John Gottman is a prolific psychologist in the field of couples counseling who studies relationship patterns by combining his knowledge of mathematics and psychology. He wrote various books on making marriage work and the common mistakes he observed in unsuccessful couples. In his book, the seven principles for making marriage work, he describes the essential skills for building a sound happy marriage as follows
Build Love Maps. This is the base of the house, it involves the couple knowing one another and being continuously curious to update what they know about their partner. The Love Map, is a road map of your partner’s inner world and experience. To build this foundation couples are encouraged to ask their partners open ended questions
Sharing Fondness & Admiration. The second level of the sound marital house is The Fondness & Admiration System. The basic premise is for the couple to train themselves to change the habit of looking for their partner’s mistakes and trying to correct them, and instead looking for what their partners are doing right and encouraging it. In so doing, the couple creates an environment of appreciation, fondness, affection, and respect.
Turn towards VS turning away. The third level is turning toward versus Turning Away in everyday moments; Gottman refers to this as building an "Emotional Bank Account." The idea is to encourage couples to recognize and notice their partner’s “bid for emotional connectedness” and choosing to engage these bids from your partner by turning towards them, instead of not recognizing them at all, or recognizing them and ignoring them.
Creating a positive sentiment override. This is a very important level of the sound marital house, because it determines a lot about the quality of interaction and conflict resolution the couple will have. The idea simply is that if the first three levels described above are not strong, the couple will be in negative sentiment override, a state in which even the neutral comments are viewed in a negative light. The couple is taking an adverse position towards each other, and are acting as enemies and not friends. This makes the most simple of issues become a huge problem, and greatly reduces a couples’ ability to manage conflict. Creating positive mental override, which is a state in which neutral statements are viewed positively, and even slightly negative statements can be overlooked is a function of investing in the first three levels of the marital house, by culminating friendship, fondness and admiration, turning towards each other, and knowing each other’s love maps.
Managing Conflict. Gottman theorizes two kinds of conflict between couples. This stage is about helping the couples recognize patterns of conflict and how they get initiated and how they escalate. At this stage a couple would need to learn what Gottman calls the four horses of the apocalypse (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling) and work with their partner to understand where they originate from in their history, whether caused by their relationship or by other relationships from the past. The two types of conflict are
Resolvable problems: Gottman suggests 4 strategies to effective problem solving for solvable problems. These are Softened Startup, Accepting Influence, Repair and De-escalation (including physiological soothing), and Compromise. Gottman stresses the importance of having positive sentiment override when resolving conflicts because it helps with the de-escalation and soothing process.
Unresolvable problems: Gottman theorizes that some couple problems will never be solved. To get through them, the couple need to establish an ongoing dialogue. Using a lot of positive affect even when discussing the problematic issue. Soothing one’s partner is very important in this stage, and that is why the use of interest, affection, humor, empathy, excitement, softening techniques is highly encouraged even when discussing a disagreement. Again, physiological soothing is a critical part of this process. There needs to be a ratio of 5 to 1 positive-to-negative affect.
Make Life Dreams and Aspirations Come True. At this level the couple is using their relationship as a vehicle to realize their dreams and aspirations using the support and understanding of their partners. This is an important aspect of the relationship because the explorations of goals and dreams and aspirations collaboratively helps the couple avoid being stuck in a gridlock
Create Shared Meaning. The final floor or attic of the house is a stage where the couple creates together a new culture so to speak, about what their marriage, relationship and life means to them. It is an amalgamation of the emotions, ideas, and even myths about marriage and life that both partners have into one vision that they both share together and live by.
So there you go. If you ever wondered how to build a happy marriage, here is a blue print for skills and ways to build the marriage of your dreams.
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Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university , Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com