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What to Expect from Relationship Therapy

Updated: 5 days ago


An individual looking for relationship therapy and how understanding the Gottman Method may help build connections

As a relationship therapist, I offer relationship therapy individually, for couples, and via group therapy. Often, I get the sense that people feel like they’re standing on the outside looking in, wondering how relationships work and feeling like they’re to blame when it doesn’t go like they hoped. It seems mysterious, and of course it is on some level. Unfortunately, you can never fully know what someone else is experiencing, and as much as you try to be understood by others, those efforts will only get you so far. So, how do people stay connected? 


John & Julie Gottman have done decades of research on people with various relationship styles. They’ve been able to identify a number of factors that contribute to strong and lasting relationships. They’ve also named common patterns that lead to relationships deteriorating, more on that here. But today, we’re going to focus on what makes relationships work. The Gottmans call these concepts the Sound Relationship House.


The Foundation of Gottman Relationship Therapy


You’ve probably heard the refrain, “marry your best friend.” While I’m usually not a fan of one-size-fits-all advice, folks might be onto something here! Friendship is the foundation of a thriving relationship. Friendship seeks to know, understand, value, and respect the other. While reciprocity is important for relationship quality, relationships are not transactional in nature.


Rhaina Cohen wrote a piece for The Atlantic in 2020 and sums this idea up perfectly for me, that romance is “the cherry on the cake” while friendship is “the cake.” Too often, I work with folks who are expecting their significant other(s) to ‘meet their needs’ without first cultivating a culture in their relationship where mutual aid flourishes. If you and your partner(s) are stuck in frustration, misunderstanding, or negativity, you’re probably seeing each other as adversaries and not friends. The solution is to work on your friendship!

 

How do you develop a thriving friendship? Start with love maps. The Gottmans describe this as a map of your partner(s) inner world. And I’ll emphasize that these maps are not static, they’re ever-changing so you have to keep your map updated!


You can work on your love maps by asking each other open-ended questions. You can download a free app with over 1,000 questions to get to know your partner(s) here (Android or Apple). The more you know, the more there is to love!


Instead of looking for shortcomings or things, you don’t appreciate about your partner(s), develop a culture of appreciation, affection, and respect. Orienting yourself to look for the things you value about your partner is the first step. Then you want to practice communicating these feelings! This activity will help build positivity and connection between you and your partner(s). This is the second story of the Sound Relationship House, Fondness & Admiration.


The third story of the Sound Relationship House is Turning Towards your partner(s). This skill helps to build trust and connection by recognizing when your partner(s) are inviting you in and literally moving toward you instead of away from you. It's about being present and engaged with each other, fostering a sense of security and emotional intimacy. These moments are often small but responsiveness to them makes a big impact!


Managing Conflict in Relationships


No matter the nature of your relationship, conflict will eventually occur. If you’re experiencing too much negativity to successfully navigate conflict, refocus on the friendship in your relationship. If there is a positive dynamic at your foundation, you’re much more likely to successfully navigate both resolvable conflict and perpetual conflicts.


I’d like to highlight that ⅔ of conflict in relationships is considered perpetual, meaning that you will never completely “resolve” it. But of course, absence of conflict is not necessary for a thriving connection! It’s how you manage those unsolvable problems that makes the difference.


For resolvable conflicts, there are specific skills that can support meaningful communication and even connection. These include softened startup, accepting influence, repair and de-escalation, and compromise. You can read about some of these skills in more detail here!


For perpetual problems, you establish a “dialogue” around the issue with lots of positive effects {neutrality (feels positive during conflict), genuine interest, affection, humor, softness, etc.}. I like to summarize the ideal attitudes towards each other during conflict as non-judgmental and compassionate. When we approach ourselves and others from this space, we are more likely to achieve constructive dialogue.


Building on Positivity


An individual looking for relationship therapy and how understanding the Gottman Method may help maintain connections in your relationship

Once you’ve created a culture of friendship and established a framework for successfully navigating conflict, it’s time to keep building up that positive affect ratio. The Gottmans assert that for every instance of negativity in a relationship, there should be 5 instances of positive interaction to maintain a healthy dynamic - even during conflict! How do you sustain this positivity? Create shared meaning and a culture in the relationship where life dreams and aspirations come true. 


The attic of the Sound Relationship House is defined by play, exploration, and possibilities! The big idea is to create a culture in the relationship where dreams, desires, and hopes are realized. Do you know what your partner’s aspirations are? How is the culture of your relationship supporting these dreams? 


The layer of creating shared meaning takes your relationship even deeper. What hopes and dreams do we share? What makes our lives and relationships feel meaningful? Your meaning-making systems don’t have to match up perfectly, but how is your life together supporting each other's values around what life means? You can support these processes by establishing rituals of connection (daily rituals, celebrations, rites of passage, etc.).


Commitment to the Process


Gottman Method Couples Therapy focuses on these three domains:

  • Friendship and Intimacy

  • Constructive Conflict

  • Shared Meaning


And these levels of the Sound Relationship House are framed by the walls of trust and commitment. Trust means that, “I know my partner has my back and is there for me.” Commitment is valuing the person, the relationship, and continually showing up to the process of maintaining the Sound Relationship House. 


I’d like to emphasize again that while we did mention specific strategies you can use to support your relationships in each of these areas, these are just part of a larger process. Ideally, you develop processes for supporting each of these levels continuously. Much like other processes in our lives, relationships require continued cultivation and ongoing attention to the things that nourish and sustain them. 


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this or recognize areas where you and/or your partner(s) need support, a relationship therapist can help! As I mentioned, you could meet with a therapist individually, or try couples therapy. Catalyss Counseling also offers Relationship Process Groups that can help you recognize challenges that come up for yourself as you relate and give you an opportunity to practice new ways of communicating with others. 


If you’re interested in Couples Counseling, Click Here for a free 20-minute phone consultation, and get started today!


How We Can Help

If you’re interested in Relationship Therapy


Schedule a FREE 20-minute phone consultation to learn more and get started today!



Follow these simple steps if you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

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  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more balanced life


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Author Biography

Jessica Carpenter, Intern Therapist at catalyss counseling

Jessica Carpenter is a therapist with Catalyss Counseling who works with adults who have experienced stress, grief, trauma, and a variety of relationship issues, including communication and conflict resolution, jealousy and betrayal, affair recovery, LGBTQIA+ community, and polyamory/non-monogamy. Jessica is also a licensed massage therapist, yoga therapist, and TRE provider. She is passionate about making wellness accessible to everyone. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.













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