Pursue What Matters
Episode 252: Book Review – The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you know how to make marriage work? What do the most successful couples do? And what do they avoid? So today I’m reviewing a book by the researcher who has taught us the most about making marriage work.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:15
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So it is the month of love right February, and that for many of us can turn our attention to our most important relationships. So our marriage or our partners. And for most of us, we always can be improving, right. So even if you’re very satisfied in your relationship, there’s always room for improvement. And of course, if things aren’t quite exactly where you’d like them to be, starting with a good self help book on the topic of marriage, relationships, communication, can be very helpful. And I’ve got a great book to discuss today. So I’ve definitely weaved in this research. many times in the podcast, there are a lot of applications to the world of work because it is relationships, right. So you might hear some things that you’ve that you’ve heard before, maybe on the podcast or in other settings.
Speaker 1 1:39
So of course every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So leading with clarity, second, leading with curiosity, and third leading and building a community. And today, we’re really focused on first curiosity. So developing your self awareness and self leadership, because it takes two to tango, right? When we think about relationship concerns, and then also leading and building a community, like I mentioned, the research here is primarily focused on couples, but boy, oh, boy, it has so many really important implications for the world of work, because it’s all about how we communicate how we show up for one another’s? What are some of the behaviors that are undermining? And what are some of the behaviors that can build trust and rapport with one another?
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:29
And so what is the book? The book is the Seven Principles for Making marriage work. This is by John Gottman, PhD. It’s called a practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. And that is not an exaggeration. So there’s really been no one who has done more research on the topic of couples and relationships than John Gottman his. He’s very prolific in terms of his research, and he’s had a very big impact on relationship work and our understanding of what’s effective, and ineffective when it comes to couples. So this book has been out for a while, but it’s just it’s a classic, it’s very applicable. So you know, even if you’re like, gosh, this isn’t a brand new book. It’s okay. Like, these principles stand the test of time. And so let’s hear what people are saying about the book. So by Daniel Goleman, he’s the author of emotional intelligence. He says this is an eminently Practical Guide to an emotionally intelligent and long lasting marriage. So that’s, that’s pretty good.
Speaker 1 3:38
And then from Bill Marvel and Jeffrey Norman from the American way, Gottman stays refreshingly down to earth rather than on Mars and Venus. So that’s a little bit of a dig from, from a once popular book on this topic. And then let’s learn a little bit about John Gottman and the book. So John Gottman has revolutionized the study of marriage by using rigorous scientific procedures to observe the habits of married couples in unprecedented detail over many years here is a culmination of his life’s work. So that’s pretty big. The seven principles that guide couples on the path toward a harmonious and long lasting relationship, packed with practical questionnaires and exercises. So if you like questionnaires, this this books for you, the Seven Principles for Making marriage work is the definitive guide for anyone who wants their relationship to attain its highest potential. And I actually am a fan of questionnaires as part of self self help books, particularly with couples.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:39
So ideally, this is a book that you would read together as a couple. So the Seven Principles for Making marriage work by John Gottman because first of all, when you read it together, no one’s the expert in the room except the author. And doing the questionnaires can be helpful because you can kind of get a nice assessment of where you’re at but you can do it at your own pace. And so it can give you some nice guidelines in terms of, okay, maybe I want to pay attention to this specific behavior that was highlighted on the questionnaire. So I think it’s a really nice kind of non threatening approach to couples work and couples focus. So maybe you’re not ready for couples therapy, of course couples therapy is really helpful. But maybe reading the book together could be helpful in in that respect.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:28
So as mentioned, right, these are seven principles that he that John Gottman has developed, based on his research. So again, a lot of what we know about what’s effective in relationships comes from Goldman’s research and then of course, it’s, it’s been replicated, as well. So let’s jump right in and learn a little bit more about the research. So when it comes to John Gottman research, I think one of the most interesting components of his research is this idea that he can sit with a couple who is arguing, right, so they’re having an argument. And he can, he can predict, with 91% accuracy, whether this couple, it will be divorced in within a few years, within 90 seconds. So he can just watch a couple for 90 seconds, and can predict with 91% accuracy, whether they are strong in a strong healthy relationship, or whether they’re on the road to divorce. So that’s pretty compelling. And that’s something that could be really helpful to know. And so what is it that he pays attention to? So you know, for most of us, when we think about a successful relationship, if you asked most couples, they would say what, you know, what is what is, you know, the big red flag of a marriage, and most people respond that it’s whether a couple argues. So if a couple disagrees, that’s a really bad sign. That’s a harbinger of divorce down the road. And John Gottman looked at this extensively, and he found that that assumption was dead wrong, that no, it’s not whether a couple argues that is most predictive of divorce, because here’s the thing, you both hopefully have your own brain cavities and your own brains inside those cavities. And so of course, you’re going to disagree, of course, there are going to be, you know, concerns that need to be resolved and addressed over the course of a marriage. And if you can’t work those out, that’s a problem for the marriage. And so what he found, is that actually the number one predictor of divorce, which he can assess with 91% accuracy within 90 seconds, is how a couple argues, okay, because we’re all going to have disagreements, but can we argue, effectively, can we argue and maintain connection? Can we disagree without being too disagreeable? And so it’s really compelling research. And that’s a really important foundation for understanding not only his research, but the seven principles, that that really underlie his research.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:15
So Gottman does a nice job of making the case for marriage, right. So we know that people are happier and healthier when they’re married. So people can live up to four years longer if they’re married. So a marriage is good for your health. It’s good for your well being. But he also talks about why most marriage therapy fails. And there are a few factors related to this. But one, one issue is that marriage therapy often focuses on conflict resolution, which is not necessarily a great focus, they focus a lot on communication. And they fail to really focus in on connection and cultivating loving connection, despite disagreements. And that’s something that Gottman focuses on and does very well. Another factor, of course, is that couples wait too long to go to couples therapy, they go when the marriage is on the brink on the rocks. And they’re reactive, rather than proactive. And so, you know, you can’t expect a couples therapist to be a miracle worker, right? If your marriage is done. And you’re you’re taking that marriage to a couples therapist with the intention that they’re going to be able to resuscitate the marriage, like good luck. And so, you know, my advice to couples is be proactive about couples therapy, every couple could benefit from, you know, developing and strengthening some skills and getting some objectivity and that’s really helpful with a marriage therapist.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:52
But you know, one of the surprising results that he found is that even happily married couples can kind of have screaming matches right now.Of course, we wouldn’t recommend that for anyone, but they could have loud arguments. And it doesn’t necessarily harm a marriage. And so that’s that’s really represents a mind shift for a lot of couples therapies because they focus on conflict resolution, and let’s just make sure you’re arguing less. But he said that successful conflict resolution isn’t what makes marriages succeed. And that’s really the case that he is making that it is a different process. And sometimes couples therapists and couples themselves are focusing on the wrong thing. And so, you know, we want to kind of challenge some of these myths about about what, what undermines marriages?
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:48
Okay, so as an overview of Goldman’s research, you know, what, what is it that makes marriages work? So one thing, first of all, developing a language for these communications can be very helpful. You know, he points out that people who attend his workshops and really develop these skills have a much lower rate of divorce. And so sometimes it’s just learning the language. And, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. And so that’s where a good book like this could be very helpful for a couple.
Speaker 1 11:20
But the other foundation for his, you know, his workshop, this book has researched is that the simple truth that happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. And I just, I think that that’s so compelling. So this focus on friendship versus fighting, right, right. We’re not enemies, we’re not pulling against each other. But what he means by this friendship is a mutual respect for an enjoyment of each other’s company. So think about that. Think about your spouse, do you consider your spouse a friend? Or are they a hassle? Are they you know, someone that that cramps your style, like, I sure hope not, that would be so sad, but the most successful couples tend to know each other intimately. They’re really curious and engaged with their partner, they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality, quirks, hopes, and dreams. So you take time to really get to know one another. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness, not just in the big ways, but in little ways day in and day out. And so thinking about cultivating friendship and regard for one another. And what he has shown in his research is that friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial towards your spouse.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:46
So if you think about a good friend that you have, you don’t want to be adversarial with them. You want to disagree respectfully, but you really care about hearing their perspective, you don’t just care about being right. And I think sometimes too often in marriages, things devolve into who’s right and who’s wrong, and who, who gets to be in charge who gets to make the decisions. And so, really focusing on cultivating this friendship can be can be very, very powerful.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:21
So one of the most compelling finding findings from Goldman’s research is that happy couples have a secret weapon. So with this secret weapon, it is known as the repair attempt. So it assumes, right, healthy couples disagree, healthy couples argue and that’s not a problem. But how they argue is, is the factor that makes all of the difference. And so the most successful couples engage the use of the repair attempt. So when there’s a disagreement when there’s contention or conflict, these couples attempt to repair. They can do this in small ways in big ways, whether that’s apologizing first, whether that’s holding the other ones hand, whether that is Gosh, I’m really frustrated right now, but I love you. And we’ll figure this out. The repair attempt is what helps couples come back from the brink of contention. And one of the factors that really undermine successful marriages undermines marriages is that contention and anger escalate without ever de escalating. And so this repair attempt is how couples de escalate contention so they can get back to this steady ground of friendship and connection and love and warmth. And when we don’t have that repair attempt, it’s just easy for that negativity to continue to escalate. So there you go. There’s the secret weapon of successful couples.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:54
So the repair attempt refers to any statement or action silly or otherwise, that prevents negativity from escalating out of control. So repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples, couples, even though many of these couples aren’t aware that they are doing something so powerful when, when a couple have a strong friendship, they naturally become experts at sending each other repair attempts. And that correctly reading those sent their way. But when couple couples are in negative override, even a repair statement as blunt as hey, I’m sorry, we’ll have a low success rate. And so the success or failure of a couples repair attempts is one of the primary factors in whether their marriage flourishes or flounders. And so this is really important. And Gottman says it’s this sounds simplistic or, or obvious. But you’ll find in the pages ahead, that it that it is not strengthening your marital friendship isn’t as basic as just being nice. Even if you feel that your friendship is already quite solid, you may be surprised to find there is room to strengthen it all the more. Most of the couples who take our workship workshop are really relieved to hear that almost everybody messes up during marital conflict. What matters is whether the repairs are successful. And so there is a nice, just a nice entree into Gottman research.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:22
Again, he has done some of the most compelling research and the largest body of research on what it takes to be successful in marriage. And I just want to end by sharing the seven principles these he covers in great detail in the book. But I just want to list them for you. So you can you can kind of pay attention to that as you consider whether this book could be a useful resource for you. And you know, if you’re not in a committed relationship, and you’re like, I don’t know how this applies to me, or how does this apply to the world of work? The concept that I just talked about this idea that repair a tent is helpful in every relationship that you have, right?
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:04
So if you think about team work at work, there’s going to be conflict, there’s going to be disagreement, there are going to be times where you really strongly disagree with others. How do you come back from that? How do you repair that is such an important skill, we don’t really appreciate it fully. But that is a skill of the emotionally intelligent person. And so you know, even if you’re not in a committed relationship, I would argue that this book by Gottman has some really valuable principles and skills that are useful for anyone and especially at work I actually bring in Goldman’s work and too much of my leadership trainings. Because it’s really good research. And it’s they’re very compelling find means that people can apply immediately. So that’s always good.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:56
But now let’s finish by sharing the seven principles. So these are the Seven Principles for Making marriage work. One enhance your love maps. So of course, he explains that more, but understanding kind of the territory of love with between partners. The second principle is nurture your fondness and admiration. Third is turn toward each other instead of away. So can you turn towards one another? Instead of isolating or stonewalling. stonewalling is a term from John Gottman, you’ve probably heard me talk about that before principle four is let your partner influence you. So be open to them. And principle five is solve your solvable problems. That’s great. And principle six is overcome gridlock. So one of his assumptions is you’re not going to agree on everything. And so you solve what’s solvable. And then you find a way to live with the rest. And you know that that happens that that needs to happen. For marriage for couples all the time, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful marriage, even if you strongly disagree about something or don’t see things the same way. And then principle seven is create shared meaning. And so that is the book The Seven Principles for Making marriage work. It’s by Dr. John Gottman, it’s excellent. It’s a classic. And it’s a really good place to start if you’re looking for a good resource on marriage and effective communication.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:26
And so I hope that you will head over to my website to check out the shownotes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/252-7principlesformakingmarriagework and that’s the number seven. So again, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/252-7principlesformakingmarriagework. I will link to the book and the author on the show notes. And if you’re so inclined I would appreciate it if you would offer a five-star review of the podcasts on Apple or Spotify. It helps more people find the podcast. And of course, I’d love to connect with you on Instagram @dr.melissasmith where I always have a lot of resources tied to each of the podcasts every day. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
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