Making marriage work

Hilary Smith

Hilary Smith is a writer with Relationships Aotearoa and an experienced counsellor.

"The key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not in how you handle disagreements but in how you are with each other when you're not fighting."


This is what John Gottman, professor of psychology and couples researcher has to say in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work  (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999). Gottman's conclusions are based on over 16 years of studying couples as they live out a typical weekend.

There are clear patterns of interaction that mark a relationship under real strain. Gottman uses these to predict which relationships will break up, and he has a 91 % rate of accuracy. This book identifies them and shows the damage they do. You might easily recognise relationships you've seen or been part of in the descriptions he gives.

The ground breaking part of this work is that he also identifies seven principles that make relationships work.  The central idea is that couples can deliberately act in ways that keep the scales tipped in favour of the good feelings they have about each other. The big store of positive experiences offsets the times when their feelings about each other are negative.

So what are the principles that John Gottman recommends?

Principle 1   Enhance Your Love Maps
Relationships are about closeness, and one way of being close is knowing what goes on in each other's lives. This is about taking the time and effort to know what matters to your partner. You know how long to brew their tea, how they'll vote in the next election, and what they're scared of hearing when the phone rings late at night. You know about their expectation of promotion and their private dream to run a marathon.

Detailed knowledge will help you to recognise and address stresses and changes. It will help you to make plans that take both of you into account. It will help you have many small ways of doing something nice for your partner that you know they will appreciate.

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  • OneEyed says
    Compromise is required to make a Healthy Marriage Work properly as it is not possible to have everything that you desire, at the expense of someone else. It's going to be swings and roundabouts for both of you, constantly adjusting to make yourself and your partner happy.
  • Dee-Dee says
    My parents had been together for 60 years until my dad passed, my dad was the first and last man my mum had ever been with and I remember many times when my dad out of no where would put on one of his and mum's old school songs and he would ask for her hand and they would dance around the room, when we were younger we use to think it was hilarious now we realise how beautiful there marriage was, and now my brothers every now and then ask mum to dance with them. I suppose that I am lucky because as the youngest I can see how my parents marriage was and more so my older siblings marriages, which are all good, so at least I have some idea based on seeing their relationships that marriage can work, and work well

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