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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2003
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. My point here is not to plug my book so much as to tell you that I know whereof I speak, and to encourage you to take my recommendation here seriously.)
If I had known John Gottman's work back then, I would have had an entirely different approach to treating couples, and I would have taken more of them on. (No one in my three years of training ever mentioned Gottman, and I went to a pretty respectable institute. Gottman is just so at odds with conventional wisdom in the field that he wasn't even taken seriously.)
Gottman's opinions--though he denies that they are opinions--are based on admirable, extensive, carefully analyzed research. While there is much to criticize methodologically about this research, and it certainly is nowhere near as conclusive as he says, at least he has done real work--not sat around making stuff up and pawning it off on students and patients. His is the best research of which I (now, many years later) know. Even if it isn't knock-down-drag-out conclusive, it is much better to have opinions based on extensive research and attempts to understand it rigorously than on no research, wild speculation, wishful thinking, and wooly feelings. Gotttman's opinions are very good, for the most part.
This book does a nice job of conveying the gist of his work, in clear, practical form.
In my experience, most marriage counselors do more harm than good and teach more made-up nonsense that practical wisdom. So unless you can find someone who trained with Gottman, I'd say DON'T go to a marriage counselor--buy this book.
If you ARE seeing a marriage counselor, read this book and discuss with your counselor where his or her views differ. Ask for the basis for what your counselor does differently. Maybe it will make sense. But if your counselor is not open to the possibility of modifying his or her approach based on what you find valuable here, at least for your therapy, fire him. Or her. Whatever. Just run.

Why only four stars? Two reasons: (1) Gottman does not allow that for some significant minority, the difficluties in marriage are much more complex and intractable. E.g., while he is right that ordinary neuroses themselves do not kill marriage--so long as you marry someone whose neuroses match up with yours, or who can tolerate yours--it is certainly the case that some mental illnesses, such as paranoia and borderline personality, make marriage extremely hard. (2) A little humility on Gottman's part would make this book much easier to read and leave more room for the intelligent, wise reader to disagree, modify, and make it his or her own. Gottman is much too taken with himself, and while his research is more extensive and careful than most anything else done in the field, marriage counseling ain't physics (or biology or even sociology), and it certainly should not be granted the authority Gottman claims for it.
This isn't the final word on marriage, but it is about the best of the overly-many words that have heretofore been uttered.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2004
A friend of mine lent me a copy of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and said: "What do you think of this?" I read it and thought I would share my answer which is - it's a "fun read". Any author who calls his university's marital research laboratory a "love lab" has to have a sense of humor! And while this is true, this book is by no means frivolous.
John M. Gottman has crafted a highly readable, practical guide for "making marriages work" that is based on over sixteen years of extensive academic research. Based on what he has learned, he debunks the myths most commonly articulated as causes for failed marriages, talks about six warning signs he uses to predict divorce with an accuracy of 91% and then suggests seven principles he finds have been useful for couples interested in strengthening their commitment and their marriage.
Interestingly, Mr. Gottman discredits the notion of many traditional marriage counselors (a group to which he confesses to have been a member at an earlier stage of his career) who are quick to suggest that "an enduring, happy marriage" is all about good communications and "learning to resolve your conflicts." The problem, Gottman says, is that this approach just doesn't work.
Mr. Gottman says the simple truth, based on his research, is that "happy marriages are based on a deep friendship" - mutual respect, enjoyment of each other's company. This deep friendship is something he says can be developed and he provides many, many exercises related to each of his principles for couples to use as a framework for doing so.
As I was reading this book, I thought of another book I have read recently that might also be of interest to those looking for magic in their relationships. It's called "Working on Your Relationship Doesn't Work" by Ariel and Shya Kane. Both the Gottman and the Kane books are great reads and can be used to compliment each other.
The Gottman book is more analytical and the exercises provide examples of an applied methodology for change and improvement - a "change model." The Kanes focus on awareness in an anthropological sense of looking purely and non-judgmentally at "what is"--of one's own behaviors and of the behaviors of others. In their view, awareness without judgment is the vehicle for personal transformation, greater satisfaction and a magical relationship. Interesting contrast in approach--I think you'll like it.
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Many people have asked me where to turn for advice when relationship problems begin. Many cannot afford the cost of counselling fees, and free services do not always have professional or qualified advisors. The question usually arises, "Are there any self-help books you would recommend?" This one will definitely be added to the list. "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" is based on some basic common sense values, yet they are not always practised in everyday life. Communication, honesty, trust and treating your partner with respect still top the list. With so many different types of families today, blended families, some legally married, some not, I would have prefered the authors make an effort to recognize all meaningful relationships with a commitment by titling the book, "the Seven Principles for Making Meaningful Relationships Work," and for this reason I gave the book four starts rather than five.
Schools teach us some very important elements, but two areas where they fall short is failing to teach money management, and failing to teach relationship values and communication. Unless you have zero money or an endless supply of it, everyone needs to manage money and most of us will, at some point in time, develop an intimate relationship with another individual. Schools teach us how to read, write and all that good stuff, but they do not teach us how to survive in the REAL WORLD! With the high divorce rate and relationship failures, there is clear evidence many couples can certainly use some help and advice in both these areas.
"The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" focuses on developing strong, positive meaningful relationships and how to keep that nurturing love and respect for each other. Regardless of whether your relationship is in deep trouble or you simply want to enhance the wonderful relationship you have, I highly recommend this excellent self-help book. It is one of the best books on this topic in the marketplace - sincere best wishes for your future happiness.
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on February 13, 2000
If you can get past the trite "Seven Fill in the Blank Habits" title of this book, more than likely thought of by the editor and not the author, you will be rewarded by some of the best writing on marriages around.
I bought this book at the recommendation of a friend who isn't even married but thinks so highly of the book that she is using it for a current relationship she is in right now. I bought it expecting yet another "Men are From.. Women are From...." books but have been very impressed with the actionable insight the authors have about the dynamics of relationships and what makes them work.
I've already begun to use the exercises in the book to work with my Wife and am feeling very positive about the results.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2012
I felt that this book was an easy and interesting read, and is likely valuable for most couples, whether you're married or not, or whether or not you're having troubles. It has some fun activities to get to know your partner better.
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on December 5, 2014
Good book, but I'm not 100% sure that it's accurate. It's a good perspective though. There is no one recipe to make a marriage work. I know couples that always put each other down, but they are happy together and will die together.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2005
It seems as if there is a gluttony of books that want to oversimplify complex processes (marriage, family, and parenting). Just look at many of the top sellers. You will see things like Seven Principles, Step-by-Step Plans, The Ultimate this and that. I am a marriage and family therapist and previewed The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work as a potential resource for the couples I work with. Sure, the principles are sound and they are common knowledge (nothing new here), but the depth detail is lacking. This falls into the category of one of those fad books that are fun to read but unlikely to result in healthy long term benefit. I think, and this is often an un-politically correct statement, we should avoid those easy answers and dare to explore the complexities that are associated with success. There are few books on the market that I think do this well. Compare "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" to another book like "Systemic Parenting: An Exploration of the Parenting Big Picture" and you will see what I'm talking about. Systemic Parenting is both entertaining and deals with the depth of the subject. I think I would rather recommend the latter book to the couples that come into my office than the former. Don't let the name fool you, Systemic Parenting is about relationships and it is probably one of the most detailed books out there. I would forgo The Seven Principles unless you are looking for entertaining, but empty information.
Kay
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on August 18, 2013
I still have not read this entire book, but what I have read I liked and could apply the content to my own life and relationship. It was good.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2013
The book was very helpful and made a lot of sense. It was easy to read and didn't take long to get through.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2014
The book is very practical in it's approach.
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