the seven principles for making marriage work summary

Book Summary: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

The Book in Three Sentences

In this book summary of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, you’ll learn the principles that make a happy marriage. According to the author, the key components of an emotionally intelligent marriage include friendship, mutual respect, and positivity. In order to write the book, Gottman observed 650 couples over the course of 14 years.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Summary

About 67% of couples experience a large drop in marital satisfaction in the three years after the birth of their first baby.

1. Inside the Seattle Love Lab: The Truth About Happy Marriages

Couples that are happily married have a dynamic that’s based on keeping their negative thoughts and feelings about each other from overtaking the positive ones. This is an emotionally intelligent marriage.

An unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by around 35% and shorten your life by 4-8 years.

When a marriage goes sour, not only do the husband and wife suffer, but also the children.

Everyone thinks communication and learning to resolve your conflict is the road to a happy marriage. Listening and problem-solving techniques are important, but more is needed.

Happily married couples can have screaming matches loud arguments don’t necessarily hurt a marriage.

Some myths about marriage:

  • Neuroses or personality problems ruin marriages (this doesn’t include severe mental illnesses).
  • Common interests keep you together.
  • Avoiding conflict will ruin your marriage. It’s worth pointing out that while some couples avoid conflict, others argue a lot. No style is better, but whatever you choose, they have to work for both people.
  • Affairs are the root cause of divorce.
  • Men are biologically “built” for marriage.
  • Men and women are from different planets.

2. What Does Make Marriage Work?

Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. This includes mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company, being well-versed in the other person’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams, and expressing their fondness in both big gestures and small gestures every day.

If your marriage is too “positive”, it would take a lot of negativity to harm your relationship. If it’s too negative, it will be more difficult to repair.

Trust and commitment are extremely important. Betrayal is a choice that doesn’t prioritize your partner “before all others”. This includes being emotionally distant, disrespecting the partner, breaking promises.

The key to a healthy relationship is making friendship a top priority.

A repair attempt is a statement/action that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.

Most marital arguments cannot be solved. Instead of wasting your time, you need to understand the difference that is causing the conflict and learn to live with it by honoring and respecting each other.

3. How I Predict Divorce

The first sign: a harsh start-up. When the discussion leads off with criticism or sarcasm (a form of contempt) it becomes a harsh start-up. This will inevitably end on a negative note. A harsh start-up dooms you to failure, so pull the plug, breathe, and start over.

The second sign: the four horsemen.

  1. Criticism: there is a difference between complaint and criticism. Blaming the other person only makes it worse.
  2. Contempt: a sense of superiority over your partner. It’s a form of disrespect. Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery, hostile humor. This is poisonous to a relationship.
  3. Defensiveness: This is a way to blame your partner.
  4. Stonewalling: disengaging and ignoring.

The third sign: flooding. This is feeling overwhelmed (which causes stonewalling) so the person ignores or remains silent.

The fourth sign: body language The heart speed increases (100 BPM or more), there’s more adrenaline, high blood pressure. Your body is telling you to fight or to flee. Men and women really are different. In 85% of heterosexual marriages, the stonewaller is the husband. Men are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than their wives, this is a biological fact.

The fifth sign: failed repair attempts Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to de-escalate the tension during a touchy decision. Repair attempts save marriages.

The sixth sign: bad memories When a marriage is not going well, history gets re-written for the worse. The opposite is also true. When history has been rewritten, when mind and body make it impossible to communicate and repair problems, the relationship is likely to fail.

Four final stages that signal the end of a relationship:

  1. The couple sees marital problems as severe
  2. Talking seems useless
  3. The couple leads parallel lives
  4. Loneliness sets in

4. Principle 1: Enhance Your Love Maps

A love map is when emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world. A love map is also a part of the brain where you store all the relent information about your partner’s life. 

There’s strength in knowledge. This involves just talking to your partner.

5. Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

If a couple still has a functional fondness and admiration system, their marriage is salvageable.

The antidote to contempt is to remind yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities. Maintain a sense of respect. Search for the small, everyday moments.

6. Principle 3: Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

Two obstacles to turning toward:

  1. “Missing” a bid because it’s wrapped in anger or other negative emotion.
  2. Being distracted by the wired world. Couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.

When your partner has a lot of negative emotions:

  1. Acknowledge the difficulty
  2. Self-soothe
  3. Remember that the goal is understanding
  4. Use exploratory statements or open-ended questions
  5. Don’t ask “why”?
  6. Bear witness
  7. Use your partner’s metaphors
  • Extra tips for listening to sadness or crying: ask what’s missing, and don’t try to cheer up your partner.
  • Extra tips for listening to anger: don’t take it personally, don’t ever tell your partner to “calm down”, and search out the goal and obstacle.
  • Extra tip for listening to fear and stress: don’t minimize it.

7. Principle 4: Let Your Power Influence You

Don’t resist your couple’s influence. Share the power and decision-making. In order to have an emotionally intelligent marriage, you should honor and respect the other person. If you accept the other person’s influence, you will strengthen your friendship too.

8. The Two Kinds of Marital Conflict

Marital conflict is normal. Some conflicts are minor, others are overwhelmingly complex. All marital conflicts are either:

  1. Something that can be resolved
  2. Perpetual problems

Regarding the latter, around 70% of marital problems are perpetual. You don’t have to resolve your major marital problems for your marriage to thrive.

The signs of gridlock:

  • The conflict makes you feel rejected.
  • You keep talking about it, but nothing happens.
  • You’re unwilling to budge.
  • When you discuss the subject, you feel frustrated and hurt.
  • The conversations are devoid of humor and affection.
  • You become more extreme in your views.
  • You disengage emotionally.

Solvable problems:

  • They seem less painful and intense

Just remember that no one is right, acceptance is crucial, and focus on fondness and admiration. For a marriage to go forward happily, you need to pardon each other and give up on past resentments.

9. Principle 5: Solve Your Solvable Problems

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes, listen intently communicate, with empathy, that you see the problem from her perspective.

  1. Soften your start-up
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
  4. Compromise
  5. Process any grievances so that they don’t linger

To soften your start-up:

  • Make statements that start with “I” instead of “you”.
  • Describe what’s happening. Don’t evaluate or judge.
  • Be clear about your positive need.
  • Be polite.
  • Be appreciative.
  • Don’t store things up.

De-escalate tension when things get out of hand.

It’s harder for a man’s body to calm down after an argument than a woman’s. When taking a break, do it for 20 minutes. Do a mindless task (reading, walking, listening to music, exercising). You can also try to meditate.

To meditate:

  1. Sit or lie on your back
  2. Control your breath (focus on deep, regular breaths)
  3. Relax your muscles
  4. Let the tension flow out
  5. Get the muscles to feel warm

The problem is usually not what you discuss, but how you discuss it.

10. Coping with  Typical Solvable Problems

Unplug from distractions.

Consuming pornography while in a relationship has its problems:

  • It can lead to less frequent sex
  • Less sexual communication
  • Less mutually satisfying sex
  • Increased risk of betrayal

Relax after work

When it comes to relating to the in-laws, always take your spouse’s side. This creates a sense of solidarity.

When the issue is money:

  1. Itemize your current expenditures
  2. Manage everyday finances
  3. Plan your financial future

For housework, be fair and work as a team.

When you become parents, focus on your marital friendship, be sensitive to each other, and include the father in baby care.

Five ways to make sex more personal and romantic:

  1. Redefine what you mean by sex
  2. Learn how to talk about it (be gentle and positive). Be patient. Don’t take it personally. Compromise.
  3. Chart your sexual love maps. What felt good last time? What do you need to make it better?
  4. Have ongoing conversations about sexual intimacy.
  5. Learn how to initiate sex and to refuse it gently.

11. Principle 6: Overcome Gridlock

You are gridlocked if:

  1. You have the same argument with no resolution
  2. Can’t address the subject with humor or affection
  3. The subject becomes more polarizing
  4. Compromise seems impossible

The goal is to discuss the issue without hurting each other.

Working on a gridlocked marital issue:

  1. Explore a dream. Acknowledge and respect each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams. This is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.
  2. Soothe
  3. Reach a temporary compromise
  4. Say “thank you”.

12. Principle 7: Create Shared Meaning

The four pillars of shared meaning:

Pillar one: rituals of connection. Rituals are useful for disconnecting from problems and worries.

Pillar two: support for each other’s roles. Even if you don’t share every philosophical or religious belief, it helps to have similar values because it adds meaning to the marriage.

Pillar three: shared goals. If you share your deepest goals with your spouse, your life together will be more meaningful.

Pillar four: shared values and symbols. Symbols represent certain values and sharing both is important in every marriage.

Afterword: What Now?

You should devote six extra hours a week to your marriage. Here are some ideas on what you should focus on:

  • Partings: when you leave your house, make sure you know what’s happening to your partner that day.
  • Reunion: hug, kiss, and engage in stress-reducing conversation.
  • Admiration and appreciation: say “I love you”.
  • Affection: hug and give a goodnight kiss.
  • Weekly dates: come up with just-the-two-of-you time.
  • State of union meeting: talk about your relationship this week and discuss issues.

Further Reading

Scroll to Top