The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Dr. John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is a summary of his studies from over 20 years of observing couples. He can predict with a 91% accuracy whether a marriage will fail or succeed with just minutes a few minutes observing a couple.  His advice is sound, based on fact.  An excellent read for anyone preparing for or already in a partnership.

In his introduction, he breaks down why common myths about marriage are incorrect.  He also elaborates on why partnerships are important and beneficial.  The basis is a good friendship, and the rest builds.

How to Predict Divorce

Gottman invites couples to spend fifteen minutes in his “love lab” where he observes them discussing a marital dispute.  Through these interactions, he looks for the following:

  • A harsh start-up. However the conversation begins is a strong indicator of how it will end, since things often escalate.
  • The Four Horsemen. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling can each be lethal to a marriage.
  • Flooding.  The only protection from flooding (basically an emotional onslaught that leaves someone shocked) is to emotionally disengage from the relationship.
  • Body language (a body’s response). Heart rate speeds up, adrenaline kicks in, and blood pressure rises.  Creative problem solving goes out the window, and you’re left with fight (criticism, contempt or defensiveness) or flight (stonewalling).
  • Failed repair attempts. They decrease tension, but are unfortunately often missed when a couple is having problems.
  • Bad memories. If a couple rewrites the past in a negative light, focusing on the lows rather than the highs, it’s going downhill.  At this point, a marriage is bound to fail.
  • The final four stages: You see your problems as severe, you try to solve problems on your own rather than as a couple, you start leading parallel lives, and loneliness sets in.

Any of these signs suggests that emotional separation and possibly divorce is only a matter of time.  One interesting point is that an affair is really a symptom of a dying marriage, not a cause, and that the end of the marriage could have been predicted prior to the affair due to the emotional disengagement.

So how do you save your marriage?

In each section, Gottman details why each principle is important and outlines exercises to assist.

Principle 1: Enhance Your Love Maps

Pay close attention to your partner’s habits, joys, likes and dislikes, fears and stresses.  Without your “love map,” you can’t really know someone, so how can you love them?

Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

If you have a fundamental sense that the other person is worthy of respect and of being liked, there is still potential to save even the rockiest marriage.  This is the most powerful buffer when bad times hit because fondness and admiration are the antidote to contempt.

Principle 3: Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

When you engage with your partner, even in brief chitchat, it creates a connection.  That connection allows a marriage to thrive.

Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You

Respect and honor your partner’s opinions and feelings.  Make decisions together.

Principle 5: Solve Your Solvable Problems

Soften your startup.  Learn to make and receive repair attempts.  Soothe yourself and each other.  Compromise.  Be tolerant of each other’s faults.  Treat your partner with the same respect you give your house guests, and be sensitive to their feelings.  (He delves into common problems and exercises to assist.)

Principle 6: Overcome Gridlock

The goal not to solve the problem, but to move from gridlock to dialogue, and to be able to discuss the issue without hurting each other.  You will have to learn to live with the problem.  First, understand the cause.  “Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other… hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are part of your identity and give purpose and meaning to your life.” (218)  (He offers multiple exercises for overcoming the gridlock.)

Principle 7: Create Shared Meaning

Develop your family culture, from rituals to roles to goals to symbols.

What Now?

By incorporating these principles into your marriage, you can change the course of your relationship.  Gottman offers further marital exercises to help strengthen your marriage.  This is definitely a book to pick up.

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