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Working Marriage


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If you are married or in a stable relationship, then work hard on this partnership to make it a success. Seek to be good friends who work amicably and positively to resolve differences.

Do not take partnerships for granted and do not use it as a place to take out your frustrations with life.

Start with a positive view of your partner. See them first as perfectly imperfect humans. Admire their qualities, finding good in what they do and how they are. Understand they are doing the best they can even though not everything works.

Seek to deeply understand your partner. Know their preferences, dreams, fears, interests and so on. Then work to increase the good things and reduce the bad things for them.

Recognize and acknowledge the importance of little things. Know that things that are less important to you may be more important to them. Find ways to bring delight into everyday moments.

Listen to them and their desires and be always open to hear them and be persuaded by them. Think of doing things they want as enhancing the relationship rather than it being a win-lose battle of wills. Help them also to accept your requests by not punishing them when they agree.

Create shared meaning, finding agreement about things that are significant, from national news to family events. Go out together, go on holiday together and make good experiences meaningful by talking about them, keeping photos, blogs and so on.

Work on problems together. Do not let them hang in the air or fester. Talk about them, starting gently and not with implied accusation. Try to find out what the problem to solve really is. Do not point fingers and look for causes outside the person. Find fair and equitable compromises.

When helping your partner, you can also ask them to help you too. Notice when they do help, and take time to thank them.

If you become stuck and things start to spiral out of control, get help. Swallowing your pride and finding advice from others, including professional counselors, can save your relationship.


A happy marriage or partnership is, unsurprisingly, a good predictor of happy people. You spend much of your time with your partner and if this is unhappy then it is an easy target for improving happiness.

There can be a chicken-and-egg situation with this. If you are unhappy about other things then this can lead to you acting in ways that damages important relationships, that in turn then make you less happy. By working on the marriage, you can break this spiral.

One reason problems occur in marriages is because the relationship is inescapable. Paradoxically, we often hurt the people we love because we know they cannot run away.

John Gottman has identified four predictors of a divorce. So monitor these and address them at source rather than letting them build up.

  • Contempt: Speaking as if you are superior and they are bad, stupid or otherwise do not come up to your standard. (This is the most important predictor)
  • Criticism: Framing problems as being due to their defective personality (which implies they will never change).
  • Defensiveness: Fending off criticism by playing the victim or using righteous indignation. Bouncing blame back onto the other person.
  • Stonewalling: Pulling back and refusing to talk or interact. This includes avoiding discussion about problems with oneself or the relationship. This is more common in men.

The Oral History Interview (Carerre et al, 2000) can predict the stability of a relationship with a very high success rate. It uses an interview-based process that is coded along eight dimensions:

  • Fondness/Affection
  • We-ness
  • Expansiveness
  • Negativity
  • Disappointment and Disillusionment
  • Chaos
  • Volatility
  • Glorifying the Struggle.

You can use these to assess your relationship and so work on improvements.

See also

Family Matters, Forgive and Forget


Carrere, S., Buehlman, K. T., Gottman, J. M., Coan, J. A., and Ruckstuhl, L. (2000). Predicting marital stability and divorce in newlywed couple. Journal of Family Psychology, 14, 1, 42-58

Gottman, John and Buehlman, K. T. (1992). How a couple views their past predicts their future: Predicting divorce from an oral history interview. Journal of Family Psychology, 5

Gottman, J. and Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishers


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