Chapter One: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work

Today we kick off our new book study:  “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman and Nan Silver.  This book was a New York Times bestseller, and has some interesting observations as to our most intimate relationships.  You can find the link to it on Amazon here:

Dr. Gottman  spear-headed sixteen years of marriage and divorce research at University of Washington in Seattle and ended up being able to predict, with 91 percent accuracy, over three separate studies, whether a couple would stay married or end up in divorce.  He got to the point where he could predict this after listening to a couple interact in his Love Lab for as little as five minutes!

Based upon this, he came up with seven principles to prevent a marriage from breaking up.  He writes, “The more emotionally intelligent a couple – the better able they are to understand, honor, and respect each other and  their marriage – the more likely they will  indeed live happily ever after.  Just as parents can teach their children emotional intelligence, this is a skill a couple can also be taught.  As simple as it sounds, it can keep a husband and wife on the positive side of divorce.”

He points out that many people think getting divorced or those who stay in an unhappy marriage think it is “no big deal”.  (Although I have to be very honest here and say I do not know any of my friends who are divorced or in marriage alone who don’t think this is not a big deal).

Your marriage can strongly impact your health. Unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by roughly 35 percent and  shorten your life by an average of four years.  People who are happily married live longer and healthier lives.

“Scientists know for certain that these differences exist, but we are not yet sure why.  Part of the answer may simply be that in an unhappy marriage people experience chronic, diffuse physiological arousal – in other words, they feel physically stressed and usually emotionally stressed as well.”  He also writes that when fifty couples who stayed overnight in his lab provided blood samples, those who were happily married showed greater white blood cell response to immune invaders than those couple who were unhappy.  Those who were happily married had more natural killer cells – those cells who can limit tumor cells.

It also affects the health of children as well.  Dr. Gottman’s lab studied sixty-three preschoolers who lived in homes with marital hostility and they had chronically elevated levels of stress hormones compared with other children studied.  However, Dr. Gottman goes on to say that whilst staying in a bad marriage for the sake of the children is  not a wise, and a peaceful divorce may be better than a warlike marriage, few divorces are peaceful and hostility between parents often continues after a break-up.

The most common technique for “fixing” conflict in a marriage is active listening.  However, Dr. Gottman asserts that research shows that couples who employ active listening techniques are still distressed after using these techniques, and that marital therapy based upon this technique has a high relapse rate.  He states that most marital arguments actually cannot be solved!

“Successful conflict resolution isn’t what makes marriages succeed.  One of the most startling findings of our research is that most couples who have maintained happy marriages rarely do anything that even partly resembles active listening when they’re upset….It soon became apparent  that these happy marriages  were never perfect unions.  Some couples  who said they were very satisfied with each other still had significant  differences in temperaments, in interests, in family values.  Conflict was not infrequent.  They argued, just as the unhappy couples did, over money, jobs,  kids, housekeeping, sex and in-laws.  The mystery was how they so adroitly  navigated  their way through these difficulties  and kept their marriages happy and stable.”

He goes on to discuss that the heart of his program is a happy marriage is based upon deep friendship.  He found in his research that rediscovering or reinvigorating friendship does not decrease the frequency of fights,  but that that successful couples are more likely to use “repair attempts” – any statement or action that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.

The strongest marriages share the deepest sense of meaning.  The couple really supports each other’s dreams and aspirations; they have a sense of purpose together, and they honor and respect one another.

Next chapter up:  How Dr. Gottman predicts divorce.

Many blessings,


5 thoughts on “Chapter One: The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work

  1. I’ve been married a long time to my junior high sweetheart. Totally agree that a happy marriage relies on friendship and mutual support and at least one partner adroit at “repair attempts” to keep bad times from getting worse. I do wonder, however, about watching any couple for five minutes and predicting their future. There are ups and down to any relationship, and watching for a few minutes during one of those low points wouldn’t show the true strength of that union.

    • Hi, just fyi, he uses facial expressions, like rolling eyes, and micro-expressions to predict the outcome of the marriage. He’s got it all charted and graphed. Eye-rolling is supposed to be a serious indication of a troubled marriage.

  2. Funny b/c I coincidentally got this book from the library this week! I’ll read it with you, b/c I always appreciate your insight!

  3. I read this book several years ago when my husband and I were going through a “rough patch”.
    It really changed my perspective on our relationship and helped us get back to a good place and stay there even through equally challenging times. So happy to see you are doing series on this book and can’t wait for a refresher as I read along.

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