John Gottman and wife picture

Over 40 year period, 67% of first marriages will break up. Half of divorces occur within the first 7 years, but people who stay married live on average 4 years longer. But even when couples stay together, bad marriages lead to many negative physical and psychological consequences, such as heart disease, anxiety, depression, and even suicide, violence, psychosis, homicide, substance abuse, etc.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman describes seven principles that can guide a couple toward a harmonious and long-lasting relationship. While most marital advice is based on the subjective opinion of a therapist or counselor, Dr. John Gottman bases the ideas in his book on the results of decades of scientific research. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman explains why marriages truly fail, and what are the seven principles that, if followed, will make marriage work.

After debunking a number of myths about marriages and why they fail, Dr. Gottman describes the seven principles that can truly help couples to have a successful relationship.

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The 7 Principles

Couples strengthen the friendship that is at the heart of any marriage by following these 7 principles.

Enhancing love maps

The more you are familiar with your spouse, the more intimacy happens. This is called having a love map of your spouse. A “love map” is that part of a spouse’s brain where she stores all the relevant information about her husband (or the husband about his wife). The love map helps maintain better prepares to deal with stressful evens and conflict.

Nurturing fondness and admiration

Nurturing fondness and admiration increases positive emotions about each other and it is the antidote to contempt. It is also a buffer to stressors. It involves thinking about one’s spouse and consider what makes cherish him or her.

Turning toward each other

Small things are important in a marriage. This principle is based on the idea of staying positively connected even through small interactions that build romance and provide protection against stresses. It adds to the “emotional bank account” to be used during conflict.

Accepting influence

Spouses need to learn to accept being influenced by each other and taking their respective opinions and feelings into account. Spouse need to be willing to share power and influence in their relationship. Males tend to have more problems in this area, but females can also be at fault in some cases. Studies show that 81% of couples where the men do not share power and influence will self-destruct.

Solving solvable problems

There are two kinds of marital conflict: solvable and unsolvable. Spouses need to learn to customize their coping mechanism to whether the conflict is solvable or not. 69% of conflicts fall into the category of unsolvable perpetual problems that are underlying assumptions and issues which cannot be fixed situationally. Since the perpetual issues are perpetual by definition, people should choose a spouse whose differences they can live and cope with. Otherwise, the perpetual problems become obstacles that lead to gridlock situations.

On the other hand, solvable problems are situational and they are less intense than the perpetual problems. Principle 5 will go into further detail about how to solve them, but in few words Gottman’s model for conflict resolution involves softening the startup (avoid criticism or contempt), learning to make and receive repair attempts; making efforts to deescalate the tension; soothing oneself and one’s partner; compromising; and being tolerant of each other’s faults.

Solvable problems, if not addressed or coped with, can lead to perpetual problems due to resentment and entrenchment of the spouses in their positions.

Overcoming gridlock

Gridlock is a sign that one spouse has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t even aware of. When dreams are accepted and respected couples are happier because they expect their marriage to help them achieve their goals. Gridlocked perpetual problems are perpetual problems that have been mishandled and have become something “uncomfortable.” When a couple tries to discuss a gridlocked issue, they may feel that they are getting nowhere, because usually there are hidden issues underlying the problem.

To overcome gridlocked perpetual problems, spouses should learn to establish a dialogue that communicates acceptance of their partner, using humor, affection, and even amusement, to actively cope with those problems. Gridlocked discussions only lead to very painful exchanges or cold silence, and almost always involve the Four Horsemen of criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness.

Creating shared meaning

It is important for spouses to create shared meaning in their marriage. They need a spiritual dimension, they need to create a family culture rich with symbols and rituals which increases and strengthens their sense of togetherness. When a marriage has a shared sense of meaning, conflict is more manageable and perpetual problems are less probable to lead to gridlock.

My Favorite 11 Quotes from John Gottman

Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse.”

“Some people leave a marriage literally, by divorcing. Others do so by leading parallel lives together.” 

“You don’t have to be interesting. You have to be interested.”

“The problem is that therapy that focuses solely on active listening and conflict resolution doesn’t work. A Munich-based marital therapy study conducted by Kurt Hahlweg and associates found that even after employing active-listening techniques the typical couple was still distressed. Those few couples who did benefit relapsed within a year.”

“Once you understand this, you will be ready to accept one of the most surprising truths about marriage: Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.” 

“But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other (which all couples have) from overwhelming their positive ones. They have what I call an emotionally intelligent marriage.” 

“The point is that neuroses don’t have to ruin a marriage. If you can accommodate each other’s “crazy” side and handle it with caring, affection, and respect, your marriage can thrive.” 

“In the midst of a bitter dispute, the husband or wife picks up a ringing telephone and is suddenly all smiles: “Oh, hi. Yes, it would be great to have lunch. No problem, Tuesday would be fine. Oh, I am so sorry to hear that you didn’t get the job. You must feel so disappointed,” and so on.” 

“Admit when you’re wrong. Shut up when you’re right.”

Marriages are much more likely to succeed when the couple experiences a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions whereas when the ratio approaches 1 to 1, marriages are more likely to end in divorce.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse predict an ailing marriage: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt. The worst of these is contempt.  


To open or buy The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman on Amazon click here


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