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Jewish World Review June 16, 1999 /2 Tamuz 5759

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Stating the obvious, a new growth industry --
THAT SETTLES IT. In my next life, I'm going to be a psychologist, conduct studies, issue proclamations, conduct more studies, change my story, conduct more studies, write books, make a fortune and die having memorialized the obvious.

Do we have a deal?

The latest from the psychological community is yet another study -- a book, actually -- on what makes marriages work. John Gottman, a University of Washington psychology professor from whom we've heard before, has spent years studying successful marriages and now has produced a book: "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work "(Crown, $23).

A better title would have been "Marriage for Morons." And the secret is, nah, we'll let the suspense build. First some history.

If you're a student of marriage, you may recognize Gottman's name. Several years ago, he popularized the concept of sympathetic listening for troubled couples. As in, when Mr. says, "You're a fat pig and you make me sick!" --- Mrs. Replies, "What I'm hearing you say is that you're frustrated and you don't feel like eating dinner tonight. Darling."

Then, a few years later, Gottman came back with a different idea. Forget sympathetic listening, he said. It doesn't work. What works is, "Yes, dear." In other words, the most common characteristic of successful marriages was that the husband agreed with his wife most of the time.

We knew that.

Now he's changed his mind again. This time, Gottman has published the results of a 14-year study of 650 couples who, incidentally, were not in therapy, i.e. they weren't having problems. He watched these partners interact in lab settings -- certainly that's where my husband and I are most natural -- and he conducted periodic interviews.

OK, OK, relax, I'm going to tell you. I think I'll paraphrase, though, so you can really get it. You know how these scientists are, always using complicated formulas and big words to make us lesser mortals think they're smart. Here goes:

Following 14 years of exhaustive, brain-draining study, Gottman has concluded that the secret to marriage is to know and like your partner.

I feel so stupid.

Using his new research, Gottman says he can predict with 91 percent certainty whether a couple will make it. He even provides a pop quiz for home testing to find out whether you and your spouse are compatible. It's sort of like the Newlywed Game for the Lately Lobotomized.

As a public service, I'm going to reprint some of the questions here. In exchange, you may send the $23 cost of the book directly to me. Get out your No. 2 pencils, boys and girls, and put on those thinking caps.

True or False?:

I can name my partner's best friends;
I know my partner's favorite music;
I know the names of those who have been irritating my partner lately.

The quiz, reprinted in USA Today (OK, you could have gotten it for 50 cents), lists 15 statements, culminating with this toughie: I feel my partner knows me fairly well.

What has happened to us? While I was memorizing the names of my husband's boyhood pets, did people start marrying strangers? Is this why the divorce rate is so high? Stranger-marriage? Could someone please tell me when we got so stupid?

To pass this test, you only need to get half of the answers right. Please. If I got one wrong, I'd need someone to feed me. Let me save you some more trouble: If you have to buy this book, you're married to the wrong person. End of story.

In future marriages, do get to know the person before you marry them; do determine whether you like the person before you marry them. Do, as Gottman concludes, be your spouse's friend.

And, do, by all means, drop those checks in the mail. Today.

(NEXT WEEK: Two Principles for Breathing & Swallowing Made Simple.)

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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