Ingredients For A Successful Marriage

As a follow-up to my previous article on Four Predictors of Divorce And How To Combat Them, which focused on Dr. John Gottman’s four horsemen, this article offers insight into what it takes to establish and maintain a long-term loving and rewarding marriage.   In his book The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work (1999), Dr. Gottman shares his research-based concepts that are associated with healthy and satisfying marriages.  Dr. Gottman’s theory is based on the idea that couples must first establish a strong friendship, which lays the foundation for marriage and the other elements that come with it.  Through his work and research with thousands of couples, Dr. Gottman has found that in order for marriages to sustain, seven principles must be present:

1.     Enhance “love maps”: According to Dr. Gottman, “love maps” are how partners within a marriage store and reference information about one another’s life.  “Love maps” include information related to each partner’s fears, dreams/goals, history, beliefs systems, and other intimate information. The purpose of using “love maps” in a marriage is for partners to express understanding, fondness, and admiration of one another.

2.     Nurture fondness and admiration: It can be easy to focus on the aspects of a partner that is negative or problematic however that just breeds criticism and contempt, which are marriage killers.  Instead, Dr. Gottman believes that partners must focus on the specific factors, traits, and aspects that initially drew one another together in order to promote a culture of appreciation and caring within a marriage.

3.     Turn towards one another: In order to foster a sense of connection within a marriage, couples must look to one another instead of turning away.  This is especially necessary when partners make attempts to gain attention from one another through intimacy, affection, humor, or support during trying or stressful times.

4.     Accept influence: This principle means that partners seek out and welcome one another’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions even if they are not the same.  When couples allow for each partner to actively influence the other, it promotes shared decision-making and the sense of mutual power within a marriage.

5.     Solve solvable problems:  When couples utilize healthy conflict resolution techniques to address problems instead of attacking one another, it prevents the four horsemen (criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness) from existing.  Dr. Gottman suggests that healthy conflict resolution involves softening the start-up (being direct in a positive manner); making and receiving repair attempts (comments/actions that prevent negativity and deescalate tension); the ability for both partners to self-soothe when feeling emotional; the ability to compromise (allowing influence of one another); and the ability to be accepting of one another’s shortcomings.

6.     Overcome gridlock:  Couples experience gridlock when they engage in ineffective and problematic conflict resolution techniques when an issue arises.  Gridlock leaves couples feeling rejected, polarized, disengaged, and unable to compromise.  However gridlock can be overcome when both partners within a marriage are motivated and willing to be open to identifying and addressing the underlying concerns that have caused the stalemate. 

7.     Create shared meaning:  When couples are able to identify and establish a deeper understanding of each partner’s roles and responsibilities within their marriage and family they can develop meaning and value to their relationship.  Shared meaning is often created and maintained through rituals or in a spiritual sense.  Shared meaning can promote a strong sense of connection and understanding, which is associated with minimal conflict and negativity within a marriage.

Although these principles may seem simple and straightforward, they each require a high degree of motivation and openness by both partners to achieve and maintain them.  Marriage can feel like a lot of work at times however if couples direct their attention and efforts in the appropriate ways, marriage can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of one’s life.

~Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT