Relationship Medicine: Learn Simple Pearls from a Relationship Researcher

Dear physician colleagues, can we agree that it would be nice to learn a few ‘marriage pearls’ from well-done marriage research just like we learn ‘clinical pearls’ from Evidence-Based Medicine?

I understand that there is no ‘perfect research or perfect advice’.

We all arrive at marriage with ‘evidence’ of what should ‘work’ from personal life experiences, advice from friends, parents, media and beyond. When you think about it, doesn’t it make sense that if you are in a partnership like a marriage that you should know some of the ‘research evidence’ behind great outcomes?

Let’s be very honest. The answers for how to make marriage ‘work’ is very personal.  The ultimate goal of a marriage, in my humble opinion, is to develop a deep friendship that serves as a foundation for team-driven happiness in a partnership. The foundation has to be solid enough to handle lots of incoming stress.

I know that I have done some things well and other things I could have done far better in my marriage of twenty-nine years to Jackie, my eternally patient wife.  Jackie and I continue to celebrate many beautiful moments and navigate challenges that pop up in our busy lives. We are blessed to have two great kiddos, Monika (just married) and Danny who are now young adults.

As I think back in our marriage, I wonder why I did not take time to sit and read the do’s and do not’s of marriage or the research that is the underpinning of a successful marriage. I learned and figured things out on the fly. Oh, wait, and I did read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.  

Now there is more great guidance available.


The Gottman Book

A few years ago, when I felt I needed some extra guidance to move closer to marital bliss, I discovered a book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman. (He has many other outstanding books). In his research-driven book, I saw where and how I could apply some of these principles.

I learned a few good  ‘marriage pearls’ from well-done research just like I  learned ‘clinical pearls’ in Medicine.

Now, in case you are too busy to read the book, there’s a video (below) where Gottman highlights reports on his research findings in an easy to understand and engaging manner.


Gottman Research Methodology

One of the quantitative research methods Dr. Gottman uses to study couples a ‘love-lab, where he brings couples to a little vacation-like setting, a modest apartment with great views in Seattle.

Here, after informed consent, couples spend a weekend with video cameras in place (everywhere but the bedroom and bathroom) recording how they talk and interact with each other. Their blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels are measured often as they move from getting along to not getting along with each other.

I think Gottman’s quantitative findings and advice can be exceptionally informative for couples who are feeling the stress of expanding work hours and life’s responsibilities as they travel the long journey from med school through residency and beyond.


Masters v.s. Disasters and One Important Ratio

In his video and book he shares the predictors of good (and bad) outcomes in marriage based on results of studying about three thousand couples over twenty years. He and his research colleague divide the successful marriages into ‘Masters’ and the not so successful ones into ‘Disasters’.

I hope the names of these two groups don’t turn you off.

Instead, I hope you will take a few minutes and see if you can pick up a few marriage pearls learn from his video.

Here is an important ratio you will learn about in the first twenty minutes.

Q. What is the ratio of positive statements and behavior to negative statements and behavior which predicts a successful marriage? 

A. Surprise.  It is not 1:1, or 2:1.  It’s 5: 1 ! Think about it.  If you dig yourself into the depths of anger or hurt, what does it take to climb out of that deep hole?


I Learned A Lot in a Forty-Minute Video

Dr. Gottman’s research is worth exploring at any stage of a relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the partnership for one year or forty years, the video is worth it. The earlier you watch it the better (in my opinion).

I believe his research findings presented in this video can help partners understand many of the behaviors they are doing right and other behaviors that need improvement.

Next time I watch the video, I am going to take hand-written notes, so I can really learn these principles even better.

So, grab a glass of wine or your favorite herbal tea and watch the video with your partner or alone if you have to, and see what ‘marriage pearls’ you will pick up. And if you like the video, buy The Seven Principles book.  Next on my list to read is

Video posted on Jan 30, 2018


Physicians, Burn Out and Marriage

I believe that Dr. Gottman’s research findings and advice in his video and book can also help physicians understand how burnout and overcommitted lives can negatively impact a marriage.

Doesn’t it make sense that we now stop and ask what makes marriages succeed? Shouldn’t we look beyond expanded work hours, complex electronic health records, expanding patient volumes (to name just a few variables under consideration)?

I hope you give this video a try and then decide if the book is right for you. I found both inspired me to think and reflect more deeply and in a structured way.

Marriage is always a life-long learning adventure about ourself and our partner.

Thanks for visiting.


Learn Even More

The Gottman Institute presents many inspirational videos, commentary, and Anderson Cooper interviewing couples.

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Created and maintained by Raf Rizk, MD | Division of Gastroenterology | Michigan Medicine

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