Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
""Book By: John Gottman, Ph.D.
Playing the numbers game
A husband and wife are seated opposite each other in a laboratory and arguing. Each bristles with wires -- sensors measure heart rates, sweating, and movements in chairs. Video cameras record expressions in minute detail. Sensitive microphones pick up every sound; even breathing.
It sounds like something out of dystopia, but these are the methods author John Gottman used to gather information for his book. His results are so scientifically sound; he even has a mathematical reference point of wedded bliss. "The positive moments in your marriage," says Gottman, "must exceed the negative moments by at least 5:1."
The fear ratio
If putting a number to happiness turns you cold, consider a far more sinister ratio. The current proportion of new marriages that last to those that end in divorce is in the ratio 3:2. "There's no denying that this is a frightening time for American couples," writes Gottman.
His method is to approach the issue in a totally scientific way; something he claims hasn't been done before. "[Early theories] were based mostly on psychologists' intuition and experience with their own clients," writes Gottman. He adds that these theories weren't bad, but that they hadn't been tested on large groups in a systematic process. And that is what he proceeded to do.
But a simple presentation of findings would be a useless book to real-world couples with seemingly insurmountable problems. Gottman proceeds to translate his research into good, old-fashioned advice that is easy to apply. There are even tests and quizzes to evaluate relationships, and targeted advice based on the results.
The all-important issue of conflict-resolution is given particular focus. Through the book you learn that constant conflict is not necessarily a sign of trouble. It's how that conflict is handled. In fact, all the danger symptoms Gottman lists are insidious. He calls them "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." When criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or withdrawal characterize a couple's interactions, unless they make changes, "they are likely to find themselves sliding helplessly toward the end of their marriage."
This is also a good example of Gottman's warm but no-nonsense style. In the very first chapter he provides a detailed view of his research methods. He discusses his work's fallibility, but not in the extravagant manner many self-help books adopt to get you on their side. (Consider the weight-loss advisor who tells you a long, emotional story of how he tried everything but failed.)
Also, Gottman doesn't make sweeping promises. He avoids speculation and flimsy spin-offs from anecdotes. In short, he quickly gains the reader's trust and keeps it.
There are times, though, that his criticism of predecessors is puzzling, since many of his scientific findings simply corroborate earlier speculative ones. But his arguments are never without solid backing and even his advice has stood up to long-term statistical testing.
So, thanks to all those couples who agreed to argue in laboratories on camera, other couples now have a scientific analysis of what makes a marriage crumble. And considering the rate of crumble, they'd do well to buy this book and keep themselves forewarned.