Case Study Questions


In this hypothetical case example of a couple seeking treatment, background information of the couple is given, followed by a description of how a therapist might apply concepts related to Gottman’s (1999) approach.

Travis and Melody, who have been dating for 18 months, came to couples counseling because they were feeling unhappy and uncertain about the future of their relationship. Travis is 22 years old and identifies as a White, bisexual male. He is a senior is college and is studying history. He has recently informed Melody that he plans to apply for graduate school to pursue his dream of becoming a professor. Melody is 21 years old and identifies as a Pacific Islander, heterosexual female. She is a junior in college and is studying graphic design. To help pay for college and support themselves, both Travis and Melody work. Melody works at a local retail shop and greatly enjoys her job, whereas Travis works in a department on campus and is unhappy with his hours and job duties.

Travis and Melody decided to come to couples counseling when their friend made a joke about them fighting. The couple said that they then realized that they had been having more arguments lately and were not as happy in the relationship. The couple described that over the past 6 months they have been more “on edge” with each other. They explained how they frequently argue about stressors in their lives and areas where they have differing opinions. For example, Melody often is upset with Travis for playing too many video games on the weekends with his friends, and Travis becomes frustrated when Melody continues to ask him to go to church with her. The couple noted they also argue about their future and potential different directions they may go to pursue their own dreams.

The couple noted that during arguments they often become easily frustrated, begin yelling at each other, and then one of them typically leaves the situation. Both described feeling as though they are not resolving or making progress on their disagreements. As they described their disagreements, Melody and Travis interrupted each other, often disagreed with what the other was saying, raised their voices, and then began to shut down and become quiet. They noted that this is similar to how they talk about disagreements at home, although one person usually leaves the house for some time. They also said that when they are together again, they avoid the previous discussion and feel they need to be careful about what they say in order to not begin the conflict again.

When asked to share how they first met, Travis and Melody’s body language softened and they talked about how they met while living in the residence halls. They began spending more time together and then one day Travis shyly asked Melody out on a date. They described being very happy in the relationship for the first year and they began to reminisce about happy times. As they discussed the start of their relationship, they appeared happy and demonstrated more affection toward each other.

The couple identified several goals in their initial session. First, they noted they would like to be able to better communicate with each other, particularly when they are upset or disagree. Second, they said they want to be able to determine what their individual goals in life are as well as their goals as a couple and then find a way to support each other’s goals. Third, the couple said they would like to feel happier again in their relationship.


  1. What developmental components for each individual are important in this case?
  2. What individual aspects of identity might be relevant for this couple (together and separately) in therapy?
  3. How would you assess and/or address those issues in therapy?
  4. What relationship maintenance behaviors might be relevant in therapy with this couple?
  5. At this point, what might you address next in therapy with Travis and Melody?