In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, written with Nan Silver, renowned clinical psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D, reveals what successful relationships look like and features valuable activities to help couples strengthen their relationships. Gottman’s principles are research-based. He and his colleagues have studied hundreds of couples (including newlyweds and long-term couples); interviewed couples and videotaped their interactions; even measured their stress levels by checking their heart rate, sweat ﬂow, blood pressure and immune function; and followed couples annually to see how their relationships have fared.
Below are his seven principles along with a few relationship-strengthening activities to try.
1. “Enhance your love maps” Love is in the details. That is, happy couples are very much familiar with their partner’s world. According to Gottman, these couples have “a richly detailed love map — the term for that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life.” You know everything from your partner’s favorite movies to what’s currently stressing them out to some of their life dreams, and they know yours.
2. “Nurture your fondness and admiration” Happy couples respect each other and have a general positive view of each other. Gottman says that fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in a satisfying and long-term relationship. If these elements are completely missing, the marriage can’t be saved.
Gottman includes a helpful activity to remind couples of the partner they fell in love with called “I appreciate.” He suggests readers list three or more of their partner’s positive characteristics along with an incident that illustrates each quality. Then read your lists to each other.
3. “Turn toward each other instead of away” Romance isn’t a Caribbean cruise, an expensive meal or a lavish gift. Rather, romance lives and thrives in the everyday, little things. According to Gottman, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”
For instance, romance is leaving an encouraging voicemail for your spouse when you know he’s having a bad day, Gottman says. Or romance is running late but taking a few minutes to listen to your wife’s bad dream and saying that you’ll discuss it later (instead of saying “I don’t have time”).
4. “Let your partner inﬂuence you” Happy couples are a team that considers each other’s perspective and feelings. They make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your partner inﬂuence you isn’t about having one person hold the reins; it’s about honoring and respecting both people in the relationship.
5. “Solve your solvable problems” Gottman says that there are two types of marital problems: conﬂicts that can be resolved and perpetual problems that can’t. It’s important for couples to determine which ones are which.
Sometimes, though, telling the difference can be tricky. According to Gottman, “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational, and there’s no underlying conﬂict.
6. “Overcome gridlock” Gottman says that the goal with perpetual problems is for couples to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” What usually underlies gridlock is unfulﬁlled dreams. “Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other,” Gottman writes. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other realize their dreams.
7. “Create shared meaning” “Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with cre‐ ating an inner life together — a culture rich with 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,” Gottman says.
And that’s what it means to develop shared meaning. Happy couples create a family culture that includes both of their dreams. In being open to each other’s perspectives and opinions, happy couples naturally come together.