Marriage models?
March 22, 2015 9:37 PM   Subscribe

Looking for research on good marriages, not memoirs or personal anecdotes. My therapist asked me the qualities of a good marriage and I hadn't a clue. My immediate family are all unhappily married, and I only recently realised how fearful my own marriage is and left. I basically assume that "If they're not beating you or cheating on you, that's enough." I'm looking for what comes after reading John Gottman: research on thriving marriages, including multicultural or historical. Books, documentaries, films and novels, scholarly keywords etc. I'm not looking for personal accounts but bibliography recommendations.
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Human Relations (15 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
This author has some great insights and workable, tangible models.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:59 PM on March 22, 2015

Friday Night Lights: Portrait of a Marriage

As many commentators and bloggers have noted, the Taylors' union is one of the best real depictions of a good marriage perhaps in the history of television.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:27 PM on March 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

You might find these previous threads of interest:
- Movie recommendations for healthier dating and relationships
- Reading recommendations for someone who wants healthier relationships (this is linked from the question above). The answers do mention Gottman, but there are other suggestions as well.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:47 PM on March 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving is a classic. He says, basically, that love isn't a feeling or mere sentimentality, but something you can work at (as a great artist works to develop his artistic skills), which requires "care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge." It's more a philosophical treatise on love, rather than a straight-up self-help book or a psychology summary, but it has aspects of both of the latter. I find it cuts through a lot of the BS surrounding the idea of love and really focuses your thinking on the underlying questions of what love is, and thereby what healthy relationships might look like, which makes it more clear and easier to think about what you want.

Personally I think it's what comes before Gottman, but you'll enjoy it afterwards as well. ;)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:15 AM on March 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Here are the recommendations from Goodreads for books similar to The Relationship Cure.

This would be a great question for a reference librarian. You don't have to share the personal reasons, just start with "I'm looking for what comes after reading John Gottman." I would recommend finding university psychology courses on marriage and checking their curriculum.
posted by slipthought at 5:17 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

On the films and novels thing: seconding how awesome the Friday Night Lights relationship between the Taylors is. They're also great at showing how people in a healthy relationship have conflict -- they disagree with each other, get angry with each other, sometimes make bad decisions, but they're also loving and respectful and use communication to work out their problems.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:48 AM on March 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Aaron Beck's Love is Never Enough is a favorite of mine. It goes into great detail analyzing communication breakdowns in relationships and applying cognitive therapy models to improve relationship dynamics. I found the step-by-step transcripts of good and bad conversations really useful.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:53 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is tangential to your question, but you might want to study good partnerships (outside of romantic and sexual partnerships) and then transfer what you learned. The idea about shifting the focus is to set aside some of the mystery and mythology regarding marriage and just study cooperation in a more abstracted form. Some of what you learn could be applicable.
posted by puddledork at 7:36 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really love the film Away We Go for an interesting take on a strong couple working through things together. I meant to recommend it in a similar askme the other day, but I'll leave it here for you.
posted by lawliet at 8:24 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought David Schnarch's Passionate Marriage was worth reading. The second half of the book sort of loses focus, but the first half has a lot of useful ideas.
posted by doctord at 8:59 AM on March 23, 2015

You might want to check out the work of Pepper Schwartz. She has done a lot of writing as an advice columnist, but she got her credentials as a serious sociologist and wrote some really interesting books that might help you get some perspective. She coauthored a book called American Couples that profiled a wide range of same-sex and different-sex relationships. She also wrote a book called Love Between Equals (may also have been published under the title Peer Marriage, I think) that profiled married heterosexual couples with traditional marriages (male breadwinner/head of household and housewife), couples with intent toward egalitarian marriage (which may or may not have manifested as actually egalitarian in practice), and I think there were a few with female breadwinner/HOH as well. Very even handed treatment of a wide variety of marriage models.
posted by Sublimity at 9:01 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cross posting with doctord, Schnarch wrote a more readable follow up to Passionate Marriage called Intimacy and Desire. The latter is definitely a good read too.
posted by Sublimity at 9:03 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I came in to recommend Friday Night Lights as one of the best depictions of marriage ever on television and possibly ever in pop culture. In current TV, I also like the depiction of the Secretary of State's marriage in Madam Secretary (if you can ignore that they are both ex-spies and some of that stuff is not typical of a healthy marriage).

Another one I like, Madeleine L'Engle wrote an autobiographical account of her mostly happy, mostly normal, 40 year marriage to the actor Hugh Franklin: Two Part Invention.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:21 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I posted both of the "recommendations for healthier relationships" questions mentioned above, and while I haven't yet watched any of the movies, I'm partway through the books and can give a nutshell of what you'll find.

There's no research to match Gottman's, at least not in those books. Most of the other books recommended are written from the perspective of therapists, based on their practice. Lots of valuable stuff, but not so much "let's put couples in a lab and see what happens" a la Gottman. To be fair to the other authors, some of them have worked with hundreds of couples and have a large-if-not-scientifically-controlled sample to draw on.

There are two basic themes emphasized by different authors.

First, having healthier relationships is helped by being emotionally healthier yourself. If you get to a place where you can happily live without a lover, and you have strong non-romantic relationships, you'll be more likely to find happy romantic relationships. Learn to deal in healthy ways *yourself* with anger and fear and jealousy, and you'll be better equipped to be in a healthy relationship. The books emphasizing this theme which seemed to have the broadest basis in therapist experience were "Boundaries in Dating" and "The Ethical Slut". They come from very different perspectives (Evangelical Christian authors vs. Pagan and atheist authors), but have much surprisingly similar advice. (One piece of advice that applies directly to what you talked about: If you don't have any friends or family with strong relationships, start making some.)

Second, echoing Gottman, the health of a relationship is determined more by positive emotional connection than by traditional communication and conflict resolution skills. Your relationship will be better off if you work on the skills that build up positive emotional threads between you than if you work on the ability to express yourself clearly. The books on this theme that seemed to have the broadest therapist experience behind them - excluding Gottman - were "Hold Me Tight" and "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It".

One book which did draw on a lot of other research, and might be valuable for you as a jumping-off point, was "Marriage, for Equals: The Successful Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples". It came out of a survey study, and refers to a bunch of other research on marriage in its notes and bibliography.
posted by clawsoon at 11:05 AM on March 23, 2015 [11 favorites]

Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:36 PM on March 23, 2015

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