“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” is the definitive guide to making your marriage the best it can be. Based on 40 years of experience working with thousands of couples, John Gottman shares his techniques for giving your partnership the attention it needs to thrive. In this book summary, you’ll learn Gottman’s practical strategies for carving out quality time together, working through persistent issues, resolving conflicts, and helping each other feel loved and appreciated.
Invigorate your marriage with these insights based on over 40 years of relationship research.
READ THIS BOOK SUMMARY IF YOU:
- Are in a long-term relationship, marriage, or partnership
- Want to strengthen your communication skills with your spouse
- Are looking for strategies to enhance your intimacy
Introduction: Enhance Your Love Maps
Table of Contents
You might think that people in happy marriages have something you don’t. Scroll through social media and you’ll see photo after photo of smiling couples and families. What makes these marriages work? Is it more money? Better opportunities? Frequent child care? Good luck? According to psychologist John Gottman, it’s none of those things. Rather, scientific research has indicated that happy couples succeed because they have developed tools for preventing the (completely normal) negative thoughts and feelings they have about each other from replacing their positive ones. They value and embrace each other’s needs and respect each other even when they disagree. These qualities make up what Gottman calls an emotionally intelligent marriage — and the best part is that these qualities can be learned.
Even the strongest relationships go through difficult times, whether because of increased stress brought on by major life events such as the arrival of a new baby, an illness, or a job loss, or simply everyday conflicts that arise. When these rough patches hit, loving partners can benefit from learning the seven principles for making marriage work:
- Enhance your love maps.
- Nurture fondness and admiration.
- Turn toward each other instead of away.
- Let your partner influence you.
- Solve solvable conflicts.
- Cope with the conflicts you can’t solve.
- Create shared meaning.
These principles teach you how to safeguard and strengthen your relationship, even when life throws monumental challenges at you. All of them are based on decades of research studies conducted and academic articles written by Gottman and his team, and are proven to help partners better connect and communicate, and rekindle their intimacy.
Building a love map around your partner requires being familiar with their world. Beyond remembering the names of their friends or that difficult co-worker they talk about, you share a sense of their joys, dislikes, fears, and stressors. You know what their life goals are, their worries, and their hopes, and you know how they fit into their history. Creating a detailed love map of your partner’s world will bring resilience to your marriage and help you weather life’s storms. In essence, your love map demonstrates that you are deeply interested in knowing your partner. When you are attuned to their thoughts and feelings, you will both be able to more effectively withstand the trials and transformations that each stage of life brings.
Nurture Fondness and Admiration
Loving relationships begin with fondness and admiration that grow as two people get to know each other. At their cores, these qualities provide a fundamental sense that the other person is worthy of honor and respect. Even when a partner displays character flaws or behaves badly, the other person remembers and cherishes their positive traits.
Usually it’s easy to spot fondness and admiration in the early stages of a relationship, but after a couple has weathered some storms, these feelings can be replaced by contempt and exasperation as couples lose sight of what they initially liked about each other. This can make it difficult to save a marriage.
So how do you nurture fondness and admiration in your relationship? In order to restore a fundamentally positive view of your spouse, Gottman recommends intentionally reminding yourself of your partner’s positive qualities, even when they disappoint you. Express appreciation when they demonstrate helpfulness or thoughtfulness, and take time to recognize how well they take care of you and your family. Holding respect and appreciation for the other person at the core of your marriage will make you less likely to feel that disagreements threaten your relationship. You’ll be able to talk honestly about disagreements or difficult issues while still believing that your spouse is deserving of respect and kindness.
Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away
Some of the most mundane moments in a marriage reveal whether you have a pattern of turning toward your partner or turning away from them: Do you share interesting news with each other? Do you chat while you do the dishes? Do you talk about your day? Real connection is fueled by the small moments of everyday life when you let your partner know they are valued.
Each day is full of opportunities to let your partner know you care, and small gestures matter, especially when a couple has been together for a long time. These seemingly small gestures demonstrate emotional connection, trust, and value for the other person, and are fundamental to ensuring a solid future for your marriage. Storing up an abundance of these small moments will prevent you and your partner from feeling neglected and distrustful when you encounter difficult times.
The first step to turning toward your spouse is to understand the importance of doing so. Being helpful, thoughtful, and considerate creates a bond between the two of you, making you feel like you can count on each other. Moving toward each other in these small but important ways through simple, everyday interactions bolsters the strength of your marriage and builds up positive feelings.
Let Your Partner Influence You
Marriage is full of moments when one partner has different priorities from another. For example, maybe a husband wants to buy an expensive part for his boat and his wife wants a fancy new lens for her camera. Both have good reasons for spending their cash: The husband envisions beautiful afternoons on the lake with his family, and the wife imagines how well her camera could capture those memories. At the core, many of their priorities are the same. But they only have enough money in the budget to make one purchase. Discussions are bound to ensue.
In these situations, it’s especially important to make a deliberate effort to see things from your spouse’s point of view. Go out of your way to try to understand the other person’s opinions and feelings. Make your spouse a partner in your decision-mak-ing process rather than an afterthought. This advice holds true not only for small decisions such as purchases, but also for major life decisions such as changing careers or moving to another home. People who allow their partners to have equally influential roles in their lives report much higher levels of marital satisfaction.
If you find yourself resisting sharing power and decision-making with your spouse, this is a sign of trouble. You might decide not to share all the relevant information with them about a decision so that you can get your own way without having to face any consequences, or you might shut them out of the process. Worse yet, you might manipulate your partner so that they agree with you. All of these behaviors lead to dysfunctional relationships because they undermine the other person’s right to their own point of view. You’ll need to do the hard work of letting your partner influence you, and accept compromises for the health of your marriage.
Solve Solvable Conflicts — and Cope with Those You Can’t Solve
Conflicts are an inevitable part of marriage; even strong, healthy, committed couples find themselves dealing with complex and intense disagreements from time to time. Gottman has found that there are two main types of conflict: those that can be resolved, and those that are perpetual, meaning that they will keep appearing throughout your relationship. In this section, you’ll learn how to handle both.
Solvable problems often cause frustration because couples lack the skills necessary to work through them effectively. In these situations, Gottman offers five steps for resolving them:
First, begin the discussion with empathy and kindness instead of launching into it from a place of anger; second, recognize the value of repair attempts, which are when your partner makes an effort to be conciliatory; third, pay attention to how you’re feeling physically so that you don’t become too overheated and angry; fourth, make sure to compromise; and fifth, learn how to tolerate your partner’s imperfections.
These techniques can help you focus on the specific problem at hand and find respectful ways to create a solution.
Unfortunately, research has shown that nearly 70% of marital conflicts fall into the “perpetual” category. If you’ve been in a long-term relationship, you may find yourself nodding in agreement during one of these arguments. Sometimes the same old problems can keep cycling back through your marriage, taking on new forms while sharing roots with an old issue. These perpetual conflicts can range from a number of topics, commonly including whether or not to have children, the frequency of sex, and the division of domestic labor. The problems may arise from sensitive emotional spots that are difficult for some people to talk about, or they might touch on a marital issue that feels too big to address. But it is possible to have a very satisfying marriage in the midst of these differences.
The best way to deal with unsolvable problems is to approach them with a healthy sense of perspective — even humor, if possible. Your marriage can still thrive in the light of major marital conflicts if you continue acknowledging the problems, talking about them, and preventing them from overwhelming your relationship. Avoiding talking about them will do your relationship no good; it’s better to talk about them as they arise while still accepting that the root of the conflict might not change.
In one couple, for example, the wife dreaded spending time with her in-laws, but her husband was very close to them. She chose not to downplay her legitimate reasons for feeling uncomfortable around them, but she also accepted that they were an important part of her husband’s life. The key to these types of conflicts is to remember that neither partner is required to “give in” or change how they feel; instead, keep in mind that some problems are inevitable, like a bad back that can set in during old age. Of course, you would prefer not to have the problem at all, but accepting its inevitability and avoiding situations that are likely to make it worse are effective ways of coping with it for the long term.
In this summary, you have explored John Gottman’s principles for making marriage work based on his decades of research as a marriage and family therapist. If your marriage aligns with these first six principles, you probably feel that your relationship is a stable and happy one, and you look forward to sharing the future together. But even very satisfying marriages sometimes lack the most essential principle: creating shared meaning. Without shared meaning, partnerships can start to seem dull and stale, and spouses can begin to feel less invested than they used to be.
Creating shared meaning in your marriage means building a shared inner life together. You have inside jokes and rituals, and you understand what the other person is thinking with a look. But this principle is about more than fun and familiarity — it’s about a genuine connection, a belief that you matter deeply to the other person and that they know who you really are. When you create shared meaning in your relationship, both partners feel comfortable talking freely about their thoughts and beliefs, even if they are different from their partner’s.
Another component of creating shared meaning involves the story you tell yourselves about how and why you are together. What are your shared goals? What have you overcome together? In what ways have you seen each other grow? Building a life together is about incorporating the different experiences and values you each bring to the relationship in order to create the ongoing story of your own new family. Along the way, these seven principles will help you to develop a richer, more rewarding appreciation for one another.
About John Gottman
John Gottman is a nationally-recognized psychologist with over 40 years of specialty research in couples counseling. He has published more than 40 books, and co-founded The Gottman Institute with his wife, Julie.
The book is based on the author’s extensive research on married couples, which has revealed the habits and behaviors that can make or break a marriage. The author identifies seven principles that guide couples on how to create and maintain a harmonious and long-lasting relationship. These principles are:
- Enhance your love maps: This means to have a detailed and updated knowledge of your partner’s inner world, such as their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, fears, and goals. This helps to build intimacy and friendship, and to show interest and respect for your partner.
- Nurture your fondness and admiration: This means to appreciate and express your positive feelings for your partner, such as their qualities, achievements, contributions, and efforts. This helps to create a positive atmosphere and a sense of gratitude, and to counteract the negative effects of criticism and contempt.
- Turn toward each other instead of away: This means to respond positively and attentively to your partner’s bids for attention, affection, support, or humor. This helps to strengthen the emotional bond and the trust between you and your partner, and to increase the frequency and quality of your interactions.
- Let your partner influence you: This means to share power and decision-making with your partner, and to respect and consider their opinions, preferences, and feelings. This helps to create a sense of partnership and equality, and to avoid conflicts and resentment.
- Solve your solvable problems: This means to use effective communication and problem-solving skills to deal with the issues that can be resolved or compromised. This involves avoiding the four horsemen of the apocalypse (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling), using soft start-ups (gentle and respectful ways of bringing up a problem), making repair attempts (actions or words that prevent or reduce negativity), soothing yourself and your partner (calming down when feeling overwhelmed or flooded), compromising (finding a middle ground that satisfies both parties), and being tolerant of each other’s faults (accepting the imperfections that cannot be changed).
- Overcome gridlock: This means to cope with the issues that are perpetual or unsolvable, which are usually related to fundamental differences in personality or values. This involves understanding the underlying dreams or needs that drive your partner’s position, expressing support and empathy for their dreams or needs, creating temporary compromises that honor both parties’ dreams or needs, and finding common ground or shared meaning that transcends the issue.
- Create shared meaning: This means to build a sense of purpose and direction in your relationship, by sharing goals, values, beliefs, rituals, roles, symbols, and legacies. This helps to enrich your relationship and make it more fulfilling and satisfying.
I think this book is a practical and helpful guide for anyone who wants to improve their marriage or relationship. The book is based on solid scientific evidence and real-life examples, which make it credible and relatable. The book is also clear and easy to follow, with explanations, exercises, questionnaires, summaries, and references. The book is not only informative but also motivational, as it shows that anyone can learn and apply the seven principles to make their marriage work.
I would recommend this book to couples who are struggling with their marriage or relationship or who want to prevent future problems. I would also recommend this book to singles who want to prepare themselves for a healthy and happy marriage or relationship. I think this book is a valuable resource for learning about the secrets of marital success.