Today, we’re discussing the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last by Dr. John Gottman.
In Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman uses the information gathered from his 20 years of psychology research to help couples determine strengths and weaknesses in their marriage and how they can have a lasting and healthy partnership. With the stark statistics of almost half of marriages in the United States ending in divorce, Dr. Gottman offers sound advice backed by his years of conducting couples therapy to offer readers insight and scientific studies behind the patterns that lead to divorce.
Table of contents
The qualities of a healthy marriage
In Dr. Gottman’s research, he identified three different styles of successful relationships: validating, volatile, and avoidant. In a validating relationship, couples take time to talk through any issues and respectfully work them out.
Volatile relationships are more passionate, seeming to escalate into an argument or bickering quickly. But in these partnerships, couples also makeup quickly and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
Avoidant relationships tend to skirt around problems, airing complaints without ever addressing an issue head-on. Even though resolutions aren’t found, these couples respect each other and focus on what brings them together rather than what could tear them apart.
So, it might be encouraging to know that healthy and lasting marriages come in different forms.
Avoiding the negative spiral
One of the most surprising things that surfaced in relationship expert Dr. Gottman’s research is that marriages actually need conflict to last. It’s a delicate balance, though. Without counteracting fights or negativity with positive interactions and making up, it’s easy for couples to spiral down a painful destructive path.
Red flags to look out for
Dr. Gottman identified four red flags of a marriage going down an increasingly hostile path. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Those are what he refers to as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and indicate a marriage that may be heading toward divorce.
He uses the example of one study of a married couple, Eric and Pam. They’d just gotten married and were madly in love but started arguing about money. They were saving for a home, and both had different ideas of what saving money looked like. Pam began to make snide remarks any time her spouse brought home a bottle of wine or steak, feeling like he wasn’t making an equal contribution or effort to money-saving. After her husband Eric’s behavior didn’t change, the criticism shifted to who Eric was as a person.
Criticism, when left unchecked, leads to contempt. Contempt is the escalation to intentionally saying things to hurt your partner out of anger. It’s a kind of psychological abuse. It’s characterized by insults, name-calling, sarcasm, or hostile humor. When communication doesn’t improve, defensiveness is the product of contempt.
And defensiveness leads to the most dangerous red flag: stonewalling. That’s when one or both partners stop engaging in the relationship altogether. While it’s normal for some of these things to crop up during the course of a marriage, it’s when they’re habitual reoccurrence, a pattern, or the default emotion in communication that should cause concern.
What method can turn your marriage around
If after an honest evaluation, you notice any of these negative patterns, it’s ok. Dr. Gottman encourages married couples to practice the skill of communication and helping behavior.
You’re not going to get everything perfect, but practicing positive communication skills, like expressing gratitude, consistently will give any marriage a fighting chance. That’s the advice the author offers the reader. It’s important to remember that fights are to be expected, so these communication strategies won’t eliminate them, but they will prevent arguments from spiraling down a negative path. When you put your mind to changing your opinion about your spouse and marriage, romantic love can be renewed. These are skills that can be learned and applied to make the changes you want to see in your relationship.
There’s a reason you married your partner, and it’s coming back to understanding they’re your friend and partner. Working together and combining each person’s strength to the situation can divert the marriage from a destructive path.
In the same way they won’t eliminate fights, these strategies also won’t produce any miraculous overnight results. With consistent work, determination, and commitment, you’ll see a shift in your marriage. Soon, after enough practice, those communication tips will begin to become the default response in place of the negative patterns that started to take over. It’s learning how to be proactive and put in the work to make family life happier and more fulfilling.
The key takeaway from this title is that lasting marriages come in many different forms. Even if you thought you couldn’t turn things around and get out of a negative cycle, there are communication practices that can put marriages back on a positive track and enjoy a lifetime of happiness.