John Gottman

John Mordecai Gottman (born April 26, 1942) is an American psychological researcher and clinician who did extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability. He is also an award-winning speaker, author, and a professor emeritus in psychology. He is known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations, many of which were published in peer-reviewed literature. The lessons derived from this work represent a partial basis for the relationship counseling movement that aims to improve relationship functioning and the avoidance of those behaviors shown by Gottman and other researchers to harm human relationships.[1] His work has also had a major impact on the development of important concepts on social sequence analysis. Gottman is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington. He and his wife, psychologist Julie Schwartz Gottman, co-founded and lead a relationship company and therapist training entity called The Gottman Institute.[2]

John Gottman
John Gottman
BornJohn Mordecai Gottman
(1942-04-26) April 26, 1942 (age 78)
Dominican Republic
Alma mater
Notable worksThe Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work
SpouseJulie Schwartz Gottman

Gottman was recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century. "Gottman's research showed that it wasn't only how couples fought that mattered, but how they made up. Marriages became stable over time if couples learned to reconcile successfully after a fight."[3]

Predictions of divorceEdit

Gottman developed multiple models, scales and formulas to predict marital stability and divorce in couples, and has completed seven studies in this field.[4] These studies regarding newlywed couples are most well known.

This work concludes that the four negative behaviors that most predict divorce are criticism of partners' personality, contempt (from a position of superiority), defensiveness, and stonewalling, or emotional withdrawal from interaction usually due to feeling overwhelmed by criticism. On the other hand, stable couples handle conflicts in gentle, positive ways, and are supportive of each other.[5]

He developed the Gottman Method Couple's Therapy based on his research findings. The therapy aims to increase respect, affection, and closeness, break through and resolve conflict, generate greater understandings, and to keep conflict discussions calm.[6] The Gottman Method seeks to help couples build happy and stable marriages.

Gottman's therapy model focuses on the process of conflict within the marriage, and less on the content. His research is longitudinal, meaning that he gathers data on the couples over several years.


Gottman's predictions are based on perceived marital bond. In his 2000 study, Gottman conducted oral interviews with 95 newlywed couples. Couples were asked about their relationship, mutual history, and philosophy towards marriage. The interview measured the couple's perceptions of their history and marriage by focusing on the positive or negative qualities of the relationship expressed in the telling of the story. Rather than scoring the content of their answers, interviewers used the Oral History Interview coding system, developed by Buehlman and Gottman in 1996, to measure spouses' perceptions about the marriage and about each other. Therefore, the couples' perception was used to predict marital stability or divorce. The more positive their perceptions and attitudes were about their marriage and each other, the more stable the marriage.[7]

His models partly rely on Paul Ekman's method of analyzing human emotion and microexpressions.


The original study was published by Gottman and Buehlman in 1992, in which they interviewed couples with children. A posteriori modeling yielded a discriminant function that discriminate who has divorced with 94% accuracy.[8] Gottman believed that since early married life is a period of change and adjustment, and perceptions are being formed, he sought to predict marital stability and divorce through couples' perceptions during the first year of marriage.[9]


In a 1998 study, Gottman developed a model to predict which newlywed couples would remain married and which would divorce four to six years later. The model fits the data with 90% accuracy. Another model fits with 81% percent accuracy for which marriages survived after seven to nine years.[10]


Gottman's follow-up study with newlywed couples, published in 2000, used the Oral History Interview to predict marital stability and divorce. Gottman's model fit with 87.4% accuracy for classifying couples who divorce (or not) within the couples' first five years of marriage. He used couples' perceptions about their marriages and each other to model marital stability or divorce.[9]


Gottman has been criticized for describing this work as accurately predicting divorce, when generally this work involves simply fitting statistical models to a data set, not making predictions about events in the future.

A 2001 paper by New York University professor Richard E. Heyman, "The hazard of predicting divorce without cross validation"[11] analyzes 15 divorce prediction models and questions their validity.

  1. When analyzing a given dataset, it is possible to overfit the model to the data, which will work extremely nice for this dataset, but will not work when tested on fresh data.
  2. Ninety percent prediction may actually mean much less when considering false positives and the low base rates of divorce.

"Overfitting can cause extreme overinflation of predictive powers, especially when oversampled extreme groups and small samples are used, as was the case with Gottman et al. (1998; n = 60 couples for the prediction analyses) and nearly all of the other divorce prediction studies ... published studies that find extraordinary initial predictive results may aid us in improving models of risk by identifying important risk factors. Nonetheless, dissemination of 'predictive power' results in the popular media must await supportive data on sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value when the predictive equation is applied to independent samples. By recognizing both the value and limitations of predictive studies, professionals and the public alike will be served best."[11]

Heyman shows his points by creating a divorce prediction model with a data set, and showing its low validity when the above considerations are tested. Gottman never published a reply to this critique.

Journalist Laurie Abraham also disputed the prediction power of Gottman's method. Abraham writes, "What Gottman did wasn't really a prediction of the future but a formula built after the couples' outcomes were already known. This isn't to say that developing such formulas isn't a valuable — indeed, a critical — first step in being able to make a prediction. The next step, however —one absolutely required by the scientific method— is to apply your equation to a fresh sample to see whether it actually works. That is especially necessary with small data slices (such as 57 couples), because patterns that appear important are more likely to be mere flukes. But Gottman never did that."[12] The Gottman Relationship Institute claims that six of seven of Gottman's studies have been properly predictive, by a non-standard definition of prediction in which all that is required is that predictive variables, but not their specific relationship to the outcome, were selected in advance.[13]

However, Gottman's 2002 paper makes no claims to accuracy in terms of binary classification, and is instead a regression analysis of a two factor model where skin conductance levels and oral history narratives encodings are the only two statistically significant variables. Facial expressions using Ekman's encoding scheme were not statistically significant.[14]

Independent studies testing Gottman marriage coursesEdit

Building Strong Families ProgramEdit

BSF 15-Month Impact Report

Independent research on the impact of Gottman's marriage strengthening programs for the general public has further questioned Gottman couple education programs.

The largest independent evaluation of a marriage education curriculum developed by Gottman was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research[15] at nine sites in five states. The study was titled, "Loving Couples, Loving Children,"[16] This was a federally funded, multi-year Building Strong Families Program study contracted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. The study group included low-income, unwed couples.

An impact report released by the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation[17] showed that the intervention had no positive impact and, in one case, "had negative effects on couples' relationships."[18]

Supporting Healthy Marriage ProjectEdit

An ongoing study by Manpower Development Research Corporation (MDRC),[19] known as the Supporting Healthy Marriage Project (SHM), is evaluating Gottman's "Loving Couples, Loving Children" program among low-income, married couples. The multi-year, random assignment study is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. In an early impact study on the effectiveness of "skills-based relationship education programs designed to help low-income married couples strengthen their relationships and, in turn, to support more stable and more nurturing home environments and more positive outcomes for parents and their children," MDRC reported [20] "Overall, the program has shown some small positive effects, without clear indications (yet no clear negative proof) for improving the odds to stay together after 12 months."

The program is still ongoing.

Matthews, Wickrama and CongerEdit

A study published by Matthews, Wickrama and Conger in 1996 based on couples' perceptions showed that spousal hostility, net of warmth, predicted with 80% accuracy which couples would divorce or not divorce within a year.[21]

Relations and effectsEdit

In multiple analyses, Gottman has shown a plethora of relations and effects in marriage and divorce, some in peer-reviewed publications, while many others appear in Gottman's own books. Among those are

  • The physical elements in marital conflict (i.e., physical effects are central to the inability to think, etc., in conflict situations) for which he advises a 20-minute cooling period or physical relaxation.[22]
  • The effects of "bids for connection." That is the smallest bids people do to connect and how the other reacts. For example, happy couples do have many more "bids for connection" when together, and much more "turn towards" response, and much, much fewer "turn away" - the most negative reaction. The book dedicated to this element is "The Relationship Cure."
  • The concept of "trust," which Gottman defines as having each others backs.[23]
  • The neutral affect provides a way out of negative interactions as most interactions do not transition directly from negative to positive. The degree of neutral affect is often overlooked as a predictor of relationship success due to the very fact that the neutral affect is simply neutral.[23]
  • The dynamic to cause divorce in the short term is different from that causing divorce later. Early divorce is characterized by the "four horsemen" of bad fighting, whereas later divorce is characterized by lower positive affect in earlier stages of the relationship.
  • Anger is not at all bad for relationships. Happy couples are as frequently angry as unhappy couples. It seems that how people react to anger and how destructive they get is the crucial factor rather than the frequency of anger or fights. Gottman even says that anger is functional in marriage.
  • 69% of happy couples still have *the very same* unresolved conflicts after 10 years, yet remain happy because they do not get gridlocked in the conflict and manage to get around it.[24]

Contempt and marriageEdit

Gottman's Cascade Model of Relational Dissolution[25] states that there are four major emotional reactions that are destructive and thus are the four predictors to a divorce: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. Among these four, Gottman considers contempt the most important of them all.[26]

Seven PrinciplesEdit

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, his most popular book, Gottman discusses behaviors that he observed in marriages that are successful and those that are detrimental to marriage, based on research conducted at his "Love Lab" in Seattle, Washington. He outlines seven principles that will reinforce the positive aspects of a relationship and help marriages endure during the rough moments.

Practical solutionsEdit

Here is a partial list of methods and practices developed by Gottman for marriage and child-rearing:

Therapist educationEdit

The Gottman Institute certifies new therapists regularly. Three levels of professional training are generally delivered through intensive two-day seminars or through at-home or online study to train therapists in Gottman Method Couples Therapy:[27]

  • Learn to integrate research-based methods and inspire transformation in your work with couples.
  • Identify the communication patterns, friendship basis, and conflict management dynamics that characterize enduring intimate relationships.
  • Discover a roadmap for helping couples to compassionately manage their conflicts, deepen their friendship and intimacy, and share their life purpose and dreams.

Pre-birth workshopEdit

Bringing Baby Home is a two-day seminar to help prepare would-be parents to a new baby, using 18 exercises and other tricks. In a peer-reviewed paper, Gottman shows that for a randomly controlled (but not blinded) experiment, couples attending the workshop were tremendously better off later, as follows: Without the workshop, 70% of couples had lower marital satisfaction relative to before birth (a common finding); 58% of mothers had some symptoms of depression after giving birth. For mothers who participated in the workshop only 22% of mothers had depressive symptoms.[citation needed]

Self-help booksEdit

Gottman has authored and co-authored over 40 books for a general audience, with research-backed advice for improving marriages, raising emotionally intelligent children, and on how to bring a new baby home without damaging the relationship.[28]

The Gottman Method of Relationship TherapyEdit

Personal lifeEdit

John Gottman was born in the Dominican Republic to Orthodox Jewish parents. His father was a rabbi in pre-WWII Vienna. John was educated in a Lubavitch yeshiva elementary school in Brooklyn, and he observes kosher and the Sabbath.[29]

Over three decades ago, he married Julie Gottman née Schwartz, a psychotherapist. His two previous marriages had ended in divorce.[30]

The couple currently live in Washington state.

Awards and honorsEdit

Gottman has been the recipient of four National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Awards, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Distinguished Research Scientist Award, the American Family Therapy Academy[31] Award for Most Distinguished Contributor to Family Systems Research, the American Psychological Association Division of Family Psychology, Presidential Citation for Outstanding Lifetime Research Contribution and the National Council of Family Relations,[32] 1994 Burgess Award for Outstanding Career in Theory and Research.[33]


Gottman has published over 190 papers, and is the author or co-author of 40 books, notably:[33]

  • Nan Silver; Gottman, John (1994). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: What You Can Learn from the Breakthrough Research to Make Your Marriage Last. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-86748-5.
  • Joan Declaire; Gottman, John (1997). The Heart of Parenting: How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-80130-8.
  • The Marriage Clinic (W.W. Norton, 1999), W W Norton page
  • Nan Silver; Gottman, John (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-609-80579-4. – a New York Times bestseller
  • Gottman, John; Joan Declaire (2001). The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends, and Lovers. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-609-60809-8.
  • Anne Gartlan; Julie Schwartz Gottman; Joan Declaire (2006). Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America's Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship. Random House Audio. ISBN 978-0-7393-3237-5.
  • Julie Schwartz Gottman; Gottman, John (2008). And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-1-4000-9738-8.
  • Gottman, John (2011). The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-70595-9.
  • Gottman, John; Silver, Nan (2012). What Makes Love Last. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 305. ISBN 978-1451608489.
  • Gottman, John; Gottman, Julie Schwartz (2015). 10 Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393708356
  • Gottman, John; Gottman, Julie Schwartz; Abrams, Douglas; Abrams, Rachel Carlton (2016). The Man's Guide to Women. New York: Rodale. ISBN 978-1-62336-184-6.
  • Gottman, John; Gottman, Julie Schwartz (2018). The Science of Couples and Family Therapy: Behind the Scenes at the "Love Lab". New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393712742.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Gottman Institute. Online Abstracts of Published Research Articles. Accessed online 14 October 2008.
  2. ^ John Gottman. John Gottman, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed online 14 October 2008.
  3. ^ "The Top 10: The Most Influential Therapists of the Past Quarter-Century". Psychotherapy Networker. 2007. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  4. ^ "Research FAQs". The Gottman Relationship Institute. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. ^ "Research FAQs". The Gottman Relationship Institute. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
  6. ^ "What is Gottman Method Couples Therapy?". The Gottman Research Institute. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
  7. ^ Buehlman, K.T., Gottman, John (1996). The Oral History Coding System.(In J. Gottman (Ed.), What predicts divorce? The measures. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  8. ^ Buehlman, K. T.; Gottman, John; Katz, L. F. (1992). "How a couple views their past predicts their future: Predicting divorce from an oral history interview". Journal of Family Psychology. 5 (3–4): 295–318. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.5.3-4.295.
  9. ^ a b Carrere, S.; Buehlman, K. T.; Gottman, J. M.; Coan, J. A.; Ruckstuhl, L. (2000). "Predicting marital stability and divorce in newlywed couples". Journal of Family Psychology. 14 (1): 42–58. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/0893-3200.14.1.42. PMID 10740681.
  10. ^ Gottman, John (2003). The Mathematics of Marriage. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-07226-7. Archived from the original on 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2008-10-14.
  11. ^ a b Heyman RE, Smith Slep AM (May 2001). "The Hazards of Predicting Divorce Without Crossvalidation". J Marriage Fam. 63 (2): 473–479. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00473.x. PMC 1622921. PMID 17066126.
  12. ^ Abraham, Laurie (8 March 2010). "Can You Really Predict the Success of a Marriage in 15 Minutes?". Slate.
  13. ^ "Research FAQs". Gottman Relationship Institute. Retrieved 4 June 2010.
  14. ^ Gottman, JM; Levenson, RW (2002). "A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: exploratory analyses using 14-year longitudinal data". Fam Process. 41 (1): 83–96. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2002.40102000083.x. PMID 11924092.
  15. ^ "Family Support Policy Research". Mathematica.
  16. ^ "Resources for Couples | The Gottman Institute".
  17. ^ [1] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation.
  18. ^ Building Strong Families Program Impact Report, Mathematica Policy Research, May 2010.
  19. ^ "MDRC". MDRC.
  20. ^ Knox, Virginia, et al. "Early Impacts from the Supporting Healthy Marriage Evaluation," MDRC, New York, NY, March 2012.[2]
  21. ^ Matthews, Lisa S.; K. A. S. Wickrama; Rand D. Conger (August 1996). "Predicting Marital Instability from Spouse and Observer Reports of Marital Interaction". Journal of Marriage and Family. 58 (3): 641–655. doi:10.2307/353725. JSTOR 353725.
  22. ^ The Marriage Clinic, John Gottman, 1994
  23. ^ a b The Science of Trust, John Gottman, 2011
  24. ^ The Marriage Clinic, John Gottman, 1994
  25. ^ Handbook of interpersonal communication. Knapp, Mark L., Daly, John A. (John Augustine), 1952- (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. 2002. ISBN 978-0761921608. OCLC 49942207.CS1 maint: others (link)
  26. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2005). Blink. Back Bay Books imprint (Little, Brown and Company). pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0-316-01066-5. Archived from the original on 2008-04-14. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  27. ^ "Research-based couples therapy training for individuals and groups," The Gottman Relationship Institute website, retrieved November 26, 2012. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2012-11-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. ^ "John M. Gottman". Retrieved 2020-08-22.
  29. ^ Weinstein, Natalie (30 May 1997), "Do you want to raise a mensch? Psychology researcher tells how", The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
  30. ^ "Gottman Rite Held". Wisconsin State Journal (p.2, section 5). 14 February 1971.
  31. ^ American Family Therapy Academy website
  32. ^ "Home | National Council on Family Relations".
  33. ^ a b "About John Gottman" Archived 2010-01-27 at the Wayback Machine on the Gottman Institute website

External linksEdit