The Seven principles for Making Marriage Work

Book review

As a marriage counsellor, I think it’s important to review and recommend books that can help couples who are struggling. John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is very useful for helping couples work through their problems. It’s easy to read, it has some great advice, and it also has questionnaires and practical exercises that couples can work on together. 

Dr Gottman has spent over 40 years studying married couples and the factors that lead them to divorce or remain married. In a Gottman Institute study, Dr Gottman predicted with 93.6% accuracy which couples would divorce. The four main factors he gives – which he calls horsemen – are: 1. Criticism; 2. Contempt; 3. Defensiveness; and 4. Stonewalling.

Together with his wife, clinical psychologist Julie Gottman, they also developed seven principles that make marriage work. In the book, he describes these principles clearly and demonstrates how couples can work on these qualities together. 

Here are the seven principles, along with my thoughts on how each section can be used:

1. Enhance your love maps
There are exercises in this section that help couples map out each other’s world so that they can gain a deeper knowledge of each other. When a partner feels understood, it can be easier to cope when difficulty arises.

2. Nurture your fondness and admiration
This principle is to combat one of the four horsemen: contempt. Dr Gottman uses an exercise on appreciation and thinking positively about your partner here to help encourage fondness.

3. Turn towards each other instead of away
There is a long list of things that a partner can draw on to connect emotionally. For example: reunite at the end of the day to talk about how it went.

4. Let your partner influence you
Dr Gottman found that men who allowed their wives to influence them and treated them with respect have more stable marriages.

5. Solve your solvable problems
He describes two types of marital conflict: perpetual and solvable and gives practical advice on how to resolve solvable conflict.

6. Overcome gridlock
Dr Gottman gives a step by step approach on how couples can uncover each other’s dreams which will help move gridlocked positions.

7. Create shared meaning
The last principle is deeper and more spiritual.

If you have minor or moderate conflicts within your marriage and you are motivated to learn and try different exercises, I thoroughly recommend that you buy a copy of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (link to the Book Depository - free global delivery).
This book will be useful and easier for couples to work on together when there are still positive feelings for each other. However, as with many couples I see, there are often more intense negative feelings involved and in these cases a therapist is needed to help couples work on these principles. 

I have attended Gottman Marital Therapy (Level 1) training in Sydney where I obtained assessment questionnaires and learned clinical interventions that are not in the book. These are designed to help couples with bigger problems manage their conflict and process their hurt.

If you’d like to discuss the book or have any other questions, please get in touch: (+65) 90749912 or evonne@reconnect.com.sg




Evonne Lek

Your attachment style could be ruining your relationship, but you can change it

Many couples I see get caught up in conflict, but most do not realise that differences in how they are attached to one another play a big part in these conflicts. In psychology we call these different types of 'attachment styles'.