t name four people I work with, but I can tell you the names of ten people she works with.”
Gottman’s (1999, 2015) research found that an important protector of a marriage is the quality of the couple's friendship. Isn’t that kind of sweet? He found that it was the mundane stuff that built that friendship. If you partner wants to show you a funny youtube video, do you stop and turn towards them? Did one text the other a message of support going into a tough meeting? This helped me understand the importance of turning towards my partner, too, when he makes a bid for connection – even if it’s just showing me something on instagram.
I hope you guys find this helpful, and thank you for letting me share some non-EFT pieces in here with you!
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015, 1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.