Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Travis DixonHuman Relationships, Love and Marriage

Dr. John Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Gottman. (If ever there was a marriage that was under pressure to last, it's this one!)

This is a summary of Gottman’s 7 principles from his book (Available here). 


  • Enhance Your Love Maps

Basically, the more you know about each other the stronger your relationship will be. So a “love map” is basically your schema for the knowledge that you possess of your partner, include a range of details involving their hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs, aspirations.

Happy Love Elderly Couple Smile Face, Senior Couple Old Man And

It’s intriguing to know how some couples stay happily married forever, while others don’t. It’s so sweet seeing older couples holding hands, but the cynical side of me sometimes thinks “probably a second marriage.” (Shh…don’t tell my wife I said that!)

  • Nurture your fondness and admiration

Fondness means to like someone, to be “fond” of them. Admiration means that you have respect for what they do and who they are, you “admire” them for some reason. Gottman claims that these are essential in a healthy relationship and they should be nurtured. Fondness and admiration might not just happen, and sometimes over time it may be easy to lose sight of those aspects of your partner that you do love and admire. But it’s important that couples consciously focus on, and remember, the reasons why they like (and love) their partner.

Read More: Gottman’s Love Lab and the Four Horsemen of Divorce (Link)

  • Turn toward each other instead of away

A healthy couple are allies – they rely on each other and are “on the same team.” Building this alliance happens through small interactions every day. By making small connections with one another through open and reciprocal communication, couples will learn to love and trust their partner and will feel supported. This alliance can become so important in big events and/or times of extreme stress. If you are going through something really serious, if you have been turning toward your partner you will be able to find strength, solace and comfort in them in the big moments, as well as the little ones.

  • Let your partner influence you

This might be the hardest for some men. It’s not a matter of “giving in” to your partner or simply following their every wish, but it’s about being open, responsive and receptive to the ideas of your partner. I.e. not stubbornly believing that you’re always right and no-one can tell you better. Unhappy couples don’t listen to one another and fail to see how the other could be right. It’s easy to see how the four horsemen might enter into play here.

  • Solve your solvable problems

There are some problems that aren’t solvable, and this should be recognized and realised as such. For instance, my wife and I will always come from two different countries and have two very different countries that we love and would be happy to spend the rest of our lives in (i.e. my wife would love to live in Japan for her entire life and I’d love to live in NZ). But we can’t solve this problem immediately. What we need to do is make a compromise.

Some problems are solvable, though. A common source of conflict in any relationship has to do with money and finances. If one partner has a different view of money and how to spend/invest it, this may cause problems. This problem, however, is solvable, and couples should work towards finding solutions to these problems.

People And Relationships Concept. African American Couple Arguin

You don’t have to be married to apply Gottman’s principles. It might even work with friendships.

Gottman believes that all couples argue and that there is not a difference in the amount of arguing in a relationship when comparing happy and unhappy couples (or the “masters” and “disasters” as he calls them). The difference is in the way they argue. In many healthy arguments, a resolution is never actually found (unsolvable problems).

  • Overcome gridlock

Gridlock may refer to a traffic jam where cars are boxed in and cannot move. In an argument, gridlock is when two couples are stuck in their opposing points of view and can’t move forward. The goal isn’t necessarily to solve the problem, as some problems can’t be solved. The goal instead is to move the problem from gridlock to dialogue. Let’s say one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t – this may be an unsolvable problem, but it could be one that might not necessarily end the relationship provided both couples can communicate their feelings and each can understand the other’s perspective. Through communicating about our shared beliefs, dreams, aspirations, we can gain a better perspective of our partner and we may be able to break the gridlock and move towards making compromises, or even changing our minds and solving the problem.

  • Create shared meaning

I think it’s safe to say we all want meaning in our life; it would be rather boring and depressing otherwise. Part of a happy relationship is sharing that meaning. Happy and contented couples are deeply connected, and part of that connection involves creating a shared meaning. Shared meaning means that you both understand (and share) each other’s ideas and ideals about what you want out of life.

Reference: Gottman, John Mordechai., and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Crown, 1999. Print.