Academic journal article Family Relations

Book Reviews -- Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman

Academic journal article Family Relations

Book Reviews -- Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman

Article excerpt

New York: Simon & Schuster. 234 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-671-86748-2, price $21.00.

The central message of this book is that marital stability and satisfaction result from teachable conflict-management skills, not (as Gottman notes popular myths and misguided research suggest) from compatibility, increased sex, or money. The book is organized into three parts: (a) review of marital satisfaction and styles, (b) focus on marital conflict patterns, and (c) ideas for improving marital attitudes and interactions.

In the first part, three interactive styles are introduced: (a) validating partners who value affection and compromise, (b) volatile pairs who skirmish and make up with passion, and (c) conflict avoiders who rarely confront and often agree to disagree. Each, he asserts, can bring happiness so long as positives outweigh negatives. Mock dialogues, realistic examples, and diagnostic questions punctuate descriptions of and recommendations for each style.

The process of "marital meltdown," imaginatively labelled "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," describes open hostility and detachment behaviors evident in all marital styles: (a) criticism--tainting healthy complaints with personal attacks; (b) contempt--adding self-righteous sarcasm; (c) defensiveness--over-sensitive reactivity to criticism and contempt; and (d) stonewalling rituals of silence, passive agreement, and walking out. Excuse making, mindreading, and cross-complaining defensiveness are discussed as changeable behaviors (rather than intractible dispositions) and systemic issues (rather than individual problems). Even though offering logical explanations of conflict behaviors, the author remains sensitive to the positive intentions and painful choices behind complaints, defensiveness, or emotional withdrawal. Diagnostic questions and illustrations help distinguish occasional conflicts from chronic negativity cycles. The book does not address psychodynamic origins of behavioral problems. However, for functional couples, "repair mechanisms" are offered in the form of "I" messages, desensitization strategies, incremental change, and metacommunication. …

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