“The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work”–The Afterword And Our New Book Study

This is the last chapter of our book study, “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work”, by John Gottman, PhD.  Today we are looking at “Afterword: What Now?” and how to put some of things Dr. Gottman talks about in his book into play in our relationships.

He talks about “The Magic Five Hours”, Continue reading

Chapter 11: “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work”


We are almost done with this book!  This chapter is all about creating a solid foundation for marriage through shared meaning, shared traditions, a shared family unity.


“Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love.  It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together – a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become.” (pages 243-244).


I love that outlook, and how families create their own family culture.  I have written about creating family culture before on this blog, and this chapter just confirms for me how important doing this truly is for the health of a family.  It is not that a couple feels the same exact way about everything, but that there is an interplay and meshing of values and beliefs and attitudes to form this new family identity. 


In this chapter you will find a beautiful questionnaire starting on page 246 that discusses “Shared Meaning” and provides an interesting bit of food for thought regarding rituals, roles in the family, goals, and symbols of family life together.


The section on “Family Rituals” begins:  “It is a sad fact that less than a third of U.S. families eat dinner together regularly, and more than half of those that do have the television on during dinner.   This effectively ends conversation during dinner.  Creating informal rituals when you can connect emotionally is critical in marriage.”  This section has an exercise on rituals.


There are also exercises regarding family roles, personal goals, and shared symbols.

An excellent chapter for those working on creating a new family culture!


Many blessings,


One special note is that the culture that develops

“Overcome Gridlock”: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work


Dr. Gottman begins this chapter by writing that many couples actually handle “gridlock” well. You want children, he doesn’t; you want to go to church, he doesn’t; you are extroverted and want a party every night and he is introverted and wants to be home with a good book.  These problems seem insurmountable but yet some couples handle them exceedingly well and it does not tear them apart.  How do they do that?


Dr. Gottman asserts that the goal in dealing with gridlock is not always to get to solving the problem (believe it or not!) but to open a dialogue.  There are many problems in marriage that are just not solvable, but yet, we can still love each other and live in harmony. 


Sometimes the gridlock is caused by underlying feelings and dreams of things from childhood.  Perhaps the things you want most in life is being caused by wanting to emulate or distance yourself from your own childhood experiences.  Dr.  Gottman offers a helpful list on page 218 of people’s most common wishes,dream and desires that sometimes fuels gridlock in a marriage.


If we can communicate with each other and respect each other’s deepest dreams and wishes, then happy couples are often willing to overcome gridlock to help their partner be happy.  If the partner does not respect or find significance in their spouse’s dream or deep-rooted need, then this can cause severe marital problems. 


Sometimes when couples have opposing dreams regarding an issue, the only hope is to openly talk about why you feel that way and to listen as to why your spouse may feel another way.  When the real issues are out in the open, then you can have a dialogue and find a middle ground that feels okay to both of you.   Compromises are hard to accept, and yet, marriage is a field of compromise if the other person’s happiness matters as much or more to you than your own. 


Dr. Gottman notes on page 224: “Keep working on your unresolvable conflicts.  Couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”


He provides a list of steps for those ready to move beyond gridlock in a series of exercises starting on page 225.  In Step One, Dr. Gottman lists common scenarios, and leaves us to fill in the dream that could possibly be found within the conflict.  One example he provides is a couple where the husband believes the wife is too neat and tidy and controlling.  The dream within this may be that the husband grew up in a very strict home and that the husband actually wants to be able to challenge authority; he wants his children to be able to challenge authority.  And perhaps the wife, who wants a neat tidy home, has as her dream a need for security because her home life was chaotic growing up.  She wants her children to feel safe; she wants to feel safe. 


In Step Two, Dr. Gottman guides the reader through picking a gridlocked issue in his or her own marriage and delving into the possible dreams beneath the conflict.  He asks that each person receive fifteen minutes to talk and explain his or her position without  attempting to solve the problem.  Listening is the first key to understanding. 


Step Three involves soothing each other, and goes back to the exercises found in the chapter, “Soothe Yourself and Each Other”, Chapter 8.  Step Four involves making a temporary compromise and living with that compromise for two months.  Dr.  Gottman provides the steps to work through  this in the exercise “Finding Common Ground”, found in Chapter 5.   He then instructs couples to live with that temporary solution for two months and then review.  He cautions readers not to expect the problem to be solved, but only that you and your spouse can live with the problem more peacefully than before.  Step Five is then to say thank you, in order to end on a positive note, and he provides an exercise for this on page 240-241. 


Another interesting chapter to read and think about!

Many blessings,

“Coping With Typical Solvable Problems”–The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work

This chapter begins by citing the hot buttons of marital discord: “Work stress, in-laws, money, sex, housework, a new baby..Even in very happy and stable marriages, these issues are perennials…Although every relationship is different, there’s a reason why these particular conflicts are so common:  They touch upon some of the marriage’s most important work.

Wow.  Think about that for a moment.  These are issues that cover almost everything in life, and gives true credence to that idea that having a good marriage takes work.  However, what the author adds to this oft-repeated phrase and conversation about work in marriage is that it takes a “rich understanding” between the husband and the wife.  Both people need and should feel secure in the marriage.  Dr. Gottman cites that marriage should be a port in the storm , a place of peace.

I love this chapter because Dr. Gottman provides some real solutions to the six basic areas of stress. What I like about the sections devoted to each area is that he breaks it down to an essential task for the marriage to accomplish.  He starts with the stress of the work day, and then spends a particular amount of time on the stress that in-laws can provide to a marriage (including an exercise based around this for you to work on in your family).

He also provides a multi-step solution to  the dilemmas about money Continue reading

“A Donsy Of Gnomes: 7 Gentle Gnome Stories”

This  182-paged book is one of my favorites for five and six  year olds for “school” but also for bedtime reading for almost any age.  My seven and a half year old and I just got done going through these stories at bedtime again, and they are so lovable.  The stories are seasonal and so sweet, and include imaginative ways to present the stories and how to re-tell the stories.

The stories include the gnomes of Limindoor Woods and the two human children who live nearby.  The seven stories are:   Pebble (whose father teaches him the family trade of being a crystal gardener); Brother Acorn (who keeps the world forested) (this story has a lot of repetition and is shorter so may be of delight to even younger children); Tommy Tomten (a winter tale about giving); Teasel and Tweed (this is a longer story and has a rescue element – not scary, but may be better for children a bit older); Gilly ( a springtime tale); Bracken (an adventuresome gnome); Mossy (a Midsummer story that references all the other stories and characters in the book).

The stories have some simple, beautiful ink drawings to accompany them that are lovely and could be a springboard toward your own creation of wet on wet painting moving pictures (where the characters you paint move through the scene).

There are also many “extras” in this book:  Continue reading

“Solve Your Solvable Problems”: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work


If a couple wants to solve a solvable problem, then the most popular conflict resolution method is to “put yourself in your partner’s shoes while listening intently to what he or she says, and then to communicate empathetically that you see the dilemma from his or her perspective.  It’s not a bad method – if you can do it.”


But many folks can’t do it.  By studying the happily married couples in his lab, Dr. Gottman came  up a five-step process for conflict resolution. 


Step One:  “Soften Your Startup” – Approach a subject you want to solve with humor; avoid criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling.  Be gentle with each other.  “Discussions invariably end on the same note they begin,” says Dr. Gottman.  So, if things start off defensive and nasty, the conflict is unlikely to end any better.


A harsh startup is more likely to happen if you let things store up; bring up issues as they happen.  Be clear, concise, polite, appreciative.  There are many exercises in this section to help you learn how to make a gentle startup. 


Step Two: “Learn To Make and Receive Repair Attempts”  -  This section talks about how to make repair attempts if the discussion gets off track and becomes harsh and defensive.  There is also a large section on phrases that will help soothe yourself and your spouse under the headings of “I Feel,”  “I Need To Calm Down,” “Sorry,” “Getting To Yes,” “Stop Action!” and “I Appreciate”. 


Step Three:  “Soothe Yourself and Each Other” -  Less stable marriages have a hard time with conflict discussions because inevitably one partner or the other becomes emotionally flooded.  If you are flooded, you cannot hear your partner and what they are saying.  If you become flooded during a conflict discussion, then you may need to stop and take a break.  Calming yourself down for twenty minutes or so before continuing the discussion can be invaluable.  After that, it is good to calm each other down.  Dr. Gottman notes that this is important: “Soothing your partner is of enormous benefit to a marriage because it  it really a form of reverse conditioning.  In other words, if you frequently have the experience of being calmed by your spouse, you will stop seeing your partner as a trigger of stress in your life and instead associate him or her without feeling relaxed.”


Step Four:  “Compromise” -  there are several exercises to work on this most important step.


Step Five:  “Be Tolerant Of Each Other’s Faults” – Don’t focus on the “if onlies” but on the acceptance of flaws and finding common ground.


Many blessings,


“The Two Kinds Of Marital Conflict”: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work

We are up to the seventh chapter!  Who out there is reading along?

This chapter brings up a really great point that no one ever talks about in marriage:  that there is two types of conflict in marriage.  One is the type of conflict that has a resolution, but the other type is perpetual and ongoing!  That’s what no one ever says, right?  That some marital conflict just IS and may be ongoing.

Dr. Gottman actually estimates that almost 70 percent of marital conflict is perpetual!  Wow!  He writes, “Time and again when we do four year follow-ups of couples, we find that they are still arguing about precisely the same issue.”

And guess what?  Despite the same perpetual problems and conflict, these couple remain happy and satisfied within their marriages!  This is because “they’ve learned to keep it in its place and to have a sense of humor about it.”

Problems are an inevitable part of intimately loving and living with someone else.  If we can develop strategies to cope with these problems, then we can live with it.  The difference is that in an unstable marriage, these perpetual problems kill the marriage because instead of coping with the problem, the couple just “gets gridlocked over it.”  Continue reading

“The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work” : Chapter 6


“In our long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, now in its eighth year, we found that, even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence.  Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct.”


“Obviously it takes two to make or break a marriage, so we’re not singling men out here.  The point of this chapter is not to scold, bash, or insult men.  It’s certainly just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect.  But my date indicates that the vast majority of wives – even in unstable marriages- already do that.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t get angry and even contemptuous of their husbands.  It just means that they let their husbands influence their decision-making by taking their opinions and feelings into account.  But too often men do not return the favor.”

-page 100


This chapter does a great job pointing out the the happiest and most stable marriages are those in which the husband “treated his wife with respect and did not resist power sharing and decision making with her.”  Their research found that when a man expressed anger, his wife would either match the intensity of anger or try to tone it down.  However, when a woman expressed anger, 65 percent of the men actually escalated their wives’ negativity by being critical, contemptuous, defensive or stonewalling.  By doing this, the husband essentially  ignored his wife, and demolished her point of view. 


When we convey honor and respect to one another, we set the stage for a happy marriage (and also, Carrie is here to add – stable, happy and respectful children!)  It provides a firm place for compromise, also a valuable skill to model for children.  It demonstrates the “us” of a couple and of a family over “me.”  It is not that happy marriages never see arguments, criticism or defensiveness – but that honor and respect do outweigh the negatives. 


“Research shows a husband who can accept influence from his wife also tends to be an outstanding father.  He is familiar with his children’s world and knows all about their friends and their fears.  Because he is not afraid of emotions, he teaches his children to respect their own feelings – and themselves.”


There is an several exercises at the back of this chapter geared toward being able to compromise, yield, and hear the other person.  One of the exercises is directed toward husbands and one is an exercise of compromise for spouses to do together.


Many blessings,


“The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work”–Chapter 5


The opening paragraph of this chapter just made me just laugh:


“None of the footage taped in our Love Lab would win anybody an Oscar.  Our archives are filled with scenes in which the husband looks out the picture window and says, “Wow, look at that boat,” and the wife peers over her magazine and says, “Yeah, it looks like that big schooner we saw last summer, remember?” and the husband grunts.


You might think I’d find viewing hour after hour of such scenes unbearably boring.  On the contrary:  When couples engage in lots of chitchat like this, I can be pretty sure that they will stay happily married.”


The theme of this chapter is turning toward each other instead of turning away from each other.  In unhappy couples, these small connections rarely take place. 


Taking time to connect with each other in small spurts throughout the day and really responding to each other in small ways is really important to keep a marriage alive and well.   The questionnaire on page 81, “Is Your Marriage Primed For Romance?” highlights this idea with questions about spending free time together, enjoying doing the small daily tasks of life together, how much you and your spouse enjoy talking to each other.  “We have a lot of fun together.”  “When we go out together, the time goes by very quickly.”


This chapter also delves a little deeper by asking if you and your spouse are spiritually aligned, are your values the same, are your interests and goals compatible?


Being helpful to one another is a big part of turning toward each other.  How can you be helpful to your spouse every day, in the little ways that matter and count?  There are further questionnaires that  detail the contents of building an emotional bank account – in other words, what do you do for your spouse? what do you do together? 


Listening techniques are highlighted on page 88.  The  thought is to try to use these techniques, not when you are having a disagreement, but actually when your spouse is talking about something unrelated to your relationship (or, as Dr. Gottman puts it:  “when you are not your spouse’s target.”)  Putting forth an attitude of “we against them”, showing genuine interest, expressing affection, validating emotions. 


The last part of this chapter is about what to do when your spouse doesn’t turn toward you.  On page 92, “…. sometimes there are deeper reasons why couples keep missing each other.  For example, when one partner rebuffs the other, it could be a sign of hostility over some festering conflict.  But I have found that when one spouse regularly feels the other just doesn’t connect enough, often the cause is a disparity between their respective needs for intimacy and independence.”  There are several more exercises designed to get to the heart of the matter of this disparity.


Friendship between spouses can be the greatest equalizer and balancer in a marriage.  “When you honor and respect each other, you’re usually able to appreciate each other’s point of view, even if don’t agree with it.  When there’s an imbalance of power, there’s almost inevitably a great deal  of marital distress.”


I think this is an important book.  Please get a copy and follow along!

Many blessings,

The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work: Chapter Four

This chapter is entitled, “Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration”.  Dr. Gottman talks about how for many couples who are in trouble and on the brink of divorce, that their marriage may be able to be revitalized and saved if the couple has a “fondness and admiration system”.

“….the best test of whether a couple still has a functioning and admiration system is usually how they view their past. If your marriage is now in deep trouble, you’re not likely to elicit much praise on each other’s behalf by asking about the current state of affairs.  But by focusing on your past, you can often detect embers of positive feelings.”

Dr. Gottman also talks about how a fundamentally positive view of your spouse and your marriage is a big buffer when troubled times hit.  He brings up some other good points: Continue reading