Book Review: The seven principles for making marriage work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, is a practical guide based on his comprehensive quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic type research that outlines the components that tend to align with why marriages work and are successful and why marriages fail ultimately becoming unsuccessful. Much of the research was completed in what Gottman calls a Love Lab that for days at a time simulate a couple’s home environment and their interactions are caught and analyzed. The book provides down-to-earth, easy, and relevant exercises that allow couples and individuals to examine their own perspectives, attitudes and behaviors and essentially asses their martial satisfaction. In addition, the exercises provide activities to increase marital satisfaction and ultimately create a marriage that works. The book begins by discussing what Gottman describes as an emotionally intelligent marriage. A marriage in which no matter how a couple interacts with each other their negativity never outweighs their positivity.

Chapter one discusses myths of marriage and the power of friendships of the individuals in the marriage. And concludes with how it is natural to try and repair the hurt in the marriage by behaviors Gottman describes as repair attempts. The second chapter outlines an architecture of why marriages fail by describing six signs of a failed marriage. Those signs are how we begin our discussions; the harsher the more disconnected spouses experience each other. From beginning discussions to continuing discussions the more criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – what Gottman calls the four horseman – happen the more likely the marriage is not working. The chapter continues to discuss the shock effect of the four horsemen by describing flooding and discusses the important of body language. It concludes by discussing how over time failed repair attempts can create a view of bad memories for the duration of the marriage, regardless of past memories.

The rest of the book, presents the seven principles of healthy marriages along with specific exercises and activities that correlate to that principle.  Chapter 3 presents Love Maps, which are the numerous ways in which each partner deeply knows each other, not just their birthdate and social security number but their likes and dislikes, their dreams, what happens when they are stressed, etc. Chapter 4 outlines how fondness and admiration are a way to combat contempt and the four horseman and how to increase fondness and admiration within a couple. Chapter 5 discusses the importance of focusing on the other and not turning away from their partner. It is a natural consequence of increases fondness and admiration. As those increase, partners want to focus and turn towards their partners increasing emotional connection. In this chapter the concept of an emotional bank account was described that suggests that the more we emotionally connect in positive ways we create a system in which hurts and times in which disconnections happen are accepted and not taken personally. This concept of not taking things personally and assuming intent of why someone does something allows partners to influence each other, the topic of chapter 6. In this chapter, gender culture is discussed from several vantage points and the challenges of overcoming those influences so that a partnership of equality can be create.

Chapters seven through ten discuss the concept of conflict and essentially categorize conflict that is at an impasse as gridlock and conflict that isn’t at a gridlock as solvable. The chapters suggest that typical conflict management techniques are not enough and most marriage therapists rely heavily on traditional models of conflict management by teaching listening, I-statements, etc. The book examines the underlying emotions of conflict, how to live and accept conflict and realize how conflict in the present may be a result of past events prior to the current relationships. Dreams and aspirations are important to consider when dealing with conflict and how partners support those dreams and aspirations. The book ends with a chapter on creating shared meaning and discussing the combination of personal and mutual goals into a pattern in which both feel secure, accepted and supported. Several activities are provided to help a couple create that shared meaning.

Gottman, J. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. Harmony Book: New York City.