Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

Published 31 May 2017

The book “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and How You Can Make Yours Last” provides clear and thoughtful explanations of the question which interest million of married and unmarried people all over the world: why some marriages are successful, whereas others are complete failure? The book is presented as the result of twenty years researches tending to reveal the dynamic of relations of married couples. John Gottman, the author of the book, analyzes the current trends in marriages and divorce rates as well as he states that there is little evidence which examine the dissolution of marital relations.

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The author claims that past years were characterized by majority of books and other printed materials aimed at providing recommendations to married couples how to make their marriages successful, but the book very based mainly on experiences of marital therapists. In his turn, Gottman states that current findings and suggestions on marriages are “flawed”. (p.15) Therefore, Gottman says that the purpose of his study is to “share our latest results with you and to offer my best understanding of just how you can strengthen your marriage”. (p.16) Gottman sees his book as a tool to assist unmarried, successfully married and those married couples who are struggling to keep their marriage.

Firstly, the author provides explanation of three main types of successful and stable marriages defining them as validating marriage style, conflict-avoiding marriage style and volatile marriage style:

  • Validating style suggests that couples are ready to find compromises and to solve problems together to mutual satisfaction.
  • Conflict-avoiding style suggests that couples rarely conflict with each other trying to keep their disagreement and problems inside.
  • Volatile style suggests that couples are rarely conflicting, but such conflicts always result in passionate disputes.

Gottman provides in-depth analysis of all marriage style and illustrates case studies from his working experience to prove his position. It is interesting to note that the author provides self-test to diagnose your own marriage style (if you are married, of course). For Gottman, the key to successful marriage is a simple formula: “no matter what style of marriage you have, you must have at least five times as many positive as negative moments together if your marriage is to be stable”. (p.29)

Secondly, after discussing stable marriages the author moves to analyzing two main styles of unstable marriages defining them as hostile/engaged marriage style and hostile/detached marriage style:
Hostile/engaged style similar to volatile style suggests that couples are conflicting frequently and intensively, but their disputes often involve putdowns, insults, name-calling, etc. Moreover, sarcasm is considered a major part of their everyday interactions.

Hostile/detached style suggests that couples may even scream at each other not listening to arguments. Such people are detached, defensive towards each other, and they are emotionally detached.

Gottman asserts that these types of unstable marriage are marital disasters. One more interesting moment is that the author has managed to analyse biological and social differences between males and females and how they affect romantic relations and marriage. Gottman works out a social development theory examining why men are less emotional in marriages than women. As it is mentioned above, after discussing unstable styles the author provides also self-tests summarizing all points made above. Basing on the results of all tests taken, the author makes suggestions and provides recommendations how to improve the situation. Finally, two last chapters of the book are devoted to working out simple and effective strategies how to improve marital relations and to make your marriage successful and stable. Actually, the author is willing to teach couples how to be effective listener. It is seen from the book that Gottman does appreciate the role of empathy, non-defensiveness, reflective listening, and non-verbal communication stressing that they are keys to success and stability in marriage. Finally, the author provides research-based recommendations how to continue to make your marriage stronger after having reached stability.

Speaking about weaknesses or negative moments it is necessary to underline that John Gottman is psychologists and, therefore, he creates and defines his own jargon causing difficulties in reading and comprehending the material. It means that readers many become overwhelmed with new terminology and definition. Moreover, some chapters provide explanation of methodologies and protocols used in research. Other psychologies will definitely appreciate this moment, but average reader may find it boring and not interesting as he is interested in reasons and solutions.

However, overall the book is excellent and very informative. Apparent strength is that the author provides keen insight how to improve marital relations, whereas all his suggestions are research-based. The book is a well-organized research of the questions posted with clear outline and is written with many easy definitions. One more positive moment is that Gottman provides real life examples to provide his ideas and suggestions. So, the benefit of the book is that it has strong research foundation.

Self-tests are also important as they help to keep readers engaged in reading further and they are practical, insightful and very useful. The book helps to understand marital relations and provides ways of the improving. For example, chapter three “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” is of great importance as the author discusses different types of negativity and unstable marriages. Summing up, this book should be recommended for those who are interested in improving marital and interpersonal relations. All ideas in the book are not limited only to those who are married.


  • Gottman, John. (2004). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and How You Can Make Yours Last. New York: Fireside Books.
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