The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

John Gottman's NY Times Best-Selling Book

Close-Up Of Wedding Rings On Table
Making Marriage Work. Jasmin Awad / EyeEm / Getty Images

Dr. John Gottman is a famous psychologist and relationship expert, known for his 40 plus years of extensive research on relationships, what makes them work and what makes relationships fail. One of his most popular books is called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and while it's worth reading in full, here's a glimpse into what those seven principles are.

1. Enhance your love maps

Gottman stresses the importance of really knowing your partner.

When you enhance your love maps, you learn about your partner even more. He offers a detailed questionnaire in his book to find out how much you really know about your partner, for example, can you name your partner's best friend, or discuss some of your partner's current stresses? When you deepen your knowledge of your partner's inner world, and continue to throughout your lives together, you understand each other more and become closer. This is what enhancing your love maps is all about.

2. Nurture your fondness and admiration

Being in touch with how valuable you and your partner are to each other is key for a lasting relationship. Far too often partners take each other for granted and feel taken for granted. If you focus on what you appreciate and admire about your partner, your relationship will be so much better off. In his book, Gottman offers couples a "seven-week course in fondness and admiration" to help people get in the habit of appreciating each other a bit more.


3. Turn toward each other instead of away

Gottman discusses the importance of couples remaining emotionally engaged with each other, similar to what Dr. Sue Johnson describes as one of the three most important qualities in a healthy relationship. He notes that when couple stay connected and engaged with each other, even if only through small conversations, they are bound to be happier and healthier in their relationships.

He calls this "turning toward," and offers exercises in his book on how couples can do this more.

4. Let your partner influence you

In Gottman's research spanning many years, he found that the most stable and happiest marriages of heterosexual couples were the ones in which the husbands treated their wives with respect and shared the decision making. In fact, he indicated that studies demonstrate that men who do not share the power with their wives are four times as likely to end or be unhappy than men who do share the power. Letting your partner influence you also gives them the message that they are important and valuable to you, which is critical for any partner to feel.

5. Solve your solvable problems

Gottman distinguishes between two types of conflicts in relationships: Perpetual problems, that couples are basically stuck with, and comprise about 69% of a couple's problems; and solvable problems, for which couples can actually come to a resolution. He offers a five-step process to solve your solvable problems.

Step 1: Soften your start up - begin the discussion gently and calmly

Step 2: Learn to make and receive repair attempts - offer and accept apologies, smiles, and similar acts attempting reconnection

Step 3: Soothe yourself and each other - stay calm, take a time-out if needed, breathe

Step 4: Compromise

Step 5: Be tolerant of each other's faults

In his book, he goes into much greater depth about each of these steps and how to effectively solve your solvable problems.

6. Overcome gridlock

Gottman writes about how easy it is for partners to get stuck in "gridlock" over differences they have, especially in terms of their dreams and aspirations. When couples are stuck in gridlock, dreams become buried, and partners become unfulfilled. Gottman encourages partners to be "dream detectives" for each other, and to bring these issues to the surface for discussion, even if it introduces some stress to the relationship.

He notes that couples who are happy recognize the importance of their partner's dreams, and strong relationships are built from continued discussions of potentially unresolvable conflicts.

7. Create shared meaning

Creating a life of shared meaning is something that evolves over the time of a relationship. Gottman notes that the most fulfilling marriages are built on shared meaning and deep friendship. Honor each other's values and purpose and share goals and meaning along the way.

Healthy relationships are so important and have tremendous positive effects on our health and lives. Any couple should do themselves a favor and try to implement these seven principles in order to take good care of their relationship.


Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999) The seven principles for making marriage work. Three Rivers Press: New York.

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