The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Have you ever wondered the true reasoning and logic behind couples divorcing? John Gottman, well-known psychologist, has examined thousands of couples and is able to predict over 90% of the time if those couples will divorce or not based on his studies. Gottman believes that there are six overall signs to look for that exist in a relationship that lead him to believe a couple will eventually divorce as seen in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This paper will examine two of those signs, the four horseman and failed repair attempts and will provide in-depth information about both, ways I have seen those in my life, and ways that people can avoid those from happening in the future.

Growing up in church, I experienced many couples that seemed like they had everything figured out. Their relationships seemed perfect, but I knew that not everyone had it all together. I want to discuss a couple that was a family friend of mine.

Brent and Jamie were my next-door neighbors and their daughter was one of my best friends growing up. Their relationship looked great on the outside, but I was able to see a little of their relationship on the inside because I was at their house a lot.

Gottman’s four horsemen involves criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Criticism shows a sense of judgement. Gottman explains that there is a huge difference between complaining and criticizing, much like the difference between arguing and abusing. Complaining is something everyone does on a daily basis, but criticizing is when your partner condemns everything you do.

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Contempt tends to show disrespect and scorns one another, and defensiveness tends to lead to guards being put up and one defending themselves. Stonewalling leads to avoiding confrontation and arguments.

Gottman describes the four horsemen as criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Brent and Jamie’s relationship showed all four of these in some aspect. Brent criticized a lot of what Jamie would do by judging certain things. For example, if she would not go get groceries on Brent’s timing, he would get mad about it and express his frustrations with her. Brent would show his contempt for Jamie by showing the aspect of superiority in their arguments. This caused Jamie to, at times, feel worthless and created some anger to swell up in her. Jamie would become defensive and try to graciously explain herself with patience, but Brent would then stonewall, or ignore her. All four horsemen that Gottman discusses lead to unhappiness throughout marriage and affects the attitudes of both spouses which has a domino affect on the family.

The steps I will take to avoid this happening in my future marriage will be to realize that marriage is a two-way street. This means that both spouses have responsibilities and when they get married, they should realize that they no longer have themselves to look after. It takes putting one’s pride aside and looking after the interests of yourself and your spouse. To prevent criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling from occurring you must be patient with your spouse and understand that sometimes emotions can affect the way you treat each other. I want to be sure that my future spouse knows that I love and care for their interests and I want to be selfless in the way that I serve my future spouse.

Gottman shares that failed repair attempts bring about an unhappy future for spouses. There is a loop between repair attempts and the four horsemen in that the more that the four horsemen occur, the less likely repair attempts will happen. This leads to one person withdrawing and the other holding on to hope that somehow the marriage will work out. These circumstances intensify the four horsemen and thus causes more difficulty in trying to fix the relationship.

Brent and Jamie experienced failed repair attempts after Brent gave up on their relationship, but Jamie tried to hold on and make it work out. Repair attempts tend to cause a lot of strain on relationships and lead to mental exhaustion. Because of this, Jamie became so tired of trying to make the relationship work when Brent would not try. If Brent would have cared more about maintaining his marriage with Jamie and worried about what this would look like for his kids, then they could have possibly had successful repair attempts. On the outside looking in, I could tell that Brent and Jamie were having arguments every now and then, but I was not prepared for the morning that would come when my mom would tell me that they were divorcing. I could not help but think how selfish Brent was for leaving his kids and wife like that.

Once again, it is vital to a marriage to realize that it is a vow between two people. It takes both people to fight to maintain marriage and a family. If both spouses do not want to give up, then there is a better chance that the marriage will work out. I want to be sure before marriage that my spouse really does want to be with me forever. If he does, there is no way that we cannot work through any difficulty that comes our way. Marriage is so much more than creating a family, it is a covenant that should be taken seriously. I could not marry someone who does not have the same values as me, and I think that successful repair attempts are vital to a lasting and happy marriage.

In conclusion, John Gottman has some important principles that are vital to a lasting marriage. The principles that are the most important to keeping a marriage from divorce are confronting the four horsemen and failed repair attempts head on. Both of these principles must be changed to a positive outcome for a happy and successful marriage and I think that the book explains that one can occur without the other to have a lasting marriage. For example, successful repair attempts can happen with the existence of any of the four horsemen. To obtain the most joy in marriage, I believe that controversy must be confronted head on and both partners must be open to changing habits to help better fit one another’s lifestyle. Marriage should not be taken lightly, and I believe that if a couple genuinely wants to work out their marital issues, they will. I do not want a marriage that ends because neither me nor my husband want to work problems out. I believe that when you marry, you should be prepared to work any issues that will come your way.

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The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
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