Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work

Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work

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by Margaret Fiero

In my last post I wrote about psychologist John Gottman’s research and Relationship Warning Signs. This week, I’m addressing a more hopeful topic: Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman’s research-based guide to achieving marital harmony. Here are some brief descriptions of each principle:

  1. Building Your Love Maps: When a couple first begins dating they are in a stage of discovery, asking such questions as, “What’s your favorite color?” and “What’s your favorite movie?” Developing a Love Map taps into that excitement and helps bring a couple closer together by allowing them to get to know each other throughout the relationship (Click here for an example of Love Map questions).
  2. Share Fondness and Admiration: This speaks to what Gottman finds are the most important aspects of a long-term relationship. Maintaining respect and mutual admiration may require looking back to what attracted you to your partner in the first place and rediscovering that initial fondness.
  3. Turn Toward Each Other, Not Away: Relationships need continuous tending, achieved primarily on a day-to-day basis, through the little things – not sending six dozen roses or buying lavish gifts when you mess up. This is about pouring a cup of coffee for your partner or letting them vent after a bad day, even if you’re tired. These small, simple acts of romance are a way to “turn toward” your partner and build your “emotional bank account.” Nurturing, loving acts fill this “account,” which in turn protects your relationship when it hits a rough patch. During these times of, let’s say, “emotional recession,” the account is depleted. Having more in the emotional bank provides more cushion for conflicts.
  4. Let Your Partner Influence You: The more you “turn toward” your partner and yield to them, the more you can accept their influence. A relationship is a team, and such a partnership requires fluid exchange of influence between spouses to maintain both flexibility and strength for weathering trials. This may require letting go of the desire to always be right or get what you want.
  5. Solve Your Solvable Problems: Not all problems are created equal, says Gottman. He identifies two types in a relationship: resolvable conflicts and unsolvable perpetual conflicts. It may sound fatalistic to describe problems as “unsolvable,” but research suggests that this is a realistic assessment; you must “pick your battles.” How do you know which to pick, though? Solvable problems feel less intense and gut-wrenching than perpetual, gridlocked problems. Gottman has a five step approach to fixing solvable problems. In short, avoid harsh startup, turn down the heat by soothing yourself and then your partner, compromise, and remember to accept and tolerate your partner’s flaws.
  6. Overcome Gridlock: While some problems are unsolvable, that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome the gridlock. Gottman feels that unfulfilled life dreams underlie these types of conflict. To approach such issues,  uncover your partner’s unfulfilled dream(s), discuss them, take a break in order to ramp down intensity, and make peace with the problem. The goal is for both partners to associate less pain with the issue.
  7. Create Shared Meaning: Saving the best for last, Gottman points out that marriage is more than just having someone to live out your daily grind with. Rather, it’s a way to create meaning for both you and you partner. One benefit of being married/coupled is having someone not only to lean on during the bad times and with whom to enjoy the good times, but to have someone with whom you can build a life. This is your spiritual partner, your confidant, and your family, as well as the person with whom you will develop and work to fulfill your collective life dreams.

If you struggle to implement these principles in your relationship, you may want to seek couples counseling. To learn more about Gottman and his findings, visit gottman.com or contact us to make a counseling appointment.