Book ReviewFebruary Book Review: The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work

Craig Toonder, MFT. Oakland Couples Counseling

February Book Review: The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work

By John Gottman, PhD.

John Gottman is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He is the leading researcher on couples dynamics in the United States. His work examines not only what makes marriages fail, but also what successful couples do to keep their marriage alive.

In his book,¬†The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work,¬†Gottman covers the six warning signs that a marriage is in danger of ending in divorce. The first he calls “Harsh Start Ups.” Start Ups are how a couple opens a conversation about what is bothering them. Harsh start ups often involve criticism, sarcasm, “tones,” put downs, etc. As the conversation progress, Gottman explains how criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stone walling (what he calls “the Four Horseman”) is lethal to the conversation and ultimately the relationship. Number three, Flooding, involves how easily overwhelmed the couple gets when they have a disagreement. (Flooding makes it very difficult to do anything productive because the body literally goes into “fight or flight” arousal.) Next he talks about body language; how nonverbal communication is just as dangerous as the Four Horseman. Fifth, Failed Repair Attempts is one I often see couples struggle with in my practice. Keep in mind that it is impossible not to upset your partner. Successful couples just know who to make up better than unsuccessful couples do. Finally, Gottman discusses bad memories. This is one you really need to watch out for. If you are experiencing the loss of positive memories and the prevalence of bad memories, don’t buy the book, call me today.

The book then discusses the seven principles he has discovered exist in successful relationships. Each chapter not only explains how and why a particular principle is important, the chapters also contain useful exercises to help couples develop the skills at home.

The Principles:

Friendship is what Gottman calls the foundation of the relationship. He discusses how vital it is to continuously talk to and learn about your partner. He calls this “building your love maps.” It sounded simple, but you’d be surprised at how little you might know about your partner’s life.

The second principle is Fondness and Admiration. This is one that I work on with all the couples I see. The positive affect it builds between couples is only one of its powerful benefits. This is skills is necessary to counteract the damage the Four Horseman cause, as well.

Turning Towards Each Other, Verse Turning Away. Almost all of the schools of thought on couples therapy emphasize this point. Arguments tend to turn couples into enemies. Enemies don’t deal well with each other. Mutuality requires a couple learn how to be on the same team with each other, even when they “hate” each other.

Accepting Influence. This one is important because if you can’t listen and accept influence form your partner, he or she will begin to feel like his or her needs don’t matter. At the same time, learning how to influence your partner effectively is important, because no one like to feel controlled or controlling.

Distinguishing between Solvable and Perpetual Problems. Some couples need help learning to solve problems. Most couples need help understanding that anyone you couple with comes with a set of perpetual problems. These problems don’t get “fixed,” they get “handled.”

Overcoming Gridlock. Gridlock occurs when couples get stuck in an issue and there does not seem to be any common ground. Learning how to get out of gridlock saves couples from years of discontent.

Creating Shared Meaning. This skill is in the same vein as the first two skills but brings it to a deeper level. This skill involves creating dreams and family rituals together. It’s about creating a sense of purpose and a vision of a future together.


I highly recommend this book to any couple who is struggling with their relationship. More importantly, however, I recommend it to newer couples who are in healthy relationships and want to keep them that way.


Craig Toonder, MFT