Ask a Counselor for a book recommendation: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

“How do we keep our marriage strong, with all the stresses of cross-cultural living and frequent transitions?”

“My husband was exposed to porn around age 10. Ever since, he’s struggled with it.  I think he’s sincere about wanting to control his problem, and over the years, he’s doing better.  It still really bothers me, though, and I feel like our relationship has suffered a lot.  How do we live with this?”

“I want my wife to keep her commitments, like showing up on time.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.  It really bothers me that she won’t make the effort to do what she says she’ll do.”

There are so many, many questions that come up during the course of a marriage, and we’ve all heard so many, many solutions… that often don’t work long-term.  This month, I’d like to introduce you to some real research about what really works in marriage, courtesy of renowed marriage expert, John Gottman.

4134045993_31d2831830_bSome of the research is kind of shocking, like this:

“Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive.”  John Gottman, PhD

69% of marital conflicts are perpetual problems that will never be resolved, according to Gottman.

(Please note!  We’re not talking about rampant addiction, abuse, or infidelity here—we’ve talked about those before, here and here.  In this article, I’m talking about relationships where two people have good intentions, and each do their part.)

Even for happily married couples, conflict is a normal, even perpetual, part of life.

I actually think this is good news!  It means that we can turn our attention away from the frustrations of:

  • trying to change things that won’t change, like our spouse’s personality and lifestyle preferences
  • being upset about challenges our spouse is working to overcome, but hasn’t successfully conquered just yet
  • attempting to micromanage one another and life in general.

Instead of spinning our wheels in frustration, we can turn our attention toward what really does work, and that’s what Gottman addresses in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The nutshell is this.

  • Marital success not about the correct communication patterns.
  • It’s not about making the in-laws happy.
  • It’s not about making sure everybody performs the proper role by gender.
  • It’s not about avoiding conflict or pushing for conflict resolution.

“The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship.  For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of a couple’s friendship.”  John Gottman

Marital success is about the friendship, and this book details the foundation—the seven principles—of that friendship.

Gottman is the pre-eminent relationship researcher alive on earth today.  He’s done so much research that he can tell within 15 minutes, with 91% accuracy, whether a relationship will fail or succeed.  This guy knows what he’s talking about, and it would behoove us to listen.

One of the reasons I believe so passionately in Gottman’s work (aside from the incredible amount of research he’s done) is that working on our friendship is what worked for Andy and me when our marriage was broken, back in 2003, and it’s been working for us ever since.

I had never heard of Gottman back in the day.  We just bumbled through on our own, but we somehow ended up doing what Gottman says successful couples do.

  • We spend lots of time working to understand each other.
  • We turn toward each other emotionally, rather than away (or worse yet, against).
  • We each invite the other to influence us.
  • We solve our solvable problems.
  • We figure out how to cope with things we can’t resolve.
  • We don’t let differences mean the end of our relationship.
  • We create a ton of shared meaning and purpose in our life together.

Here we are, more happily married than ever, 13 years later, and Gottman explains it all.

The thing we found in our marriage recovery is this:  while the immediate problem was difficult and took time to work through, we could, AT THE SAME TIME, build a stronger, more robust friendship that helped us in turn to cope better with the difficulty.

I couldn’t keep Andy from looking at porn.  Andy couldn’t always keep Andy from looking at porn.  But we knew we were on the same team, so we started being on the same team by concentrating on the quality of our friendship, and that built capacity in both of us to cope with the situation while Andy did the work he had to do.

Doing what Gottman says helped us into a positive, empowering cycle rather than the old vicious, self-defeating cycle. 

If we could figure that out by pure dumb luck, just think how much easier it would be with this book!  This is the best of DIY marriage work, with quizzes and exercises in each chapter.  I can’t recommend it highly enough!


Now.  I can’t mention porn recovery without also telling you about a new online resource for women in recovery from marriage betrayal:  BLOOM.

I’m so excited that after years of saying to women overseas, “Well, I hope you find help sometime…” I can finally say, “Here’s a place to go, right now!”

This is the first website I’ve seen that really focuses on trauma in personal recovery, and attachment in marriage recovery, which are exactly the therapeutic approaches I think are most helpful.  You’ll find discussion groups, classes, and other recovery tools.  BONUS:  there are classes for couples, too!

It is $15 per month, but there’s a 2-week free trial so you can check it out before you make a financial commitment.

So there you go, guys, your marriage homework for this month:  The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

And if you need more help than the norm right now, check out Bloom.

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Kay Bruner

Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and currently reside in the great state of Texas. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and divides her work days between counseling and writing. She is the author of As Soon As I Fell and blogs at She is available for counseling at her office in Dallas or via skype for a reduced rate to clients overseas. For more information go to:

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