Thoughts by John Gottman
I think it is very simple. The answer is not complicated at all. What I call "the masters of marriage" are individuals who are being kind to one another. They may raise difficult issues, but they also soften them in a very considerate way. They frequently express appreciation. They communicate respect and love every day in numerous small ways. There are so many more positive exchanges in these relationships, than those that are heading for divorce. These individuals show more affection for each other, and they communicate greater interest in one another, and use more humor. They scan their environment, looking for opportunities to say "thank you" rather than searching for mistakes the other person has made. They look at their partner through a different filter. It is a much more positive one. That turns out to have very powerful implications.
The other thing they are doing, is they are very mindful of people trying to reach out and connect with them (i.e., what I call "making bids"). The couples in our laboratory that turn out to have long happy marriages are responding to 96% of their partners' bids for attention, by turning toward them with attention. That is a huge amount. In contrast, couples headed for divorce are responding only 30% of the time. Robinson and Price found the same thing when they studied positive interaction in couples. Unhappily married couples were not noticing 50% of the positive things their partner was doing. The observers could see the positive behavior, but the spouses were not seeing it. What this means is, that for a lot of unhappy couples you do not have to change their behavior at all; you just have to get them to see what is actually going on.
To make marriages work is really quite simple. Explained in my book, The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work (co-author Nan Silver, Crown Publishers, 1999).
In addition, Gottman has shown that the following components are also important to successful long term relationships for couples.
- They are gentle with each other.
- They spend time in and enjoy conversation with each other.
- They allow for influence by their partner.
- They do keep score by remembering the good things their partner does for them.
- Each partner knows themselves reasonably well.
- Each partner honors the others dreams.
- There is a positive sense of humor in the relationship.
- There are shared goals and a sense of team work in the relationship.
- There are good conflict resolution skills in the relationship.(sometimes this means doing something, and sometimes it means lettings things take care of themselves.)
- There is a sense of continued romance in the relationship.
- Contempt, for the partner, in all it's forms, will more than anything else bring the relationship down. It needs to be avoided or worked through.