The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. This book's got a fair amount of attention: bestseller, a Metafilter favourite, cited in "59 Seconds". The USP is that there's some actual evidence behind this marriage advice. Psychogist John Gottman has been running a "love lab", a simulated apartment fitted with cameras and sometimes heart-rate and blood-pressure monitors, in which he studies how real couples argue. He has followed up the results over decades, and claims that he can predict divorce with 91% accuracy, and that the marriage therapy he advises is more effective than most.
His results apparently showed that "active listening" wasn't actually much help. He thinks what's most important are "emotional intelligence", and the ability to handle conflict well. He reckons that even successful, long-lasting marriages have lots of arguments, they just handle them better.
A few interesting things come out. Apparently most long-standing arguments are perpetual: if you come back years later the couple is still arguing over the same things, but in the successful marriages this doesn't them so much.
He reckons then when shocked, e.g. by a loud noise, men's heart rate and blood pressure increases more, and stays elevated for longer, than women's. He theorizes that when in an argument a man is stonewalling and a woman is nagging, it's often the man who is experiencing stronger emotions. He says: "Since marital confrontation that activates vigilance takes a greater physical toll on the male, it's no surprise that men are more likely than women to avoid it".
This brings out the concept of "flooding", when an argument is so emotionally overwhelming that you can't think rationally about it.
So important parts of arguing well in his view are avoiding flooding, signalling when you're getting close to being flooded so the other partner backs off, and using "repair attempts" to bring down the tension if it gets too much.
Gottman thinks that high expectations are actually a good thing.
He's also optimistic about the fact only 67% of women experience a sharp drop in marital satisfaction after childbirth, pointing out that of the 33% "some" even report improvement. That might offer a slight ray of hope that the well known drop in happiness after childbirth is just a statistical likelihood rather than an inevitability.
The division into Seven Principles seems a bit awkward: some chapters are about a Principle, some are not. The division seems to be mostly for marketing reasons, but for what it's worth, the Seven Principles are:
1. Enhance your Love Maps (e.g. know about each other's lives and desires)
2. Nurture your fondness and admiration
3. Turn towards each other instead of away (don't get isolated)
4. Let your partner influence
5. Solve your solvable problems
6. Overcome Gridlock (not necessarily to solve the problem which may be perpetutal, but move from gridlock to dialogue)
7. Create shared meaning (learn about each others fundamental goals and dreams, set up rituals).
The Four Signs of a troubled marriage are
1. Harsh Startup: arguments start in a harsh or aggressive tone, which usually measn they won't reach a conclusions
2. The "Four Horsemen", which are:
2.1 Criticism (extending a specific complaint to a character issue, e.g. saying "you're lazy" rather than "you forgot to take out the rubbish")
3. Flooding: arguments where emotion overwhelms rational thought
4. Body language (including heart rate and blood pressure)
Overall, it's quite interesting, with some useful ideas. I haven't tried out any of the exercises. Some of the exercises seem to involve a kind of twee therapy-speak which could be pretty irritating.
What I'm Watching
Being a glutton for punishment, watched documentary Is it better to be mixed race. Presents some very vague and unconvincing evidence that there are minor health benefits to being mixed race, alternating with the usual complaints that it's a taboo and no-one wants to talk about it.
As usual, it's irritating that these complaints about "taboos" take place on network TV programs, rather than the Journal of Obscure Studies With Rigorous Statistical Analysis of Control Groups. The deafening bellows of "WE'RE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT IT" constantly echo all over the national media, while normal science remains obscure.
Basically the theory is that being mixed race means you have more heterozygous genes where your father's gene is different from your mother's, which might make you a bit more resistant to disease, and less prone to some genetic conditions; though environmental effects are much more significant.
However, the actual evidence even for this didn't seem too convincing: a few studies with weak correlations.
The series also elided the difference between a benefit to an individual, and a benefit to a population. Say you have a population with a diverse gene pool: when a disease rages through it, a larger fraction are likely to survive. This means an individual is also statistically more likely to survive.
However, this doesn't guarantee any individual's survival. The popular appeal of these TV shows seems to me always that it allows the viewer to generalize based on individuals: "hey, there's a person of group X, he must have feature Y". These shows are only popular because they're misunderstood.
What I'm Listening To
Soprano Ailyn Pérez did the latest Rosenblatt Recital: I went with Girl B. As ever, I sometimes struggle to tell really superb opera singers from competent professional opera singers, but she seemed pretty good to me.
Started off with a lot of Spanish-influenced music with a lot of emotion in the first half, went more into the wrap-up-your-wineglasses pure opera in the second. I generally preferred the first.
She's got an impressive CV for a young singer, got a lot of "bravos" and a standing ovation, so I think she's probably in the really superb group.
Politics. Coalition won't see out 2013.
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