“Making Marriage Work”: John Gottman Quotes

The following quotes from relationship expert John Gottman regarding marriage are from two of his most read books:

I. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert  by John Gottman and Nan Silver (1999)

…one of the most surprising truths about marriage: Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.

Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse.

The problem is that therapy that focuses solely on active listening and conflict resolution doesn’t work. A Munich-based marital therapy study conducted by Kurt Hahlweg and associates found that even after employing active-listening techniques the typical couple was still distressed. Those few couples who did benefit relapsed within a year.

II. The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples by John Gottman, 2011

…(T)he most common research finding across labs is that the first negative attribution people start making when the relationship becomes less happy is “my partner is selfish,” a direct reflection of a decrease in the trust metric. They then start to see their partner’s momentary emotional distance and irritability as a sign of a lasting negative trait. On the other hand, in happier relationships people make lasting positive trait attributions, like “my partner is sweet,” and tend to write off their partner’s momentary emotional distance and irritability as a temporary attribution, like “my partner is stressed.”

Converting a complaint into a positive need requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. It may be helpful here to review my belief that within every negative feeling there is a longing, a wish, and, because of that, there is a recipe for success. It is the speaker’s job to discover that recipe. The speaker is really saying “Here’s what I feel, and here’s what I need from you.” Or, in processing a negative event that has already happened, the speaker is saying, “Here’s what I felt, and here’s what I needed from you.”

Most couples are willing to spend an hour a week talking about their relationship. I suggest that emotional attunement can take place (at a minimum) in that weekly “state of the union” meeting. That means that at least an hour a week is devoted to the relationship and the processing of negative emotions. Couples can count on this as a time to attune. Later, after the skill of attunement is mastered, they can process negative emotions more quickly and efficiently as they occur. If the couple is willing, they take turns as speaker and listener. They get two clipboards, yellow pads, and pens for jotting down their ideas when they become a speaker, and for taking notes when they become a listener. It’s not a very high-tech solution, but the process of taking notes also helps people stay out of the flooded state. I suggest that at the start of the state of the union meeting, before beginning processing a negative event, each person talks about what is going right in the relationship, followed by giving at least five appreciations for positive things their partner has done that week. The meeting then continues by each partner talking about an issue in the relationship. If there is an issue they can use attunement to fully process the issue.

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