Read

How the Gottmans’ Research Saved Our Marriage

Published:
December 19, 2023
August 20, 2021
Learn how the Gottmans' research taught me how to save my marriage.|Learn how the Gottmans' research taught me how to save my marriage.

When I was in grad school, my dad generously offered to give me his old car. All I had to do was drive 56 hours there and back to pick it up. So, during fall break, I set out on a road trip with my boyfriend and my mom, blithely unaware of what could go wrong. 

Here’s one thing that went wrong: We didn’t understand South Dakota hunting seasons. Turns out, pheasant hunting is a big deal in those parts in November. Every hotel we stopped at had a “no vacancy” sign and a parking lot full of trucks loaded with crates of baying hunting dogs.

As midnight approached, the only place left for us was the South Dakota version of the roach motel from Schitt’s Creek. We slept in our clothes. If we had hats or anything else we could use to provide a barrier between our faces and the pillows, we used it. The doors were flimsy and didn’t lock securely — my mom slept in a chair shoved up against the door. Nobody slept soundly, and our skin prickled with imaginary cooties. As soon as the first glimmer of dawn broke on the horizon, we loaded up and were out of there.

The next day, we arrived safely, and I got my car and eventually married my boyfriend, so our stay is a story that we still like to tell — but it was hell to live through. 

The experience of staying in a “roach motel” is an image used by world-renowned relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman, and looking back, I can see that my husband and I spent more than just a single night in one.

For a time, our marriage was in crisis mode. We didn’t have any mentor couples we could rely on for advice. We didn’t have any local counselors we trusted not to waste our time in merry-go-round conversations we had already spent hours analyzing on our own. We were stuck and tired. 

The depressing irony is that we loved each other deeply but didn’t know how to make our relationship anything more than a seemingly useless tug on our heartstrings. We kept falling into communication snares and deep resentment patterns. 

When we had reached one of the lowest points in our marriage, I finally prayed and then searched online for help. That’s when I discovered the Gottmans, two amazing psychologists who work in a “love lab.” Over the years, they recorded thousands of hours of physiological and psychological data from couples communicating together. They discovered key, verifiable emotional patterns in what makes intimate relationships work. The Gottmans have honed their conclusions to the point that within 15 minutes of observing a couple, they can predict with 91 percent accuracy whether a relationship will stand the test of time or fall apart. 

As my husband and I read their book, What Makes Love Last, the image of the roach motel for relationships hit us hard. We knew the discomfort they described intimately. It starts when a couple no longer gives each other the benefit of the doubt in their daily interactions. Fear, mistrust, contempt, competitiveness, stonewalling, criticism — it’s a negative emotional spiral nobody wants to get trapped in, yet few know how to get out of on their own. Thousands of couples end up spending years in the roach motel. 

Most traditional marriage therapies give you a long list of things you are not supposed to do. In contrast, the Gottmans spotlight things that a couple can do to build positive equity into their relationship — all based on what they observed from successful, real couples. 

These practices didn’t take our stress away, but they taught us as a couple how to process it well. They didn’t magically stop us from fighting (the Gottmans actually think most conflict is healthy) but they did teach us how to fight with respect and dignity. Fundamentally, these habits taught us how to invest in our relationship to build a safeguard against the hard times that inevitably come with life. We began to build trust — over time, we wasted less and less emotional energy in the roach motel. 

One of my deepest regrets is that we didn’t find the Gottman principles sooner. I wish I could slip a book under the arm of the younger me as she raced down the aisle after getting married. It would have saved us years of deep mistrust. But I’m glad we found this research when we did — it saved our marriage.

Creators:
Amelia Ruggaber
Published:
December 19, 2023
August 20, 2021
On a related note...
4 Tips for Finding and Restoring Old Furniture

4 Tips for Finding and Restoring Old Furniture

Victoria Rabuse

How (& How Not) to Help a Friend with Depression

How (& How Not) to Help a Friend with Depression

Julia Hogan-Werner

7 Dating Tips for People with Anxiety

7 Dating Tips for People with Anxiety

Emily Bouch

What I Learned About Dating After Getting Sober

What I Learned About Dating After Getting Sober

Paul Campbell, Erica Tighe Campbell

Tips for Tackling Your Credit Card Debt

Tips for Tackling Your Credit Card Debt

Sarah Coffey

Getting Fit? Work for More Than a Number on the Scale

Getting Fit? Work for More Than a Number on the Scale

Claire Krakowiak

Being Single this Valentine’s Day Might Be a Plus

Being Single this Valentine’s Day Might Be a Plus

Isaac Huss

Youth Running Club Gives Girls Confidence | Little Ways: Mentor

Youth Running Club Gives Girls Confidence | Little Ways: Mentor

Grotto

How Solidarity Heals Divisions — And 3 Ways to Practice It

How Solidarity Heals Divisions — And 3 Ways to Practice It

Mike Tenney

Finding Balance through Fungi Farming

Finding Balance through Fungi Farming

Grotto

Free Download: 3 Nourishing and Budget-Friendly Recipes

Free Download: 3 Nourishing and Budget-Friendly Recipes

Hannah Chartier, Grotto

Why Gardening is Good for the Soul

Why Gardening is Good for the Soul

Sarah Coffey

Lessons I Learned from Potty-Training My Cat

Lessons I Learned from Potty-Training My Cat

Mariah Cressy

9 Ways to Set Aside Sunday as Special

9 Ways to Set Aside Sunday as Special

Megan O’Brien Crayne

Breaking Bad (Habits)

Breaking Bad (Habits)

Ben Wilson

How to Be Patient While You're Waiting for Love

How to Be Patient While You're Waiting for Love

Anna O'Neil

Parents, You Need To Go On Dates Together — Here's Why

Parents, You Need To Go On Dates Together — Here's Why

Sofía Muñoz Abou-Jaoudé

Hand Blown Glass Artist Finds Value In Mistakes

Hand Blown Glass Artist Finds Value In Mistakes

Grotto

Volunteer Nurse Cares for Isolated Migrant Shepherds

Volunteer Nurse Cares for Isolated Migrant Shepherds

Grotto

“Dying with Dignity”

“Dying with Dignity”

Molly Cruitt

newsletter

We’d love to be pals.

Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll meet you in your inbox each week.