Way back in the 1980s, mathematician and psychologist Dr. John Gottman persuaded the fine folk at the University of Washington to build a little apartment. A little place in the woods where couples could stay for the weekend, or a week or so, just hanging out and being themselves. Watching tv, reading, cooking meals, talking, laughing, arguing, fighting, etc. The catch was that it all had to be filmed. Often while attached to wires that monitored heart rate or stress level. It was all in the name of Science, and love. And all with the intent to understand what makes a relationship last.
The little apartment at the University of Washington came to be known as the Love Lab. Many couples who stayed there stayed many times, over the course of years. Sometimes decades. That’s pretty important. It’s important because while it would be interesting to observe a couple once in order to learn from them, it’s much more valuable to learn from many couples over time. And to compare them to each other, using lots of top-shelf mathematics. That’s not just interesting, that’s meaningful. That allows for longitudinal data, which is a fancy name for information collected through a series of repeated observations over an extended time. One thing this has helped us gain is a much better understanding of what couples who get on well with each other are consistently doing right. We can then turn to couples in distress and help them get it right too.
But I am not here to sell you on the value of longitudinal data. It’s only important because it led to Gottman’s model of the Sound Relationship House. An approach to counseling that can help someone like me help someone like you.
The Sound Relationship House suggests that just as a house needs strong walls and a solid foundation before it can provide shelter and comfort, so does a relationship. Couples need a solid foundation of love and friendship, and walls made of trust and commitment. On this foundation and between these walls, the whole relationship is built. Establishing or restoring these is where counseling begins.
Now, the Gottman method is just one of many ways to address relationship challenges. Other ways can be very successful too. I was drawn to the method because it worked so well for my wife and I when we needed help. That was in my previous life before I changed careers. I didn’t know anything about what our counselor was doing at the time, I just knew it was working. Bottom line is: while there may be a lot of science to back up the Gottman method, nothing beats personal experience.