Marriage comes with its ups and downs, but these seven principles may help you create a healthier relationship with your spouse.
They say there’s no roadmap for the most difficult endeavors in life, but four decades of marriage scientific research and real-time lab observations compiled in one book come as close as folks might get to a marriage guidebook.
Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver, in their book “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work,” combine research and practical applications for creating long lasting, fulfilling relationships.
Their principles stem from years of longitudinal studies on couples. Applying their principles takes practice but can be pivotal to creating a healthy partnership.
Gottman states that emotionally intelligent couples are familiar with their partners’ love maps.
Enhancing your love maps is about being familiar with your partner’s world — understanding their lived experience, knowing their love language, and remembering their life changing events.
Mutual understanding of each other’s worlds can arouse care for each other and increase connection.
Enriching your love maps involves a deep comprehension of what makes your partner your partner. Some questions you may think about or try to answer about your partner include:
- What are their top three favorite songs and why?
- What is their biggest fear?
- What are some dreams they have for the future?
- What stresses them out?
- What are some of the major events that have occurred in their life?
These example questions can give you an idea of how familiar you are with your partner’s love map. If you notice this is an area lacking, it doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is doomed to fail. Enhancing your love map through honest discussion is possible.
Fondness and admiration in marriage demonstrate affinity for your partner, based on an inner belief that they’re worthy of respect.
Gottman and Silver explain that the marriage may no longer be salvageable when fondness and admiration are lacking.
Gottman suggests that a good way of evaluating whether you have admiration and fondness for your marriage is to recount the story of your first meeting and courtship.
His older research found that the way couples recount their relationship origins story predicted divorce or marital stability with a 94% accuracy.
Nurturing your relationship may look like this:
- planning date nights together
- trying a new hobby or activity together
- expressing appreciation for your spouse
- complimenting your partner
If nurturing fondness toward your spouse isn’t a priority, you may consider seeking couples therapy.
In a healthy relationship, partners make bids for each other’s attention.
If you tell your partner, “I’m having a bad day at work,” and your partner replies, “I don’t have time to talk right now,” this is turning awayfrom each other.
When your partner bids for your attention and you take the time to be present, listen, and support them, you’re turning towardeach other.
“Turning toward is the basis of emotional connection, romance, passion, and a good sex life.”
– John Gottman, “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work”
Choosing to turn toward each other helps fill each other’s “love tank,” as longtime marriage counselor Gary Chapman says in his book “The Five Love Languages.”
Then, when times get hard, that full tank can come in handy and help you drive through the challenge productively and lovingly.
Couples are more likely to stay together when they work as a team.
When one person has all the power in a relationship, it creates a hierarchal difference. When you turn toward each other when making big decisions, sharing opinions, or involving your spouse in your thought process, you allow them to influence you.
Letting your partner influence you isn’t the same as allowing someone else to control you. It’s more about communicating and involving your significant other in decisions.
Even if you disagree, there are still ways to have calm, rational discussions that show respect toward your significant other.
There are two types of problems that can occur in a marriage: perpetual and solvable.
Perpetual problems usually are complex and may result in communication gridlock.
But just because you have recurring issues with your spouse doesn’t mean you can’t have a thriving marriage.
Solvable problems are usually more straightforward. With solvable issues, you can directly tackle the problem and find a solution. There isn’t typically underlying conflict or resentment with solvable issues, only the challenge at hand.
Gottman suggests five steps for tackling solvable problems:
- Soften your startup. If you approach the problem from a calm, respectful place allows you both to feel heard.
- Learn to create and receive repair attempts. Repair attempts are actions or statements to keep conflict from escalating. They can involve levity, humor, an inside joke, or a special code.
- Soothe yourself and each other. Taking a 20-minute break, calming down, and soothing your partner can be an effective problem-solving strategy.
- Compromise. Finding a solution that you can both live with may help establish healthy conflict resolution.
- Be tolerant of each others’ faults. Understanding your partner is human and accepting their flaws helps create an attitude where calm negotiation can occur.
Gridlock occurs when persistent disagreements cause conflict. For example, you’re gridlocked with your spouse when ongoing problems lead to a lack of productive conversation. Perhaps you both can’t seem to agree to disagree.
Overcoming gridlock is not about solving the problem but having a healthy conversation about the situation. But first, you have to understand what’s causing the problem. Gottman believes that unrealized dreams create gridlock.
To overcome gridlock, here are some steps you can take:
- try to understand the root of the issue
- communicate calmly
- find a way to assess your nonnegotiable and flexible areas of the conflict
- end the discussion on a calm note, expressing thanks and appreciation for your partner
Research from 2017 by Gottman suggests that happy couples who stay together can move from gridlock to dialogue about their perpetual problems.
This happens when you accept your partner and understand their unconscious dreams or agendas.
Creating shared meaning involves fusing your goals, roles, and rituals. You can find fulfillment in sharing purpose by allowing yourself and your partner to have their needs, wants, and dreams recognized.
You can create meaningful experiences when you share and explore all types of intimacy.
For example, some couples may experience shared meaning if one partner plans their mate’s ideal birthday celebration. Sharing purpose with your partner may help you feel closer.
Using the seven principles crafted by Gottman and Silver in their book “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work” as a guide for marriage can help you create a stronger connection.
Each of the principles builds upon one another and is interrelated. As you lay the foundation for healthier patterns in earlier principles, the latter principles become easier to apply.
Putting in the work to connect, communicate, and respect each other, is worth the work for a happy marriage.