Gottman, John M. and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. Three Rivers Press, 1999. *
John Gottman has spent decades studying couples’ relationships in his Love Lab. He shifted the couple’s therapy field from the creed that teaching communication skills was key to determining through careful research that excellent communication skills alone can’t save a marriage or maintain its contentedness. Gathering physiological data (heart rate, etc) during along with long-term follow-up, Gottman has been able to predict with eerie accuracy if a couple will eventually divorce. In Seven Principles, Gottman shares the principles for a solid, happy marriage that he saw over and over again in his research. To have a loving relationship, some of the things we must do are accept our partner’s influence, solve the solvable problems, find a way to maintain and be content and respectful with one another even in impasses, and get to know our sweetheart’s hopes, dreams, and what makes he or she feel loved (“love map”). This book is recommended for couple’s who are overall emotionally safe with one another as if there is not emotional safety, it would be incredibly difficult for readers to “hear”(read) and implement Gottman’s principles.
Gottman, John, M., Julie Schwartz Gottman, and Joan DeClaire. 10 Lessons to Transform your Marriage. Harmony Books, 2006.
Marriage affords an impeccable petri dish to put our vulnerabilities, insecurities, frustrations, and deepest fears into a changing and growing relational muck. While the muck’s composition is ultimately unique to each couple, mucks have some universal strands organized into ten complaints and criticisms that are discussed chapter by chapter. What this book delivers best is real-time transcribed conversations from real couples went to the Love Lab. Each couple has two conversations about a pressing problem or issue in the relationship. The first conversation in the lab occurs before working with Drs. Gottman, and the second transcribed conversation documents the discussion after counseling. Each conversation is spread out into two columns: the left column is the couple’s actual words, and the right column is John and Julie’s coding (what is a blaming, harsh statement? Did the partner deflect to avoid, or use humor to lighten up a tense moment) into positive or negative for the relationship. These add or subtract from the emotional bank account. Readers get a real-life comparison of each couple’s specific statements to the conversation and what they meant to the relationship. Essentially, it’s real-time, explicit examples of what to avoid or what to do more of. Start thinking like the Gottmans to avoid the four horsemen (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling) and to build that sound relationship house (see The Couple’s Syllabus review of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work to read about its building materials). The book also has lots of questionnaires to do individually or as a couple to grow understand and connect more deeply.
Johnson, Sue. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, and Company, 2008. *
Do you or your sweetheart get upset during a fight that seems way out of proportionn to the issue at hand, or do you find yourselves having the same fights that start and end the same way over and over again? John Bowlby through attachment theory found that children thrive when their parents are able to respond to their emotions, and Dr. Johnson has discovered and validated through scientific research that adults have the same needs of emotional support and emotional bonding. She argues that our emotions are “music” that spur us into action, and our music collides with our sweetheart’s, and we both act (“dance”). While music can spiral into positive cycles, we can get locked into negative cycles that while on the surface seem to be about an acute, discernible issue, these negative dances surrounded by deeper, more vulnerable attachment needs. Dr. Johnson walks readers in easy-to-understand language how to have seven-key conversations for understanding our negative interaction cycles, how and when our dances with our partner trigger deep emotions, and most importantly, how we can learn to ask our partner to “Hold Us Tight”. When we can hold our partner tight and allow ourselves to be held tight with our deepest emotions, we can shape our interaction cycles and repair and deepen our love relationship.
** Personal Note: My partner and I had a decent amount of relationship skills, but NOTHING CAN COMPARE to how close and safe we felt with one another once we learned to have Hold Me Tight conversations. My regret is not knowing sooner about this. If you decide to read only one book from my syllabus, this would be the one!
Lerner, Harriet. Why Won’t You Apologize: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts. Touchstone, 2017.
Psychologist Lerner (The Dance of Anger) delves into the power of apologies. Done right, they heal and heighten intimacy. Done wrong (or not at all), they can destroy bonds and in some cases retraumatize. Lerner explains why it is hard to apologize, why it is excruciating to hear silence or defensiveness in lieu of an apology, and how to vulnerably and responsibly say, “I’m sorry.” The book is written to be easily accessible to the nonclinician. Those familiar with current psychology, however, will recognize Lerner’s alignment with clinicians John Gottman and Sue Johnson. We are connected, we will screw up, and we can repair disagreements through de-escalation with sincere remorse. Most wonderfully, Lerner tackles absent apologies that hurt and demoralize. She considers forgiving vs. letting go and shows readers how to have one without the other. Her book is on par with Janis Abrahams Spring’s How Can I Forgive You? and a valuable addition to the forgiveness literature. VERDICT Highly recommended for mental health professionals and anyone struggling to offer an apology, hoping for one, or wishing to move on—with or without forgiving.
The above review was published in Library Journal and reproduced here with permission from the publication.
Spring, Janice A. How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To. Harper, 2004. *
Spring explores the process of forgiveness for both offender and hurt party. We can refuse to forgive as a shield of invulnerability (so we think) and hurt along just as much as if cheap forgiveness is our go-to move. We will find ourselves many times having something to forgive and also needing to earn forgiveness. Spring walks readers through the process of earning forgiveness, forgiving another person genuinely, or if forgiveness is not possible, encouraging acceptance of a situation for one’s own health and peace of mind. While a book discussing the freedom to not forgive may seem an odd choice on a repair bibliography, and immovable refusal to ever forgive is bad for a marriage (or any LTR), the way Spring covers the spectrum of forgiveness, including what the hurt party must do to earn forgiveness, can put in perspective for readers whether their harm-doer is truly seeking to empathize and tune into the injured party.
* See Also TRAUMA
Szuchman, Paula and Jenny Anderson. Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes. Random House, 2011.
With a clever title and a clever aim, Szuchman and Anderson seek to bring a relationship distress recession to your relationship. Each chapter illustrates one economic principle like loss aversion or moral hazard and its history and relevance to society at large and between individuals. Sometimes famous economists are profiled and behavioral economics research is cited. After principal introduction, the chapters segue into case studies of marriages encountering problems where (you guessed) applying research and insight about the economic principle is used to solve the relationship problem. Understanding and implementing solutions are facilitated by graphic tables and charts throughout the book. The book is engaging, attention-keeping, and jovial. Its strength (solutions backed by economics research) is also its weakness: it barely references clinical therapy literature. Dr. John Gottman, easily the most well-known relationship researcher, is only on one page, and his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, an experienced therapist and researcher as well, is completely absent. Backing up behavioral economics research with clinical literature could have given this book more gravitas. However, because behavioral economics looks at how people move in the market (a group of people interacting), readers can look at perpetual or acute relationship problems in a unique lens to hopefully support one another in developing a solution.
*See Also For Better…For Worse
Young-Eisendrath, Polly. Love Between Equals: Relationship as a Spiritual Path. Shambhala, 2019.*
Young-Eisendrath infuses her Buddhist faith into her clinical work as a therapist. As human beings, we are always operating under the conditions of interdependence, impermanence, and imperfection. We are all connected, despite our denial and our cultural pinnacle of independence. Everything, including our very bodies, will someday be no more. And despite our best efforts for control and perfection, nothing will ever be so. Newly in love, we see our lover through rose-colored glasses and our own glowing possibility. Once the infatuation passes, what we have idealized and overlooked in the relationship now is front and center to make peace with. While this stage often disappoints people, and the most dejected may constantly shuffle from relationship to relationship, the dissolving of that high allows for a truly intimate and loving connection that allows for conflict and disappointment and repair(imperfection), peace with relying on another person (interdependence), and cherishing the time we have together (impermanence). This is a great work that opens up love relationships to study in a Buddhist perspective.
See Also: For Better….For Worse
Most of these articles are going to be free online. If the article is not freely available, I will indicate that. In that case, check with your local librarians! Please first ask your librarian at your local library before buying online – many times you can get an article at no cost through one of your library’s databases or interlibrary loan.
Borresen, Kelsey. “9 Habits of People in the Healthiest Relationships.” Huffington Post, 1 March 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/habits-of-people-in-the-healthiest-relationships_n_58b72329e4b019d36d1022fa
Lerner, Harriet. “The Power of Apologizing: What It Takes to Be Really Sorry.” Psychotherapy Networker, March/April 2018, https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/article/1150/the-power-of-apologizing
Reynolds, Marcia. “5 Steps for Telling Someone They Hurt or Disrespected You.” Psychology Today, 13 March 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wander-woman/202103/5-steps-telling-someone-they-hurt-or-disrespected-you
Disclaimer: This site is informational only and its resources are not substitutions for professional therapy. If you need professional help, see the Find a Therapist page to locate a qualified mental health professional.