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The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, A Guide from John M. Gottman, PhD, Part 2

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In Part 1 of this two-part series, I discussed the six signs that relationship expert Dr. John Gottman claims show that a relationship is nearing separation. Now in Part 2, I will share his seven principles to rebuild a seemingly broken partnership. As stated in Part 1, Dr. Gottman says that the key to a happy marriage is to have a solid foundation of friendship between partners. If that friendship seems to be faltering, you are losing touch with the reasons why you fell in love with your partner and you find the happy moments together fewer and farther between. Keep reading to learn about his seven principles and learn how to apply them to your relationship.

Principle 1: Enhance Your Love Maps

What is a love map? Dr. Gottman coined the term love map to define the part of your brain that stores relevant information about your partner. If you find yourself forgetting the name of your partner’s boss or can’t seem to remember who their favorite singer is, you may have a problem in this area. Many couples fall into a habit of inattention to the details of their partner’s life. But, without this love map, you can’t fully know your partner, and in turn, you can’t truly love them deeply and fully. This knowledge leaves more room for love to grow and more strength as a couple to handle conflict and stressful life situations.

To improve in this area, Dr. Gottman suggests taking time to relearn your partner. Sit together and discuss your likes and dislikes, your dreams and fears, your biggest successes and failures. Spend time just the two of you and talk about anything and everything. Eventually, this will become a normal habit; people are ever-growing and changing, so staying in touch with your partner is an ongoing process. In knowledge, there is strength.

Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

The second principle focuses on the importance of finding ways to retain a fundamental sense that the other is worthy of being respected and liked. Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. If your relationship in its present form is struggling in this area, start by revisiting happy, positive memories from the past. Finding moments when you remember having good feelings with your spouse is critical to keeping the marriage alive. If past happy memories are now distorted with negativity, that is a sign that the marriage needs help.

Principle 3: Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

The root of this principle is the importance of connecting with your partner, even on the most minuscule level. Gottman shares the following example in his book. “…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.” Small moments like these show that the couple is continuing to engage with each other and are turning toward each other to consistently build connections. The simple act of the wife looking up from her magazine and the husband acknowledging her response show a desire to connect and engage with each other. When moments like these stop occurring and the couple turn into ships passing in the night, the connection starts to fade and your “emotional bank account” dwindles down to the point of bankruptcy.

Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You

Make your spouse your partner in decision making. It is very important to allow yourself to be influenced by your spouse; otherwise, your marriage may become a power struggle. The happiest, most stable marriages in the long run were those where partners treated each other with respect and did not resist power sharing and decision making with each other. You and your spouse should see each other as teammates. Neither of you are in the role of coach. You are on the court together, working as a unit. Think back to when you would play sports and one teammate always felt like they could call the shots. Eventually everyone would get annoyed with that player and would no longer want to listen to them – maybe even to the point of purposefully doing the opposite of what they would say. When one person gets in the role of running the shots, the team stops functioning smoothly and more conflicts are likely to occur, escalate, and go unresolved.

Principle 5: Solve Your Solvable Problems

In all relationships, there are some problems that are perpetual. For example, your partner may be an introvert and you may be an extrovert. They may want to stay in all the time and have lots of time to themselves, while you may want to be out and with them all the time. This is a problem that is perpetual and will have to consistently be worked on throughout the relationship. However, when a problem IS solvable, it is very important to make sure that it is fully addressed, rather than leaving it unresolved, thereby allowing one another to harbor negative feelings toward the situation. The key to doing this is to have a productive approach to problem-solving.

  1. Soften your startup
    It isn’t necessarily what you say, but how you say it. Starting a conversation with a harsh approach makes it very unlikely to be productive.
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
    As discussed in the previous post, repair attempts are crucial. You and your partner need to train yourselves to use and accept them during conflict.
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
    Keep yourself and your partner from feeling flooded. That can mean stopping the conversation if you are beginning to feel overwhelmed and taking the time to learn what makes your partner feel flooded and what you can do to prevent it.
  4. Compromise
    In a loving relationship, it doesn’t work for either partner to always get everything their way. Both partners need to make an earnest effort to compromise on issues, and this is only possible if you are willing to accept influence, as discussed earlier.
  5. Be tolerant of each other’s faults
    Don’t get caught up in the “if onlys.” As long as you find yourself hoping things were different about your spouse, conflicts will be very difficult to resolve. You must accept your partner’s flaws in order to successfully solve problems.

Principle 6: Overcome Gridlock

If you are gridlocked over a problem, you and your partner may feel hopeless about finding a solution. Here’s the good news: the goal is not a solution, but to move toward dialogue. The conflict may always be there, so the key is to be able to talk to each other about the problem respectfully, without hurting each other’s feelings. How do you do this? You need to understand the cause. Why does your partner want things a certain way, and why do you want them another way? Get to the root. What is the unfulfilled dream associated with the gridlock? Understanding the why can help you both move forward with a better understanding of what needs to be done, even if it doesn’t directly solve the problem at hand. In happy marriages, partners incorporate each other’s goals into their concept of what their marriage is about, which in turn, reduces gridlock.

Principle 7: Create Shared Meaning

Marriage is about creating a life together. You and your partner need to create your own microculture. Establish your own customs, rituals, and myths. For example, going out for dinner every Friday night or going to a specific bar for celebratory cocktails every time one of you has a big success. You don’t have to align on everything, but you and your partner should have your own unique, deep connection where you mesh together to create shared meaning.

By incorporating these seven principles into your marriage, you really can change the course of your relationship. Even small adjustments can greatly impact the trajectory of your marriage over time. If you and your partner can both commit to actively and consistently making these changes, you can see positive results. It is a journey and must constantly be adjusted as you change and grow, but together you can move forward to an emotionally intelligent and long-lasting marriage.

Contact our office at Counseling Works and schedule a meeting with one of our counselors.

Written by Hannah Payne


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