Sep 04

“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.

Feb 16

“The Rough Patch”: Mid-Life Marriage Glitches

Couples turn away from each other for any number of apparent reasons, but underneath it all, it’s usually because they feel misunderstood, unheard, or unable to agree. Daphne de Marneffe, The Rough Patch

The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together is a recent release written by clinical psychologist Daphne de Marneffe. According to the book blurb, main topics included are “money, alcohol and drugs, the stresses of parenthood, sex, extramarital affairs, lovesickness, health, aging, children leaving home, and dealing with elderly parents.”

Meg Jay, PhD: “Through its title alone, The Rough Patch puts into words what most of us experience every day: that long-term relationships are uneven, bumpy and difficult…There isn’t a couple in America who would not benefit from a copy–or two copies–of this book.”

Ada Calhoun, The Cut, calls The Rough Patch aninsightful, provocative new book about marriage and midlife.”

And praise for The Rough Patch also comes from noted author Andrew Solomon“In this beautifully reasoned, highly personal, and very generous book of advice and analysis, Daphne de Marneffe proposes that the rough patch that occurs in most midlife relationships should be cherished.” 

One of De Marneffe’s conclusions is that longer-term couples need a “we story,” which is “a collaboration between partners about values and goals. But if couples are going to collaborate, they have to figure out how to have a productive conversation. A conversation — as opposed to parallel monologues — involves two people who are making an effort to understand each other. In the grip of strong emotion, productive conversation can be surprisingly hard” (New York Times).

Moreover, the author believes that the “work” of challenged couples involves recognizing that their commitment for the long haul involves some trade-offs. You can’t have everything in a marriage, just as you can’t have everything in life. The work is also about staying vulnerable with each other.

“What feels perhaps most radical,” per Calhoun, “is de Marneffe’s reclamation of the work involved in marriage as creative and worthy. With the stigma gone from sex, cohabiting, and child-rearing outside marriage, plenty of people wonder why they should even bother making a lifetime commitment. De Marneffe has an answer: ‘Marriage,’ she writes in The Rough Patch, ‘is the crucible for becoming a more mature, compassionate person’.”

Marriage helps you grow, in other words. Belinda Luscombe, Time:

If the only advantage of growing older is greater self-knowledge, then it follows that growing older with another offers a still richer source of feedback and material. (Presented, one hopes, with compassion.) And yet, even self-knowledge is not the point of spending life as a twosome. Marriage’s chief promise is another-knowledge, a decades-long exploration, as de Marneffe says, of ‘a distinct being whose contour and interior you have yet to truly know.’

Therapist Ian Kerner lists (CNN) the main things de Marneffe prescribes for couples, rough patch or not—among them are good communication and listening skills, self-knowledge, and willingness early on to talk about such sensitive issues as money.

He concludes, “‘The Rough Patch’ can be beneficial for both single people and couples. One great way to introduce the topic into your relationship: follow de Marneffe’s suggestion and read the first chapter together with your partner.”