Marriage can be a beautiful gift filled with its own unique set of successes and challenges. It can be difficult to adjust your life to compromise with another person, specifically a person you've made commitments to. Not to mention, all of us come into relationships carrying our own baggage and trauma, making the enmeshment of lives even more complex. Culturally and ethically, marriage is viewed as a serious decision, so when people find that their marriage is on the rocks, the last place they ever thought they would be is contemplating divorce.
But what if there was a way you both could actually make your marriage work?
We're going to dive into John and Julie Gottman's 7 principles for making marriage work.
(Before we continue, let's talk about something important: if you are in a physically, emotionally, or mentally abusive relationship, your safety is of the utmost importance. Leaving relationships to protect yourself is one of the best, most healthy things you can do. If you're in an abusive relationship, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our therapists by clicking here.)
#1: Enhance Your Love Maps
It's the map that helps you become familiar with your partner's interests, quirks, likes and dislikes, passions, hobbies, etc. It's the familiarity you have with your partner's world and understanding their life experiences. When we have a mutual understanding of our partner's love map, the quality of the relationship naturally enhances because each person in the relationship deeply knows the other.
Curious as to what love map questions are? Here are a few you can try out together!
When is your partner's birthday?
What is your partner's fondest dream, as yet unachieved?
What is your partner's favorite flower?
What is one of your partner's worst fears?
What makes your partner feel most competent?
What personal improvements does your partner want to make in his or her life?
#2: Create Fondness and Admiration
Creating fondness and admiration in a relationship is based on an inner belief that your partner is worthy of respect. When fondness and admiration are lacking, there's a high chance the marriage is no longer salvageable; that's how important this principle is. A great way to evaluate if you have admiration or fondness in your relationship is to tell the story of how you met your partner. Are you only reciting factual information when retelling the story? Are there emotions you feel when you reflect on that time?
To nurture the fondness and admiration already in the marriage, the following activities are recommended:
complimenting your partner
trying new activities or hobbies together
verbally and physically expressing appreciation toward partner
#3: Turning Towards Instead of Away
In healthy relationships, we naturally make bids for attention toward our partner.
For example, if I would randomly say to my partner, "I love the way the sun shines through the window onto our plants." There's really no reason for me to say that because my partner and I have watched the sun shine through the window onto our plants for years, except that I want him to engage with me. In that moment, he has an choice: he can either turn away from my bid for connection, or he can turn toward it.
Turning away from my bid would look like him saying, "Well...yeah. We see this every day."
Turning toward my bid would look like him saying, "Right?! It's so beautiful. I love that we put the plants there. It's perfect."
Do you see the difference?
When the couple turns toward each others bids, they make an investment into each other's love tanks. When times get tough, that love tanks serves as a reserve the couple can emotionally tap into that pushes you through the tough times together, with love and respect toward each other.
#4: Allowing Partner Influence
Working as a team is a crucial component to making marriage work. Sharing opinions, making big decisions together, and creating a space for your partner to be involved in your thought process are all ways that you can allow your partner to influence you.
Allowing your partner to influence you is not the same as allowing them to control you. The basis of influence is healthy communication.
#5: Solve Solvable Problems
Two types of problems exist in every relationship: perpetual and solvable.
Perpetual problems are complex and might not ever get solved (don't worry, this isn't a bad thing!)
Solvable problems are just that: solvable. They're usually straightforward, and with problems like these, there isn't underlying resentment or conflict.
To solve solvable problems, Gottman suggests doing these 5 things:
Approach the issues from a calm place.
Learn to create and receive repair attempts. (Repair attempts are ways to keep the conflict from escalating. They involve using humor or an inside joke.)
Soothe yourself and each other by taking a break from the conversation if you need to.
Understand each other's faults and be tolerant of them.
#6: Overcome Gridlock
Remember perpetual problems we briefly covered in principle #5? Perpetual problems aren't necessarily a bad thing, but they can cause couples to become gridlocked. When a couple is gridlocked, it's because they've been having consistent disagreements. There's been persistent unproductive conversations where both people can't seem to agree or disagree.
Overcoming gridlock doesn't have anything to do with solving a problem. It's about having a healthy conversation about the problem. To do this, the couple first has to figure out what's causing the problem. According to Gottman, it's usually unrealized dreams that lead to perpetual problems.
If you and your partner are stuck in gridlock, Gottman recommends taking these steps to overcome it:
figure out the root issue
communication in a calm, efficient manner
find a way to discuss what both of your nonnegotiable and flexible areas are
end the discussion with appreciation towards your partner
#7: Create Shared Meaning
Creating shared meaning means to create rituals, traditions, goals, and roles that involve your partner. Meaningful experiences can be created and shared together through exploring all types of intimacy, or by allowing yourself and your partner to have their needs, wants, and dreams acknowledged.
At Root Counseling, we believe in helping couples create a relationship built off of mutual respect, commitment, and love, while also exploring areas of the relationship that could be hindering it from being the best it could be. If you're interested in scheduling an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.