The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Summary

The book in 3 sentences:

  • Deepen Understanding and Appreciation: Continuously work to understand your partner’s inner world and show appreciation for their qualities and contributions, enhancing emotional connection and respect.
  • Foster Positive Interactions: Prioritize positive interactions, such as turning towards each other’s bids for connection and practicing mutual support, to strengthen the bond and resilience of the relationship.
  • Navigate Conflicts Constructively: Learn to identify solvable problems versus perpetual issues, approach conflicts with empathy and open communication, and create shared meaning and goals to navigate through challenges together.


In the realm of relationship advice, few books have stood the test of time as resoundingly as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman. This seminal work, grounded in decades of research, offers a practical roadmap for couples looking to strengthen their marital bond. Gottman, a psychologist renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, distills his insights into seven actionable principles that promise to transform relationships.

At the heart of Gottman’s approach is a profound understanding of the dynamics that make marriages succeed or fail. Unlike traditional marriage counseling that often focuses on conflict resolution, Gottman’s method emphasizes building a solid foundation of friendship and understanding. This foundation enables couples to navigate the inevitable challenges of life together more effectively.

The importance of these principles cannot be overstated in today’s fast-paced world, where relationships are often strained by external pressures and internal conflicts. By applying Gottman’s insights, couples can develop a deeper understanding of each other, foster mutual respect, and create a more fulfilling partnership.

As we delve into each of the seven principles, we aim to provide not just an overview but a guide filled with practical tips and examples. Whether you’re looking to enhance an already strong relationship or address specific challenges, these principles offer a pathway to a healthier, more resilient marriage.

Principle 1: Enhance Your Love Maps

At the core of John Gottman’s marital advice is the concept of Love Maps. A Love Map is essentially a mental guide to your partner’s inner world – their hopes, dreams, fears, and intricacies. Understanding and continually updating this map is crucial for the health and longevity of a relationship. This principle underscores the importance of truly knowing your partner and being curious about their evolving experiences and feelings.

The Essence of Love Maps

Love Maps go beyond surface-level knowledge. They involve a deep understanding of what makes your partner tick: from their favorite memories to their greatest concerns about the future. This detailed map allows couples to navigate through life’s challenges together, providing a sense of direction and security.

Why Understanding Your Partner’s World is Crucial

Knowing your partner deeply fosters empathy and connection. When you understand why your partner reacts a certain way or what truly matters to them, you’re better equipped to offer support, celebrate their successes, and navigate conflicts more effectively. It’s the difference between a companion who walks beside you, understanding each step of the journey, and one who follows a separate path.

Practical Tips for Enhancing Your Love Maps

  1. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Regularly engage in conversations that encourage your partner to share more about themselves. Questions like “What has been on your mind lately?” or “What’s a dream you’ve had that we haven’t talked about?” can open doors to deeper understanding.
  2. Listen Actively: When your partner speaks, listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. This means putting aside your own thoughts and fully focusing on what they are sharing.
  3. Create Rituals of Connection: Establish daily or weekly rituals that encourage sharing and connection. This could be a nightly conversation before bed where you each share the best and most challenging parts of your day.
  4. Document and Celebrate: Keep track of important details your partner shares with you – write them down if you need to. Celebrate their successes and be there for them during difficult times, showing that you truly know and appreciate who they are.

By enhancing your Love Maps, you lay the groundwork for a relationship that is not only resilient in the face of challenges but also deeply satisfying. Knowing your partner deeply and being known in return is a profound source of connection and intimacy.

Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

The second principle of Gottman’s approach focuses on the importance of maintaining a positive perspective towards your partner. Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a long-lasting, healthy relationship. They act as a buffer against negativity and contempt, which are often cited as major contributors to relationship breakdowns. This principle suggests that a deep sense of affection and respect for your partner is a fundamental component of a strong marital foundation.

The Role of Fondness and Admiration in a Relationship

Fondness and admiration are the antidotes to complacency and resentment. They remind you why you fell in love in the first place and help you maintain an atmosphere of appreciation over criticism. This doesn’t mean ignoring your partner’s flaws but rather choosing to focus on their strengths and qualities that you admire.

Techniques to Revive These Feelings

  1. Express Appreciation Regularly: Make it a habit to verbally acknowledge and appreciate your partner’s actions and qualities. Simple statements like “I really appreciate how you took care of me when I was sick” can make a significant difference.
  2. Reminisce About Positive Experiences: Spend time together reminiscing about the good times you’ve shared. Looking at old photos or revisiting places that hold special memories can reignite feelings of fondness.
  3. Focus on the Positive: Make a conscious effort to think about your partner’s positive qualities, especially during times of conflict. This can help shift your perspective and foster a more forgiving attitude.
  4. Practice Admiration Exercises: Set aside time to share with each other what you admire about one another. This can be done through writing letters, making lists, or direct conversation.

Examples of Expressing Appreciation and Respect

  • Leaving notes of appreciation for your partner to find.
  • Publicly acknowledging your partner’s achievements or qualities.
  • Taking the time to listen and show interest in your partner’s passions and endeavors.

By actively nurturing your fondness and admiration, you create a culture of respect and appreciation within your relationship. This culture not only celebrates your partnership’s strengths but also fortifies it against the inevitable challenges life brings.

Principle 3: Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away

The third principle in Gottman’s framework emphasizes the importance of turning toward each other’s bids for connection instead of away. A “bid” can be any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other form of positive connection. How these bids are responded to can significantly influence the health and longevity of a relationship.

Importance of Turning Towards Your Partner in Times of Need

Turning towards your partner’s bids for connection demonstrates that you value and prioritize your relationship. It’s about noticing the small moments of potential connection and choosing to engage with them. These moments, when accumulated, create a deep sense of being seen, heard, and valued within the relationship.

The Concept of “Bids” for Connection

Bids for connection can be as simple as a smile, a touch, or a verbal attempt to start a conversation. They can also be more significant gestures, like seeking support during a difficult time. Each bid offers an opportunity to strengthen the relationship by showing care and consideration.

Strategies for Building a Culture of Responsiveness

  1. Be Attentive: Pay attention to your partner’s bids for connection, even if they seem minor. This could mean responding with interest to something they say or returning a smile.
  2. Show Affection: Respond to bids with physical affection when appropriate, such as a hug or a kiss. This physical connection can be incredibly powerful in reinforcing your bond.
  3. Prioritize Engagement: Make a conscious effort to engage with your partner’s bids, even when you’re busy or distracted. This might mean putting down your phone to listen or postponing a task to give them your full attention.
  4. Use Verbal Affirmations: Verbal responses to bids, such as expressing agreement, laughing at a joke, or offering words of encouragement, validate your partner’s needs for connection.

By turning toward each other’s bids for connection, couples can create a relationship filled with mutual support and understanding. This responsiveness fosters a strong emotional bond and a sense of partnership where both individuals feel valued and important.

Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You

The fourth principle of Gottman’s seven is about the mutual respect and consideration in decision-making processes within a marriage. It underscores the importance of allowing your partner to influence you, which means valuing their opinions, feelings, and needs as much as your own. This principle is a call to embrace partnership in its truest sense, where power and responsibilities are shared equitably.

The Significance of Shared Power in Relationships

In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel empowered to express their views and have them taken seriously. Letting your partner influence you is not about relinquishing control but about fostering a partnership based on mutual respect and equality. It involves recognizing that your partner’s perspective can enrich your decision-making process and contribute to a more balanced relationship.

How to Practice and Embrace Mutual Influence

  1. Practice Active Listening: When your partner expresses their views, listen attentively. Show that you value their input by reflecting on their words and considering their perspective in your decisions.
  2. Engage in Collaborative Decision Making: Make important decisions together, weighing both partners’ opinions equally. This approach reinforces the notion that you are a team working towards common goals.
  3. Show Respect for Differences: Acknowledge that differences in opinion are natural and can be beneficial. Respectful dialogue about differing viewpoints can lead to more well-rounded decisions.
  4. Encourage Open Communication: Create an environment where both partners feel safe expressing their needs and opinions. Open communication is the foundation for mutual influence.

Overcoming Resistance to Your Partner’s Input

Resistance to a partner’s influence can stem from a variety of sources, including past experiences, fear of vulnerability, or a desire for autonomy. Overcoming this resistance involves self-reflection, understanding the value of your partner’s contributions, and recognizing that a strong relationship is built on the interdependence of both partners.

By valuing and incorporating your partner’s influence, you not only enrich your relationship but also model a foundation of respect and equality. This principle is crucial for navigating the complexities of life together and ensuring that both partners feel valued and heard.

Principle 5: Solve Your Solvable Problems

The fifth principle of Gottman’s guide to a fulfilling marriage revolves around effectively addressing and resolving the conflicts that can be solved. Not all problems in a relationship are perpetual; many are situational and can be resolved through constructive communication and mutual understanding. This principle focuses on distinguishing between solvable and perpetual problems and employing strategies to address the former effectively.

Distinguishing Between Solvable and Perpetual Problems

Solvable problems are typically situational and less deeply rooted in the fundamental differences between partners. Identifying whether a problem is solvable or perpetual is the first step toward resolution. This involves understanding the nature of the conflict and whether it’s tied to a specific situation that can be changed or adapted.

Techniques for Effective Problem-Solving

  1. Soft Start-Up: Begin discussions about conflicts with a calm, non-accusatory tone. Avoid criticism or contempt, and instead, express your feelings and needs openly and respectfully.
  2. Practice Good Communication: Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs without blaming your partner. For example, “I feel upset when I’m not heard” instead of “You never listen to me.”
  3. Seek to Compromise: Be willing to find middle ground where both partners can feel satisfied with the outcome. Recognizing that compromise is essential in resolving solvable problems is key to a harmonious relationship.
  4. Use Repair Attempts: During a conflict, use words, gestures, or actions that help de-escalate tension. A repair attempt could be a joke to lighten the mood, a touch, or a phrase that both partners recognize as a signal to calm down.
  5. Soothe Yourself and Each Other: Take breaks if the discussion gets too heated, and focus on calming down. This might mean taking a short walk, practicing deep breathing, or engaging in a separate activity before returning to the conversation.

Implementing Soft Start-Ups to Avoid Conflict Escalation

Soft start-ups involve approaching a conversation about a conflict with kindness, understanding, and a willingness to listen. This contrasts with harsh start-ups, which are characterized by criticism or demands and often lead to immediate defensive responses. By starting conversations gently, you create a safe environment for open dialogue, making it easier to find solutions.

By employing these techniques, couples can navigate their solvable problems more effectively, leading to a stronger, more resilient relationship. Addressing and resolving these issues not only enhances mutual understanding and respect but also prevents the accumulation of resentment that can erode marital happiness.

Principle 6: Overcome Gridlock

Gridlock occurs in a marriage when couples find themselves stuck in a perpetual conflict, unable to move forward or resolve their differences. These are often deep-rooted issues tied to fundamental differences in values, dreams, or life goals. Unlike solvable problems, gridlocked issues aren’t about finding a compromise but rather understanding and respecting each other’s underlying dreams and values.

Understanding the Nature of Gridlock

Gridlock signals that a couple’s conversation about an issue has become so polarized that neither partner is willing to budge, leading to repeated arguments with no resolution. This stalemate often masks deeper emotional needs and unfulfilled dreams. Recognizing that gridlock is a sign of underlying unmet needs rather than just stubbornness can open the door to empathy and deeper understanding.

Moving from Gridlock to Dialogue

  1. Identify Underlying Dreams and Values: Engage in open, non-judgmental conversations to explore the deeper meanings and dreams behind each partner’s stance. This requires a safe space where both individuals feel heard and respected.
  2. Express Tolerance and Empathy: Show empathy towards your partner’s dreams, even if you don’t share them. Understanding doesn’t have to mean agreement, but it does mean respecting their right to their dreams.
  3. Soothe and Support Each Other: Addressing gridlock can be emotionally challenging. Offering comfort and reassurance to each other during these conversations is crucial.
  4. Find Shared Values and Dreams: Look for common ground, even if it seems minimal. Focusing on shared values can provide a foundation for moving forward.

Exploring Underlying Dreams and Values

The process of overcoming gridlock involves delving into each partner’s deep-seated dreams and values that are at the heart of the conflict. It’s about understanding the “why” behind each other’s positions. This exploration can reveal that what seemed like an insurmountable problem is actually rooted in deeply personal hopes and fears.

For example, a conflict about finances might reveal underlying dreams of security for one partner and freedom for the other. Recognizing these underlying needs can transform the conversation from one of opposition to one of mutual support and understanding.

By working through gridlock in this way, couples can move from a place of stagnation and frustration to one of empathy, understanding, and respect for each other’s deepest desires. This not only alleviates the immediate tension but also strengthens the bond between partners, as they come to see each other as allies in achieving their dreams rather than obstacles.

Principle 7: Create Shared Meaning

The final principle in John Gottman’s guide to strengthening marriages focuses on building a shared sense of purpose and meaning within the relationship. This involves developing a culture together that incorporates both partners’ beliefs, values, dreams, and rituals of connection. It’s about more than just getting along or loving each other; it’s about creating a life together that is rich in shared meaning and purpose.

Building a Sense of Purpose and Shared Narratives

A strong relationship is underpinned by a sense of shared purpose that goes beyond the individuals and encompasses the partnership as a whole. This involves not only understanding and supporting each other’s individual dreams and goals but also creating common goals and dreams that you work towards together.

Developing Rituals of Connection

Rituals of connection are small but significant habits or traditions that a couple establishes to stay connected and create a sense of continuity and security within their relationship. These can range from daily routines, like having coffee together in the morning or walking the dog, to annual traditions, such as celebrating anniversaries in a special way or creating your own holiday traditions.

Supporting Each Other’s Roles and Goals

Part of creating shared meaning is recognizing and supporting the roles each partner plays in the relationship and in life. This includes understanding and valuing each other’s contributions to the relationship and the family, as well as supporting each other’s personal goals and aspirations.

  1. Dialogue About Your Dreams: Regularly discuss your hopes, dreams, and aspirations with each other. This can help align your goals and ensure you are both working towards a shared future.
  2. Establish Shared Goals: Identify areas where your aspirations converge and set goals that you can work towards together. This could be anything from financial objectives to lifestyle changes or family planning.
  3. Create Rituals and Traditions: Develop rituals that have special meaning for both of you. These can help reinforce your bond and create a sense of shared history over time.
  4. Show Appreciation for Each Other’s Roles: Acknowledge and express gratitude for the roles each of you plays in the relationship and in your shared life. This recognition fosters a sense of partnership and mutual respect.

By engaging in these practices, couples can deepen their connection and create a relationship that is not only about surviving the ups and downs of life together but thriving as a united, purposeful partnership. Creating shared meaning is about weaving a tapestry of experiences and dreams that reflects both partners and their journey together.


John Gottman’s “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” provides a comprehensive guide for couples looking to strengthen their marital bond. From enhancing love maps to creating shared meaning, each principle offers practical strategies for building a relationship that is rich in understanding, respect, and love.

Implementing these principles requires commitment, effort, and patience, but the rewards are immeasurable. A strong, healthy marriage not only provides a foundation of stability and happiness for the couple but also for any children and future generations. It’s about creating a legacy of love that withstands the test of time.

As we conclude this exploration of Gottman’s seven principles, it’s important to remember that the journey of marital improvement is ongoing. There will be challenges and setbacks, but with dedication to these principles, couples can navigate the complexities of marriage with grace and resilience. Here’s to building a life together filled with love, understanding, and shared meaning.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” May your relationships flourish and grow stronger with each passing day.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Summary
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Summary