Dr. John Gottman’s research has demonstrated seven communication styles which will cause a couple to be truly happy with each other. Elaborate explanations for these helpful habits can be found in Gottman’s book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999).
Enhance your love maps
Regularly work at trying to get a fresh understanding of your mate. Maintain an active curiosity about what your mate is thinking, feeling and longing for. Once every month or two, take a nearly day-long date as friends. Maybe drive to a state or local park, or a nearby city. Take turns asking each other open-ended questions about your past, present and future (a great list of 60 questions is on pages 52-4 of the book), and remember what you hear.
Nurture your fondness and admiration of each other
Be aware of your appreciation of your mate and then express it. Help your partner by asking for these expressions, and then telling an event you’ve experienced or something you’ve done for which you need appreciation (taking care of your house, body, work, parenting, bill-paying, etc.).
Turn toward each other instead of away.
Gottman’s research shows that what he calls a “stress-reducing conversation” (described on pp. 87-92) is the biggest key to preventing divorce. You pick an ideal time of day to share without fatigue or distraction the joys, concerns, pressures of the day, and what you need from your partner for the next 24 hours. There’s no blame or analysis, just each trying to understand and meet the partner’s needs as presented.
Let your partner influence you.
This is 180 degrees opposite of what most people try to do, but when you choose to surrender power because you know yours comes from the inside, you win love and respect. Look for ways to sacrifice your will for the marriage without expecting anything in return. Be unselfish in decisions about sex, parenting, in-laws, friends, housework, vacations, recreation, entertainment, or time and money management. Being open to change is contagious.
Solve only your solvable problems.
One big finding in Gottman’s research is that many of the problems couples argue about are unsolvable. You just need to agree to disagree and let it go. Signs of an unsolvable problem are when your disagreements are long-standing, painfully intense, or taken personally. In some marital arguments, no one is right. There is no absolute reality, only two subjective realities. For problems that can be solved, the research showed it especially helped to do five things: soften the start-up (how you bring it up), try to repair your mate’s hurt feelings, soothe yourself as you go, compromise with each other (deliberate give and take), and be tolerant of each other’s faults.
Get past the stuck points by accepting each other as is. Agree to live with the problem. Pray the serenity prayer for acceptance. Perhaps you might even dare to open up a new and deeper dialog, to discover and appreciate dreams and dispositions that had previously been hidden.
Create shared meaning.
Discover and then embrace a purpose or mission for your marriage. Discover what you can do as a team to make the world a better place. Build some rituals and traditions which will strengthen your family. Actively and publicly support each other’s goals and missions in life, so that each partner’s commitments feel more and more like a joint effort.
I know all this is a lot to digest. The important thing is not to understand it all, but to pick two or three of these habits to work on for yourself. Harping on your partner to make these changes will do more harm than good. What works much better is doing something yourself, and then asking your spouse to try doing the same. Showing the genuine peace and contentment you get from doing something good in the right spirit is generally the best way to motivate your mate to do the same. Have faith, and give it time.