How to Make a Marriage Work

So you want to know how to make a marriage work. First, we need to establish goals and collaborate on mutual goals. That is why Gottman’s emphasis on careful clinical assessment has been so significant. Unlike all-purpose therapists, Gottman therapists don’t “wing it” to see “what happens next.”

The science-based Gottman Method helps couples to move from gridlock to dialogue. The fact is that most couples come to therapy gridlocked over one or more perpetual problems. One of the first things a Gottman-trained therapist wants to know is the quality of the friendship between the couple. The quality of the attachment is a direct indication of the couple’s ability and willingness to learn how to have Generative Conversations, which are essential for couples to learn how to make a marriage work. Friends want to understand each other; enemies only want to prevail.

You don’t want to have the kind of marriage in which you win, and are influential in the marriage, but wind up crushing your partner’s dream. Dr. John Gottman

How to Make a Marriage Work…Acquire New Skills

how to make a marriage work

Couples therapist Dan Wile had a profound influence on Gottman’s research.  In his influential 1981 book, Couples Therapy, a Non-Traditional Approach Wile discussed the importance of moving from an adversarial stance to one where each partner can understand how they got into their unhappy predicament. He invites couples to calmly explore what it means for them to get out of it, and move into a more collaborative mode, which is the secret of how to make a marriage work. Gottman says that there are critical social skills that every couple needs to work on:

  • Recognize and name the Four Horsemen and replace them with their antidotes.
  • Practice softened start-up until it becomes a new habit. Gottman’s research indicates that wives are more likely to bring issues up. The way a problem conversation starts is typically how it ends 94% of the time (Gottman, 1999). Wives are encouraged to develop a strategic sense of how, and when to bring issues up. Gottman Therapy teaches wives to pick an appropriate time, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements, to avoid promoting a defensive response. However, Gottman also points out that the wellspring of harsh start-ups is a husband’s stubborn non-responsiveness before a conflictual situation.
  • Gottman Method is very focused on how husbands accept influence from their wives. Gottman (1979) discovered that when a husband is non-defensive and open to negotiation, it is predictive of both marital satisfaction and stability.
  • When couples have the virtuous circle of softened start-up and the acceptance of influence, a synergy is created which Gottman (2005) calls the hallmark of an “emotionally intelligent marriage.”
  • Couples who want to know how to make a marriage work also must learn how to de-escalate and avoid flooding. Diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) occurs when your pulse exceeds 100 beats per minute. That is the point where the brain releases adrenaline and cortisol to fuel the fight or flight response. Couples who are prone to escalation and DPA acquire specific, concrete skills to help them monitor negative emotions, make repair attempts and de-escalate the argument.
  • There are differences between male and female brains. Gottman found that it’s typical for husbands to become emotionally flooded at lower levels of negative emotion than their wives. This is why softened start-up is such a critical skill. Gottman believes that this tendency to easily flood is the catalyst, over time, to male withdrawal and stonewalling.
  • The foundation of how to make a marriage work is to rebuild your friendship. This takes daily practice. Ask open-ended, generative questions, do small things often for your partner, find new ways to convey respect, admiration, and affection. Have each others’ back. Help each other to process the challenges of daily life with a stress-reducing conversation.

Gottman’s research, unlike many other models, has given us valuable data of the physiological differences between husbands and wives. The awareness of these differences is an essential factor in science-based couples therapy to help couples acquire a deeper understanding of their inner experience during a conflict. Men and women are different, and this knowledge is a powerful tool for couples who want to know how to make a marriage work.

Want to Learn How to Make a Marriage Work?

Call us for more information 844-926-8753 to reach me, Daniel Dashnaw, use option 2.

About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.

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