Best Book You’ve Never Heard of on….Making Marriage Work

Best book you've never heard of on making marriage work

I was shocked when I first saw the statistics: most marriage counseling doesn’t work. Some studies put the 9-month relapse rate for troubles who sought counseling at a bleak 70%. (And that’s only 9 months!) The best figures peg it at 50%.

So what’s the problem?

Most marital counseling focuses on conflict resolution. But according to marriage expert John Gottman, one of the most surprising truths about marriage is that most marital conflicts aren’t solvable in the first place.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work | John Gottman

And Gottman has witnessed a lot of marital spats–it’s what he does. Gottman runs a “Love Lab” in Seattle, which is devoted to studying what makes marriage work. Or not. He routinely observes couples fighting, and he’s become so good at spotting the danger signs of unhappy marriages that he’s able to predict with 91% accuracy if a couple will divorce after watching the couple interact for a mere 5 minutes.

One early danger sign is the harsh startup:  the wife (and it’s almost always the wife) starts a conversation with a negative and accusatory tone. This is bad news, and is shortly followed by what Gottman has dubbed “the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”:  criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Once your relationship enters the stonewalling stage (and 85% of stonewallers are male), statistically, you’re doomed.

But there’s a happy corollary to Gottman’s successful divorce predictions: he knows a successful marriage when he sees one. And happy marriages have a lot in common: first of all, they’re all built on a deep friendship. Gottman observes:

No two marriages are the same, but the more closely I looked at happy marriages the clearer it became that they were alike in seven telltale ways. Happily married couples may not be aware that they follow these Seven Principles, but they all do.  Unhappy marriages always come up short in at least one of these seven areas–and usually in many of them.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Gottman fleshes out what it is that makes successful marriages succeed–and how to make your own succeed as well. There’s nothing revolutionary about his advice: successful couples know each other well. Each spouse admires the other. They solve their solvable problems. They overcome gridlock. The only revolutionary thing here is that his method of therapy is twice as successful as the norm.

Gottman shows you how to view your own relationship through a marriage counselor’s eyes: How do you talk to your spouse? How do you bring up touchy subjects? Do you make small talk? What’s your tone like?

Gottman says he’s convinced that more marriages can be saved than currently are, if we would just pay attention to the right things in our marriages. I found many of those “right” things to be quite obvious–but I was surprised at others. If you’re concerned about the long-term viability of your marriage, I highly recommend this book as a troubleshooting guide. If your relationship is mostly smooth-sailing, you may enjoy this peek-behind-the-scenes at what makes a good relationship tick.

Gottman has several relationship checklists in the book, and The Gottman Relationship Institute has made two of them available online. You can take the quiz to see how well you know your partner here, or you can evaluate how you seek emotional connection here.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work may not be revolutionary to researchers, but they can be revolutionary for your relationship.

Have you read any of John Gottman’s work?  Share your thoughts in comments!

Comments

  1. says

    I read about Gottman’s work in Blink (by Malcom Gladwell) and it was fascinating – very exciting that he’s written his own book! Thanks for bringing it to my attention! :0)

  2. says

    I think my parents might have read one or another of Gottman’s books. I’m not sure which, though. :)

    My current favorite book on marriage is “Sacred Marriage,” by Gary Thomas. He talks about how marriage is less a human thing and more of a spiritual thing, a relationship created by God to draw us closer TO God and help us become more like him. It has given me so much more perspective in how I look at marriage!! I could write tons more about it, but I already did in a blog post a while ago. So no more here. :)

  3. says

    The book mentioned above may be good and practical but the very best book on making marriage work is the Holy Bible. God created marriage as an example of how our relationship should be with Him. The best marriages have Christ at the center with each spouse striving to live in a Christ-like manner. A marriage like that will always work. I know – I’ve tried it both ways! :)

    • Alicia says

      I agree. I have not devoted enough time to the bible. My husband not at all. I need encouragement, badly.

  4. Emily says

    That marital conflict can’t be solved…upon thinking about it, that is true for me and DH. While we don’t have anything major going on, the little things mainly stem from both personality and personal desires.

    The key isn’t solving all marital conflict, but for each one in the couple to realize that the other is a different person and learn to respect the differences, while loving the spouse enough to make compromises when necessary.

    I am preaching to myself…

  5. says

    My husband and I read and worked through this book together before we got married in 2009 [remember my Jane Austen wedding gown and maid of honor dress that I sewed myself?]. We found it very helpful. It didn’t solve all our communication problems or make everything smooth sailing, but it was a very useful perspective on relationships. And tackling it together proved to us that we could work together as a team towards a common goal!

    • Anne says

      Yes, of course I remember! (And did I ever tell you the insane amount of people who clicked over to look at it?) I’m so glad you and your husband found the book useful.

  6. says

    When I counsel women, I tell them to just stop arguing. I argued with my husband for 23 years and it accomplished nothing. We never argue anymore…the past 8 years and it is wonderful. Scripture speaks over and over again about being peacemakers and that we shouldn’t argue or quarrel…I have learned to discuss things without having to be right or push my opinion down his throat!

  7. Zoe says

    I loved working through Gottman’s 7 principles book with my husband a few years ago. We still apply several lessons out of it regularly. I second your recommendation! I also read his Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child and have found it incredibly helpful in counseling children and raising my own child (all 7 months of her life so far ;). )

  8. says

    The hubs & I were given TWO copies of this book, one for each of us, so that’s gotta tell you something right there! We started it & tuckered out a bit, but it was so helpful, initially to see just how many of the apocolyptic horsemen we have been decidedly riding on. Thanks for posting on this, makes me wanna pick it up and try again with it…we still need it!

    • Anne says

      TWO copies? That really sends a message! Thanks for the reminder that I should be re-reading this one every once in a while, too.

  9. says

    I’m so glad you’ve written such a great review for this book. There are so many books on reconciling problematic marriages that go over the same material and most of those books ultimately recommend you seek counseling anyways. And as you’ve pointed out, most counseling doesn’t help the marriage. My husband and I aren’t going through a rough patch now. We communicate well and really take the time to reconnect with each other often. But we’re interested in taking a look at a book that identifies the seven keys of successful marriages to learn what elements we should focus on and what things we can do to improve our own happy marriage. We understand that marriages are difficult and will run through their rough patches, but we know that with love and commitment we could move past issues before they damage or marriage beyond reconciliation.

Trackbacks

  1. […] 4. Nagging sets the stage for stonewalling. Statistically, the nagging spouse is usually female.  In the face of constant nagging, many men become silent. This is a deadly pattern.  Gottman says that once your relationship enters the stonewalling stage (and 85% of stonewallers are male), statistical… […]

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