Monday, June 3, 2013

What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal

By John Gottman and Nan Silver

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

In Chapter 6, "Interpersonal Relationships," of my book, COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY, 10th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2012), under the heading, "Bids and the Bidding Process," I ask the question, "If you knew specifically what it was that holds relationships together, and you knew that it was within your control, would you change the way you conducted yourself in your interpersonal relationships" (p. 162)? "What holds relationships together are bids and the bidding process," according to John Gottman, and this quotation, although NOT taken from this book by Gottman, reveals two things: 1) That Gottman and his team are high-quality relationship researchers, and 2) how much I depend on his research results in my college-textbook writing. My dependence on his work goes back many, many years—including my textbook, UNDERSTANDING INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION (HarperCollins), which went through seven editions. (Bids are discussed at five points in The Gottman and Silver book.)

John Gottman has published over 190 academic articles, is the author or coauthor of 40 books, including THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES FOR MAKING MARRIAGE WORK, THE RELATIONSHIP CURE, WHY MARRIAGES SUCCEED OR FAIL, and RAISING AN EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT CHILD, and established The Gottman Institute which "provides practical tools to strengthen and restore relationships through couples workshops, webcasts, books, DVDs, and Gottman therapists" (from the back inside flyleaf). I say all this to acknowledge his expertise and credibility (and the fact that his advice can be depended upon) , but even more so, to advertise the special quality of his books—offering well-grounded, relevant, and solid advice for couples.

The reasons why this book is especially valuable are numerous. First, Gottman and Silver’s writing style is immediately accessible—easy to understand and follow. This is by no means, an academic textbook. Second, it is full of specific and well-explained examples drawn from his "Love Lab." The following paragraph from The Gottman Relationship Institute website explains the Lab:

The Family Research Laboratory received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health throughout its operation. The physiology laboratory, often referred to as the "Love Lab," was where couples were screened, interviewed, and observed. The Lab used video, heart rate monitors, and measures of pulse amplitude, jitteriness and skin conductivity. This information was coded using the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF) and techniques of math modeling to assess relationships and predict their trajectories. The Lab amassed a video data bank of hundreds of couples interacting at different time points in their relationship.

Results from the "Love Lab" including specific (quoted) dialogue is included to make the authors’ points throughout this book. The dialogue is spirited, engaging, practical, and worthwhile.

A third factor that makes this book valuable is the large number of self-test questionnaires scattered throughout the chapters. They give readers an opportunity to score themselves on items such as trust, negative sentiments, risk of unfaithfulness, assessment of sex, romance, and passion in your relationship, making the decision to leave a relationship, and testing whether or not a relationship is "the real thing." A couple of other self-test questionnaires I would have liked to see are "willingness to communicate," and "listening skills." I realize both of these are readily available in the literature; however, an emphasis on communication and listening skills in a book such as this might serve as both reminders and directives.

The fourth reason for the value of this book is its substance. There is a significant emphasis on cheating and how to recover from its discovery. I especially enjoyed Chapter 5, "Ten Other Ways to Betray a Lover" and Chapter 7, "Attunement Made Easy: The Art of Intimate Conversation." It is in this latter chapter where a "willingness to communicate" questionnaire might work since men’s unwillingness to communicate—especially about feelings—is troublesome (rightly so!) for women.

This is a great book for those heading into relationships, already heavily involved in a relationship, or those who have exited a relationship and are seeking a new one. It is instructive and challenging, interesting and entertaining, but always educational.


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