Archive of ‘Gottman Couples Counseling’ category

When Is It Time To Get a Divorce?

As a couples therapist, I see couples who are struggling to re-invigorate their sex life, they are struggling with finances, they have trouble raising their children, etc. Having these reasons in mind as to why many of my couples come in on the brink of divorce, researcher Dr. John Gottman says that the main reasons why couples divorce is due to sex, finances, and raising children. I must say that though Dr. Gottman has a point, I disagree—couples divorce due to lack of emotional connection. 

If you are not emotionally connected and engaged in your marriage, you will not be able to manage a sex life together, manage money together, or create a safe parenting space together. Dr. Sue Johnson, creator of the dynamic Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy, says that the erosion of an emotional bond between two partners is the beginning of the end to their relationship. As humans, we are wired to connect in a safe and emotionally healthy way. If we do not have this in a marriage, we will slowly disconnect and eventually divorce if no action for couples therapy is taken. 

Disconnection can look like many different things. Maybe you and your spouse keep arguing about household chores or who will walk the dog next. Perhaps a spouse can feel unsupported in their idea to switch careers. Maybe there is just an overall feeling of loneliness on both parts in the marriage. The main point to understand on a general disconnect in the marriage is that it can be understood and helped. Much of what we do in couples therapy at Austin Family Counseling is strengthen the emotional bond between partners as well as create a safe space for re-engagement and for couples to work on issues that have been reasons for feelings of disconnection in their marriage. Basically, a general feeling of disconnection is not a valid reason to divorce when there are many resources and tools to help build and strengthen your marriage. Rarely do couples come to me with the presenting problem of lack of engagement and leave the therapeutic process unhealed, reassured, and optimistic about their exciting new opportunities to re-spark their romantic life. 

Extreme cases, however, can absolutely be reasons to separate. In my years of practice, I have seen such reasons for a therapist to recommend separation as physical abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, and active addiction.

Physical Abuse

This is perhaps the main reason that couples should divorce. Physical abuse of any kind is not acceptable in a marriage or any other kind of relationship. Physical abuse is seen in marriages where one partner has significant anger issues and has not managed their emotion to the point of it being unsafe to be close and vulnerable to this person. Women who stay married to physically aggressive men are very likely to have come from abusive households where they see abuse as a “natural” thing. 

According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, since the stay-at-home order has been put into effect in 2020, an alarming increase of domestic violence cases has occurred in the US. More partners are shut into their homes with their spouse, putting them more at risk of physical danger when the aggressive partner becomes triggered. Other effects that are brought on by the stay-at-home order are alcohol abuse, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, all VERY easy triggers of physical abuse. 

If you are involved in a physically abusive marriage, I urge you to reach out for help and escape from a dangerous situation as soon as possible within your boundaries of safety. If you are in Austin, the Salvation Army’s Austin Shelter for Women and Children, the SAFE Children’s Center, and Casa Marianella are all places where women and families can go for refuge from a physically abuse situation. As a couples therapist who becomes aware of physical abuse, I am ethically bound to stop couples therapy immediately and let the abusive partner know they need to do their own counseling and anger management if couples therapy ever resumes. 

Emotional/Verbal Abuse

Aside from physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse is another form of abuse that is sadly much harder to spot. Physical wounds leave visible marks, but emotional wounds can go unseen for sometimes decades. Emotional abuse is defined as any form of emotionally manipulative behavior perpetrated by one person to another that can cause PTSD, stress, or anxiety. Some forms of it are below:

  • Gaslighting: making the partner being gaslit think something is different than they actually experienced it.
    Example: “Something must be wrong with your memory because I never said that!”
  • Minimizing: making someone feel inadequate or unworthy based merely on how they are feeling
    Example: “I don’t know why you’re feeling that way, you didn’t have it that bad!”
  • Intimidation: using threatening language to reinforce a sense of control by the partner through invoking fear.
    Example: “I will hit you if you say that to me one more time!”

Though no form of abuse is ever acceptable, there tends to be more hope for emotional abuse than physical abuse in the couples I see. Sometimes, separation is key for partners where verbal abuse is going on before they are able to come back together and make the decision to either stay together or divorce. However, in my sessions with couples, a hard boundary I hold is to have no gaslighting, minimizing, intimidation, or name-calling in session. If you believe your partner has narcissistic qualities in them, definitely seek help for mental health as these can have longlasting negative effects on someone’s sense of self.

Active Addiction

Though many treatment modalities indicate couples can survive an active or recovering addiction, in extreme cases a marriage cannot always survive. If a partner is currently abusing alcohol and becomes physically or emotionally abusive, it is in the other partner’s best interest to leave when the marriage becomes an unsafe place. Unless the addicted partner commits to going to AA or therapy to work on their addiction, the marriage will become an unsafe place for both people, triggering an abusive cycle that both partners will be feeding into. 

When a partner is addicted to an illegal substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, etc.), the marriage is further complicated due to the unlawful possession of illegal substances in a household. Not only is the marriage riddled with addiction and addictive patterns, but this presents the marriage with far more dangers and reasons to divorce. Though only one partner is using, both spouses when living together are subject to legal ramifications that puts the non-addicted partner in a very precarious position. 

When couples come to me with an addiction present, I hold a firm boundary that the person who is addicted seek help through groups (i.e. AA, NA, SLAA, etc.), separate individual counseling, or in further cases checking into a detox and addictions treatment center for couples therapy to continue. It is unethical to do couples counseling while a noticeable addiction is going on due to the fact that the vulnerability needed in couples therapy can at times exacerbate the addicted spouse’s addiction. 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

Premarital Counseling: How to Prepare for a Marriage

Premarital counseling is a great start on preparing for a successful marriage. In today’s culture an engaged couple usually spends 8 months or more planning a wedding. I’ve often wondered that if an engaged couple could spend 8 months preparing for a marriage, what kind of difference it could make in the success of a marriage. With the right guidance and tools, a couple could increase their success of marriage by upwards of 30%. Taking the time to build understanding and to create tools with your partner is necessary to prepare for a marriage. Below are some resources to consider before you get married.

Finding the right premarital counselor

Finding the right fit of a premarital counselor is essential for any engaged couple. This could be the start of a relationship with a counselor for your marriage. Make sure they are the best fit for your relationship, not for one partner in particular. Make sure during premarital counseling that all the tough topics are talked through such as: Finances, Parenting, Division of Chores, Spirituality, and any trauma from previous relationships or family of origin. A premarital counselor can be found through your local church, therapist in town, or through workshops for couples.

Recommended Books for Engaged Couples

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

Chapman’s book talked through how a person can feel loved through 5 different language. This book helps open a person’s mind in to how they can best love their partner.

Attached. By Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

Lavine’s and Heller’s’ book talks through the different attachment styles a person develops as they grow up and how it affects their romantic relationships. This book helps a person understand why they and their partner might respond certain ways to some situations.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman PhD and Nan Silver

Gottman and Silver talk through seven different principles that their research over the past 20 years has revealed in making a marriage work. Talking through these seven principles with your partner will start lifelong conversation that will help you continue to work on your marriage.

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson Ed.D.

Nelson talks through how the structure of discipline as grown and changed over the past 50 years. She talks through concepts of how to be kind and firm in parenting and redefines what being a successful parent looks like.

Written by: Julie Smith, LMFT-Associate
Under the Supervision of Kirby Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Love Maps For Couples

Andrew Groeschel, LMFT

Andrew Groeschel, LMFT

John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, is widely known as a seminal guide for marriage therapists and the couples they counsel. One of his seven principles, and the focus of this brief musing, is the process Gottman refers to as “enhancing your love maps.”

So what are love maps for couples? Love maps encompass those details – some intimate, some mundane – that we know about our loved one. Simple things like your partner’s favorite color or more personal aspects, such as her deepest and most vulnerable longings. The things she shares with you and only you. These all form the constellation of special nuances we know and admire about the person we love. They are the maps that form our love.

Love maps, like all maps, get outdated. Can you imagine your love as a cityscape? As someone who moved back to Austin twenty years after first living here, I am very aware of how my map of this expansive city has drastically transformed. Les Amis Café on the drag and Liberty Lunch downtown are no more. I am called to evolve my map of the city. There are new cafes and music venues to love as they represent a new evolving essence of this place at a different time from when I first fell in love with her. She is different and so am I. I am called to renew my love maps with this beloved city.

So it goes with relationships. They evolve. People change and sometimes, just like watching the slow process of a city’s transformation, we can miss what is unfolding right in front of our eyes. We get into routines that blur our vision of the beautiful mystery of change that is so central to life. We forget about what drew us to our loved one in the first place. We get wrapped up in the comings and goings of work or the rearing of our children. Some drift and wake up one day thinking, “who is this person I am sleeping next to?” It doesn’t have to be this way.

Gottman encourages couples to consistently renew and revive their love maps. Ask about your partner’s new friend over a cup of coffee. Share how much you admire his resilience as he manages through yet another change at work. Ask her what she is most proud of. What is the best novel they read over the summer? What was that song that put a smile on his face before dinner? The questions are endless and with each asking we renew our love maps. We deepen our bonds and solidify our love.

Gottman’s research has consistently shown that couples that are in the habit of attuning to and renewing their love maps are better able to weather the storms of life’s inevitable disruptions and unsuspected changes. The arrival of a new baby, an unfortunate lay off, or the death of a parent are examples of events that can rattle a relationship. Love maps for couples provide a buttress against these storms.

Austin Family Counseling Love Maps

Just a few examples of Love Map questions drawn from Gottman’s book include:

What Stresses are you facing right now?

What is the date of our anniversary?

What is your favorite way to spend an evening?

Who was your best friend in childhood?

What is your favorite TV show?

What is one of your biggest concerns or worries?

Do you have a secret ambition? What is it?

Can you think of anymore? Can you imagine a follow up question to the ones above that may deepen even further your knowledge of your partner? Give it a try and enjoy the ride of (re)discovering who your partner really is and why you love them so.


Andrew Groeschel is a licensed marriage family therapist at Austin Family Counseling. Along with being a father and an avid record collector, a core aspect of his love map is the inspiration he gains from helping couples cultivate their own love maps!


Gottman, John M., Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press. New York. 1999.

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