The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. John M.
Gottman and Nan Silver - summary
Gottman, John; Silver, Nan (1999). The
Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishers imprint (Three
– inside the Seattle Love Lab: the truth about happy marriages
This chapter speaks of how
John Gottman (et al) made a “Love Lab” where they studied couples
(recorded, physiologically monitored, etc.). The authors devised a 91%
successful way of predicting divorce – which can be observed with
a 5 minute observation! As mentioned, those predictions are based on
empirical studies. Gottman claims that often, couples therapy will not
work long term because often, the essential ingredients are not tapped
into. In emotionally intelligent marriages, a dynamic is established
where negative thoughts and feelings are kept from overwhelming the
Over 40 year period, 67% of
first marriages will break up. Half of divorces occur within the first
7 years. People who stay married live 4 years longer. Bad marriages
lead to physiological and psychological stresses, and thus consequences
(i.e. increase in: high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression,
suicide, violence, psychosis, homicide, substance abuse). Immune system
gets depressed because in divorcees. Heightened marital stress also
has an effect on the children’s physiology and their behaviours. A
peaceful divorce is better than an hostile marriage.
Self-reports are seen by Gottman
as erroneous. i.e. abused women will indicate that they are happy. But
when interviewed one-on-one, in a setting which they feel safe, their
agony is revealed.
Gottman tries to follow up
with his research couples in the long-term.
Gottman claims that working
on communication and/or conflict resolution does not lead to happier
marriages. The commonly advised “I” statements, “active listening”,
validation and empathy may be helpful, but it is not necessarily the
decisive factor in a couple’s relationship’s improvement. Conflict
resolution is not the decisive factor as happily married couples may
have a lot of conflict, and may not validate when angry at each other.
It is the positive sentiments overriding the negative ones.
personality problems ruin marriage: not true: we all have quirks!
It is how you deal with them.
keep people together: it may or may not be true – but it is
all in the “how” you do things together.
keeps a good relationship: WRONG!!!!! It is reciprocity –
i.e. keeping a tab on things – which is BAD for the relationship.
Instead: the happy couples just do thing because they feel happy about
will ruin your marriage: saying tough things “as is” and
not saying those tough things (i.e. “putting things under the rug”)
are polar positions, and both not necessarily good or bad. It is whether
both partners are satisfied with the pervasive approach.
the root causes of divorce: not true! Affairs happen because
there is a problem in the relationship. The relational problems which
send people into divorce also send people into affairs. Affairs are
usually about sex. 20-27% of surveyed divorcees said that an affair
was even partially to blame for the divorce.
Men are not
biologically built for marriage: it is more complex: the statistics
show that the more that women enter the workforce, the more they have
affairs to the equal extent to men.
Men and women
are from different planets: i.e. “men are from Mars and women
are from Venus” – is the famous phrase. Gender differences may contribute
to marriage difficulties, but do not cause them. There are underlying
common factors which both genders want from a relationship: 70% of both
men and women said that friendship is the key to satisfying relationship,
and much is affected by it (i.e. sex, romance, passion).
What does make marriages
Marriages are based on deep
friendship - i.e. knowing each other’s likes, dislikes, quirks, hopes
and dreams. The main affective vectors (positive or negative “sentiment
override”) –is the pervasive affect of the relationship.
Those who have a positive sentiment override can live
better with negative things in the relationship because the relationship
is balanced towards the positive. Those in relational negative
sentiment override. Things which happen get interpreted with
the hue of the vector of the sentiment override. In positive sentiment
override: things are more seen within a positive light whereas
in negative sentiment override, things are seen increasingly
negative. For example, in positive sentiment overrides,
there are attempts to repair tensions. Each couple has a “set-point”
for positivity and/or negativity, and the couple therapy may have to
work at moving the set point to a more positive valence. Some marriages
start with a high positive set-point, but they do not know how to maintain
it, and thus resentment, etc. kicks in (negative sentiment override).
Keeping the positive sentiment override in a marriage may be done through
Gottman’s seven principles.
Happily marries couples do
not have less conflict/tensions, but they are better able to repair
it before it gets out of hand (before negative sentiment overrides the
In the strongest marriages,
the partners have a common sense of meaning. This means
they support each other’s aspiration.
Bad news: most marital
arguments cannot be resolved. Many couples try to change each others’
minds with futility. People are different, and you have to learn to
live happily with it in some way or another.
Following the seven principles
will help the couple beyond the unhelpful conflict-resolution advice
they may have gotten or have to offer themselves.
– how I predict divorce
the studies couples were in Gottman’s ‘Love Lab’, he asked them
to argue and resolve a conflict. Findings show that it is not if they
argue but how they argue that makes the difference in the relationship.
Four signs of possible relational problems/divorce:
startup - i.e. how discussions (especially emotion-laden topics)
are started. Harsh startup are those conversation start-ups laden with
criticism and sarcasm - which are forms of contempt.
of the apocalypse: they are toxic to a relationship
– instead of a specific complaint (about a given action or situation):
better to complain about the action as opposed to criticize the
person for who the person is. Saying: “what’s wrong with you”
is a great way to build your divorce.
sarcasm and cynicism are examples of contempt and do wonders towards
your divorce! It is even bad for your immune system! Contempt can be
seen in things like rolling eyes, sneering, mockery and hostile humor.
Contempt is the most poisonous to a relationship than any other “horsemen”.
Sometimes, contempt is offered in the guise of high “moral” standards.
Contempt also affects the couple’s immune system. Belligerence is
similar to contempt. Contempt is fueled by long-standing negative thoughts.
explaining/defending oneself in light of attack actually does not have
the desired effect, as it tends to have an underlying blaming counter-attack,
such as in: “it’s not me, it is actually you”.
one of the partners eventually tunes out, after the aforementioned issues
- because s/he is overwhelmed. No non-verbal cues of listening are given.
It gives a message of “I do not care”. In 85% of cases, the stonewall-er
is the husband, usually for evolutionary reasons, as the man’s physiological
stress systems are more reactive and take longer to calm down, while
women can soothe themselves calm faster. Women can physiologically calm
down faster, and men’s physiology will more likely than women only
calm itself down independently, after retaliatory action.
people stonewall to protect against flooding response to harsh startups
or the Four Horsemen. Flooding is the defenseless, shell-shocked feeling
after the barrage of criticisms, contempt or defensiveness. People in
such states become hyper-vigilant that spouse is “just about to blow
at me again”. This state of mind, only reflexive responses could be
expected due to the physiological “fight-or-flight” state of the
flooded partner. Only is the above factors are a routine occurrence
is the marriage in dire straits. The occasionally flooding can be tolerated
by a stable relationship.
physiological changes during flooding (i.e. endocrine, heart-rate) can
predict divorce for two reasons: 1) distress when dealing with the other;
2) hard to have a productive problem-solving discussion when distressed.
attempts: emotional repairs lower stress levels and conflict.
But if the repair attempts not work to avoid the flooding stage of conflict,
then the couple is likely going to have relational difficulties. i.e.
when the four horsemen rule the pattern of the couple’s communication,
then repair attempts are often not even noticed. Feedback loop: the
more “four horsemen”, the more flooding, and then repair attempts
are not noticed, until eventually the partner withdraws. Positive sentiment
override predicts the success of repair attempts. Four
horsemen predict divorce by 82%. Add in the failed-repair attempts,
and prediction percentage runs in the 90s. On the other hand, having
the four horsemen, but with successful repair attempts,
a stable relationship is likely. But when four horsemenmoved
in for good, repair attempts are incredibly hard to attempt, accept
or even notice.
when past is re-written in a negative hue, divorce chances royally go
up! i.e. do you gain strength or negativity from the adversity that
you weathered together. How people frame the situation could lead to
further negativity or positivity or reasonability, etc…. When the
couple has negatively re-written their relationship, they are at the
end stage of their marriage. They could talk calmly (i.e. distantly!!!!)
about their conflict. They may appear like they are doing relatively
well. This calm is not to say that their conflicts were superficial,
but that the couple has emotionally divorced! But such relationships
could be salvaged too, i.e. not only by the communication (i.e. startups,
horsemen issues) and effective repairing, but also by increasing friendship
-i.e. improving things too when the couple is not fighting.
Final 4 stages that signal
you see your marital
problems as severe
talking things over
seems useless – you solve problems on your own
you start leading
therapy is not about negotiating skills or conflict resolution. Such
approaches do not work!!!!! It is also about what people do right when
they do not argue: i.e. therefore work on increasing the friendship!!!!
And that is where Gottman 7 Principles enter!!!!!
Principle 1: enhance
your love maps
The more you are familiar with
your partner, the more intimacy happens. This is called having a
love map of your partner. This helps maintain intimacy, and better
prepares one to deal with stressful evens and conflict. Life-cycle transitions
(=inherent stressors), such as bringing in children into the family,
are also better handled as the couple are “in touch”. Those
who do not have an adequate love map experience a drop in intimacy in
the couple relationship with transition to parenthood.
Tools to improve love maps
love map questionnaire:
self-assessment to see how much the person really knows his/her partner.
question game’ -asking the partner to think of the things important
to the asking partner.
own love maps’: filling in info about partner’s:
People of partner’s
life -(friends, potential friends, rivals/enemies)
events in partner’s life
‘who am I’
- self-exploration exercise to allow you and your partner to build better
love maps. This exercise looks at:
My triumphs and
My injuries and
My emotional world
My mission and legacy
Who I want to become
Principle 2: nurture
your fondness and admiration
-work to increase/recall/unearth
positive emotions about each other. The ‘fondness’ and ‘admiration’
aspects of couple relatedness are the antidote to contempt
- it is a buffer to stressors due to a fundamentally positive view of
each other. If current relational situation seems negative, the therapist
may want to look to the past for positive times/basis. Fondness and
admiration prevents the ‘four horsemen’.
Without Fondness and admiration, the relationship has little
if any basis. Increasing discussions (acknowledging and open discussion)
of the positives of the partner will help the fondness and admiration.
Tools to improve fondness and admiration
admiration questionnaire: self-assessment to delineate the current
state of fondness and admiration
- listing things that one appreciates about the partner + Ground
it in an incident - then share it with your partner.
and philosophy or your marriage- i.e. to highlight the positive
history and the love/great expectations which brought the couple together.;
Course in Fondness and Admiration’ - this exercise schedules a
daily rehearsing of positive thoughts and a related tasks which positively
turn towards each other and not away
This principle is based on
the idea of staying connected, and positively so. Turning towards each
other in small interactions builds romance and connection beyond the
cushioning of stresses - it is the small and regular interactions of
turning towards each other. It adds to the “emotional bank account”
and allows for greater leeway during conflict.
Exercises for this principle:
your marriage primed for romance?” – self-assessment to
see the levels of romance/turning towards the partner
bank account: keeping track of what you did to
improve your connectedness, and subtract things you did not do (not
to be done in a tit-for-tat way!). A discussion between the partners
can take place as to which tasks will help better the couple’s connectedness.
A list of potential connectedness-oriented tasks is offered in this
reducing conversation: i.e. to ensure that other stressors do
not spill over to the relationship. Active listening is done here, and
only if you are not the target of the stress. The conversation is supposed
to increase calm and not conflict. Scenarios are given in this exercise
to practice for the couple’s real life situations. Elements of
stress reducing conversations include:
Take your spouse’s
‘we against others’ attitude
what to do
when your spouse does not turn to you: when one is feeling rebuffed
by the other, questionnaire is filled out by both, as a basis for discussion.
Questions include: what did you feel? What triggered it? Those recent
feelings about marriage came from? What was my contribution to it? What
can I do to make it better? One thing which my partner can do differently?
Step 2 is to discuss where those feelings came from: “these recent
feelings about my marriage came from (i.e. a previous relationship,
the way I was treated in my family growing up, my basic fears and insecurities,
unresolved things, unrealized hopes, old nightmares, etc). It is easy
forget that the above things are not “hard facts” but rather subjective
things. So too, it is easy to assume that distance/loneliness is your
partner’s fault. One can only do this exercise once calmed/soothed
(see exercise on p. 176). Then turn to the exercise of identifying your
own state (p. 96: questions include: I have been depressed, stressed
and irritable, not expressed enough appreciation to my spouse, not been
affectionate enough, feeling like a martyr, etc…), and then answer
the questions of : “overall, my contribution to this mess was:…,
how can I make it better?.... what one thing could make my partner do
next time to avoid this problem?
Those exercises will not forestall
every argument, but will foster turning towards each other, and thus
a deeper friendship, therefore shielding against conflict.
Principle 4: let your
partner influence you
-meant for a partner who is
unwilling to share power/influence in the relationship. More of a male
thing, but females can also fault with this principle. 81% of couples
where the men do not do this –will self-destruct. Women tend to match
or reduce negativity. Men tend to escalate it, usually with one of the
four horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling)
even if this does not happen every time, it does lead to the 81% self-destructive
couples, as it obliterated the other’s opinion, instead of taking
it into account. 65% of men did not automatically search for the partner’s
underlying position, and escalated instead of de-escalated the negativity.
The point is still to show honor and respect to the spouse [regardless
of the culture/beliefs at hand]. Some men show latent resistance to
have their spouses influence them. The point of this principle: don’t
argue back to statements which are: harshly phrased, conflicting with
one’s own agenda, or are inconvenient requests – rather, accommodate
to them. The issue is not to express or not express negative emotions,
but it is how one would accommodate to them. Accepting influence of
wife reduces her harshness. Strong foundation of compromise leads to
easier-found solutions. Accepting influence will make it easier for
the husband to establish deeper love-maps, increase fondness and admiration,
and to turn towards each other. Women tend to be more naturally oriented
to relationships/emotions, whereas men tend to be more action oriented.
Therefore, men have to make an added effort to learn about emotions
and emotional/relational elements of the situation, even as benign as
going shopping for home stuff and getting excited about patterns on
the dishes in the store. Gottman (who is a male) called it “emotional
intelligence”. Learning to yield is an important lesson in life: There
are people who will regularly run into obstacles and others who will
usually drive around them. The latter are the happier people in life.
Women tend more often to bring up the sticky issues, while men tend
to a first avoid them. Perpetual problems are better identified when
the core issues behind the conflict situation are identified and delineated.
Working with the delineation of the underlying issues helps the couple
not escalate by identifying the real situation and thus they are better
equipped to more truly turn to each other. If acceding power/influence
in the relationship is difficult for one, s/he is best to acknowledge
this disposition so that both partners can work at this issue in a way
which is upfront, yet also comfortable for both.
influence questionnaire – true or false questions which assess
how much a person is accepting his (or her) spouse’s influence;
1: ‘yield to win’-common conflict situations are given
to the couple – i.e. understanding the request behind the apparent
negativity, and intensity the emphasis on how important the issue is
for the partner.
The Gottman Island Survival Game: see if you can coordinate
a hypothetical “survival list” for a deserted island stay. Then,
see how you and the other responded to influencing each other.
– the two kinds of marital conflict:
There are two kinds of marital
conflict: solvable and unsolvable. Therefore, one must customize the
coping mechanism to whether the conflict is at hand is solvable or not.
69% of conflicts fall into the ‘perpetualproblem’
category. Perpetual problems are underlying assumptions and issues which
cannot be grounded and fixed situationally. Resolving major marital
conflicts is not the essential component to happy marriages, many happy
couples have not resolve their big issues. Since the perpetual issues
are perpetual by definition, one must chose a partner whose differences
you can live and cope with [i.e. strategies and routines to deal with
unbridgeable differences). Otherwise, the perpetual problems become
obstacles, as instead of coping with the differences in the couple,
the couple gets into a gridlock situation. With the gridlock,
the four horsemen become more present, while humor and affection
is on the decrease, and the couple begin living in parallel lives [read:
the decline and death of the relationship]. Signs of gridlock
conflict makes you
feel rejected by your partner;
you keep on talking
about it, but make no headways;
you become entrenched
in your positions and are unwilling to budge;
when you discuss
the topic, you feel more frustrated and hurt;
about the problem are devoid of humor, amusement or affection;
you become more
unbudgeable over time, leading to mutual vilification during these conversations;
leads to being further rooted in your position and polarized, more extreme
in your views and less willing to compromise;
disengage from each other emotionally.
-gridlocks happen as the couple’s
entrenchment at an unsolvable problem allows conflict to influence more
areas of their lives.
no underlying issues in the solvable dilemmas. They are situational! They are less gut-wrenching, and are
less intense than the perpetual problems. Many couples, manuals and
therapists do not know how to solve them either, as offered techniques
are hard to implement and/or master. Validation is not enough, especially
as it is hard to apply when distressed. Principle 5 will go into further
detail about this. But the gist is:
soft and not harsh
effective use of
monitor your physiology
during discussions for warning signs of flooding;
learn how to compromise;
become more tolerant
of each other’s imperfections.
Solvable problems, if not addressed
or coped with, can lead to perpetual problems due to resentment kicking
in, and thus entrenchment in their positions. If the conflict is about
the entrenched resentment due to a situational/solvable issue, then
it may be in the realm of perpetual/unsolvable conflict.
Gottman would give examples
and ask the couple at hand to distinguish between perpetual and solvable
your marital conflictsquestionnaire – asks
about various marital issues, whether they are perpetual or solvable,
and how the partners each enter to and deal with the conflict. Solvable
issues are discussed in chapter 8. Perpetual issues are discussed in
‘your last argument’: answering the questions [and
then the couple comparing their answers]:
During this argument,
I felt like _____ [list given]
What triggered these
feelings? _____ [list given]
The recent argument
was rooted in ______ [list given].
[discussed next chapter], discuss one’s own stress-maintaining thoughts/actions
[list given] – the point is to make the partner’s realize that it
is not a unilateral situation where everything is merely the other’s
fault, but at least circular if not more complex.
to this mess was _____
How can I make it
better next time?
What one thing can
my partner do next time to avoid this argument?
-if this exercise does not
work, do ‘fondness and admiration’ exercises first – [chapter
4]. The point of this chapter is to accept the quirks and oddities of
the partner that will not likely change, let alone because a messy or
chronic argument. The key to all conflict resolution is basic acceptance
of the partner’s personality. Finding conciliatory comments within
arguments are also important, when you know how to identify them. They
are often more present than a partner may have realized – and could
be discovered once one knows what to listen for. A judgmental/critical
comment or even general great piece of advice will not be accepted before
one feels fundamentally understood, liked and accepted. Just like in
child development, acknowledging the other’s hard emotions as well
builds self-image and effective social skills.
-forgiving past faults of your
partner is also important – grudges/bitterness at the spouse may wear
at the relationship. Fondness and admiration must account for each partner’s
Chapter 8: Principle
5: solve your solvable problems
If a given disagreement is
deemed solvable, then a couple has to try something different than unresolved
arguments, screaming, yelling or angry silences. The classical advice
of improving communication or suggestions of “try to put yourself
in the others’ shoes” does not work, because some people cannot.
Nevertheless, those are not the essential components of happy and loving
marriages. Instead, 5 principle of problem resolution were found to
key to happy marriages:
startup- arguments tend to end up in the same tonality that
they start! Also, couples tend to divorce more because of distancing
to avoid the fights then the actual fights. Women tend to be the ones
with more harsh start-ups as they tend to be the ones who try to bring
up and resolve issues, while men tend to avoid the arguments as their
body reacts stronger than women to stress. Therefore, it is important
to phrase the way you start your disagreement in a soft way. i.e. instead
of saying “what’s wrong with you? You never take the garbage out!”,
you can say “I am sometimes so tired when I get home from work, can
you please help me with the garbage?”. There is a questionnaire on
page 162 in Gottman’s book which tries to assess whether harsh startups
is an issue for a couple. This questionnaire based on how the partner
hears the requests of the other partner. Exercise 1: soften
startup: gives a harsh startup and the person is supposed to give
a softer alternative. Suggestions on how to have soft-startups:
Complain – but
which start with “I” instead of “you” – i.e. speak of what
the situation does to you, not what the other does. i.e. “you are
reckless with money” sounds worse and more blaming than “I would
like to save more”. “I think you are a bitch” does not count,
as the sentence starts with an “I” but defeats the purpose of getting
to the underlying point in a palpable way.
Describe what is
happening, do not judge or evaluate
Be clear – your
partner is not a mind-reader – i.e. “please change the baby’s
bottle and diaper” instead of “would you care for the baby for once”.
i.e. ground request in previously successful/correct action of the partner.
Don’t store things
[negative emotions] up! – it will escalate in your mind.
Learn to make
and receive repair attempts: good for when noticing that
the discussion will end up the wrong way. The essence is that the repair
attempts gets through to the other partner – not that the repair attempt
is “elegant” repair attempts questionnaire: on page 170 –
tries to assess the effectiveness of repair attempts in your own relationship.
Repair attempts could be missed if not sugarcoated. One should focus
on “brake” attempts at the negativity-escalating situation. Humor
is helpful as well as “announcing an upcoming repair attempt. Identifying
potent repair statements is like megaphones to the repair attempts.
Repair statements could be:
I am getting scared
Please say that
Did I do something
That hurt my feelings
I am feeling sad
That felt like an
I am feeling defensive–
can you rephrase that?
I feel criticized
– can you rephrase that?
I need to calm down
Can you make things
safer for me?
I need things to
be calmer right now
Tell me you love
me\can I take that back?
I need your support
Just try to listen
to me and try to understand
Please be gentler
Please help me calm
This is important
to me, please listen
Can we take a break
I am starting to
I need to finish
what I was saying
My reaction was
too extreme. Sorry.
I really blew that
Let me try again
I want to be gentler
to you right now but do not know how.
Tell me what you
hear me saying
I can see my part
in all of this
How can I make things
Let me try this
What you are saying
Let me try again
in a softer way
I am sorry. Please
You are starting
to convince me
I agree with part
of what you are saying
Let’s find our
The problem is not
very serious in the big picture
Lets agree to include
both of our view in a solution
I think your point
of view makes sense
I never thought
of it this way
I see what you are
One thing I admire
you about is:
I am thankful for…
I might be wrong
stop for a while
Let’s take a break
Give me a moment
here. I’ll be back
I feel flooded
Let’s start over
Hang in there –don’t
I know it is not
My part of the problem
I see your point
Thank you for
I am thankful for
That’s a good
We’re both saying
I love you
One thing I admire
about you is
This is not your
problem – it is our problem
and each other –some couples can self-soothe as part of a
discussion. Others cannot as they flood fast, and thus repair attempts
are missed. A flooding questionnaire is offered on page 177. Self-soothing
exercise is found on page 178. i.e. take some time to unwind after a
workday or within a couple conflict –i.e. calming activities, such
as lying down, slow breathing, yoga, etc… when a person is flooded,
discussion has to stop, before he stonewalls! When a person’s heart-rate
reaches 100bpm, he’ll be unable to hear anything the other says –
give him a break then (i.e. 20 minutes)! Taking a break in a fight will
help the people calm down enough to now withdraw completely. Exercise
on soothing each other is found on p. 180: i.e. reverse the conditioning
of seeing the partner as a source of flooding agency. To this end, the
couple need to first discuss:
What floods each
How issues or
irritability are brought up
Does anyone store
Is there anything
I can do to soothe you
Is there anything
that you can do to soothe me
can we use to let other know that we’re flooded? Can
we take a break?
negotiation is nice. But it only workers if there is a softening startup,
repairing your discussion and staying calm (the above three steps).
Also, one cannot be closed to, or disagree with everything that the
spouse says. Men tend to have a harder time accepting influence of their
partners than vice-versa. Exercise (182) finding common grounds (i.e.
making circle inside another one – putting non-negotiable things inside,
and negotiable things outside, and then starting to negotiate using
this info. Exercise (p.184) make a paper tower together –but work
on agreeing to each others’ plans and ideas). In the first exercise,
the the couple must ask:
What do we agree
What are our common
feelings or the most important feelings here
What common goal
scan we have here
How do we think
that these goals should be accomplished.
of each others’ faults - you cannot change your partner.
If if you think so, then compromise cannot happen!
Chapter 9: Coping with
typical solvable problems
There are some “hot topics”
of contention in each marriage, and one must remember to go beyond “lip
service” to the notion that a marriage takes “work”. Once the
issue at hand is indeed deemed to be a solvable issue, one must actually
get to effective coping with it. Six common marital stressors and possible
coping solutions are discussed in this chapter:
Stress and more stress:
Task: making the marriage
a place of peace.
Issues include: i.e.
bringing stress home from work. i.e. wife gets angry at husband for
not doing groceries, so she is left without food after a long and crappy
day at work, or comes home in a negative mood, it is likely not personal,
and must not be taken as such. Solutions include: regular discussion
sessions to speak of what has to be done, creating a break between work
and home, and in that time, so some soothing/calming activities (i.e.
as outlined in chapter 8), and regular whining sessions where each can
complain about any catastrophes while the other is supportive.
Relations with the
Task: establishing a
sense of “we-ness” or solidarity between husband and wife.
Issues include: a person
may be placed in a loyalty conflict between a family-of-origin member
(i.e. parent) and spouse. The spouse and the family of origin member
may want to be more, or try to compete with each other. Each side may
think that the person does not love them enough because of the other,
and thus the competition and the loyalty conflict.
Solution: there is no
solution to this except the partner who is being “fought” over establishing
the fact that s/he is now an adult and had established his own family,
which has nothing to do with more or less loving. Any intrusions into
the marriage should thus not be accepted or colluded with, by this person.
Family-of-origin may protest at first, but they’ll have to get used
Money, money, money
Task: balancing the
freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust
it also symbolizes.
Issues include: balancing
pleasure and security. If disagreements over how money is handled goes
beyond the newlywed stages of the marriage, it may be a sign of bad
negotiation, new life-cycle stage, or a perpetual (unsolvable) problem,
as underlying are the deeply held values of each of the partners.
Solutions: need to budget
together, and also be firm on the items which you consider non-negotiable.
itemize your current
finances. i.e. compare essentials to your income and assets, in order
to manage everyday finances based on your means and essential needs.
Come up with a plan
of who pays what and how
Separate lists and
plans for each of the partner to be compared to try to meet both sides’
Plan your financial
future (+i.e. look for common ground between the partners in order to
The task: fundamental
appreciation and acceptance of each other.
Issues include: sex
has a huge potential for embarrassment, hurt and rejection. Therefore,
couples often try to speak and negotiate with each other about it, but
in very vague, indirect, imprecise and inconclusive terms.
to speak about sex in a safe way. Lovemaking with a critical partner
ends up usually being quite short (and sucky). One must remember that
his partner’s sexual preferences in not a reflection of one’s own
attractiveness. Learning about the other gender’s anatomy helps sex
too. One can give room to the partner’s fantasies, if the relationship
gets that strong, but one can also say no if requested actions are not
wanted. More intimate partners had better sex, regardless of the partners’
creating a sense of fairness and teamwork
the more house-orderliness oriented person will feel disrespected and
unsupported if the other is oblivious to that person’s home-orderliness.
Resentment may kick in. sometimes, men do not appreciate [due to socializing]
that women do so much of the home chores and may over-estimate their
men are to do more of the house chores. Women tend to more into those
kinds of men, and actually sex life improves too. In such cases, women’s
heart-rates during arguments is lower, and thus less likely to begin
an argument harshly. Also, if chores are unevenly balanced (i.e. the
man do all the hard work + woman only do the mindless ones), one of
the partners is bound to feel resentful. Similar issues can be spoken
about when it comes to finances and childrearing. One can do a “who-does-what”
list with two boxes beside each chore: now and ideal.
expanding your sense of “we-ness” to include your children
the move from couplehood to parenthood is a difficult one. Marital satisfaction
reduces (usually first by the wife, and then the in the husband as a
response). Reasons for this reduction in marital satisfaction include
lack of sleep, lack of feeling appreciated, added responsibility, juggling
motherhood with a job, economic stresses and lack of time for other
things. Mothers tend to feel intense affection to the newborn. Husband
may develop resentfulness at the wife for not having time for him, her
tiredness, and preoccupation with baby. The husband may live his baby,
but he wants his wife back.
husband must accept the new family constellation – this will allow
him to accept his new role not only as a husband but also a father.
Some people give bad advice: work on your marriage too [i.e. seesaw
between marital and parenthood positions, such as spending time away
from the newborn]. Instead, what is of essence is not to balance the
marriage and parenthood, but rather to transition together and in an
integrated way into the new situation. Some tips include:
Work on the marital
friendship – before babies comes along
dad from caring for the baby – mothers sometimes tend to take over
or assume a supervisory role, and chastise the father if he does not
do things her way. Some men tend to withdraw and let the mother do everything
– at the expense of the father later truly feeling and being excluded.
Some men may envy the mother-infant bond, and it would be good to have
the father also take part in nursing of the child, if not physically,
then at least with doing things around the breastfeeding.
Let dad be the baby’s
playmate – even before the baby is able to walk and talk (despite
some fathers’ having a harder time doing so before the baby is able
Carve out time for
both of you (the couple).
Be sensitive to
the father’s needs: i.e. because of the overwhelming parenting needs
of young infants, when mothers do much of it, the fathers may intellectually
know the reason why the mother is immersed in the child-caring, but
will still feel left out. It is important for the wife to acknowledge
this, and for him to not withdraw [i.e. into a further sense of exclusion].
Give mom a break
– husband can change his work schedule or something else that will
allow the mother to take her well-deserved breaks, as she has been immersed
Principle 6: Overcoming Gridlock
-gridlocks happen when people’s
life dreams [hopes, aspirations, wishes] for their life are not being
addressed/respected by each other. Such deep dreams could include:
sense of freedom
Experience of peace
Unity with nature
Exploration of who
Unity with the past
When dreams are respected:
couples are happier as they realize that marriage is supposed to help
them with those dreams – and not manipulate the other out of achieving
the goal. The couple who knows that the marriage is meant to help with
each partner’s dreams and thus is able to forgo dreams with the knowledge
that it aspirations will be acknowledged and considered later.
When dreams are hidden
Hidden dreams are only likely
to emerge after the marriage is felt as safe – i.e. first three Gottman
-when you get to expose your
dream and it seems as if your dream is in opposition to the other’s
dreams, tensions seem to escalate at first. But there is a process here:
become a dream detective: even if someone gives up a dream for the
marriage. Such people may minimize it as “childish” or “impractical”,
but the dream will resurface in disguised form, as a gridlock conflict
(exercise #1, page 225: ‘hidden dreams’: 6 examples of gridlocks
where person is supposed to find the underlying dream.
work on a gridlocked issue. This means spelling them out and where the
dreams come from. Do not argue or criticize the other`s dreams – just
try to understand why you and he feels this way. Speaker`s job is to
describe your position and what it means to you (I statements and soft
startups help here!). The listener`s job is to hear the other person`s
dream and encourage its exploration, suspending rebuttals and judgment.
You want to honor your partner`s dreams, not triumph them and crush
your partner. Three levels of partaking in the other`s dream:
soothe each other – dreams in opposition could be stressful –
take a break for soothing, as flooding will achieve nothing.
end the gridlock – you will never be able to fully resolve it
but reduce some of it tensions – i.e. `finding common ground` exercise
(p. 182) – i.e. finding things that you can compromise on while others
which you cannot compromise on. Try to make the second category smaller
than the first one. Delineate the core issues (and explain to the partner
the meaning which the `core`, non-negotiable ones have for you), delineate
the areas of flexibility, and then arrive at temporary compromises.
The conflict will still be ongoing (i.e. differences of positions),
but not as gridlocked.
thank you. May be difficult to do after a gridlock discussion, but
is important to highlight and thank the positives in the relationship
Chapter 11: Principle
7: Creating shared meaning
-one can have a happy marriage,
but some people look for a spiritual connection – finding meaning
in the togetherness beyond the mere joint tasks of family life. Symbols
and rituals are helpful. There is a family “culture’ (which may
change and the partners develop), which gives shared meaning to their
sense of togetherness. There may be dreams that each partner has which
cannot work well together with the other partner’s dreams. But the
“shared meaning” couple looks beyond that: discuss convictions in
a way which blends each of the partner’s sense of meaning. A discussion
of core values can be used to further the couple’s shared meaning
[perhaps use family legacies to prime such a discussion]. The shared
meanings will strengthen the marital friendship [which actually the
first three principles try to do]. Shared meaning questionnaire (p.246)
– looks at the rituals of connection, roles, goals and symbols meant
to stimulate thought about the couple’s shared meaning situation.
Shared meaning takes years to build.
-not many families have family
dinners and those who do, often use the television, thus no conversation
could happen. Shared meaning could be created around dinner, but each
family could develop their own ritual a “rituals” exercise (page
251) can help the couple work out rituals issues such as on how to eat
dinner, holidays, keeping in touch with relatives, special events, rites
of passage, lovemaking, community [i.e. friends, caring for others in
the community], how to celebrate positive and negative events.
Your roles in life
-i.e. is there congruence between
each partner’s role values and views? i.e. if both partners are geologists,
but one identified more with the profession and the other firstly identified
with her gender. Therefore values have to be discussed beyond superficiality
of apparent congruency – in order to work out significant value difference
s (i.e. around work, parenting, contact with in-laws, friends, community
and the balancing of the aforementioned, etc…).
Personal goals are sometimes
not delineated clearly to oneself, or to the other partner.
-i.e. symbols which have shared
Last chapter of the book:
Afterword: what’s now?
-don’t’ worry too much
about some missteps, as because you can look up the various elements
of the book to get a roadmap back to the intimate relationship.
Magic Five Hours:
-to spontaneously fix and/or
improve their relationships, people would renew their relations in about
5 hours a week with many small things. Gottman called this the Magic
Five Hours. Activities included:
before saying goodbyes in the morning, find out one thing which is happening
in the partner’s life that day;
stress-reducing conversations at the end of each workday
and appreciation: find some way every day to communicate genuine
affection and appreciation towards your spouse
kiss, hold, grab and touch each other when together
could be a relaxing low-pressure way to stay connected. Ask
each other questions [to update your love-maps] and turn towards each
other. Talking out a marital issue or working through an argument can
also be placed here.
Marriage Poop Detector:
-the mythic assumptions that
marriage expectations are often overblown and lowering expectations
of each other will help marriage - was shown to be wrong! People with
higher expectations of marriage had the highest quality of marriage.
For example, people who expected to not have too much negativity, contempt,
defensiveness, etc… , and insisted on confronting it gently, wound
up happiest married. Therefore, the marriage needs an early warning
system “Marital Poop Detector”. i.e. when one partner senses something
is wrong, they could ask the partner what is going on (not too close
to bedtime as it may interfere with sleep). Issues to bring up could
I have been acting
I have been feeling
There has been a
lot of tensions between us
I find myself wanting
to be somewhere else
I have been feeling
My partner has seemed
I have been angry
We have been out
of touch with each other
My partner has little
idea of what I am thinking
We have been under
a great deal of stress and it has taken its toll on us
I wish we were
closer right now
I have wanted to
be alone a lot
My partner has
been acting irritable
My partner has
been acting emotionally distant
attention seems to be somewhere else
I have been emotionally
unavailable to my partner
My partner has
I have little idea
of what my partner is thinking
My partner has
wanted to be alone a lot
We really need
We haven’t communicated
We have been fighting
more than usual
Lately, small issues
We have been hurting
each other’s feelings
been much fun or joy in our lives.
No such thing as constructive
criticism – it does not work. Complaining about something specific
may work, but not the critical stance. Two sources of a partner’s
ignored – thus both partners need to change (one being more responsive
and the other less critical).
from within [i.e. childhood] – I.e. one who always searches for approval
but cannot enjoy it when it is offered. If a person’s mind is trained
to find what is wrong, he will miss what is done right by the partner.
If you feel you are inadequate, you will look for it in yourself –
and in your partner. Instead, learn to forgive yourself for imperfections.
Thanking others is not to flatter the others but to ingrain appreciation
Identify your critical
Give thanks to others
every day [partners, family members].