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The Top 10 - Page 19


10. John Gottman

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in a specially outfitted studio apartment in Seattle that reporters nicknamed the "love lab," mathematician-turned-psychologist John Gottman videotaped ordinary couples in their most ordinary moments—playing solitaire, chatting, kissing, disagreeing, watching TV, cooking dinner, joking. Sometimes Gottman asked them to discuss an area of conflict while monitors strapped to their chests recorded their heart rates, or he sat them on spring-loaded platforms to record fidgeting. He studied newlyweds, abusive couples, people who shout, and people who never raise their voices. Using an elaborate coding system, he tracked flickering facial expressions, sighs, clammy hands, rolling eyes. He followed couples for more than two decades to see who got divorced, who established parallel lives, and who stayed together (happily or not).

Then Gottman translated his data into numbers. He found he could predict a divorce with 91-percent accuracy by analyzing seven variables during a couple's five-minute disagreement. (Whether his average is better than the town gossip's has yet to be studied.) These discoveries made John Gottman famous. Many in the field now believe that most of what we know about marriage and divorce comes from his work.

Examining more than 3,000 couples, Gottman discovered that most of them fought, and that even the most happily married of them never resolved 69 percent of their conflicts. What was crucial to the longevity of a marriage, he learned, wasn't whether a couple fought, but how.

Among couples whose marriages survived well—the "masters of marriage," as Gottman and his colleagues call them—wives raised issues gently and brought them up sooner rather than later. Neither husbands nor wives regularly became so upset with each other that their heart rates rose above 95 beats a minute, and these couples broke rising tension with jokes, reassurance, and distractions. In Gottman's study, 80 percent of complaints came from wives, but successful husbands didn't play king or cross their arms in response. And most notably, "master" couples made at least 5 positive remarks or gestures toward each other for every zinger during a fight. In calmer times, their positive-to-negative ratio was an astounding 20 to 1. "Masters of disaster" couples were pretty much the opposite.

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