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After watching marriage-advice books catalyze the destruction of my first marriage, I did not think I would find myself reading any more of these books soon. But I heard an interview with Dr Gottman on National Public Radio and I was so impressed that I ran out, bought the book and read it. The thing that makes the book so good is that it is based on rigorous, scientific research (you know, set up an experiment, collect data, look for patterns in the data without inserting your own preconceptions and report it). Although I found that most of Dr. Gottman's findings were not particularly surprising, I still found the book to be extremely useful because out of the many possible things a person could do to improve their marriage, this book tells you which ones really matter. The book also gave me a good sense of the problems that are encountered in happy marriages. For example, about 60% of the conflicts that happily married couples have are unresolvable (perpetual). This fact alone would have helped my first marriage a lot considering all the good will that we burned up trying to solve problems that were not solvable. Dr Gottman found that happy couples accept that these problems are unresolvable and can learn to live with them without damaging their relationship. As an analogy he points out that people with bad elbows can live very rich and rewarding lives as long as they don't make playing tennis a central part of their lives. In summary this is a great book that people who don't like marriage advice books can enjoy (as well as those who do).
I practiced psychotherapy in New York City for fourteen years. Though I had training as a marriage counselor in addition to my main training as a psychotherapist, I turned away more couples than I accepted. Most years, I didn't take on more than one or two couples, if that. There were many reasons for this, but fundamentally it was that marriage counseling rarely works. (About thirty-five to forty percent of the time, and half of those relapse, according to the best research.) I had made a vow when I went into training that I would never take on patients that I did not honestly believe I could help. (I can't say that I kept that vow sterling, being human--but I tried.) Most couples, I believed, could not be helped, so I didn't want to take their money or waste their time. In hard, cold truth, most of what most marriage counselors teach is just made up. Concocted. Without any sound research base. That's just a fact. When I was in training, I was utterly shocked at this. I was appalled at the simple-minded dogmatism of marriage-counseling orthodoxy. Most mental health care has a flimsier basis in research than its proponents admit (or even know, often), but in marriage counseling, the paucity of good research was almost total. (This evaluation of the low scientific basis of mental health care is not some private crackpot theory of mine; I wrote it up in my book "Cultures of Healing," which was published by the book-publishing arm of Scientific American in 1995 and will be republished, under a different title--"Health and Suffering in America: The Context and Content of Mental Health Care"--next year by Transaction Publishers/Rutgers.Read more ›
A very reasonable as well as scientific approach to marriage. Many marriage-oriented books offer logical short-term band-aids (e.g., focusing on perceived Mars/Venus gender differences, communicating better, smoothing over conflicts) that make for a provocative read and/or admirable goals, but by and large fail in the long-run to resuscitate shaky marriages. Gottman creates a path for marital success via theories and exercises with an established track record for success. Many people wouldn't think that a fit marriage has to be exercised regularly, no less than one's body through regular workouts. Gottman's book serves as the ultimate guide to marital fitness, yet is a valuable read even if you are unmarried or have already experienced a failed marriage. Good marriages don't necessarily have less conflicts than bad ones. Gottman gets under the surface and digs into such deeper issues as the maintaining of HONOR and RESPECT for your partner in the heat of all-too-common battles. Along the way he punches holes in a lot of marriage-counseling paradigms. In short, this book can improve a good marriage (or any similiar commitment between two people), heal a salvagable one, or explain why a bad one got to or beyond the point of no return. Or even serve as a form of CRUCIAL pre-marital counseling. My question, why isn't there a mandatory course in marriage at the high school level that incorporates Gottman's research? Wouldn't the knowledge gained be of as much or more importance than any other accumulated as teenagers head into adulthood? I consider topics such as those raised by Gottman to be of enormous value for my daughters to read (and discuss!) when they reach their mid-teens...better too early than too late!