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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  • Wice says
    I've heard about this study and book before and in theory it sounds very good - wonderful in fact! However, in order to have a successful marriage (and by that I mean one where both people are happy and satisffied), I can't help coming back to the fact that both people must be on board. One person can read every book there as , go to counselling, attend seminars, read advice columns etc., but unless their other side really wants to make it work too, ie is prepared to put some effort in, to not always put their own needs first, then it's pretty much a lost cause.

    From a female perspective, let's face it, some me men just aren't 'good men' and for those who unfortunately bag these...
  • flowery3 says
    Good point there wice!
  • Starlite5 says
    Hear hear! Relationships are a two way street and if the traffic is only travelling one way then sooner or late it'll turn to custard...if only the practise was as easy as the theory.
  • Cataren says
    Wow looks like a great book. The trouble with relationships is that are 90% emotional. This book looks like it can help you step off the emotional rollercoaster and rationally examine it, identify issues, and address them!
  • vickym says
    We celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary yesterday. I think what makes it work is when you get married, you view it as something permanent..not, if it doesn't work out then we can seperate (not saying some seperations are not for very valid reasons of course). Its such a commitment and not one to be taken lightly.
  • Wice says
    Congrats Vicky. Hope you had a lovely anniversary!
  • Cinty says
    The little things that seem inadequate are the ones that truly matter - I got married in March this year and am finding it a struggle to be a 'good wife'. Being a mum as well as a wife can be hard work and it's so easy to forget the little things. (Never mind the fact I have a terrible memory! Ha) But I am trying, and just the effort itself is enough to help
  • Elisha says
    Someone told me..

    The bonds of matrimony are like any other bonds - they mature slowly. ~Peter De Vries
  • Elisha says
    Christmas Day makes most of the Marriage work
    • Wice says
      Sadly, I can't agree. Christmas can be a very stressful time in lots of marriages. I believe it is one of the busiest times at the Women's Refuge Centres. It's also a time when people can feel acutely lonely whether married or not. There is less money available, more booze, relatives you don't get on with, the battle about whose family to have dinner with, preparation stress.... I think Christmas can be a very difficult time and can play havoc even with a normally good marriage.
    • OneEyed says
      Marriage is a bit like the assembly line in a car factory. The Coordination and joining of many moving parts to create a thing of beauty. The end result Just Floor It and hang on as there will always be good days and bad days in your journey together.

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