Notes From John Gottman on Marriage

These are my notes from John Gottman, author of "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work"



4 things that kill marriages
  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling


Criticism attacks the character of the recipient: "You're so selfish!" It's a complaint that says your partner is defective: "What is wrong with you!?"

Antidote: Use "I" statements that express a positive need: "You didn't do ___ and I need you to ___."


Contempt is an expression of superiority that comes out as sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, insults, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.
  • Contempt is the greatest predictor of relationship failure and must be eliminated.
Antidote: treat one another with respect and build a culture of appreciation within the relationship. "I appreciated it when you _____."

Defensiveness is self-protection through righteous indignation or playing the innocent victim. "Meeting a complaint with a counter-complaint", or "Whining".
  • Defensiveness never solves the problem and is just an underhanded way of blaming your partner.
Antidote: accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict. "You're right"

Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the conversation without resolving anything. Not tracking, checked out, not looking.

Antidote: take a break for at least 20 minutes and calm down, then return to the conversation.




3 Things to Never Say in a Fight
  1. "You never..."
  2. "You always..." 
  3. Anything insulting or acting superior.
#1 & 2 are felt/heard as condemnations of one's personality.
#3 is talking down to the other. Talk to them as an equal. Say "we both have limitations", instead of playing god.






Why do couples nag?

The nagger feels like the naggee is blowing them off.
  • Instead of blowing off, respond to the request.




3 Rules to Fight Right

  1. Start the conversation with a positive need: "I need ___."
  2. Listen carefully and try to understand your partner's point of view: "Is this what you are saying, ________?" or ask for clarification.
  3. Repair when it doesn't go well: Say your sorry, express regret, and/or together, look at how it can go better next time.


One thing you can do to improve your marriage:

  • Honor your wife's or husband's dreams.



What is the number one thing that makes a marriage work?

  • Friendship (Good communication will only get you so far)

3 ingredients to your friendship

  1. Making love maps: know and want to know your partner: ask questions: open ended.
  2. Fondness and admiration: communicate respect and appreciation/affection in small ways, often.
  3. Bids for their attention: and responding to bids: "turning towards" vs "turning away".
  • These three ingredients create "positive sentiment override" 
    • (negative sentiment is a chip on your shoulder: hypersensitive to criticism or negative reaction)
  • PSO gives you a buffer to conflict. You don't feel or get defensive.


  • Healthy couples can have a sense of humor even when they are in conflict.


  • Friendship is the basis for good sex, romance, and passion.


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