Groundbreaking Study Establishes Gottman Method Couples Therapy As Effective For Gay and Lesbian Cou
In 2007, Alapaki Yee and I were two years into our relationship. At that time, I had just started a small private psychotherapy practice in San Francisco. Alapaki was in a counseling psychology graduate school program; we hoped to someday build a practice together.
What most people don’t know is that when you’re dating another therapist, you like to surprise each other with continuing education. You can complete the units together, and sometimes turn it into a short getaway.
I had never really considered visiting Seattle when our plane landed there in August, 2007. This was supposed to be my big surprise for my 30th birthday. I thought we were going to Switzerland, one of my favorite places in the world.
I was even more surprised when a taxi arrived at our hotel the following morning. The
“surprises” continued as Alapaki told the driver to take us to the Seattle Center, and then we walked into John and Julie Gottman’s ‘Art and Science of Love’ workshop.
In all honesty, I immediately started having fun learning about the communication techniques they were teaching. We enjoyed the break out exercises. The only problem in our mind was that we were one of three same-sex couples in a room of three hundred heterosexual couples.
CREATION OF THE GAY COUPLES INSTITUTE:
We asked John and Julie about whether these workshops exist for gay couples. They said, “Oh would you do that for us???” I thought, “Sure.” I don’t think they expected, though, that Alapaki and I would go back to our hotel and start planning. After several hours of dreaming and writing out many details, the Gay Couples Institute was created.
Alapaki and I continued by working toward becoming Certified Gottman Therapists. I went on to start teaching Level 1 and 2 Gottman Trainings. In 2008, the Gay Couples Institute served approximately 200 couples. This trend largely continued even through economic downturns, and we hired staff to create a group practice that could focus on couples communication techniques, as well as addiction, parenting and families, sex and sexuality, and strategies for gay and lesbian singles wanting to date.
In 2010, I read an empirical research article that discussed the utility of giving clients a paper-and-pencil assessment each session. I decided to start measuring my own couples every session by using the Locke Wallace Marital Assessment. Couples then wanted to know their results, so we created graphs. Lots of them. By 2016, we had assessed several hundred couples who came through our program.
At a training one day, Alapaki mentioned to John Gottman that we had all these graphs. John had no idea that anyone was tracking the outcome of Gottman Method Couples Therapy; he wanted to see the results as soon as possible. With the help of John’s research assistant, Marisa Preciado, we identified 106 couples that had Locke Wallace results with measurements over at least two time points.
THE THERAPY ITSELF:
The therapy consisted of at least nine to eleven sessions of Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Eight different therapists participated in the treatment study; all had varied therapy experience, Gottman training experience, and sexual orientations. We found that these variables did not influence the outcome.
Three domains of the same-sex couple’s world were addressed in treatment — conflict, friendship/intimacy, and shared meaning— but not in any pre-determined order. Interventions were selected in each session based entirely on the emotional concerns the couple brought into each session.
When Marisa crunched the numbers, we were amazed.
First, this was the first study showing any outcome measurement of couples, gay or straight, going through Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Most couples therapy showed that couples tended to improve half a standard deviation. Our couples improved approximately 1.2 standard deviations.
What’s an easy way to understand “standard deviation”? Most studies accept that the average male height in the United States is 5’10”, and the standard deviation is about 3 inches. Thus, 68% of males in the United States are between 5’7” and 6’1”.
Applied to our study, it would be like saying that most therapies improve male height half a standard deviation (about 1.5 inches). Our therapy caused improvement of 1.2 standard deviations (about 3.6 inches).
Consider this: If you were 3.6 inches taller after just nine sessions of therapy, would you notice a difference, compared to being just 1.5 inches taller? Most people would notice quite an impact if they were suddenly almost four inches taller.
This is the analogy I use to explain the impact that our couples experienced while going through Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
Even more amazing was the fact that couples experiencing an alcohol or drug addiction on the part of one or both of the partners improved more than couples without addictions. This significance demonstrates how relationships have the capacity to successfully battle and overcome addictions.
WHY DO GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES IMPROVE SO MUCH?
When I began to tell the clinical world about these amazing results, everyone wanted to immediately know why. I don’t know for certain, but I can give you some of the established theories regarding this phenomenon. Many of these theories were developed outside of the Gottman method, which offers encouragement to the Gottman Method Couples Therapy by way of being congruent with current scientific literature already in print.
Here are some of the current theories:
- First, it is well established that same sex couples are kinder to each other when they argue. Gottman et al. (2003) found that gay and lesbian couples used more kindness and humor to bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive as they engage in disagreement with one another. They also found that gay and lesbian couples use fewer hostile and controlling emotional tactics.
Balsam, Beauchaine, Rothblum, and Solomon (2008) hypothesized that same-sex partners are socialized similarly with regard to gender roles, and may share more similar communication styles than heterosexual couples.
Gotta, Green, Rothblum, Solomon, and Balsam (2011) found that when comparing couples from 1975 to 2000, variables such as equal distribution of houseworkchores, and equal division of finances continued to contribute to the couple’s perception of equality in their relationship.
Fals-Stewart, O’Farrell, and Lam (2009) also reported encouraging results with gay couples therapy when there were addictions.
Antonelli, Dettore, Lasagni, Snyder, and Balderrama-Durbin (2014) found that gay and lesbian couples, compared to heterosexual couples reported greater levels of satisfaction regarding quality of leisure time spent together, as well as satisfaction with their physical and sexual interaction.
In summary, although gay and lesbian couples have conflicts about many of the same issues as heterosexual couples, this study seems to show that Gottman Method Couples Therapy yields successful results in relationship satisfaction improvement for gay and lesbian couples in relatively few sessions. We are suggesting that perhaps one reason for our large effect sizes is that couples therapy is somewhat more powerful with same-sex couples.
Gay and lesbian couples going through relationship therapy at the Gay Couples Institute improved significantly over a six-year period of review. Whether the amazing outcomes were due to the inherent solid foundation already present in same sex relationships, or through the effects of Gottman Method Couples Therapy, this type of therapy has established itself as a solid and easily repeatable structure for any therapist interested in helping gay and lesbian couples create successful relationships. This outcome study is the first of it’s kind, and all the authors were proud to display the strengths of gay and lesbian relationships the scientific community, given the current worldwide political climate toward gays and lesbians everywhere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Salvatore Garanzini, MFT, is the Executive Director and Cofounder of the Gay Couples Institute, based in San Francisco, CA. He and his husband, Alapaki Yee, MFT, also a cofounder and Director of Operations, supervise clinical staff performing couples therapy at the Gay Couples Institute’s San Francisco, San Diego, and New York locations. Salvatore is also an adjunct professor in the University of San Francisco Counseling Psychology Department.