In movie theaters, we love the thrill of sitting on the edge of our seats watching as a suffering character gets the antidote to their trouble in the nick of time. Whether it’s a fairy tale princess waiting for true love’s kiss, Harry Potter and his friends casting spells, or a poisoned superhero anticipating the arrival of a healing solution—we love our struggling heroes to succeed in the end. But the excitement is not the same when we, as the heroes and heroines of our own lives, struggle and wish for a solution in our own marriages.
Luckily, many great marriages are successful due to antidotes that you can use, too. In our last issue, I outlined six signs that your marriage could be in trouble. The solution to these symptoms is provided by John Gottman and his 40 years of successful marital research. Follow his principles (or antidotes) and you will be on your way to a happier and healthier marriage.
Principle 1 – Enhance Your Love Maps
Become “intimately familiar with each other’s world,” as John Gottman would put it. Knowing each other’s goals, fears, desires, story, and history will go a long way in creating a marriage that lasts. Do you know your partner’s best and worst childhood memories? Do you know what stresses them during the day? Do you know the important people in your partner’s life (friends, potential friends, rivals or enemies)?
Principle 2 – Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration
This is the antidote for “contempt” that I spoke about in my last article. Fondness and admiration for your partner includes having respect and love for them. It isn’t a complicated process—simply increase your positive feelings towards your partner. Fond memories and interpretations of what is happening presently in your relationship is key.
Principle 3 – Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away
If you want a key to romance and a good sex life, here it is. Turning towards your partner means to emotionally reach for and lean towards them in difficult and easy times. When your partner sends you the message “I need you” – do you reach out for them? If not, then start reaching out for them emotionally and physically.
Principle 4 – Let Your Partner Influence You
This one is more for the guys (although it’s important for the gals too). John Gottman found that when a man in a relationship accepts influence from his partner, they are more likely to have a happier marriage. Making decisions together, showing respect for each other’s opinions, and sharing the power will increase the ability for your marriage to succeed.
Principle 5 – Solve Your Solvable Problems
Many issues are surmountable through working together. Approach these problems softly, not with a harsh accusation, as you will usually end a discussion the way it begins. Take breaks if you need them to stay calm and help calm your partner as well. Give and receive “repair attempts” (attempts to get the relationship back on track after a minor or major upset). Try to understand their side, then compromise if necessary. Remember that both of you have faults—be tolerant of them as you tackle problems.
Principle 6 – Overcome Gridlock
Some problems feel like you just can’t move past them. The trick is to learn to talk about these issues in a way that does not hurt each other, rather than simply trying to find a solution. Do this by seeking to understand the cause of your gridlock. Why is this such an important issue for your partner? What are the dreams, aspirations, hopes and wishes of your partner that are tied to this issue? Understand and talk about these dreams and you will start to loosen gridlock.
Principle 7 – Create Shared Meaning
“Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love,” Gottman explains. Work with your partner to create a shared meaning for your relationship. What is the story of your “we”? Create your own customs, rituals, symbols, or stories that define what it means to be part of your family. Understand and respect each other’s dreams and know that they will change over time.
As you implement Gottman’s antidotes into the weak areas of your marriage, slowly your marriage will heal, then blossom. Be patient with yourself and your partner—change isn’t easy. But it will be worth it as you create a marriage that is not without struggle, but is fulfilling, happy, and meaningful to you and your family.
Based on John Gottman’s book – The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Dr. Triston Morgan is a director and owner of the Center for Couples and Families with locations in American Fork, Provo, and Spanish Fork. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and is originally from Oregon. He and his beautiful wife, Cristina, love to travel and see the world.