5 Types of Couples: The Gottman Method

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Classifying how a couple behaves can be extraordinarily difficult. Diagnosing a mental health condition in an individual includes discernment of what is circumstantial, what may be physical, etc. so with two individuals, it is doubly hard. While other psychologists have attempted a classification system to support their couples counseling process (i.e. Enrich Marital System) the system I find most easy to relate to is John Gottman’s. The Gottman Method is valuable because it offers practical skills, focuses on friendship/intimacy, and conflict management. By focusing on these key areas, the Gottman Method provides couples with tangible tools to strengthen their bond and navigate challenges effectively.


Gottman began his research through his work with the University of Illinois, during which he built an apartment lab (later known as a love lab). In this experiment, Dr. Gottman and his affiliate, Dr. Robert Levenson, measured couple’s facial expressions, heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductivity, and language. As a result, they discovered that couples who exhibit a magic ratio, 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction, were highly likely to maintain a healthy, contented relationship. While the Gottman Method offers various interesting compontents (The Four Horsemen, the Sound Relationship House), I find the types of couples, a helpful introduction to Gottman. The top three are identified as happy couples, and the bottom two are identified as unhappy couples.


1. Conflict Avoiders

Conflict avoiders acknowledge that they are individuals with varied needs and boundaries. They navigate conflicts smoothly by maintaining individuality and unity. They aren’t overly expressive, but are able to maintain the 5:1 ratio. Differences in the individuals seem minimal and conflict rarely arises. When conflict does arise, conflict avoiders do not focus on persuading one another to change their mind, instead focusing on finding common ground. They prioritize harmony over winning arguments, which helps sustain their relationship in the long run.

2. Volatile Couples

Unlike conflict avoiders, volatile couples are quite emotional. One could say that is simply a more fiery, feeling oriented couple. Volatile couples share their world and there isn’t much room for individuality. Volatile couples debate their approach to one another with intensity, but balance it with great use of humor and fun. Therefore, their arguments are not abrasive or insulting. Humor and lightness keeps this type of relationship grounded and, in the midst of debating, leaves each individual in a non-reactive, trauma driven state.


3. Validating Couples

Validating couples are neither largely emotional, nor led purely by reason. These type of couples seem to run on neutral. This allows them to approach conflicts with a level-headed perspective, avoiding extreme reactions and keeping communication constructive. While they might experience bouts of power struggle, they will pick and choose conflicts, effectively prioritizing stability. Validating couples are quick to return to equilibrium and compromise. They value harmony, which enables them to sustain a stable and satisfying relationship.


4. Hostile Couples

Hostile couples are often critical of one another and are also often stuck in a pattern of all-or-nothing insults. During arguments, hostile couples often reiterate their own opinion incessantly, with little attempts to understand their partners point of view. Their inability to both empathize and communicate effectively can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction within their relationship.

5. Hostile Detached Couples

These couples fight with a fervor. Not only do they attack each other, but they refuse to give in. Further, unlike as is with hostile couples, there doesn’t seem to be any emphasis on love and emotional connection. Hostile detached patterns are the couples who don’t ever seem to even like and appreciate one another. This detachment creates a toxic environment where both individuals feel isolated and unfulfilled.

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