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The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert ~By John M. Gottman, Ph.D. And Nan Silver

This book was a gift from one of my daughters for Christmas 2011.  It had been recommended to her by a counselor and she had found it a valuable resource.  It was so important to her she wanted her sisters and her parents to benefit from the wisdom found within.  I made note that this book had been on my must read LIST for nearly 9 years.

I am not unfamiliar with Dr. Gottman’s incredible work on marriage, relationships and love as he and his wife have been ardent researchers at the University of Washington for many, many years and I have been graced with having taken several credit update courses from his team.   When I was teaching Marriage Preparation classes at the University where I was campus minister, we used his work extensively for our retreats we had tremendous success.

I also had tremendous resistance to reading this book.  As much as I knew that the information was valuable, I also understood that I would been exposed to my many points of failure within my own 34 years of marriage and I had to deal with the fact that I found it easier to live in a parallel relationship and had found it too difficult to build a team of my own.   I went ahead and read the book and I got angry with myself and with my partner who I am fairly certain will never read this book or do the exercises.

I do believe that this book is a powerful resource for young couples and for couples who wish to refresh their relationship.  All those folks who are now empty nesters have an opportunity to build their relationships also.   I think one just needs to have the desire, do the exercises, practice and the deeper connections will begin to change and take hold.   Just the simple act of changing a few words at the beginning of a confrontation or conflict can and may produce tremendous change and outcomes.

“Softening the start up of a discussion is crucial to resolving conflicts, because, my research finds, discussions invariably end on the same note they began.”

Dr. Gottman is able to predict within a 91% success rate, which couples will stay together and which couples will not stand a chance.  Usually it just takes him the answer to one question.

“Another important lesson I have learned is that in all arguments, both solvable and perpetual, no one is ever right.  There is no absolute reality in marital conflicts, only two subjective realities.”

I so enjoy listening to the CAR TALK fellows on NPR try and help so many couples work through their car questions – always the expectation of an absolute answer.

The book is very hands on and hopeful.  Concepts are explained clearly and simply and the examples are relevant.  Although being able to communicate well can be either a boon or a determent to a couple, this is not actually a book about communications skills.  It is about relationship skills and how to create and highlight your own skills, tweak, and eliminate those that are not serving you well.

I do like to take surveys and true and false tests and was just amazed at how clearly the little quizzes brought me to a truer definition of my style.  When I first meet a person I am more likely to use my counselor greeting to start the connection.  My family on the other hand does not like it when I approach them in the manner so I use a more questioning approach to getting the ball rolling.  This approach is similar to an “early warning” system and I find that they disappear or change the subject very quickly – actually they will do just about anything not to deal with conflict or problems and their greatest “weapon” is to ignore.

By participating in the quizzes, I can see my style clearly and I can practice some of their techniques and ideas and explore new ways of handling the conversation.  I have been working some new approaches on my partner for helping us to downsize and to look at our financial situation; planning for retirement.  By attending several classes about Retirement planning and Medicare, I have been able to get my partner to start the conversations and stay engaged in the process and even do some of the research!

“The basis for coping effectively with either kind of problem (perpetual or solvable) is the same; communicating basic acceptance of your partner’s personality.  Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that person understands you.”  “If either (or both) of you feels judged, misunderstood, or rejected by the other, you will not be able to manage the problems in your marriage.”

The happiest and longest married couples from the studies, and now they have 40 + years worth of data, are those that like everything about their partners. They often joke about the foibles and are the first to tell tales on themselves of mistakes they made – usually with a twinkle in their eye and delight in the telling.  They have little tricks for overcoming the tough things and they are able to step into the conversation, modify intensity, and play with options.  Here’s an example:

My partner just runs about 15 to20 minutes late for everything,  I decided it was part of his biorhythm system and after a few years of frustration I just figured out to tell him the plane, train or event started a half hour earlier than it did.  Now we both know that I am doing this, but we never speak of it and we are not always late or missing the plane or making folks upset with us.  This removes the intensity of the frustration, cuts the analysis and discussion and gets us to events without ruining the party.

I think I will just keep this gem of a workbook on my shelf for a long time to come.  I believe it will become dog-eared and ratty over time, because I believe I am capable of changing to make my marriage experience even better over the next third of my life.  I think we are still capable of deepening our relationship and becoming even better friends.

How about you?  Are you thinking about being in a relationship?  Are you thinking about deepening your relationship?  Are you considering getting out of a relationship that is just not working for you?

(For those of you who prefer Powells’ Connection to the Amazon link above :)

Related Reading:
The Wisdom To Know the Difference
The Element
We Have Met The Enemy
After 34 Years My Husband is Leaving Me


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No one paid me or offered me any product to review this book.  It is part of my own collection.

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14 Responses to “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert ~By John M. Gottman, Ph.D. And Nan Silver”

  1. Deborah Barker Says:

    That sounds quite a powerful book Patricia and one that could benefit many people. I like the anecdote of the couple setting appointments half hour early so the other could be on time. My husband allows for my many eccentricities and undoubtedly annoying habits and in return I allow for his. Long may it be!

    Patricia Reply:

    Deborah,
    This is a wonderful book and I enjoyed reading it very much.

    We are celebrating 35 years together this year….and now with the kids gone we have no buffers….and I am working on finding some ground where we can laugh and not be so intense.

    We do not know how to play – together…
    I did get a card today for Valentines Day !! and I am getting him to watch a DVD with me every once an awhile.

  2. J.D. Meier Says:

    How Ironic … today I was reflecting on Gottman’s work.

    The surprise for me was how they found that it’s not “active listening”, but instead, it’s sharing decisions and power that’s behind lasting relationships.

    I still have to go back and rationalize this against Covey’s insights and John Gray.
    J.D. Meier recently posted..What I’ve Learned About LoveMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    JD
    Thanks for your good comments. There seems to be some synchronicity of thoughts around this Valentine’s Day theme at this time of the year !

    Although I am extremely organized, I think Covey insights could actually ruin a relationship that is Parallel and not a team effort. Whereas John Gray is working at getting men on the same page as women – working to get men to initiate the power and decision making in a more emotionally intelligent style….I think Gottman just takes folks exactly where they are at and influences the team building – strengthening the bonds and weaknesses into their best outcomes.

    The most encouraging thing to me…it that my partner might actually read this book in the next 20 years, whereas he would never read Covey or Gray…. It is so accessible and other readers can get success at change in small increments.

  3. Talon Says:

    I always think it’s our quirks that make us special and when you find someone who loves your quirks and you can love theirs, too, then I think you’re good to go.

    My hubby and I will celebrate 32 years of marriage this coming June and the thing that we both appreciate more as time goes by, is that we still have things to learn about each other, but we know enough to feel utterly comfortable. It’s a nice mix. 😉

    Patricia Reply:

    Talon,
    Being friends and developing your friendship I think is one of the most valuable lessons of this book…

    Yep those quirks are very valuable tools indeed :)

    Happy 32 years to you and yours…a drink a toast to you

  4. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Our biggest “secret” to a great marriage is that we haven’t had television since day-one, and that was 32 years ago. We actually sit down and talk WITH (not TO) each other — and enjoy each others company.

    Patricia Reply:

    Laurie,
    We have not had television either – yes I think it does make a huge difference.

    I have gotten my guy to watch a DVD with me about 2 times a month and he did read the Steve Jobs Biography…but usually he is out riding his bike, working, or taking care of the yard.

    He does not practice talking very much… He just loves to design green, sustainable buildings and make his art fit the environment.

    Then I wonder why my eldest child is silent too! Aren’t we funny creatures – worth a good laugh

  5. rob white Says:

    What a wonderful review. I especially enjoy that you are opening up with your personal feelings of resistance. For me, the secret is to love and marriage is surrender. Possessiveness and the attitude of possessiveness guarantee the absence of LOVE. Once I surrendered to love I realized I can have and share all the LOVE and HAPPINESS.
    rob white recently posted..You Have the Means to Defeat the Mind’s EnemiesMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Hi Rob,

    Yes there is a lot of surrender in the love equation…
    I appreciated the author writing about there is no “right” answer in issues between couples…it is just 2 subjective answers…

    I think you are absolutely correct about possessiveness…it is a strangling force

  6. suzen Says:

    Hi Patricia!
    For us, being friends has been the stabilizing element – though in 31 years we’ve had our share of difficult times, that’s just part of life and I don’t take it personally. Humor has also been the frosting on the cake. If a couple can laugh together, really let go and laugh, it appears to melt away a lot of “other stuff”.

    Great review as always. I would be resistant to reading that book too. Not that I couldn’t learn something valuable somewhere in it, but I’m fine with our recipe/relationship and just want to Be. Nothing is ever perfect – that perfection thing I leave entirely to the Divine – but rolling with the punches so to speak and one day at a time is working.

    Hugs
    SuZen
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    Patricia Reply:

    suzen,
    I think laughter is most powerful…and it can get rid of the “stuff”

    I think how powerful Jon Steward is on the Daily Show with seeing the humor and yet exposing the reality and message.

    I think too humor can keep couples separate and unable to resolve issues that need to be resolved.

    Thus they talk about perpetual problems and solvable problems in this book.

    I am not so “fine” with my relationship and this book helped me to let go of many of my expectations….I am still hoping that I can manifest some of the things I want to do in the next third of my life.

    I think if we did not have so much medical debt at this point in our lives…I might not read the book and I might like our relationship better.

    Ah me…if only I had had a crystal ball and known what I know now!

  7. Sara Says:

    I agree with Suzen — humor is relationship glue for me. In my first marriage, we didn’t have similar styles of humor and it was hard for me. I didn’t realize how important humor can be, but when I met the man I’m with now…I got it.

    Even when we argue, I know things will be okay once we start to laugh about it and we do this a lot:~)

    Thanks for the recommendation of this book. It sounds like the exercises might be fun to check out. I’ll look for it.
    Sara recently posted..Photo Challenge: The Face-OffMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Sara,
    It is a fun book and I like knowing I have it on my shelf. Since so many couples refuse pre-marriage counseling these days and so many think divorce is the norm….It is nice to know that some folks are actually looking forward to and working on the long haul

    I think humor is vital to personal health…and well being!
    Patricia recently posted..The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert ~By John M. Gottman, Ph.D. And Nan SilverMy Profile