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7 Secrets of a Happy Marriage Revealed by a Relationship Expert

7 Secrets of a Happy Marriage Revealed by a Relationship Expert
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To use the words of Dr. John Gottman (founder of The Gottman Institute, with over 40 years of research into married couples) – Are you a “Relationship Master” or a “Relationship Disaster”?

Understanding the keys to a happy marriage could mean the difference between making or breaking your relationship with your significant other.

In this article, we explore the 7 secrets (also known as Principles) for a happy marriage revealed by Dr. Gottman himself (in collaboration with Nan Silver) in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

1. Enhance Your Love Maps

This principle is based on understanding your partner and their world, to help maintain intimacy and better prepare you both to deal with stressful events and conflict that may arise in your marriage. Gottman calls this having a “love map” of your partner.

Make Your Own Love Maps

Write down then discuss information about your partner including:

  • Important people in your partner’s life (friends, potential friends, rivals/enemies)
  • Recent important events in their life
  • Upcoming events
  • Current stresses / worries
  • Hopes / dreams / aspirations

“Who am I” Self-Exploration Exercise

Write down then discuss:

  • My triumphs and strivings
  • My injuries and healing
  • My emotional world
  • My mission and legacy
  • Who I want to become

2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

This principle is based on working to increase, recall or unearth positive emotions about each other. The fondness and admiration aspects of your relationship are the antidote to contempt.

Start by Writing ‘I Appreciate…’

Then list 3 or more positive characteristics that you appreciate about your partner, along with a memory or specific example of each one, then share it with your partner.

For example:

“I appreciate that you always know how to cheer me up. The other day when I had a really hard day at work, you cooked dinner, put on a funny movie and let me vent to you about what was bothering me, this helped me and I felt so much better afterwards.”

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Highlight the Positive History of Your Relationship, and What Brought You Together as a Couple

Reminiscing about the positive parts of your time together, and why you were drawn to each other is a great way to bring your focus back to you as a couple.

3. Turn Towards Each Other, and Not Away

This principle is based on the idea of staying positively connected. According to Gottman,

“[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

This is referred to as turning towards your partner’s “bids” for emotional connection.

When you turn towards, you engage with your partner and let them know you value their presence and what they have to say. You can turn towards by making eye contact, smiling, and responding with validation. It also adds to the “emotional bank account” and allows for greater leeway during conflict.

Relationship Masters turn towards each other 86% of the time; Relationship Disasters turn towards each other a mere 33% of the time.

Turning towards creates:

  • Trust
  • Emotional connection
  • Passion
  • Satisfying sex life

Gottman’s top tips to practice Turning Towards your partner’s emotional bids:

  1. Take turns to speak
  2. Don’t give advice, just listen
  3. Show genuine interest
  4. Communicate your understanding
  5. Take your partner’s side
  6. Express a ‘we against others’ attitude
  7. Express affection
  8. Validate emotions (empathize)

4. Let Your Partner Influence You

This principle is about making decisions together and looking for common ground (sharing the power in your marriage).

Letting your partner influence you isn’t about having one person in control of everything; it’s about honouring and respecting both people in the relationship.

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Listening to your partner and being open to compromise and /or changing your opinion, instead of digging your heels in just to be right are some of the essential ingredients in this principle.

Answer Gottman’s quiz questions to see how well you accept your partner’s influence (challenging yourself by thinking how you would answer these questions during conflict):

  1. I am interested in my partner’s opinions on issues in our relationship. (True/False)
  2. I don’t try to convince my partner to see things my way all the time. (True/False)
  3. I don’t reject my partner’s opinions every time we argue. (True/False)
  4. I believe my partner has important things to say and value them. (True/False)
  5. I believe we are partners with equal say in our relationship. (True/False)

If you said “true” to all of the above, you are likely to accept your partner’s influence.

5. Solve Your Solvable Problems

This principle is about problem solving and communication.

According to Gottman, there are two types of marital problems: conflicts that can be resolved and perpetual problems that can’t be solved. It’s important for couples to determine what they are experiencing in their marriage.

Here’re Gottman’s top tips to solve your solvable problems:

Soften Your Startup

Start the conversation without contempt or criticism. One way you can do this is to make statements which start with “I” instead of “you”.

Learn to Make and Receive Repair Attempts

In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to start the ‘blame game’ and go into attack mode when your partner attempts to ease the disagreement by apologising or taking responsibility for the issue.

Consider this example:

Person A: “I know I messed up here, can we please talk about this later?”

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The blame game option would be for Person B to say something like “yes, you have messed up, I’m so annoyed with you and I want to sort this out now”.

Notice the difference if Person B said “thank you for saying that, yes let’s talk about it later when we’ve both calmed down”.

It’s important to learn to acknowledge and receive repair attempts. And also, to learn to make repair attempts yourself.

Soothe Yourself and Then Your Partner

When tension is at an all-time high, it is nearly impossible to rationally see things from your partner’s point of view or even to communicate exactly what you want to say without it potentially being misunderstood.

If you feel yourself getting heated during a conversation, let your partner know that you’re overwhelmed and take a 20-minute break (the usual amount of time it takes for your body to calm down). You can also try closing your eyes, taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and visualizing a calm, happy place.

After you’ve calmed down, you can try to help soothe your partner. Ask each other what’s most comforting and do that.

Compromise

When conflicts arise, it’s important to take your partner’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. Also, a part of accepting influence, compromise is an important part of reaching amicable solutions.

Be Tolerant of Each Others’ Faults

This step is about being tolerant of your partner’s vulnerabilities and ineffective conversational habits, keeping the focus on shared concern for the well-being of the relationship.

6. Overcoming Gridlock

This principle is about overcoming gridlock through open communication with your partner about your hopes, aspirations, and life goals.

Gridlock in a marriage is just like gridlock in traffic – where you are at a complete standstill because you both disagree on how to move forward. A couple can experience gridlock on any issue, and often the more gridlocked they are in an argument, the more gridlocked they become on other things as well.

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Through his research, Gottman has uncovered that gridlock is often caused when people’s deepest dreams and desires are blocked. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other achieve their dreams, and move past these blocks.

According to Gottman,

“Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.”

Here’re Gottman’s top tips to overcome gridlock:

  1. Empathize with your partner – find out their side of the story, listen carefully and empathize.
  2. Be respectful – think about what kind of partner you want to be, and what kind of partner they would want to be with.
  3. Make temporary compromises – find common ground and make compromises to get out of the gridlocked state.
  4. Recall the honeymoon phase – remember the early days of getting to know each other, when you weren’t trying to change one another, you were curious about the person you just met.

7. Creating Shared Meaning

This principle is about developing shared meaning together over a longer period of time to build a deeper connection in your marriage.

Shared meaning encompasses a couple’s legacy – the stories they tell, their beliefs, and the culture they create to form a shared meaning system.

Part of building a relationship that is full of meaning is prioritizing time and resources into the relationship; and having shared goals and a shared vision for your future.

Couples who take the time to create shared meaning and goals they can work towards together are more likely to experience deeper intimacy – a hallmark of matured and lasting love.

Here’re Gottman’s top tips to build a stronger marriage with shared meaning:

  1. Share a common dream or vision
  2. Create daily or weekly rituals of connection
  3. Implement your shared goals

The Bottom Line

By following these 7 Principles (or Secrets) and really exploring what you can each bring to the relationship, couples can cultivate long lasting, happy marriages.

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You can learn more about Dr. Gottman, his research and work with his wife Dr. Julie at The Gottman Institute.

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

More by this author

Amy Milnes

A relationship coach empowering people to create and maintain loving and lasting relationships.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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