34. Elshiwick on Gottman: Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Posted on April 5th, 2012

The following are highlights from Dr. Enas Elshiwick’s Wise Wives lecture on March 28th, based on her professional career as a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist and the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by Dr. John Gottman.

During the meeting she discussed the concepts and findings behind the famed “Love Lab,” which is the research done at Gottman’s Relationship Research Institute near the University of Washington in Seattle. Gottman and his team have been studying how couples argue and resolve conflict and have followed hundreds of couples over time to see if their marriages last.

Using a scientific approach, they have found four negative factors that can predict divorce, see our previous blog entry, and seven positive principles that predict marital success. They claim that they can predict with 91% accuracy whether a couple will thrive or fail after watching and listening to them for just five minutes!

In this entry we will discuss Gottman’s seven principles that will reinforce the positive aspects of a relationship and help marriages endure during the rough moments:

1. Enhance Your Love Maps
Gottman defines a love map as the place in your brain where you store information about your spouse. This is crucial in really knowing your partner, their dreams, hopes, interests, and maintaining their interest throughout the relationship.

Elshiwick says, you must really know each other. Learn all about each other’s likes, dislikes, wishes, hopes, dreams, goals, fears, insecurities, participate in their interests, etc. Emotionally intelligent couples are familiar with the details of each other’s world. They remember the major events in each other’s history and keep up to date as the facts and feelings of their partner’s world changes.

2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration
This means laying down a positive view about your spouse, respecting and appreciating their differences.  Focus on each other’s positive qualities, positive feelings for each other, and the good times you have shared with each other. It involves feeling that your partner is still worthy of honor and respect in spite of their flaws. Gottman found that 94% of the time when couples put a positive spin on their marriage’s history, they are likely to have a happy future.

3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away
Acknowledging your partner's small moments in life and orienting yourself towards them will maintain that necessary connection that is vital for the relationship.  Interact frequently; tell each other about your day, your thoughts, and your experiences.

Romance is fueled not by candlelight dinners, but by interacting with your partner in numerous little ways. When a partner makes a bid for your attention, affection, humor or support, turning toward your partner is the basis of emotional connection. The real secret is to turn to turn toward each other in little ways every day.

4. Let Your Partner Influence You
It is important to maintain your own identity in a relationship, but it is equally important to yield to your partner and give in. If both partners allow one another this influence, then they will learn to respect one another on a deeper level. In other words share your power.  Maintain your identity and individualism, but be open-minded towards your partner’s opinion and be open to allow them to influence you.

Gottman advises couples, specifically guys, to be more open in letting their partner influence them.  Basically don’t be stubborn, close-minded, and a dictator in the relationship. When this occurs on both ends, the two of you can get through virtually any problem. The happiest marriages were those where the husband was able to convey honor and respect for their wife and did not resist sharing power and decision-making. These husbands actively search for common ground instead of insisting on getting their way. Gottman found women were more likely to let their husbands influence them by taking their opinions and feelings into account.

5. Solve Your Solvable Problems
It is important to compromise on issues that can be resolved, which Gottman believes can be accomplished by these five steps: 1. Soften your startup, 2. learn to make and receive repair attempts, 3. soothe yourself and each other, 4. compromise, and 5. be tolerant of each other’s faults.

Also, communicate respectfully, make statements that start with “I” instead of “You.”, criticize behavior without criticizing your partner, take a break when you’re getting too upset, and, complain but don’t blame, compromise, describe what is happening, don’t evaluate or judge, Be clear, polite and appreciative, don’t store things up.

Elshiwick says, find a compromise for problems that can be resolved and if you need to you can even agree on a set of problems that are unsolvable.  More about that next.

6. Overcome Gridlock
Major issues that cannot be resolved because both partners’ views are so fundamentally different involves understanding of the other person and deep communication. The goal is to at least get to a position that allows the other person to empathize with the partner's view, even if a compromise cannot be reached, understand your partner’s underlying feelings which are preventing resolution of the conflict. 

For permanent issues such as differences in religion, learn to empathize and understand where your partner’s view – agree to disagree.

Ending gridlock doesn’t mean solving the problem, but rather moving from gridlock to dialogue. Some steps are:
- Learn to uncover your partner’s dreams.
- Understand why each of you feels so strongly about the gridlocked issue.
- Soothe each other to avoid flooding.
- End the gridlock by making peace with the issue, accepting the differences between you, talking without hurting each other and compromising.

7. Create Shared Meaning
Create a shared value system that continually connects the two of you through rituals/traditions, shared roles and symbols. share values, attitudes, interests, traditions. Create a shared value system that gets strengthened through family ritual.

In summary, a couple has to actively cultivate an atmosphere of positivism and support while using conflict resolution and repair attempts to keep resentment out of the relationship.

Repair Attempts Include:


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