by Peggy Burns, MFT
“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” is based on over 40 years of research with thousands of couples.
The following is a detailed description of the “7 Principles”, along with powerful exercises to attain each one.
Principle 1: “ENHANCE YOUR LOVE MAPS”
Love is in the details. Happy couples are intimately familiar with their partner’s world. According to Gottman, these couples have “a richly detailed love map.” You know everything from your partner’s favorite salad dressing to what is currently stressing them out. You understand their life dreams and they can name yours. When you invest time in knowing each other’s love maps your intimacy and passion for each other will increase.
Gottman provides 60 questions to begin the development of these love maps. Love maps are meant to be kept current. You can always ask your partner, “Tell me what is important to you?” or “What do I need to know to better understand you?”
Principle 2: “NURTURE YOUR FONDNESS AND ADMIRATION”
You can rehearse your partner’s positive qualities or focus on their annoying and negative attributes. Happy couples honor and respect each other. They have a generally positive view of each other even while they grapple with each other’s flaws. Fondness and admiration can be rekindled. Without them a marriage is in the danger zone.
Gottman provides a simple activity to remind couples of the partner they fell in love with, called, “I appreciate”. He suggests readers tell each other three or more of their partner’s positive characteristics along with an incident that illustrates each quality. This exercise may seem simple but its rewards have enormous power to strengthen the bonds in the relationship.
Principle 3:“TURN TOWARD EACH OTHER INSTEAD OF AWAY”
Many people believe the secret to romance lies in a 7-day cruise, a fancy meal or a lavish gift. While these events can be a fabulous addition to a relationship romance lives and thrives in the everyday little things. The motto here is, “Do small things often”. Gottman reports, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.” Couples who accept each other’s “bids for attention” and turn towards each other have more in their “emotional bank account.” Satisfied and happy couples have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts, when times get rough; their emotional savings account is there to cushion the conflicts and stressors.
Learn about the “Magic 5 Hours”, which includes the “6-second kiss”, the “stress reducing conversation”, the importance of partings and reunions, and building love maps by having a weekly date.
Principle 4: “LET YOUR PARTNER INFLUENCE YOU”
Happy couples “yield to win” by considering each other’s perspective and feelings. They learn to accommodate each other’s wishes by honoring and respecting both people in the relationship.
Gottman created an “Island Survival Game”. Imagine your cruise ship sank in the Caribbean and you awaken to find you are the only two survivors. While making quick decisions to survive, the couple learns to mindfully accept influence from one another.
Principle 5: “SOLVE YOUR SOLVABLE PROBLEMS”
Every relationship has two types of problems. There are solvable problems and perpetual problems. Solvable problems have the ability to be resolved. Perpetual problems continue and will be something a couple grapples with for years. This is where couples become discouraged and gridlocked.
Gottman devised a five-step model for resolving these conflicts:
1. Soften your startup, start your conversation without criticism or contempt.
2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts. A repair attempt will deescalate the tension and the situation.
3. When you become flooded in your situation (heartbeat increases) take time out to self-soothe and calm down. After you calm down assist your partner to do the same.
4. Compromise by taking an honest consideration of your partner’s position. Couples will draw two circles. The smaller circle consists of non-negotiable points about the subject. The larger circle is where you can jointly make a list of areas you can compromise. Learn to honor each other’s core inflexibility.
5. Accept your partner’s flaws and overcome the “if only” syndrome. Example”, “If only he was taller” or “If only she was neater”.
Principle 6: “OVERCOME GRIDLOCK”
The key with perpetual problems is for couples to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” Gridlock is a sign that you have unfulfilled dreams. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other realize their dreams, aspirations and purpose in life.
Become a “Dream Detective” by uncovering hidden dreams that lie at the base of gridlock. Gottman provides a handout that lists sample dreams and questions that the “Dream Catcher” can ask.
Principle 7: “CREATE SHARED MEANING”
Gottman says, “Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become.” In other words two people form their own unique micro-culture that doesn’t exist anywhere else on this planet.
1. Create your own family ritual of connection. Example: “What is the meaning of weekends?” “Meaningful holiday, what is the true meaning for us?”
2. Roles – talk about your views regarding roles in your relationship.
3. Goals – “Write a mission statement for your life”. “What dreams do you want to fulfill before you die?”
4. Shared symbols – “What symbols (such as photos or objects) show who our family is in the world?”, “What does home mean to you?”, “What family stories are also symbols?” More examples are in Gottman’s book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”.
Contact Peggy Burns, LMFT to learn more or to host a workshop at (415) 810-6574.