Thoughts, notes, etc.

View the Site on GitHub

View my GitHub Profile

View my LinkedIn


16 May 2021

Reviewing "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work"

by Florian

“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” is pretty much a 10/10 for me. It’s:

  1. Practical. There’s a lot of solid, actionable advice and questions in it.
  2. Backed by science. Gottman’s a leader in his field and even if you don’t like his brand of psychology/sociology, he has a lot of lived wisdom around marriage and relationships.
  3. Well written & easy to read. This isn’t a hard book to crack open and it’s definitely a book I’m going to come back to.

I need to make a brief aside, though.

I really like self help books

Self help books get a lot of hate and I get where it’s coming from.

People think you can buy a book, or attend some conference, eat some diet, etc. and it’ll change your life. It won’t and I can see how it’s frustrating for a doctor or a family member to have to endure a lecture about life from the latest self help fad.

But, I also can’t help but love it when people try to help themselves. You have to have some admiration for people taking the first step (ideally of many) on the road to self improvement. We’re all a bit too cynical around how self improvement actually happens.

Let’s take diet as an example as it’s constantly trending in and out of the self help emporia. An average person reads a book about Keto and gets really into it for two weeks. Doctors, podcast hosts, and journalists will all go on about how it’s “not a sustainable diet,” “it’s just a fad don’t do it,” or “all diets just restrict calories anyway.”

And they’re not wrong! But what happens to the person who actually did Keto? Maybe they learned how to cook a few new healthy dishes that incorporate a lot of healthy fats? Maybe they’ll think twice before eating a donut?

This has happened to me countless times! I’ve learned something new about lifting, coding, work-life balance, and then tried incorporating it into my life. Some things stick and some don’t, but I very, very rarely think of it as a wasted experience.

Behavior change rarely happens at all, much less all at once, and I’d rather encourage people to try and learn something about themselves than lambast them for spending $8 on a book and being excited about being better.

Back to “The Seven Principles”

This book is brilliant and reading it is a real treat. Gottman ran a “love lab” for many years where he observed couples interacting and then documented and interviewed them and followed up after several weeks, months, years.

This is my summation of the book.

You have to be friends with your partner. This advice seems so banal but it holds a deep truth. People fall out of love because they fall out of friendship.

These are basically principles one through four. Spend a lot of time becoming and knowing your partner’s inner life and your marriage will be better.

Gottman then spends a long time discussing (what else in a marriage book?) communication.


This was my favorite part of the book, and it really works for any relationship. Essentially, people will say things or do things with another person and these actions are “bids” for another person’s attention.

How you handle and respond to these bids will pretty much define your relationship. The more positively you respond to these bids the better, but mere acknowledgement will do. If a person says something to you, respond and ideally respond positively.

Importantly, responding in some way is far and away better than not responding at all. Unless you’re actively berating them in your response, a nod or basic acknowledgement will go a long way to improving a relationship.

Arguing and discussing difficult things

The book spends a lot of time talking about arguing, and slightly less time talking about criticism. Here’s how to have a productive argument according to Gottman:

As somebody in a relationship where we don’t often argue, I found this incredibly interesting and potentially useful for the future. Another interesting tidbit from this section – the amount you argue is pretty irrelevant.

I’ve noticed (and discussed) this with friends and it’s nice that Gottman backs it up. What matters isn’t the frequency (or lack thereof) of how much you argue, but how you recover and respond to those arguments. Relationships that last are typically just better at recovering from argumentation: They recognize repair attempts, compromise, and respond to the argument’s outcome positively.

The Devil is in the Doing

Like the diet books I talked about above, the key to this book is actually doing the things he suggests.

Another banal point I suppose, but you have to actually do the things that people tell you to do.

I want a happy marriage so I’m going to try.

I wrote this post to be just as much a reminder to myself of what I should be doing as it is a review/summation for whoever’s reading.

tags: posts - reviews - misc