In his research into what made marriages stable and what led to relationship collapse, Gottman thought he had worked it out when he concluded that teaching couples how to argue without being overridden by the four horsemen was the answer. Sadly, this was not the case, and it was not until he worked out what went right in happy marriages, that he was able to develop principles we could all adopt to ensure we are not all headed to the divorce lawyers!
“After tracking the lives of happily married couples for as long as twenty years, I now know that the key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not simply how you handle your disagreements but how you engage with each other when you are not fighting.” - John M. Gottman Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work.
In his book, Gottman talks about the crucial nature of the friendship between couples and states it is this friendship that fuels passion, romance, and the great sex we all hope to end up having as part of a zesty, supportive, and fun marriage!
With this in mind, Gottman has identified seven principles for making marriage work and today I am going to concentrate on the first three. If you are interested in learning all seven, order the book as soon as you can, you will not regret it and your marriage will most definitely improve.
As I have stated more than once, Russ and I are predominantly having a nice time, our marriage is stable. I say this with some pride as we did not grow up around examples of sanity when it comes to marriage, and that is an understatement. We have had to work it all out as we have gone along, and it has NOT been easy. There have been some very dark and difficult moments, which we now see as inevitable due to the neglectful and somewhat abusive childhoods we both had. We spent the first ten years unconsciously taking our pasts out on each other which was tragic considering what we had each already been through. No blame or regrets now though as together, we eventually realised what was going on and decided we were on the same team. From that point, in about 2015 we set to work building on what we had and removing anything that weakened us as a couple. Having Charlie helped as we were determined not to put him through the torment that we both experienced watching our parents destroy each other. If we can do it, anyone can!
In order to improve the friendship that you share with your spouse, you need to concentrate on the quality of the relationship, and the first thing Gottman suggests in order to do this is to Improve Your Love Maps. I’ll be honest, this is not my favourite term, but the principle is solid gold! He is basically telling us that if we are guilty of failing to give our partners life our loving attention, and so do not truly know them we are putting the relationship, and I would argue their health at risk. Now, be honest, is that you? If it is don’t worry, you can change. You just need to start giving you partner your attention, what they do, what they have done, where they are going and more importantly who they are.
“The more you know about each other’s inner world, the more profound and rewarding the relationship will be.” - John M. Gottman Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work.
Let’s move on to principal number two which is to Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration. Radical, I know. Gottman talks about this as the antidote to contempt.
“By simply reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities-even as you grapple with each other’s flaws-you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating. The simple reason is that fondness and admiration are the antidotes to contempt. If you maintain a sense of respect for your spouse, you are less likely to act disgusted with him or her when you disagree.” - John M. Gottman Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work.
This concept links into a concept I highlighted last week in that you need to focus on doing your part. Start immediately, if your partner is a mostly decent person, point out the things you appreciate about them and do it OFTEN! Imagine they were in a fatal car accident, and they never came home, and you never got to tell them how much you appreciated who they are. It has been life changing for me and Russ as we were so pissed off with each other most of the time and it kind of confirmed our deepest and darkest fears, that we were unlovable people. Sad because that really wasn’t and isn’t true. We were both so in need of the profound healing that comes when someone notices you are trying your best and mostly doing a great job. Complimenting each other and behaving warmly towards one another has transformed us as a couple and also as individuals. I feel, mostly cherished by Russ and I am, mostly his biggest fan.
Being treated this way gives you a glint in your eye and a bounce in your step. It feels good for your nervous system, which is good for your immune system, the experts say it will help you live longer and that is no small thing. So, stop criticising your spouse, warm up, be kind and be generous with compliments. To do anything other than that is abusive, and we are each responsible for not being that!
To finish up let’s talk about the third principle of Gottman’s seven which is to Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away. This is my favourite of his ideas and truly beautiful when you are able to practice it daily with your partner. Gottman suggests that it is this leaning in to one another that builds trust and can truly help our relationships thrive.
“A tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and a satisfying sex life.” - John M. Gottman Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work.
When you come home from a busy day and your partner has a cup of tea ready for you and asks you to tell him how you are, your heart is warmed. When you tell your wife she looks beautiful in the evening light and she responds by getting up, taking your hand, and leading you to your bedroom to make love, your soul knows it can rest. When you are struggling to cope with something from your childhood and your partner is interested and right there with you, you feel valued and supported. When you lose your dad, your hair or simply your keys and your spouse shows they care, you feel a little safer in a world of endless uncertainty.
“In marriage, couples are always making what I call “bids” for each other’s attention, affection, humour, or support. Bids can be as minor as asking for a back rub or as significant as seeking help in carrying the burden when an ageing parent is ill.” - John M. Gottman Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work.
The modern world is distracting to say the least, but the evidence is clear, if we want our marriages or long-term relationships to survive and prosper, we need to take time to show our partners that we enjoy who they are. We need to put down our phones, put on the out of office when we can, turn off the dreadful and endless fear mongering that is modern news and give our attention to the most important person in our lives. If you have become lost to it all, and you would be forgiven, if you don’t know what she fears or what he dreams of, make time to ask. If you have become cold and distant and harsh, make a daily effort to do the opposite. Be generous with your partner, if you think he looks hot in his work outfit, tell him. If your wife made you wonder how she seems to know what to do with the kids most of the time, send her a card telling her exactly that.
Go on a date, talk about your good memories, and do it often. Build and strengthen yourselves as a couple because your health and the health of our youngsters depends on it. If you would like to learn more about Gottman's work head on over to: https://www.gottman.com/
Or order his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/849380.The_Seven_Principles_for_Making_Marriage_Work