Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

For a good portion of Wednesday and Thursday, and now apparently into Friday, I have been reading and extrapolating information from Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, compiling quizzes from the book to use with the various couples I counsel.

The author, John Gottman, is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He conducted studies of over 2,000 married couples for 20 years to identify what makes marriages last. He’s become well-known for his abiity to predict with 94 percent accuracy which couples will stay married and which will not. I’d heard of him several years ago (from my own therapist, actually) and became intrigued.

In a nutshell, Gottman identified two major factors influencing martial stability and success: marital style and the ratio of positive to negative interaction.

The marital styles — Avoidant, Validating, and Volatile — indicate the way in which a person handles conflict within the relationship. The key is compatability. Does each partner have the same approach? If not, then trouble can brew, although clarifying the differences and accommodating them can resolve it. The ratio — derived from carefully charting the amount of times couples spent fighting versus interacting postively — is five positive interactions to one negative. This means that even Volatile couples (people who argue frequently and vociferously) are not necessearily doomed to misery and divorce.

The book also delves into the four major ways of interacting that have disastrous effects: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. It then provides information on identifying distress-inducing thoughts (which foster taking a victim role and acting righteously indignant), which can then lead to flooding: an overwhelming experience of negativity that manifests physically as well as emotionally.

The last area of diagnosis is to understand just how withdrawn from the marriage each person is. The perception of problem severity; a sense of uselessness in talking things out; the drift toward leading parallel lives; and the experience of loneliness within marriage are the factors considered.

Fortunately, the book provides ample suggestions on how a couple can resolve a marriage — even one on the brink of dissolution. Gottman has done a good job examining the social/biological impact, gender differences, and other influences on relationships. He provides suggestions for couples who have mis-matched styles. The tone throughout the book is one of compassion and hope, with his findings presented in a highly readable manner.

This book can also be used with couples who are dating steadily, engaged, or living together in a committed relationship (this includes gay and lesbian couples). It’s also a good means of helping couples identify trouble spots before they hit them.

As self-help books go, the fact that this one is based on longitudinal research lends it credence. I recommend it.

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One Comment on “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”

  1. Amanda Smith Says:

    Gottman is wonderful! Highly recommended.