Monday, September 10, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work"

TITLE: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert
AUTHOR: John M. Gottman and Nan Silver
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999, (274 pages).

This is one of the best books on marriage that I have read. Beginning with a startling announcement that 91% of his predictions on the success or failure of a marriage within a 5 minute observation, Gottman makes several other claims which are quite controversial.
  • That most marriage therapy fails. For example, "active listening" and "conflict resolution" simply does not work.
  •  "Emotionally intelligent marriages" is a predictor of whether a marriage will be happy or not.
  • That the percentage of first time marriages ending in divorce being a whopping 67%
  • That happy marriages lead to stronger physical immune systems. 
The authors are careful to note that while they are effective predictors of the health of a marriage, their primary concern is on how to enhance and preserve good marriages.  Other myths they expose are:
  • Blaming bad marriages on personality issues;
  • Assuming common interests will keep marriages together;
  • Believing that reciprocity relationships work better;
  • Using conflict avoidance to save marriages;
  • That affairs are the cause of marriage breakdowns;
  • That men are not "biologically built for marriage"
  • The popular notion of "men from mars and women from venus"
What Gottman is pointing at is that there are many myths out there, and even marriage manuals are full of myths that need to be uncovered. Instead of depending on ideas without much factual support, Gottman says that he based his seven principles on scientific evidence and mathematical analysis. These seven principles are themselves based on two fundamental statements.

  1. "Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship." (19)
  2. The success of a marriage is dependent on a "deep sense of meaning." (23)

How Gottman Predicts Divorce

Basically, he looks for 5 signs.
  1. A Harsh Startup: where within three minutes of a conversation, whether the response builds up or tears down the initiative to heal.
  2. The Four Horsemen of Impending Trouble (in increasing order): Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.
  3. Flooding: where one's negativity and defensiveness 'floods' the other so much that there is a feeling of shell-shocked and helplessness
  4. Body Language: Words alone are not the tell all. The body language during a couple's communications can reveal sad truths about the relationship.
  5. Failed Repair Attempts: Not much success comes from any attempt to heal or to repair the relationship.
  6. Bad Memories: When a spouse starts to remember only negative history, or increasing despondency whenever the past is recalled, the end is near.

PRINCIPLE #1 - Enhance Your Love Maps

A love map is basically how much we know about each other. From personal interests to best friends, inner secrets to outer preferences, important events, emotions, personal triumphs and despairs, happy couples do not just know, but continue to enhance their knowledge of each other.

PRINCIPLE #2 - Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

Learning to work on positive things will definitely help any marriage. It is an antidote against contempt. Using "I appreciate" often, one avoids fanning any flames of negativity. One can be intentional about inculcating a fondness and admiration for each other through consistent exercise and expression of appreciation in spite of weaknesses.

PRINCIPLE #3 - Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

Whenever there is a conflict, there is a common tendency to turn away from each other. The fear of "accusations, recriminations or awkward silences" can often lead to missing out opportunity for greater growth, understanding, and maturity in dealing with differences. Gottman suggests accumulating one's "emotional bank account." He encourages couples toward "stress-reducing conversation" that take turns for speaking, avoiding unsolicited advice, showing genuine interest, communicating and paraphrasing what one hears, taking the side of the other person, expressing solidarity through more use of WE, showing affection and validating emotions.

PRINCIPLE #4 - Let Your Partner Influence You

Rather than becoming a total sponge of accepting everything our spouses say, Gottman teaches gradual acceptance through open influence. Husbands can learn from their wives through recognition of how the wives have influenced them in their decision making. Emotionally intelligent husbands are those who honour their wives and respect them for who they are. At the same time, they are comfortable with the fact that letting themselves be influenced by their wives is not a sign of weakness, but strength.

PRINCIPLE #5 - Solve Your Solvable Problems

 Gottman makes a distinction between solvable and "perpetual" problems. Knowing which is which is critical because it gives a realistic assessment of what couples can do and not do. It is meaningless to pour extensive resources over perpetual problems, much like trying to empty the sea of water. Here, Gottman makes a core statement about how to cope.

"communicating basic acceptance of your partner's personality. Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that that person understands you. So the bottom-line rule is that, before you ask your partner to change the way he or she drives, eats, or makes love, you must make your partner feel that you are understanding. If either (or both) of you feels judged, misunderstood, or rejected by the other, you will not be able to manage the problems in your marriage. This holds for big problems and small ones." (149)

This fifth principle comprises of five steps.
  1. Soften your startup
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
  4. Compromise
  5. Be tolerant of each other's faults
PRINCIPLE #6 - Overcome Gridlock

Here, Gottman shows from his experience what can and cannot be done realistically. He argues that the way out of any gridlock is not resolution but conversation.  Move from "gridlock to dialog." Understand the cause. Know the identity and the dreams of your partner. Respect the dreams of the spouse. He suggests four steps. Firstly, to become a dream detective by finding out what dreams our spouses have. Secondly, work on the gridlock issue by clearly explaining one's position without degrading the other. Thirdly, take time to soothe each other and avoid flooding each other out. This can be done through gentleness, understanding, and realistic expectations. Fourthly, compromise if necessary. Not all problems can be resolved within any set time. Fifthly, be tolerant of each other's fault.

PRINCIPLE #7 - Create Shared Meaning

Gottman here gives us a key idea on what makes marriages work best.

"A crucial goal of any marriage, therefore, is to create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her convictions." (245)

When this happens, the meaning of marriage becomes more and more significant and clear in both persons.

My Thoughts

This is one of the best marriage books out there in the market. It spells out the problems and the solutions clearly. It lists the many practical issues affecting many marriages. While there is a tinge of arrogance in the way Gottman disses many marriage books and therapy treatments, I believe he is sincere in his approach. Some may accuse him of over-sensationalizing his research to the detriment of others, if the book can help any struggling couple improve their marriage, it will certainly be worth it.



AT said...

You may have heard of the Alpha Marriage course, check this site:

Personally I found this marriage course helpful.

Conrade Yap, (Dr) said...

@At, Thanks for the pointer. At first glance, The Alpha Marriage looks like another of those courses that Gottman will label as therapies that "do not work." That said, I think marriage seminars or courses need to be categorized differently. The first is for those whose marriages are not in any crisis state. The second is crisis management. The Alpha Marriage course appears more in the first case. Gottman ambitiously tries to cover both crisis and non-crisis situations. For that matter, Gottman is strongly confident that within 5 minutes, he can tell whether a couple will make up or break up. Thanks for your recommendation.


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