Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marriages may be made in heaven, but their success depends on what you do on earth


Dr. John Gottman is  famous for his research on relationships, particularly for his success at predicting whether or not a marriage will last. It’s not a parlor trick but the result of analytics, which he explains with formulas  in his latest book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal (Simon and Schuster, Sep 4, 2012). 


The background for all of Gottman's work is to get beyond the assumption that you just can't quantify the fuzzy feelings that underlie relationships. There are real, measurable actions and attitudes that indicate how in sync a couple are, and you don't need to go through all the Greek letters in the equations to understand the point of them. 

At the basis of all successful relationships is trust:  "Trust is not some vague quality that grows between two people. It is the specific state that exists when you are both willing to change your own behavior to benefit your partner" (6).   He clarifies that he doe snot mean that one has to "always put the other's need ahead of their own," but that the couple's "happiness will be interconnected" (7).


Another important measure of a couple's togetherness is attunement, which he defines as :the desire and the ability to understand and respect your partner's inner world." (31). That doesn't mean that you share it, necessarily, but that you don't dismiss it as irrelevant to you because it is your spouse's.

Gottman also likes the word "ATTUNE" because the letters work out to represent the division of the speaker and listener's jobs in what he calls "the Art of Intimate Conversation."
The speaker must use Awareness, Tolerance, and Transforming criticisms into wishes and positive needs.  The listener has to employ: Understanding, Nondefensive listening, and Empathy. (114) He goes through examples of each and points out how negative reactions can trigger additional conflict rather than communication.


One key predictor of remaining married is turning toward each other during “sliding door moments,” the bids for attention that one extends to the other. “When one partner expresses a need for connection, the other’s response is either to slide open a door and walk through or keep it shut and turn away.”  Being attuned to the other’s needs makes one more likely to offer the right response, which strengthens the bond; ignoring the opportunity could weaken it (23). 


The book also includes practical practical guidelines for choosing to say or do what will enhance trust and closeness. One of them  is to identify five things your spouse did this past week that you appreciate. It doesn't have to be something grand; it can be as small as bringing you a cup of coffee or not getting upset when s/he might have (113).


The book offers a number of quizzes to test the state of your own union. You can take one  of them online  at the Gottman Institute Blog, which urges you to retake the test after reading the book.


For more  on Gottman's work, see http://www.examiner.com/article/there-s-more-than-one-way-for-couples-to-manage-conflict


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