Marriage Myths and the One Thing that makes marriage work (The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work Chapter 1)

What makes a marriage work?

This seems to be a great mystery. Every couple, whether they know it or not, is asking this very question. And each couple has to fight through the mystery to figure out how two people come together as one. Even the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians that this idea of marriage is “a great mystery.” Every relationship was to dig deep to unpack the mystery of coming together as one.
But as we unpack the mystery, it seems like there are many ideas that lead nowhere. In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman spends some of chapter 1 exploring some popular myths about successful marriages. Among the myths he shoots down in the first chapter:

Myth #1 – Certain kinds of communication save a marriage.

Gottman says, “The notion that you can save your marriage just by learning to communicate more sensitively is probably the most widely held misconception about happy marriages.” Gottman specially mentions ‘active listening’ as something many people believe will help their marriage. Active listening is listening to understand where the other person is coming from. Once you hear where they are coming from, you say something like, ‘I think I understand what you are saying.’ For example, a wife says, ‘When you are gone all the time, I feel lonely.’ The husband says, ‘I understand that you’re lonely and it must be hard.’
Though this is a popular way to approach marital conflict, Gottman says there is just one problem. It doesn’t work. Just because you can see someone else’s perspective does not mean you will agree with them. And it certainly doesn’t mean that your conflict is going to be resolved.
In fact, Gottman says, often when you ‘actively listen’ to your spouse vent, you might hear some harsh things. Imagine this exchange:
Wife: ‘You’re a selfish jerk. You’re always out with your friends and you leave me alone with the kids.’
Is a husband really going to respond by saying…
Husband: ‘I hear you are saying I am a big jerk who only thinks of himself and that must be really hard for you.’
Who is going to talk like that?

Myth # 2 – Personality problems ruin marriage.

Gottman says we all have our “crazy buttons.” These are issues that we are not rational about. For whatever reason, people have their issues. Irrational fears, anxieties, frustrations, and disappointments all make their way into marriage. These do not have to destroy marriage however, as long as we learn to work with each other. Gottman concludes, “If you can accommodate each other’s strange side and handle it with caring, affection, and respect, your marriage can thrive.”

Myth # 3 – Common interests will save a marriage.

While it is vital to have common interests, these alone will not keep people together. If that shared interest does not help build love and respect for each other the common interest will only push you apart. Gottman uses the example of kayaking. He says if you laugh, talk, and enjoy each other’s company while kayaking, you will grow closer. If you criticize and fight while kayaking, it will split you further apart. So, even if you love the same things, it does not automatically mean your marriage will last.

Myth # 4 – Reciprocating leads to a good marriage

This is the old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” way of thinking. You smile at me; I’ll smile at you. You help me; I’ll help you. The problem with this strategy is that it keeps a running list of credits and deficits. This kind of marriage keeps score and that is not a loving way to build a marriage. (In fact I Corinthians 13 says love does not keep a record of wrongs.)

The One Thing that makes a Marriage Last

So, if these myths do not guarantee the success or failure of a marriage, what does? What makes marriage work? We still haven’t answered that question.
Gottman says a marriage will rise or fall based on friendship: “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples tend to know each other intimately – they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in big ways but in little way day in and day out.”
Out of this friendship flows a solid marriage. Gottman says, “Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial against your spouse.” In fact, 70% of married men and women say that what makes their sex, romance, and passion satisfying is the quality of their friendship.
Friendship is the fuel for marriage because it keeps our thoughts toward each other positive. Even when negative things arise, the friendship is always more important.
A few months ago my wife and I were arguing about something (I don’t even remember what). As things were beginning to escalate, she looked at me and said, “I don’t want to fight about this because this is not more important than us.”
And the fight was over.
Because nothing is more important than us.
Friendship lays the groundwork for marriage to thrive. In fact, as I read Gottman’s explanation of friendship in marriage, it reminded me of I Corinthians 13. It says love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. This is the nature of friendship – putting up with each other, believing the best about each other, hoping for the best for each other and thinking the best about each other, and sticking it out in good times and in bad times.
That is what friends do. The Proverbs even says, “A friend loves at all times…”
Most marriages start off with a large amount of positive thinking and feeling towards each other. The key to marriage is to fight to keep that positive thinking and feeling at the center of the relationship.
How do you fight to keep the marriage positive? Gottman calls it a “repair attempt.” A repair attempt is “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.”
Gottman says the success or failure of a repair attempt is a strong indicator of whether the relationship will fall apart or remain together.
So, when my wife said to me, “I don’t want to fight about this because this is not as important as us,” what was happening? Yep, it was a repair attempt.
I think of repair attempts as exits on the freeway. You realize you are going the wrong way (a bad fight is coming, negativity is approaching) and you make an attempt to get off and turn around. Couples destined for failure see they are going the wrong way in a fight but they speed up and prepare for the crash.
So, when my wife offered an exit from our fight, did I take it?
Yes. Yes, I did.
But, I didn’t think, ‘My wife is making a repair attempt and I should accept it.’
I simply thought, ‘What a great woman.’


One Response to “Marriage Myths and the One Thing that makes marriage work (The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work Chapter 1)”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Yes she is and your a pretty great man for recognizing she is.

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