“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

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

This chapter begins with the premise that healthy marriages have two people who are emotionally intelligent.  By this, the authors mean that each person in the marriage stores important information about their spouse:  they remember important history, know who their spouse’s friends are, their spouse’s fears, likes, dislikes, anxieties, quirks, joys, passions.  The authors call this having a detailed “love map”.

The authors cite one of the major causes of marital divorce is actually the birth of the first child.  “Sixty-seven percent of couples in our newlywed study underwent a precipitous drop in marital satisfaction the first time they became parents.  But the remaining 33 percent did not experience this drop – in fact, about half of them saw their marriage improve……What separated these two groups?  You guessed it:  The couples whose marriages thrived after the birth had detailed love maps from the get-go….” Continue reading

Late To Waldorf? Overwhelmed?

If you are coming in late to Waldorf homeschooling or feel overwhelmed and overrun by dogma, I have a solution for you!  Please read the lectures given by Rudolf Steiner compiled in “The Renewal of Education.”  This set of lectures, given to a group of Swiss public educators only eight months after the first Waldorf school formed, is so accessible. The foreword is written by a favorite Waldorf educator of mine, Eugene Schwartz, in which he compares and contrasts Waldorf Education to John Dewey and Maria Montessori’s work and sheds light on the hallmarks of Waldorf Education:  the self –renewal and self-development of the teacher, the balance that feeling provides in education, and the approach of Waldorf education to the holistic child.

Waldorf education approaches the child from four different avenues. Continue reading

Chapter Two: The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work


Chapter Two is entitled, “How I Predict Divorce.”  Based upon observing couples in his lab, Dr. Gottman lists the following difficulties couples face in communication, and especially in how they handle disagreements:


1.  “The Harsh Start-Up”.  His theory is that if a discussion starts off with criticism or sarcasm, that the conversation should be tabled until a different time.  Start over.  Harsh start-ups can be a predicting sign of other negative ways to interact as a couple.


2.  Criticism:  “You will always have some complaints about the person you live with.  But there’s a world of difference between a complaint and a criticism.  A complaint only addresses the specific action at which your spouse failed.  A criticism is more global – it adds on some negative words about your mate’s character or personality.”  “A complaint focuses on specific behavior but a criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination.”


3.  Contempt: Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor all fall under this category.  These behaviors make a problem impossible to solve.    Contempt attacks character.  It demeans.  It conveys negativity.  Belligerence, which is anger that contains a threat or provocation, also falls under this category.


4. Defensiveness:  Research shows that defensiveness rarely makes a partner back down or apologize.  Defensiveness is a way of blaming your partner, and it tends to escalate the  conflict at hand. 


5.  Stonewalling:  Harsh startups, criticism and contempt and defensiveness all lead to  an essential tuning out of one partner.  In order to avoid a fight, the person just turns away.  Many times this is a protection mechanism because that person feels attacked and flooded by negativity.  Here is a sobering quote from this section of the chapter:  “The more often you feel flooded by your spouse’s criticism or contempt, the more hypervigilant you are for cues that your spouse is about to “blow” again.  All you can think about it protecting yourself from the turbulence your spouse’s onslaught causes.  And the way to do that is to disengage emotionally from the relationship.” 


6.  Body Language/Physiological Response to Negative Flooding – Men actually are more physiologically reactive to stress than females (see the book for more details why), so they are more likely to be the stonewaller in a marriage and shut down.  Men generally also seem to think in terms of righteousness and are indignant after an argument, or they consider themselves the innocent victim of their wife’s anger or complaint. 


Dr.  Gottman says that women normally bring up the sensitive issues in a marriage and the men, not as able to cope with these issues, avoid the subject or become belligerent or contemptuous in order to silence her.  However,  he contends that even if your marriage follows the patterns mentioned above, it is not a given that divorce is likely.  “In fact,”  Dr. Gottman writes on page 39, “you’ll find examples of all four horseman and even occasional flooding in stable marriages.”  (The four horseman are what I listed under numbers three through six).


7.  Failed Repair Attempts – the failure of repair attempts during disagreements are the strongest predictor of divorce.  In marriages where there is mainly criticism, contempt, defensiveness, it is likely repair attempts will fail. 


8.  Bad Memories – Happy couples tend to look back on their courtship, marriage and early married days with fondness.  They may even glorify the struggles they have gone through.  Unhappy couples tend to re-write the past with a negative slant.  


Dr. Gottman notes that when a couple at the end stage of marriage comes for counseling, they often are not fighting because they have so withdrawn from the whole situation.  They are distanced and emotionally disengaged.  He remarks that some people leave marriage by divorcing, or some remain married and just lead “parallel lives together.”  He also talks about an affair being a symptom of a dying marriage, not the cause of a dying marriage.  But, he also talks about how it is not over until it’s over and how he is convinced many marriages could be saved with the principles in this book of how couples interact when they are not disagreeing.


I say, lead on Dr. Gottman. I can’t wait to read more!

Many blessings,