Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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Friendship makes marriages a success

By Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY

Despite what many marital therapists teach, communicating well and learning how to solve conflicts are not the keys to preserving marriage, says a new report on 25 years of landmark marital research.

Even happy couples can't "validate" each other in the middle of an argument or use the rules for fighting fair that therapists favor, says John Gottman, a University of Washington psychology professor who says his research can be used to predict, with 91% accuracy, whether a couple will stay together.

He bases his findings in part on his study of 650 couples tracked for 14 years; the couples have not been in therapy. Part of his research involves observing partners interacting in a lab setting, as well as conducting periodic, extensive interviews.

Most couples really can't solve the core issues they argue about over and over again; they'd be better off to make peace with the problem to some degree and accept their differences, says Gottman in his book out this week, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Crown, $23).

The linchpin of a lasting marriage, Gottman finds, is a simple concept with a profound impact: friendship. Successful couples have "a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other's company."

Couples who last "know each other intimately -- they are well versed in each other's likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness" in big and little ways, day in and day out.

The quality of their friendship also is the determining factor in whether couples are satisfied with the sex, romance and passion in their marriages, Gottman finds.

Successful couples don't let the negative thoughts they have about each other -- which all couples have -- outweigh the positive ones. And when they do disagree, they make frequent "repair attempts" to fix the damage; their friendship ensures attempts are accepted.

Suggesting that men and women come from different planets, such as Mars and Venus, doesn't help, Gottman says. "Gender differences may contribute to marital problems, but they don't cause them."

In successful couples, husbands can be influenced by wives, as well as the other way around, Gottman finds. That doesn't mean the husband is a "wimp," Gottman says, but rather that there is reciprocity in the relationship.

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