The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work: #7 Create Shared Meaning

The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work

By: John Gottman

“Create shared meaning.” When you get married, you create something that has never existed before. No matter how much you and your partner have in common. No matter how long you’ve been together. Whenever two people choose to “become one,” that one thing is perfectly unique. Not only that, but the act of being in a long-term committed relationship actually changes you through the many sacrifices and compromises it requires.“Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become,” Gottman says.

And that’s what it means to develop shared meaning. Happy couples create a family culture that includes both of their dreams. In being open to each other’s perspectives and opinions, happy couples naturally come together.

I urge you to build rituals into your relationship. Twyla Tharp, one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the modern era, famously champions ritual as part of the creative process.

I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it – makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Your rituals help you on the long road of relationship. It can be an annual ritual or something more frequent. Dr. Gottman recommends rituals of connection to begin and end each day. You might also have weekly rituals like a Saturday hike or a Wednesday lunch. Building these in early will habitualize your connection and tether you to one another and the relationship.

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The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work: #6 Overcome Gridlock

The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work

By: John Gottman

“Overcome gridlock.” Gottman says that the goal with perpetual problems is for couples to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” What usually underlies gridlock is unfulfilled dreams. “Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other,” Gottman writes. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other realize their dreams.

So the first step in overcoming gridlock is to determine the dream or dreams that are causing your conflict. The next steps include talking to each other about your dreams, taking a break (since some of these talks can get stressful) and making peace with the problem.

“The goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue, to try to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of great pain,” Gottman writes.

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The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work: #5 Solve Your Solvable Problems

The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work

By: John Gottman

“Solve your solvable problems.” Gottman says that there are two types of marital problems: conflicts that can be resolved and perpetual problems that can’t. It’s important for couples to determine which ones are which.

Sometimes, though, telling the difference can be tricky. According to Gottman, “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational, and there’s no underlying conflict.

Gottman devised a five-step model for resolving these conflicts:

  • In Step 1, soften your startup, which simply means starting the conversation without criticism or contempt.
  • In Step 2, make and receive “repair attempts.” Gottman defines repair attempts as any action or statement that deescalates tension.
  • In Step 3, soothe yourself and then your partner. When you feel yourself getting heated during a conversation, let your partner know that you’re overwhelmed and take a 20-minute break. (That’s how long it takes for your body to calm down.) Then you might try closing your eyes, taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and visualizing a calm place. After you’ve calmed down, you might help soothe your partner. Ask each other what’s most comforting and do that.
  • In Step 4, compromise. The above steps prime couples for compromise because they create positivity, Gottman says. When conflicts arise, it’s important to take your partner’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. Here, Gottman includes a valuable exercise to help couples find common ground. He suggests that each partner draw two circles: a smaller one inside a larger one. In the smaller circle, make a list of your nonnegotiable points. In the bigger one, make a list of what you can compromise on. Share them with each other and look for common ground. Consider what you agree on, what your common goals and feelings are and how you can accomplish these goals.
  • In Step 5, remember to be tolerant of each other’s faults. Gottman says that compromise is impossible until you can accept your partner’s flaws and get over the “if onlies.” (You know the ones: “If only he was this” “If only she was that.”)

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The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work: #4 Let Your Partner Influence You

The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work

By: John Gottman

“Let your partner influence you.” How important do you think it is to allow yourself to be influenced by your spouse? Men, is being a strong spiritual leader to your family mean that you have all the answers and that you don’t need any help from your wife? Women, are you receptive to your husbands suggestions, or do you think he is as inept as mainstream media suggests he is? Dr. Gottman believes accepting influence from our spouse is important enough to be one of his 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

Happy couples are a team that considers each other’s perspective and feelings. They make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your partner influence you isn’t about having one person hold the reins; simply put, it comes down to honoring and respecting each other and valuing what each brings to the relationship—and to your life together. Its conveying to your spouse that your opinions and feelings matter to me and giving consideration to those opinions and feelings before making decisions. It says “we are a team, we’re in this together and we need each other”.

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The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work: #3 Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work

By: John Gottman

“Turn toward each other instead of away.” Romance isn’t a Caribbean cruise, an expensive meal or a lavish gift. Rather, romance lives and thrives in the everyday, little things. According to Gottman, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

For instance, romance is leaving an encouraging voicemail for your spouse when you know he’s having a bad day, Gottman says. Or romance is running late but taking a few minutes to listen to your wife’s bad dream and saying that you’ll discuss it later (instead of saying “I don’t have time”).

Gottman acknowledges that this might seem humdrum, but turning toward each other in these ways is the basis for connection and passion. Couples that turn toward each other have more in their “emotional bank account.” Gottman says that this account distinguishes happy marriages from miserable ones. Happy couples have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts, so when rough times hit, their emotional savings cushion conflicts and stressors.

The emotional bank account is a great metaphor for a very real concept. Bad times will come, but if the good outweighs the bad the relationship will survive. In the bad times we need good times in the rear view to look back on fondly and help us pull through. The “emotional bank account” is very important for those reasons and each time you turn toward each other instead of away you are making a deposit into your relationships account.

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The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, written with Nan Silver, renowned clinical psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D, reveals what successful relationships look like and features valuable activities to help couples strengthen their relationships.

Gottman’s principles are research-based. He and his colleagues have studied hundreds of couples (including newlyweds and long-term couples); interviewed couples and videotaped their interactions; even measured their stress levels by checking their heart rate, sweat flow, blood pressure and immune function; and followed couples annually to see how their relationships have fared.

He’s also found that nine months after attending his workshops, 640 couples had relapse rates of 20 percent, while standard marital therapy has a relapse rate of 30 to 50 percent. In the beginning of these workshops, 27 percent of couples were at high risk for divorce. Three months later, 6.7 percent were at risk. Six months later, it was 0 percent. (Here’s more on his research.)

Over the course of the next few posts we will examine the principles that Gottman goes over in his book. Can it be that simple? Can you make a marriage work by following these 7 principles? Stay Tuned

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