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John Gottman

John Gottman with his wife Julie
John Mordecai Gottman

(born April 26, 1942) is a professor emeritus in psychology 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. With his wife, Julie Schwartz, Gottman heads a non-profit research institute (The Relationship Research Institute) and a for-profit therapist training entity (The Gottman Institute).[2]

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 divorce 1
    • Studies 1.1
      • 1992 1.1.1
      • 1998 1.1.2
      • 2000 1.1.3
    • Critiques 1.2
  • Independent studies testing Gottman marriage courses 2
    • Building Strong Families Program 2.1
    • Supporting Healthy Marriage Project 2.2
    • Matthews, Wickrama and Conger 2.3
  • Relations and effects 3
    • Contempt and marriage 3.1
    • Seven Principles 3.2
  • Practical solutions 4
    • Therapist education 4.1
    • Pre-birth workshop 4.2
    • Self-help books 4.3
  • Research methods 5
  • Personal life 6
  • Awards and honors 7
  • Media appearances 8
  • Works 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Predictions of divorce

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. 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 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 conducted by Gottman and Buehlman in 1992, in which they interviewed couples with children. A posteriori modeling yielded a discriminant function that predicted which couples would divorce with 94% accuracy.[8] Gotten believed that since early married life is a period of change and adjustment, and perceptions are being formed, and 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 paper by 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]

The author shows his points by creating a divorce prediction model with a data set, and showing its low validity when the above considerations are tested.

Prof. 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 courses

Building Strong Families Program

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, known as "Loving Couples, Loving Children,"[15] was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research[16] at nine sites in five states through the 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 Project

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 Conger

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 effects

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 less "turn away" - the most negative reaction. The book dedicated to this element is "The Relationship Cure."
  • The concept of "trust," which Gottman defines as the tendency to cooperate to form "win-win" situations, and the ability to get unstuck from the loss-loss state loop (like mutual defecting in the Prisoner's dilemma). A central feature of unhappy relationships, notes Gottman, is that couples are stuck in loss-loss loops.[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 marriage

Gottman's theory 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.[25]

Seven Principles

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

Practical solutions

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

Therapist education

The Gottman Relationship Institute certifies new therapists regularly. Three levels of professional training are generally delivered through intensive two-day seminars led by John Gottman and his wife, Julie, to help therapists:[26]

  • 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 workshop

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 (not blind) 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 has some symptoms of depression after giving birth. Participation in the workshop resulted in no reduction in marital satisfaction, and only 22% of mothers had depressive symptoms.

Self-help books

Gottman has authored and co-authored multiple books for a general audience on marriage improvement, etc., raising emotionally intelligent children, and on how to bring a new baby home without damaging the relationship.

Research methods

Gottman is renowned for thorough and creative research methods:

1) Extensive data collection and coding. In Gottman's research, subjects were recorded for the following aspects (many of them for the same episode):

  • Physical data (sweating, heart rate, HRV, skin temperature)
  • Facial expressions: coded for emotions based on the Paul Ekman facial signals of emotions
  • Talk content: subjects were asked to press a dial about the level of feelings, etc., in the conversation afterwards.

2) Nonlinear mathematical modeling

Personal life

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 currently identifies with Conservative Judaism.[27]

Two decades ago, he married Julie Gottman, a psychotherapist. The couple currently live in Washington state. They have a biological child together, Moriah Gottman.

Two previous marriages ended in divorce.[28]

Awards and honors

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[29] 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,[30] 1994 Burgess Award for Outstanding Career in Theory and Research.[31]

Media appearances

Gottman has been seen on, among other television programs, Good Morning America, the Today Show, the CBS Morning News and Oprah. He has been profiled in the New York Times, the Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Glamour, Woman's Day, People, Self, the Reader's Digest, Psychology Today, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.[31]


Gottman has published over 190 papers, and is the author or co-author of 40 books, notably:[31]

  • 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:  
  • Joan Declaire; Gottman, John (1997). The Heart of Parenting: How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York: Simon & Schuster.  
  • 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. bestseller New York Times – a  
  • Joan Declaire; Gottman, John (2001). The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends, and Lovers. New York: Crown Publishers.  
  • 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.  
  • 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.  
  • Gottman, John (2011). The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.  
  • Gottman, John; Silver, Nan (2012). What Makes Love Last. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 305.  


  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. 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. 
  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.  
  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.  
  10. ^ Gottman, John (2003). The Mathematics of Marriage. MIT Press.  
  11. ^ a b Heyman RE, Smith Slep AM (May 2001). "The Hazards of Predicting Divorce Without Crossvalidation". J Marriage Fam 63 (2): 473–479.  
  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.  
  15. ^ The Gottman Relationship Institute, "Gottman Programs for Couples."
  16. ^ Mathematica Family Support Policy Research website
  17. ^ [4] 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 website
  20. ^ Knox, Virginia, et al. "Early Impacts from the Supporting Healthy Marriage Evaluation," MDRC, New York, NY, March 2012.[5]
  21. ^ Matthews, Lisa S.; K. A. S. Wickrama and 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.  
  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. ^  
  26. ^ "Research-based couples therapy training for individuals and groups," The Gottman Relationship Institute website, retrieved November 26, 2012. [6]
  27. ^ Weinstein, Natalie (30 May 1997), "Do you want to raise a mensch? Psychology researcher tells how", The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California 
  28. ^ "Gottman Rite Held". Wisconsin State Journal (p.2, section 5). 14 February 1971. 
  29. ^ American Family Therapy Academy website
  30. ^ National Council of Family Relations website
  31. ^ a b c "About John Gottman" on the Gottman Institute website

External links

  • The Gottman Institute
  • The Mathematics of Love - An interview (Edge)
  • An Interview with John Gottman (
  • Seven Principles For Making Marriage WorkGottman's - Commentary from 50 Psychology Classics (2007)
  • John Gottman: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child KUOW-FM Speaker Forum
  • John Gottman : Couples workshop training first time in London United Kingdom in 2013
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