The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman Ph.D. and Nan Silver is the book of the month. So let’s get started by revealing the first principle: Enhance your Love Maps.
Love maps are where a couple knows each other’s world intimately. It is a part of the brain where you store information about your partner’s life. Where you know the story of your client’s past life, their present, and their dreams for their future. It’s where your partner has to work late and is missing their favorite show, so you record it. Or you are at the store and see something that your partner would love, so you buy it. It is those intimate details that you know because you are each a part of each other’s lives. If you want to see how well you know your partner, download the app Gottman Card Decks. This app has a lot of questions on there that you can ask each other. For example, what was my favorite vacation? What do I most like to do with time off? What do I fear the most?
Principle 2: Nurture your Fondness and Admiration. When I see couples in therapy I ask them to describe their first date. Most of the time you can see the fondness and admiration as they talk about how they met. As I expand the questions to their budding relationship, moving in together, or their wedding day, or how they coped with children for their first year, I can see whether fondness and admiration still reside in each partner.
Fondness and admiration can be extremely fragile in a marriage. Once lost it can open the door to the Four Horsemen galloping into your relationship. Fondness and Admiration are the antidotes to contempt, meaning that if you are engaging in contempt in your relationship, try observing your partner and notice the small things that they do for you and say “thank you, I really appreciate you doing that.” John Gottman Ph.D believes contempt is a strong predictor of divorce and separation. Let’s face it, if you have respect for your partner, then you are unlikely to act disgusted with them when you feel angry or annoyed by what they are doing or saying.
Hollywood and romance, what comes to mind when you think about how relationships should be. Is it looking into each other’s eyes, passionately embracing, or having someone tell you “you complete me.” According to John Gottman, Ph.D in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work none of these are the secret recipe for making your relationship work. In fact, Hollywood would turn away the scenes that really make relationships work.
So what makes a marriage work? In Principle 3: Turn Towards Each Other Instead of Away John Gottman, Ph.D talks about “bids” for each other’s attention, affection, humor, or support. Bids can be minor such as asking for a hug or back rub, or they could be significant such as helping out with family members who are ill. Now once a bid is made, it is important to how the partner reacts. Do they turn toward or are they turning away? If a partner turns towards their partner then it increases trust, emotional connection, passion and a satisfying sex life. I mean, if you ask your partner “is there any flour in the cupboard” and they just shrug and walk away, then the emotional connection is lost, but if they say “let me check”, then it builds a sense of emotional connection.
One way that you can turn towards instead of away is what John Gottman, Ph.D. calls The Stress-Reducing Conversation. This is where couples put aside time at the end of the day to talk about how it went. Now there are rules. The first is that each party gets about 15 minutes to complain about anything they want, with the other party showing genuine interest. Make eye contact, ask questions, and be interested. Next, do not give unsolicited advice, this is just a listening activity. You can communicate things you understand such as “I’d be stressed too” or “you are making total sense.” Lastly, take your partner’s side. If your partner has been spoken to about being late at work, and they are rarely on time, this is not the time and place to say “well you are always late.” Save it for another time. Make a success of your marriage by showing affection and validating their emotions instead.