Many people view marriage as a natural and seamless process that two partners have to get accustomed to and make work. However, some real-life experience shows that such unions require hard work and dedication in addition to an intuitive understanding of this profound connection. More often than not, in addition to love, an abundance of misunderstanding, confusion, and frustration arise when two people begin to live together as a married couple. These complications hint at the need for a more scientific and logical understanding of marriage. John Gottman, an expert in marriage and an author of the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And You Can Make Yours Last, investigated marital relationships in-depth and comprised a set of psychological theories and concepts. This body of knowledge can help one understand the marital dynamic between partners, analyze one’s behavior, and develop positive habits to build healthy and fulfilling relationships.
This essay will overview Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And You Can Make Yours Last, by elaborating on several theories and applying relevant concepts to real-life applications.
The first aspect of Gottman’s theories that one might find helpful in building their marital relationships is the understanding of three fundamental styles of marital communication. The first one, titled validating, is explained by the partners’ dynamic that allows both partners to voice their opinion and then persuade each other (Gottman & Silver, 1995). Secondly, the volatile style is characterized by partners skipping the part of sharing ideas; instead, they go straight into persuasion (Gottman & Silver, 1995). Lastly, people who adopt the avoidant style consciously ignore conflict and agree to disagree instead of initiating discussion (Gottman & Silver, 1995). All kinds determine the way husbands and wives interact, and the ability to recognize and address each one in a relationship is a useful skill.
For instance, as Gottman and Silver (1995) note, if one recognizes the unhealthy patterns of avoidant style, the partner can minimize these harmful tendencies. Some of the actionable strategies the author proposes are learning how to voice one’s feelings with others, leveling with the spouse, creating suggestion boxes, and dedicating specific time to communicate about emotions non-defensively. I find this body of knowledge helpful and can apply it to my personal life since I notice avoidant tendencies in my behavior. Knowing this theory will help me to recognize conflict-resisting habits and resolve them by some of the aforementioned methods.
The second aspect that can facilitate the creation of a happy and long-lasting companionship is the perception of marriage as a fragile process in need of work and dedication that Gottman reinforces throughout the book. When thinking about divorce or a problematic relationship between partners who are still married, one tends to picture a conflict, a drastic change, or a crucial betrayal that leads to the destroyed connection between spouses. For instance, one of them might be cheating, they have lost a child, or some dramatic event like the death of a relative could have happened. Although some marriages end in dramatic circumstances such as these is true, it is less common than one might think. Gottman and Silver (1995) highlight that marriages end in a whimper, not a bang, meaning that most relationships grow conflict through years of misunderstanding, continuously disvaluing their marriage without realizing it.
More specifically, the author provides warning signs that might indicate the gradual destruction of one’s marriage, including abundant criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (Gottman & Silver, 1995). Understanding each aspect and having the strength to address it is a valuable skill that can help build meaningful marital connections. For example, if one would become overly defensive in conflict, the partner has to realize this tendency and work on eliminating it as the only way to save the union. Without constant self-reflection and improvement, marriage will eventually end.
The third aspect of Gottman’s book that one can implement in their daily life is the techniques he describes to foster communication and mutual understanding. It is common for people to choose various coping mechanisms such as those described above to cope with relation stress, conflict, and frustration. However, as Gottman and Silver (1995) explain, these mechanisms can easily lead to marital distress and separation. Thus, he proposes a set of techniques to cope with some of the most common pitfalls in marital communication. Firstly, he offers to remain calm and physically wind down before engaging in an argument (Gottman & Silver, 1995). This strategy is helpful in everyday life since it enables people to look critically at a conflict instead of expressing unwanted anger due to physical tension. Secondly, Gottman advises practicing non-defensive speaking, which helps one objectively assess their attitude and eliminate defensive tendencies to effectively communicate with the partner and perceive their point of view. Thirdly, one can regularly validate their partner by supporting, apologizing, taking responsibility, and so forth. These seemingly easy interpersonal tips can help a person create long-lasting, respectful, and fulfilling marital connections.
In conclusion, it can be argued that Gottman’s book serves as the practical guide to one’s marriage. By advising specific and action-oriented strategies, the author communicates the necessity of hard work to improve the interpersonal connection between spouses. He also provides an abundance of analysis tools to reflect on one’s marriage, as well as equips readers with techniques to create healthy unions. Overall, he elaborates on the importance of an appropriate communication style, stresses the warning signs of an unhealthy marriage, and advises practical tips.
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1995). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. Simon & Schuster.