Making Marriage Work

I’ve quoted and recommended John Gottman for married couples and for folks interested in marriage.  Over my years as a newlywed, I’ve enjoyed learning about marriage from the scholar and marriage researcher.  He and his wife have built a more than thirty-year career answering the question, how do you make marriages work?

Margarita Tartakovsky wrote a piece summing up one of my favorite Gottman books, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.  I imagine there is much that you’ll agree with in Gottman, even if you aren’t married.  If you’re interested in seeing Margarita’s article, click here.  From her summary:

1. “Enhance your love maps.” Love is in the details.

2. “Nurture your fondness and admiration.” Happy couples respect each other and have a general positive view of each other.

3. “Turn toward each other instead of away.” 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.”

4. “Let your partner influence you.” Happy couples are a team that considers each other’s perspective and feelings.

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.

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.

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 creating an inner life together…

Good Memories, Good Marriages

I’m rereading John Gottman’s Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.  I started reading it again before going on holiday for a week and a half and I’ll be picking it back up now that I’m home.  To be honest, I’m biased to Dr. Gottman’s findings.  His career and research in couples work is grand and phenomenal.  He’s a trusted, clinical, scientific, and thoughtful voice in the area of marital relationships.  As he talks about in this and other books, he’s able to predict divorce with compelling accuracy, something like 93%.

In one part of the book he discusses the signs of marriage going bad.  One of them is the presence of bad memories.  He talks about how the persistent retelling of negative stories from before are an indicator of a relationship’s spiraling downward.  Having bad memories, and revisiting those memories, put a relationship at risk.

A couple quotes from the book capture what I mean.

But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten–for the worse.

Another sad sign is when you find the past difficult to remember–it has become so unimportant or painful that you’ve let it fade away.

His language is helpful to me.  Helpful again, I should say.  I’m thinking a lot about how my long emotional memory impacts my life and work and relationships.  I can remember a lot of things.  Sometimes my memory is selective.  Well, of course, it’s always selective.  But that emotional portion leans toward the negative.  It’s hard work for me to relinquish bad memories and maybe just as hard to create good memories that have as much weight as the bad ones.  I think my proclivity is a posture that affects how well I do in my relationships.  It influences how much work is ahead of me in my marriage and in the other relationships I cherish.

In the next few posts, I’m going to shift from focusing on writing per se in order to look at the relationships dimension of the blog.  I’m going to reflect on a few memories, drawing from my “holiday” with Dawn.  It’s an effort to remember well, to capture memories, or, in the words from another blogger, to “catch days.”

Whether or not memory, good or bad, is something you think about, consider for a moment whether you can articulate a few positive memories from your significant relationships.  Do you “go to” the bad memories naturally?  Is your first impulse to remember something great about a relative?  With Gottman, I think that the ability to cultivate good memories is only helpful for a relationship.  Whether for a single mother who is recalling her last conversation with her child’s father; whether for a husband who’s tired of arguing about the same thing with his wife.

How do you make good memories in your relationships?  How do you balance the negative memories you actually have with the work of creating good, alternative memories?