Psychologists know so much about how relationships work that it’s sad to see so many people struggling to establish and maintain a loving connection in their life. The world’s foremost relationship researcher is John Gottman, who has identified “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” Couples who are able to live by all seven principles, Gottman’s studies show, have a 92 percent probability that their relationship will be very happy over the next five years.

Gottman’s first principle centers around the concept of “mapping,” that is, maintaining an understanding of the important elements of your partner’s day-to-day life. Happy couples spend at least 20 minutes a day in conversations designed to keep each other in touch with the significant events that are unfolding in their partner’s life. The most effective means for making this happen is to establish a daily ritual, e.g. turning the TV off and talking together after dinner.

The second principle involves the quality of the response that’s made by the partner who is listening to the story being told by their significant other during these daily encounters. Obviously a negative response is a conversation killer, but even a ho-hum response throws a wet blanket on the interaction.

It’s extremely important that the listener express empathy for their partner’s struggles and show excitement about their successes. This forms a foundation of fondness and admiration, and provides a crucial element of support that is essential for maintaining a close connection. To build this element into your relationship, maintain steady eye contact during the conversation in order to be able to read the emotions that accompany your partner’s story and then reflect those feelings in a strong show of support when you respond.

The third principle concerns how you respond to your partner when they’re unhappy — especially when their dissatisfaction involves you. You have three choices for how to react: 1. Turn away and withdraw. 2. Turn against your partner by counterattacking. 3. Turn toward your partner in order to understand the situation that is upsetting them. Choice one and two are clear predictors of failure in a relationship.

Learning how to turn toward your partner when they’re distressed is one of the defining characteristics that leads to happiness for couples. Understanding and empathizing with your partner’s negative emotions is an essential skill to develop. The best way to accomplish this feat is to ask numerous questions in order to fully grasp the details of the situation that led to their distress, and then to show support for your spouse by communicating your understanding of the situation. Validate their emotions by letting them know that you can see their point of view. Then, and only then, offer a suggestion or inquire as to how you can help make the situation better in the future. If you’re the person who’s unhappy, remember that you are seeking a solution to make things right rather than wanting to be right by making your partner wrong.

The fourth principle involves partners treating each other with respect, which is most frequently exemplified by power-sharing and joint decision-making. A wonderful way to upgrade your relationship is to establish a rule that all decisions must be mutually acceptable, or the conversation must continue (perhaps at a later time) until such a solution is reached.

The fifth principle is communicating that you like and accept your partner as they are. To do this requires that you continually remind yourself of all the wonderful elements of your partner’s personality, and that even though they have some terribly annoying habits, they are still worthy of being loved. A terrific technique for enhancing this element is for partners to make it a daily habit to share three good things they appreciate about each other.

The sixth principle is to learn how to deal with perpetual problems. Since neither party is perfect there will always be unresolved issues, and the goal is to be able to talk about them without hurting each other. Often the source of perpetual problems is an underlying fear that one of your dreams will never be fulfilled. Resolution involves couples developing clarity about what’s most important to each of them.

The seventh principle is to develop shared goals that serve to support each other in achieving each person’s dreams. Goals are a translation of a vague wish into a specific action plan. Couples who encourage each other to keep working toward their dreams develop a deep spiritual bond because they’re helping make each other’s lives meaningful.

Read article at:, By TOM MUHA, For The Capital, Published 03/04/12,