The Science of a Good Marriage

Why the best marriages are based on deep friendship.

By Camille Chatterjee, published September 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

"At the heart of my program," writes Gottman, a University of Washington psychology professor, "is the simple truth that happy marriages are based on deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for each other's company," plus an intimate knowledge of each other's quirks, likes and dislikes. This explains his surprising finding that frequent fighting is not a sign of a bad marriage (unless, of course, it becomes physical abuse). Because while all couples argue, it is the spouses who are friends first who have the advantage.

Amicable partners are less combative during shouting matches than spouses who don't understand each other. And couples who don't respect or have little connection with one another engage in "negative sentiment override" -- they interpret statements more pessimistically and take comments more personally than other pairs, leading to dissatisfaction.

Spouses who are friends also make more "repair attempts" during a spat; they say or do things -- like make a silly face or bring up a private joke -- that keeps anger from escalating out of control. The key point, Gottman reports, is that partners who know each other better know best what will relieve tension in sticky situations -- so the fighting stops and the marriage goes on (perhaps) happily ever after.