Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

This book has been doing the rounds for a while now, having been originally published in 1999. However a revised edition has been released this year. Having read both within 2 months of each other, not much has been changed and the good concepts and ideas of the first book are still the same in the revised edition. I have found it to be incredibly helpful, wise and insightful.

Gottman has been researching relationships for 40 odd years and he is known as one of the world’s leading relationship experts, you will often find his work cited by other authors on marriage.

He starts dealing with some marriage myths (pretty much debunking the whole ‘active listening technique’ in the process). He outlines the research he has done and how it points to key problems in marriages. He outlines what makes marriage work (essentially mutual admiration, respect and friendship) and then his key indicators of future divorce, which are almost entirely related to how a couple communicate.

From these he has developed 7 principles that make marriages work, in essence:

  1. Knowing and being involved in the details of each others lives
  2. Having fondness and admiration for one another
  3. Choosing to turning towards each other rather than away from each other
  4. Allowing your partner to influence you
  5. Being committed to solving solvable problems
  6. Overcoming the gridlock of perpetual problems
  7. Create shared meaning for life together

Each of these has detailed explanations, examples of marriages doing it well and poorly, and then extensive exercises for a couple to do together. In essence he has written a ‘do-it-yourself’ marriage course for any couple willing to put in the time and effort.

His detailed comments & observations on communication are very helpful. He points out the risk of starting conversations harshly, rather than gently; 4 danger areas he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling); how to manage flooding (emotional overload); and he makes a distinction between problems that you can solve and problems that you have to live with and manage.

It is a secular book so for Christian content you need to go elsewhere, yet his framework is clearly pro-marriage and pro-working at it to make it better. Time after time I found myself writing out quotes from it to remember.

Here are some:
The more emotionally intelligent a couple – the better able they are to understand, honour, and respect each other and their marriage – the more likely they will indeed live happily ever after (p5)
...happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples tend to know each other intimately – they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but through small gestures day in and day out. (p21) 
The more you can imbue your relationship with the spirit of thanksgiving and the graceful presence of praise, the more profound and fulfilling your lives together will be. (p284)
people with the highest expectations for their marriages usually end up with the highest quality marriages. This suggests that by holding your relationship to high standards, you are far more likely to achieve the kind of marriage you want than you are by looking the other way and letting things slide. (p262)
Not surprisingly, a fair amount of his ideas have made it into our new marriage course.

Having re-read this in 2020, I still believe this is one of the best practical books on marriage, with the research to back it up. Gottman provides couples with excellent wisdom and advice, even if the exercises might feel forced for some. Highly recommended for all couples wanting to improve and strengthen their marriage, no matter how strong or weak it currently is. 

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