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  • Ang Bee

How To Make Your Marriage Work!

Updated: Jan 25, 2019

Around this time of year, we see more people getting engaged and fairy-tale weddings. Although more individuals are vowing to cherish one another until death do they part, the odds of them keeping that promise are unpromising. According to recent statistics, married couples in the U.S. have a 50% chance of ending in divorce. Divorce rates for second marriages are even higher at 60%. Shocking, right? So, what is causing marriages to fail at an alarming rate? Read on to find out what you should avoid to make your marriage work!

After four decades of extensive research, 3,000 case studies, and a 90% success rate, psychological researcher, Dr. John Gottman has discovered predictors that will determine if a marriage will end with divorce and when. Along with these predictors, he has identified key characteristics that will make a marriage successful. The negative predictors are referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…the first horseman up is criticism.


Complaining is completely normal in a relationship. However, when the complaint turns into criticism is where the problem lies. Criticism occurs when dissatisfaction is expressed in a way that attacks another’s personality or character. Too much criticism could cause psychological damage to your partner by lowering their self-esteem and ability to recognize their self-worth. The way you can identify whether you're criticizing someone is by your use of generalizations. "You’re always spending time with your friends", "You never think about anyone but yourself", are classic examples of criticism in relationships. Instead of criticizing, successful couples show their dissatisfaction by expressing how the unwanted behavior made them feel and what they would like to see done differently. When the action is addressed instead of the faulty character trait, the person receiving the information usually will listen without becoming defensive, which will allow the couple to resolve the issue by talking it through. This brings us to the next horseman...defensiveness.


Once a person feels criticized and their character under attacked, it's natural for them to defend their honor. The problem with being defensive is it limits the ability to be receptive to hearing different perspectives. This limitation makes communicating very difficult. Defensiveness can appear in two forms: cross-complaining where one complaint is met with an another from the opposing partner, or victimization where a person creates excuses for their behavior to appear as the victim. The best way to combat defensiveness is to really hear why your partner is upset, acknowledge their concern, and accept responsibility for your actions and how you made them feel.


According to Gottman’s research, contempt within a marriage is the number one indicator that it will end in divorce. Contempt seeps into a relationship when negative interactions and thoughts have accumulated to a point where one partner perceives themselves as superior to the other. As a result, the one which holds contempt will express their disgust by speaking down to their mate, through verbal attacks, and even gestures. If contempt is not kept at bay, it can open the door for verbal, and in some cases physical abuse. One way to avoid contempt in your marriage is to never lose focus of the positive qualities your mate possesses. Make a daily habit of reminding yourself why you love your partner and find ways to express your appreciation.


After being overwhelmed with criticism, contempt, and defending themselves to no avail, one can slip into the bad habit of stonewalling. Stonewalling is where one spouse no longer feels the need to respond in arguments or to resolve issues with their mate – they emotionally withdraw from disagreements. Stonewalling conveys to the spouse on the receiving end, their mate no longer cares about they have to say or their feelings. They may feel completely ignored - which we all know can add fuel to the fire. The victim in this situation will do almost anything to be heard by their partner which may include yelling or becoming violent. Within successful marriages, each partner provides verbal and non-verbal cues to let the other know they are being heard. A simple acknowledgement or head nod can go a long way during a disagreement.

What can I do to make my marriage work?

Let's face it, conflict is inevitable in any relationship. However, the way you handle it can serve as building blocks in your marriage. Gottman's studies shows successful marriages have a ratio of 5-to-1 positive to negative interactions. Keeping this healthy balance counteracts the impact of negative experiences that have a greater impact than our positives ones. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of your marriage, acknowledge the positive things your partner does.

Successful marriages also have a strong foundation of friendship and mutual respect. This foundation is the basis of resolving any conflict within a relationship. To build and maintain friendship and respect in your relationship, you must “enhance the love map” to your partner. Keep interest in the relationship by continuously learning about them. What are their interests and disinterests? How do they feel about certain topics? What are their current dreams and aspirations? Ask questions no matter how long you’ve been together!

Lastly, air out your resentments and concerns. A healthy argument could actually bring you and your partner closer together. Arguments typically involve matters close to the heart. Be gentle with one another during this time and communicate with the intent to understand each other’s perspective.

I hope this information is useful in building your long-lasting marriage. Best of luck.

Share your comments and thoughts below!

Sources: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman, Ph.D., with Nan Silver. Copyright (C) 1994 by John Gottman. <>); Making Marriage Work Video | Dr. John Gottman - YouTube via Gottman Institute

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