Full disclosure: I love John Gottman. I reference him in blog posts, I link to his website almost as much as I link to my own, and in my own work with couples, his book is among the first recommendations I make. Why? Well, because he knows what he’s talking about, and he has the science to back him up. As I was thinking about how I wanted to start Instruction Manuals, there was no better candidate than Gottman’s The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.
The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work was initially published in 1999. It is based on the findings from long-term research performed by John Gottman as a part of his “Love Lab” experiment. In this experiment, Gottman recorded hundreds of couples in order to identify patterns in their relationships in order to understand what makes a couple succeed or fail. Based on this initial research, as well as follow-up studies; he was able to more or less determine what makes a “master” and what makes a “disaster.” His words, not mine.
The twist? He boasts a 94% accuracy rating when it comes to making the determination of what the future holds for a couple.
The Seven Principles
Okay, so here we have a guy who is able to watch a couple interact, peer into their future, and tell them whether they’re going to succeed or fail with a level of accuracy that would get him kicked out of a Las Vegas casino. He sees you and your wife talking, looks you in the eyes and tells you your doomed. What’s your first response? (Probably defensiveness, because that’s one of the predictors he uses). For me, I would want to know the details, and what I can do about it!
Gottman’s book breaks down the complexities of relationships into something refreshingly simple. It’s almost frustrating how easily digestible this book is. The seven principles basically focus on two guiding meta-principles: Don’t ever stop trying to get to know your partner, and fight like you love each other.
What Makes This Book Worth Reading?
The first criteria that I have for recommending a book is simple: Does it impart useful wisdom? For this book, the answer is a resounding yes. While it makes no boast that it is a replacement for marriage counseling, it is a very solid book that provides not only wise sounding guidance, but also details the research behind that guidance.
The next question that I would ask of a book is whether it is readable. Personally, I read through the entire 266 pages in less than a week, but that was because I was reading for review purposes. I would encourage anyone who is reading this book for the benefit of their relationship to take their time with it.
So if a book is readable and imparts useful wisdom, what makes it different from other books? After all, it is not the only book about relationships; and it’s not the only book with research backing it up. What makes The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work unique? I would say that it’s the activities. Even speed-reading this book, I took time to do some of the activities with my girlfriend, and we both found them to be enjoyable, affirming, and informative. Every chapter has several activities that range from personal introspection to deep relational conversations. Earlier, I mentioned that this is a book to be digested slowly; these are the spots that I would recommend taking the most time.
Why Might You Skip This Book?
No book is without fault, and The Seven Principles is no exception. While it is a fantastic introduction to Gottman’s methodology, it leaves out a lot of details. While I never quite felt like anything was missing, as I approached the end of several chapters, I came away wanting some more “meat” about the concepts.
Another thing that might be a turn-off is that as Gottman explains his research findings and describes the predictors for relationship failure, a couple may have difficulty seeing their way out of the patterns he describes. While this information is good, and it sets up what he is teaching in a very impactful way; it can leave the reader with a bit of a sinking feeling at times.
Next, some of the principles may come across as overly simplistic. While there is a great deal of power in simplicity, especially as it relates to self-help; there are times when Gottman’s style veers a bit on the “Stop it” side of the simplicity spectrum.
That is not to say that he is wrong when he says that the key to navigating an argument is to give your partner the same respect you would give a respected colleague; it’s just infuriating when the answer to something so painful is so simple.
Should You Read The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work?
The short answer is yes. The book is based on solid research; and while it sometimes comes across as overly simplistic in it’s approach to making a relationship work, it never diverts from the realm of logical progression. This book is as close to a real-life instruction manual for relationships as I can imagine. Read it if you’re single and trying to figure out what you want in a relationship. Read it if you’re in a relationship and trying to figure out if the one you’re with is “the one.” Read it if you’re struggling with your relationship and need some guidance.
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