Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I've really enjoyed Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

It is a book on communication, but totally different from the usual approach. The research shows that there is a 90% correlation between some communication patterns and a marriage that succeeds or fails.

Do you have harsh openings when you talk to someone, or do you have gentle ones? When you have a disagreement, do you use sarcasm, do you ever change your mind, do you value your spouse's opinions (and care to hear them) or do you downgrade anyone you disagree with?

Do either of you make repair or soothing attempts, and if one occurs, do you respond to it?

Those are all patterns you can learn to recognize, control and improve.

The book has a lot more than those points, but it teaches them well and they are the core to successful relationships (with friends, at work, or in a marriage). It contains a lot of accessible checklists, advice and patterns you can use. Best, it is data driven rather than modeled on current trends, psych fads or common knowledge and old tales.

Based on it, I've got some rules for talking to a spouse.

  1. Never say "you always" or "you never" or "you are." That leads to divorce because it devalues your spouse and puts them in the category of "bad" rather than someone you love. If you want not to love them, fine, but otherwise take a different approach.
  2. Never use sarcasm in any emotional discussion with your spouse. If there is emotion, then you should never belittle, degrade or use sarcasm (you shouldn't anyway).
  3. Be gentle with each other.
  4. Never pile on. When a repair attempt occurs (e.g. "you forgot to pick up the milk." [not, "you always forget to pick up the milk"] "I did, that was stupid" -- that is a repair attempt) If you pile on a that stage (e.g. "you sure are stupid!") you are sending the message that you don't want change, you just want to hurt the other person.
  5. Spend some time each day supporting your spouse's venting. Agree with them, don't try to fix it or offer solutions, don't try to talk them out of venting. Take at least 15 minutes and make sure they do at least 95% of the talking.

Obviously there is a lot more than my conclusions in this book (ok, it may not be obvious, and with some books, there would not be, but there are in this case). Different people will have different take away points (and I have more, but I just wanted five for this post), with different amounts of tangibility (application vs. general principles).

Worth getting through interlibrary loan or used at amazon.com. Bears revisiting and the checklists and quizes are useful for application.

I may do some more posts based on the book.


Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed it - one of my favorite books, for sure. And having seen Gottman speak about three times, and having met him once, I can say that he is a class-act, VERY smart (I think he was an engineer or mathematician before he became a psychologist), and has a great sense of humor. Good stuff.

I would also recommend "Hold Me Tight" by Sue Johnson. It is a book for a similar audience but taken from a different angle, that of the emotional bond/attachment between partners, and how it is rooted in evolution.

Stephen said...

That is neat that he is a class act and not cheesy in person. I'll have to look at the other book you recommended. Thanks.