From Dr. Jane's Notebook
The Growing Need for Marital Education
I recently attended the Second Annual Conference of the Coalition for Marriage, Family
and Couples Education held in Washington, D.C. The theme of this international conference
was "Smart Marriages, Happy Families". The focus of the conference was on
Marital and Relationship Education. The mission: To reduce the chronically high rate of
divorce which has exceeded 50% for several decades now.
Over the four day period, internationally renowned marriage researchers reported their
findings and made recommendations. Among them was Dr. John Gottman of the Seattle Marital
and Family Institute, who recently received much publicity for his marriage research. He
was joined by his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Together, they described their theory
for a "Sound Marital House". Here are a few of the marriage tips that I brought
- Every marriage partner has a Love Map. Love Maps are composed of the
unique attitudes and preferences of your spouse. The idea is that in order to fully
appreciate your partner's world, you must continuously learn about him/her as a person. It
is not enough to know someone for a long time, you must also keep your information
- You must cultivate your fondness and admiration for your mate. Fondness
and admiration were present when you and your mate first met. Recall the qualities which
attracted you to your partner. Some couples seem to naturally relate to each other like a
"mutual admiration society". Most couples, however, must cultivate their ability
to convey positive feelings towards their spouse. The idea is that fondness and admiration
can grow on their own in the relationship for a little while; but like a garden, positive
feelings must be deliberately nurtured on a daily basis.
- Good communication requires good repair techniques. Repair techniques
are ways of communicating that seek to repair conflicts as they arise. For example, with
the realization that you have just offended your partner, you might try to repair damage
done by the insult with some damage-control comments, such as retracting the insult or
apologizing. Repair techniques are essential for management of conflict.
- For best results, choose a 'softened' Start-Up Technique. Start-up
techniques are ways of bringing up difficult topics. Harsh start-ups may evoke strong
negative reactions from your partner, such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or
stone-walling (emotional withdrawal). Gottman's research suggests that stable couples tend
to bring topics up "softly", and they maintain a low volume during discussions
in order to manage conflict while they talk about problems.
- Work on your marital friendship. Try to limit conflict. Realize that
not all differences between spouses have to be resolved; you won't agree on everything.
Build up an emotional bank account of positive feelings and actions in the relationship to
buffer the negative times between you. Be aware of when you are carrying a chip on your
shoulder, when you are taking things too personally, or when you feel in competition with
your spouse to prove who is right. Whenever possible, support and honor each other's
dreams, accept each other's influence, and look for positive motives in your spouse's
The general consensus of the Smart Marriages, Happy Families conference was
that people can learn relationship skills, communication skills, and problem-solving
skills. One assumption is that the chronically high divorce rate is largely due to the
lack of these skills. To combat the high rates of divorce and domestic violence, some
communities have implemented city-wide campaigns for marriage education programs. Domestic
court judges, mayors, school counselors, and therapists issued their strong support for
providing relationship education through the schools. As one presenter so aptly stated, in
addition to sex education, our children are in need of 'love' education.
ęCopyright, 1998, 1999 by Jane R. Rosen-Grandon, Ph.D.
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Last Updated February 27, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon,