Couples Work: Explained

An overview of three different couples therapy modalities:

In working with couples, I use a blend of three leading couples’ therapies. Depending on the couple and their presenting challenges, I use a mixture of components from Drs. Gottman and their research-based psychoeducational training, Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt’s Imago relational dialogues, and Dr. Sue Johnson’s attachment-based emotionally-focused method.

The Gottman Method is a skills-based structured therapy (based on longitudinal research) which conceptualizes the Sound Relationship House with seven stories.


A strong foundation on of this “house” is based on the couple actively and mindfully building (and rebuilding) ongoing love maps of their partner’s rich internal workings. In a healthy foundation, each partner is actively curious of the other, asks questions, and takes stock of the other’s needs, values, priorities and stressors.

The second floor of the relationship house is built when the couple shares fondness and admiration. Couples who keep this floor strong nurture a culture of appreciation and gratitude for each other and the things each one does.

A strong third floor results when couples are mindful of their partners’ bids for attention. Here, the Gottmans teach couples to “turn towards, instead of away” in order to connect, and stay present with each other.  

The fourth floor of the house is built by what the Gottmans call the positive perspective. Here, the Gottmans stress that couples need a ratio of 5 positive interactions with each other to override one negative interaction.

The next floor up is based on effectively managing conflict. Here the Gottmans provide skills for fighting “correctly,” where couples get their requests heard and don’t feel dismissed. On this floor, the Gottmans teach how to regulate conflict and provide skills on self-soothing if regulation is too bumpy at times.

The final levels of the house focus on larger, self-actualizing concepts: big life dreams, shared meanings and deep support to build one another up.

If the Gottman’s Sound Relationship House metaphor is interesting to you, I encourage reading Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2018). The seven principles for making marriage work.

The Imago method was created by psychotherapists Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen Hunt, who theorize that our early childhood positive and negative feelings and sensations that we experienced from our primary caregivers continue to impact our perceptions and feelings in our later adult relationships. For example, a negative reaction toward our partner today may stem from an earlier wounding in our childhood relationship with our parents. The Imago dialogue uses key communication skills of mirroring, summarizing, validating, and empathizing.

Further recommended reading: Hendrix, H., & Hunt, H. (2013). Making marriage simple: 10 truths for changing the relationship you have into the one you want.

Likewise, Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (E.F.T.) observes the patterns that are causing challenges in our relationships currently and links them back to our early childhood messages. Johnson’s goal in EFT is to move towards healthy partner attachment and interdependency and achieve emotional connection and co-regulation. One set of questions used in this modality is accessibility, responsiveness and engagement (A.R.E.).

Accessibility is: “Can I reach you?” Responsiveness is: “Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?” Engagement is: “Do I know you will value me and stay close?” These questions mimic the patterns we were exposed to in our families-of origin.

Emotionally Focused Therapy also uses three steps for de-escalation (identifying current patterns), restructuring (discussing fears), and consolidation (finding out how to avoid negative patterns).

Further reading: Johnson, S. (2011). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little Brown & Co.