Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: Summary

ten lessons to transform your marriage book cover

In Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage Julie and John Gottman analyze relationships and teach readers exactly what they can do to improve their marriages and relationships.

Bullet Summary

  • Deal with irreconcilable issues by understanding your partner, talking about it, and compromising where you can
  • Keep high expectations for your marriage: they translate into better marriages
  • Share the power in the marriage: listen to your spouse

Ten Lessons Summary

Ten Lessons to transform your marriage goes through 10 couples who want to improve their relationships and analyze a typical dialogue of theirs.

Then Gottman explains what’s the issue, gives pointers on how to improve, and shows us the improved dialogues.

And he teases out a few lessons learned and exercises you can apply to your marriage as well.

The Two Truths of Married Couples

Julie and John say that the two simple truths of happy couples are:

  1. They behave like good friends
  2. Handle conflicts in gentle and positive ways

Behaving like friends means their relationships have lots of respect, affection, and empathy.

Positive Behaviors You Must Implement

Couples who are happy together present a few common positive behaviors.
They aren’t necessarily huge, but repeated daily is what makes the difference:

  1. Soften Start-up: they introduce complaints gently, without accusing and criticizing the partner
  2. Turn Towards the Partner: they tune in to turn their partner when their partner needs them and give them full attention
  3. Repair Conversation: when a conversation is going south they manage to stop it instead of escalating it
  4. Accept Influence: they listen to the partner’s opinion and are open to being persuaded (this is mostly for men)

Look for Longing in the Complaints

The advice I found particularly useful was that of looking beyond the complaint and going to the root cause.

For example, if your partner shouts you’re never there and all you can do is work, it’s most likely they are actually saying:

I miss you, I like you a lot and need more of your time

Many men though take it as an attack or, even worse, feel inadequate.

Do Deal With Problems

Some couples will always try to avoid talking about problems.

They might be afraid of giving too much air time to negative feelings, or afraid of opening a Pandora’s box. But not talking about the problems leads to emotional distance.
And a sense of loneliness, which can be a precursor of infidelity as well.

And if it’s your partner who avoids digging deeper into the problems, then it becomes your duty to make sure he/she hears you.

Emotionally Distant Marriages

Avoiding problems and deeper feelings is typical of avoidant relationships (read: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail) and “emotionally distant” marriages (also read: emotional unavailability).

The risk of not getting to know each other well is to develop “inner lives” they keep away from their partners and you won’t feel understood.

Gottman suggests that conflict-avoidant couples learn to share strong emotions instead of suppressing them.

Focus on The Positives

Anthony Robbins says often: you get what you focus on.

And it’s similar to marriages and relationships. To get more feelings of fondness and admiration, you should make a conscious effort to pay attention, notice, and express your feelings of fondness and gratitude for any positive thing happening between you two.

Similarly, avoiding replaying negative thoughts in your mind.

Respect Your Partner’s Dreams

Gottman explores dreams and gridlocked conflicts, a topic he already covered in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

It’s important to notice that our dreams and the deepest expressions of “who we are” are not always obvious.
To bring our deepest differences to the surface and prevent them from being an issue, do the following:

  1. Create a safe environment where it’s safe to discuss our deepest drives and dreams
  2. Find areas of flexibility
  3. Compromise where you can

The most important step is to know that your dreams are respected and understood.

Do Not Suppress Anger

Anger, like all other emotions, should not be suppressed.

Gottman says you can actually use anger. For example, when you use anger to stand up for yourself, you gain self-respect.

But to allow anger to transmute into a positive force, you have to express it openly and in non-destructive ways.
You must also avoid down spiraling thoughts such as “how could he do that to me, that’s so unfair, I need to show him now, he will see.. “).

The right way to express it instead is like this:

I feel so angry right now and it’s a fair emotion. I can handle this feeling and I need to talk to him right away and fix this situation

When you’re angry, it’s not true that “getting it off your chest” will help (also read pop-psychology and self-help myths). Ranting and raging without a listening partner only makes you angrier.
What you need indeed is someone to hear you out and work through your feeling.
And that will calm you down.

Avoid Children-Centered Marriages

Gottman says that putting your children always first means you put your relationship second. And it’s likely that your relationship will suffer. Which in turn, it’s been proven, is bad for children.

ten lessons to transform your marriage book cover


Misleading title
I find the title slightly misleading. This is more like 10 case studies and the lessons we can learn from each one.

Is affection necessary?
Gottman says that happily married couples behave like good friends with lots of respect and affection for each other.
But in other titles, he says that couples with lots of fights also can stay happily married (as long as the positives outweigh the negatives 5:1).

The two aren’t mutually exclusive: for example, a couple with frequent arguments can still be affectionate, but it still raised a question mark for me.

All the books necessary?
Of course, some information repeats. I wish Gottman had done one single book and put everything in there. Then maybe a few more books with only case studies.


Lots of dialogue examples
I am a big, huge proponent of learning through examples -which is indeed one of the founding principles of this website-.
And “Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage” has lots of dialogues that Gottman breaks down and analyzes.

Some great psychological wisdom
There’s some great psychological wisdom. Like for example why people growing up with difficult families can become oversensitive to criticism (because children believe everything’s their fault and take responsibility for the family’s issues)


10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage is yet another great book by John Gottman.

It’s hard to overestimate how much the wisdom of his work can help couples build better relationships.
I especially loved the dialogue examples with a sentence-by-sentence analysis.

Check out the best books on relationships or get the book on Amazon

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