This past July, I attended the Johnson-Gottman Summit in Seattle. The Johnson-Gottman summit is a clinical training conference focused on marriage and couples therapy, hosted by couples counseling experts John and Julie Gottman and Sue Johnson. In this article, I would like to share some highlights I gleaned from my experience at the Summit.
Introducing the Experts: John & Julie Gottman and Sue Johnson
Sue Johnson is one of the main founders of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is designed to help clients listen to and respond more effectively to each other’s emotions; initiate new and healthier interactions; and create a more secure bond between partners. John and Julie Gottman created Gottman Couples Therapy (GCT), which is a research-based psychotherapy grounded in over four decades of observing what couples actually do to make their relationships work.
Round One: What Makes a Good Relationship?
At the end of various sessions, John and Julie Gottman would ask Sue Johnson questions, and vice versa. During the first round of questions, Sue Johnsons asked the Gottmans “What do you believe constitutes a good love relationship?” The following is a close paraphrase of how each expert responded:
John: “A good love relationship exists when you find and cherish someone with whom you can be yourself and have yourself accepted. You believe that the other is there for you and has your best interests at heart. When you are in pain, the world stops, and it is time to talk.”
Sue’s rephrasing: “If I call to you, you will hear my pain and care and put it first. You will not leave me alone.”
Julie: “I believe it is seeing the magnificence in your partner, the deep soul pain, the absolute truthful beauty at the center of their heart. The craziness, the stuff that makes us human (mistakes, selfishness, etc.) and love it all. The whole of it makes up the person. Honor the person, their dreams, understand the fallible and human parts, and accept the whole package.”
Sue’s rephrasing: “Both people can be human and vulnerable – safely – together.”
Round Two: What Helps Couples Change?
The second question Sue asked the Gottmans was, “What helps couples change?”, to which they responded:
John: “In many relationships, people have left each other for so long and have substituted each other with other people and/or things. Our goal is to help them reach toward each other again.”
Sue: “To offer them hope and a road map and help them re-connect.”
Julie: “We want to help people understand, in the midst of conflict, the internal world of the other person. We want to help partners access compassion for the other.”
Reuniting Rituals: A Tool for Healthy Relationships
In Gottman Couples Therapy, there are a variety of tools for couples to use. One such tool, an idea which stayed with me after the conference, is a ritual of reuniting at the end of every day. As you consider what is important to you and to your partner, what is each other’s “love language,” can you think of an ongoing ritual that would help you to reconnect at the end of a busy, often disconnecting, day? Maybe it is simply talking about the high and low points of the day. Or playing a game of cribbage. Or simply snuggling up together and watching a show. Whatever it is, I have come to see how crucial it is to be intentional each and every day with one another in order to sustain a truly loving relationship.
Christian Couples Counseling Based on Gottman-Johnson Techniques
One final question that Sue Johnson had for the Gottmans was this: “Why do you love couples therapy?” The response was: “It is beautiful to see people love each other.” If you feel your heart stirred and want to get help for your relationship, if you feel that you have lost some of the beauty in your relationship, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available. One such resource is Christian counseling. Within my practice, I utilize many of the Gottman’s and Johnson’s techniques. I have seen and experienced healing, both within my practice as well as within my own relationship.
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