When people are in long-term relationships, including marriages, it’s very common for the “romance” to wear off sooner or later. A fulfilling partnership that was once a source of happiness can feel flat or unsatisfying, even though both sides still love each other. Often, this is because even though they know something is wrong, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what – or how to fix it.
Usually, it’s a combination of factors that all add up. In the bestselling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, renowned marital psychologist John Gottman researched hundreds of couples over more than a decade, trying to discover the common behaviours that interfered with affection, love, and gratitude in each pair.
Combining the research with practical applications, Gottman identified the seven principles of a healthy marriage – and how you can turn resentment and despair into renewed love and commitment.
Gottman's 7 Principles
1) Sharing love maps
A “love map” is a desired and deep comprehension of your partner. It means knowing what makes them tick, what makes them happy, what happened in their past (and what they want for the future), and what they like. It goes beyond knowing their love language and shows that you love all parts of them, just as they are. Developing love maps for each other is a crucial part of a healthy and mutually fulfilling relationship.
2) Nurturing fondness and admiration
If you ask people who have divorced or left long-term relationships what the main problem was, there’s a good chance that a “lack of respect” will be mentioned. When you innately respect each other as people, great things naturally follow: building your partner up, showing your appreciation for each other, giving enthusiastic compliments, and so on. It’s easier to enjoy each other’s company on date nights, start new hobbies, and so much more.
Interestingly, Gottman found that even the way a couple tells the story of how the relationship began can predict whether it is ultimately successful, with almost perfect accuracy. This is because such a story shows whether we respect and admire our partner or resent their impact on our lives.
3) Turning toward each other, instead of away
When you reach out to your partner, how does it feel when they push you away? When no space is made for one another, and little effort is made to be present or listen, that is “turning away”.
Choosing to purposely and consistently be present in your partner’s life lets them know that they can rely on you – enhancing intimacy and trust. This foundation makes it much easier to weather adversity and come out the other side, stronger than before.
4) Letting your partner influence you
A marriage should be viewed as an equal partnership – and that “partnership” term is important. Both sides should have the ability to inform and influence the other, coming to compromises and effectively communicating about big decisions and emotions. Allowing someone to have an impact on you is not control; it’s another form of respect, showing that you value their input and are considering their feelings and opinions.
This doesn’t mean you always need to agree on everything – there will always be disagreements now and again. But being able to have calm, productive discussions about such topics will vastly affect how “heard” you feel, and vice versa.
5) Solving your solvable problems
In every long-term relationship, according to Gottman, there are two types of problems: perpetual (which are complex and can cause communication gridlock – more on that next) and solvable.
Solvable problems are surface-level, straightforward issues that can be remedied with a little bit of effort from both sides. By choosing to solve these, you can remove many of the roadblocks that seem much bigger than they are and pave the way to less stress and conflict overall.
a. Soften your approach: start from a calm, respectful place.
b. Learn to make and receive repair attempts: these are actions that keep conflict from escalating – inside jokes, special communication methods, etc.
c. Calm yourself and each other: take a break if you need to, and calm down your partner if they need it.
d. Compromise: find a solution you can both live with, instead of insisting on all-or-nothing.
e. Tolerate imperfection: your partner isn’t perfect, and neither are you. Accept each other’s flaws and cherish each other anyway.
6) Overcoming gridlock
Many couples fall into “gridlock” – where neither side can come to a productive resolution about an ongoing problem, usually due to an unfulfilled dream or desire. The key to this kind of stalemate isn’t necessarily to solve the problem itself (which may not be possible in reality), but to get in the habit of having healthy, genuine conversations and proceeding past it.
Gottman explained four steps to reaching this point:
a. Understanding the root of the issues.
b. Communicating calmly about it.
c. Expressing your areas of flexibility and non-negotiability.
d. Ending calmly, with a note of gratitude and appreciation for each other.
Identifying gridlock, having faith in your partner’s willingness to cooperate and compromise, and being appreciative of their efforts to do so will go a long way in resolving whatever the underlying issue is.
7) Creating shared meaning together
A committed, long-term relationship is a union of two people – which means your goals, rituals, beliefs, perspectives, etc. should fuse together as well. This extends from small gestures, like planning your mate’s favourite meal after a hard day, to large, lifelong journeys, such as encouraging each other to follow passions and dreams. Sharing these meaningful experiences, constantly and consistently, builds intimacy and affection for one another.
The Gottman Method of Couples Therapy in Calgary
Successful relationships can take a lot of work – but in the end, the rewards are worth it. Having someone to share in our deepest dreams, interests, and desires can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. If you feel like you and your partner would benefit from Gottman’s method of relationship counselling (or one of the other forms of couples counselling we offer here at Flourish), reach out and take the next step in your journey today!