Long, Boring Introduction
to the Science of Relationships

How did Relationships become a Science?

Let's give thanks to Drs. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute in Seattle Washington, and all their colleagues and co-authors. Those folks are amazing. They bring couples into their laboratory and study them by watching and listening to every word or gesture. They code each piece of each transaction, and create streams of data. Then, they put the data in a computer and run it through mathetmatical models.

As a result — and it's astonishing — they can predict with over 90% accuracy whether a marriage will end in divorce. It's a science, because they've documented their work in many books, studied couples over long periods of time, and verified their predictions. They've used scientific principles, non-treated control groups, and long term studies to prove their theories.

They've discovered how to tell whether your marriage or my marriage is going to last. And, even more astounding, they studied a bunch of newlyweds and accurately predicted which marriages would last.

Books and Counseling We Recommend

We recommend The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Gottman and Silver (1999). Or, for mental health professionals, we recommend The Marriage Clinic by Gottman. We intend that everything we teach about relationships be consistent with the research done by Gottman et al.

If you ever decide to get counseling, we strongly recommend going to Seattle to be counseled at the Gottman Institute, or get nearby counseling from a Gottman certified therapist. We are not affiliated in any way with Dr. Gottman or his institute. We applaud his work, and in our judgment Dr. Gottman has discovered the real secrets of what makes relationships work.

We have no experience with Gottman marriage counseling, but we believe it is built on scientifically sound principles. For reasons detailed in Gottman's latest book, however, most couples in a troubled relationship delay getting treatment for an average of six years. That may be because for many, many years, marriage counseling hasn't worked very well, and when it did work, it didn't last.

Dr. Marty Seligman ... The Guru of Positive Psychology

We'll talk more about Gottman, but first, we want to introduce you to someone else who is creating a new science. Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman is credited by many with being the founding father of the science of positive psychology. Dr. Seligman has written more than twenty books, has numerous honors, and is an inspiring man and great teacher.

Seligman became concerned that psychology was focused too much on negatives. Psychology was all about what was wrong with us, and not very interested in what our strengths were, or what was right with us.

Positive psychology is devoted to discovering what happiness is, and how we each can have a lot more of it. Positive psychology builds on the idea that we all can live happier, more productive, and more meaningful lives by identifying and using our strengths, rather than using our energies to repair our weaknesses.

One good example of positive psychology in action is the effort to help pessimistic people become more optimistic. Dr. Seligman wrote the book [i]Learned Optimism,[/b] that defined the differences between the ways pessimists and optimists see the world. Seligman scientifically proved that pessimism and optimism can be measured. He proved that optimists live longer (by around 8 or 9 years), are healthier, more productive, earn more money, and achieve more in their work than pessimists.

Why do you want to know about Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman?

You want to know about Dr. Seligman because he can help you become happier. His work makes it very clear what you have to do to become a happier person. We recommend his book Learned Optimism for everyone who might tend toward being pessimistic. You can find out how optimistic you are by visiting Dr. Seligman's website: AuthenticHappiness, and taking the free test on optimism. While you're there, feel free to take any of the many tests that are available. Authentic Happiness is Dr. Seligman's book that will teach you how to be happier.

There are two important reasons why you need to know about Dr. Seligman, if you're interested in relationships.

First: Authentic Happiness points to scientific studies that show that every successful relationship needs at least one optimist. Two married pessimists can do all right until they face some adversity. In the face of adversity, pessimists are not very resilient and don't bounce back easily. When adversity strikes, it often happens that two pessimists will spiral out and let the adversity destroy their relationship, with neither one able to stop the cycle.

Second: Dr. Gottman's work shows that "positivity" is the key to successful marriage. Each partner must be able to develop and nurture positive feelings about the other. So, Dr. Gottman tells you what you must have to succeed in marriage, but it is Dr. Seligman's work that can teach you how to be more positive toward your partner. In addition, if both of you are pessimists, Seligman's research enables us to teach at least one of you to become more optimistic, so you can become more resilient and help your partner bounce back from adversity.

Don't mess up your relationship because most couples' counseling doesn't work very well and when it does work, it doesn't last. In the book The Mathematics of Marriage, Gottman et al, (2000) reviews the studies of the effectiveness of couples therapy (Section 16.1 "Evaluation of Couples' Therapy").

When couples' counseling has been carefully studied, the results are not encouraging. In those cases where it does seem to work, the effects are relatively short lived. There is some indication that the 'soothing' done by the counselor is helpful, but when counseling is terminated, that effect disappears and destructive patterns return.

The research has yielded some hope, however. It has produced Gottman's hypothesis about the kind of counseling that is likely to have lasting effects.

"Our hypothesis, then, is that lasting effects in behavioral marital therapy are most likely when interventions accomplish at least three things: (1) they increase everyday positive affect during non-conflict contexts, (2) they reduce negative affect during conflict resolution, and (3) they increase positive affect during conflict."

What it Takes to Save Your Relationship

Putting that in terms we all can understand, it says that interventions (e.g. counseling, classes, weekends, internet courses, or our e-books and expert monitored forums, etc.), could have a lasting effect if they do at least three things:

  1. make partners more positive towards each other when they are not fighting
  2. make partners less negative and hurtful when they are in disagreements
  3. make partners more positive and hopeful when they are disagreeing.

(We tell you this because our books and forums do those three things.)

Do you start to see where optimism and happiness training can be helpful in building a strong relationship? Can you see why we are so interested in Seligman's work as well as Gottman's?

Great Relationships Depend on Positivity

Marital therapy aims at less negativity. Great relationships depend on positivity. To make a long story shorter, the following quotes from The Mathematics of Marriage are taken out of context, but provide one explanation for how traditional marital therapy aims more at reducing negativity than building positivity.

"Enormous similarity exists across so-called schools of marital therapy. The active core ingredient in almost all schools of marital intervention is Active Listening during conflict resolution."

"Furthermore, according to the only study to evaluate this approach using observational data (Schindler, Hahlweg, and Revenstorf, 1983). Guernsey's method only decreased negativity, it did not increase positivity, and there were substantial decreases in initial gains upon follow-up."

Reducing negativity is okay, but, great relationships depend on positivity

Reducing negativity is important to the long term health of a relationship. But, even more important is building a reservoir of good feelings about your partner. When you feel good about your partner, you say more nice things, you act nicer, and you are more interested in what your partner says or does.

According to Dr. Gottman's work on divorce prevention, couples whose marriage will last regularly maintain a ratio of 5 positives for every 1 negative in their routine, everyday interactions. Couples whose marriages are doomed to divorce average less than 1 positive to every 1 negative in their interactions.

To maintain a 5 to 1 ratio, the partners must feel positive about their partner and their relationship.


In this introduction to articles and ebooks on relationships, we've introduced you to two incredible people: Dr. John Gottman, who has led the way for a scientific study of relationships, and Dr. Martin Seligman, who has led the way for a scientific study of happiness. If you want to study either field, we think these are the authors you want to read.

Here are some of the key ideas we'll build on in our articles and e-books.

We teach partners the skills they need to be more positive towards each other in their everyday relationship. Because we know you've got many demands on your time, we've figured out how you can build those skills in practices of only 5 minutes per day.

We want to help partners become less negative and hurtful and more positive and hopeful when they are in conflict.

We encourage one or both partners to learn and practice being more optimistic.

Optimists are healthier, happier, and more prosperous than pessimists (though not necessarily always more realistic).

If you love the idea of being happier, and having a great relationship, you'll really enjoy and learn from our site.

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