Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Mathematics of Marriage

There has been a spate of posts on Bible translations and Kurk has responded to my last post.

In an event of unusual synchronicity, James Murray, co author with John Gottman et al. of The Mathematics of Marriage, gave an address at the Royal Society on March 26, 2009 which makes it crystal clear that their work on love and respect demonstrated the strictly symmetrical nature of these terms. HT Theophrastus.

This demonstrates that Gottman was misquoted by Emerson Eggerich and that there is no social science or scientific support for the notion that "men need respect and women need love." In fact, Gottman and Murray's detailed longtitudinal study demonstrates that marital success is dependent on love and respect demonstrated in a totally symmetrical fashion.

The exact terms which Gottman and Murray used were "affection and humour" for the most positive affects and contempt as the most negative. They also mentioned that the quality of the friendship between husband and wife was foundational.

In the book, The Mathematics of Marriage, Gottman reports that one woman in particular stated that she felt disrespected, and he saw her difficulty as relating to her perception that she had to be subordinate in her marriage. This was presented as a problem by Gottman.

I am very disappointed when a Christian author misintertprets data presented in an honest fashion and then uses the misinterpretation to attempt to promote the scientific truth of the Bible, or the subordination of woman or what have you. Very disappointing.

When Eggerichs writes,

    Interestingly enough, scientific research confirms that love and respect are the foundation of a successful marriage. Dr. John Gottman, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington, led a research team that spent twenty years studying two thousand couples who had been married twenty to forty years to the same partner. There people came from diverse backgrounds and had widely differing occupations and lifestyles. But one thing was similar - the tone of their conversations. As these couples talked together, almost always there was what Gottman calls "a strong undercurrent of two basic ingredients: Love and Respect.

    These are the direct opposite of - and antidote for - contempt, perhaps the most corrosive force in marriage."Gottman's findings confirm what has already been in Scripture for some two thousand years. Chapter 5 of Ephesians is considered by many to be the most significant treatise on marriage in the New Testament. Paul concludes these statements on marriage by getting gender specific in verse 33. He reveals commands from the very heart of God as he tells the husband he must love his wife.
According to James Murray, their study did not differentiate for gender. I should stop being surprised that the truth has no currency for those who wish to demonstrate that science proves the Bible.


Theophrastus said...

Murray didn't just give any old address at the Royal Society -- his lecture was the Bakerian prize, "the Society's premier lecture in the physical sciences." It is a big deal, and has been since the 18th century. Perhaps the only British scientific lecture more famous than the Bakerian prize is the Christmas lecture at the Royal Institution (which you will recall appeared on the Bank of England's Series E-original [1991-2001] £20 note.)

For giggles, try an Amazon search on Bakerian lecture.

Lin said...

"I should stop being surprised that the truth has no currency for those who wish to demonstrate that science proves the Bible."

These marriage guru's are not fools.They know they have a ready made audience who rarely question and plenty of leaders to promote their books. Thanks for posting this.

Gem said...

"Gottman reports that one woman in particular stated that she felt disrespected, and he saw her difficulty as relating to her perception that she had to be subordinate in her marriage. This was presented as a problem by Gottman." ENDQUOTE

ditto that woman

Reading Eggerich's book just made me so frustrated and fed up that I had to throw the book away and go dig deeply into scripture...
where I discovered that husbands are instructed (with imperatives) to respect their wives or their prayers will be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

Marilyn said...

Hi Suzanne,

I disagree with your characterization of John Gottman’s research. As a result, I also disagree with your conclusion that Emerson Eggerichs has misrepresented Gottman’s research.

First, contrary to what I hear you saying, Gottman and Murray (Mathematics of Marriage, page 8) argue that gender matters. How does gender matter? Citing Maccoby’s 1998 research, Gottman and Murray conclude that gender differences “emerge primarily in the context of relationships.” In contrast, gender differences aren’t particularly relevant at the individual level. While there are some gender-specific differences in abilities and traits, within-gender variance tends to swamp between-gender mean effects. For example, knowing whether someone is male or female is of little value in predicting whether he or she has the innate aptitude to be an engineer. But, knowing whether someone is male or female is useful in predicting how he or she behaves in a relational setting.

So, there are gender differences in how people relate to each other. Within the context of marriage, these differences are particularly visible during conflict. Gottman points out that men typically stonewall (i.e., withdraw as a listener), while women move towards their husbands with criticism and contempt. In “Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail” (pp. 147-152), Gottman writes: "... men are far more likely than women to be stonewallers (85%)... when tension builds... it often takes only the arrival of... criticism... men avoid emotional conflicts by going off by themselves… if you ask a male stonewaller to describe his state of mind, he often says, ‘I am trying not to react’… though his wife perceives his silence as an act of hostility… the wife is… likely to interpret his response as a rejection of her… she couldn't imagine needing to withdraw over such a minor criticism… such interactions can produce a vicious cycle, especially in marriages with high levels of conflict. The more wives complain and criticize, the more husbands withdraw and stonewall; the more husbands withdraw and stonewall, the more wives complain and criticize. This cycle must be broken if… marriages are to avoid dissolution… if the wife becomes belligerent and contemptuous, the husband is likely to withdraw even more…"

So, Gottman says that during a fight, men and women behave differently. Men typically withdraw, while women typically criticize and confront. Emerson Eggerichs refers to this dynamic as the crazy cycle. In Emerson’s words, “Without respect, husbands respond without love. Without love, wives respond without respect.” You appear to be arguing that Emerson is mischaracterizing Gottman. I disagree with you.

A dictionary definition of respect includes phrases like: “to feel or show deferential regard; esteem.” It seems to me that contempt – which Gottman’s research shows to be the response of the typical wife during a conflict - is the essence of disrespect. A dictionary definition of love includes phrases like: “a feeling of intense desire and attraction toward a person.” It seems to me that withdrawing – which Gottman’s research shows to be the response of the typical husband during a conflict - is perceived as unloving. Gottman’s solution is that husbands need to stop withdrawing, and wives need to show less contempt. In Emerson’s words, husbands need to be more loving, and wives need to be more respectful.

While acknowledging that socialization matters, Gottman and Murray also conclude that “physiological measures suggest a biological basis for gender effects”. In other words, these differences in how men and women relate are there by [God’s] design.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Marilyn,

Thanks so much for stopping by. First, if you have been following my earlier posts you can see that I don't think that men and women are the same or that Gottman said they are the same. I recently wrote,

"Patty has written a more favourable review of the book here and here. I note that she does not support the basic concept of hierarchy but applauds the notion of fundamental differences in emotional makeup of men and women. I agree."

And I have made other similar comments.

However, and this is huge, in terms of love and respect, or contempt and affection as Gottman and Murray calculated these two, the effects within the marriage were in Murray's terms "totally symmetrical."

That is, even though the behaviour of male and female are typcially different, and believe me, I accept this, the need for lack of contempt, and presence of affection, is the same.

Also, Gottman and Murray are explicit in rejecting the subordination of women and Eggerichs is explicit in assuming that marriage is a hierarchy.

Gottman and Murray's research does not support the notion that a wife should phobeo her husband in the sense of giving the husband greater authority or 51% of the authority as Eggerichs says.

I could not ascertain that these men support in any way the notion of hierarchy as God's design.

This is similar to saying that scientific research has established differences between races, and then drawing conclusions about a hierachy between the races based on this research.

Actually I was suprised that Murray said that the effect was "totally symmetrical" and thay he insisted that there was no difference in the patterns whether it was husband or wife, but I encourage you to watch the video. The first half is about brain tumour imaging and then at 29 min. the part about marriage begins.

I look forward to your response to this video.

I would also like to mention that a therapist who was trained by Gottman had expressed her concern about the way Eggerichs has used his research. I'll put that in a later comment.

Molly Aley said...

I am really appreciating both these posts and this conversation.

*munches popcorn*

Suzanne McCarthy said...


If you are into the popcorn I highly recommend the Bakerian lectues. Great stuff. Thank you, Theophrastus.

Marilyn said...

Hi Suzanne,

Too often in these discussions, we emphasize our differences. As Christians, I think a good place to begin is to start with what we agree about. I hear you affirming John Gottman’s research, as do I. Personally, I think that Gottman is a good candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize!

In the Mathematics of Marriage, Gottman and his co-authors argue that unhealthy marriages are consistently characterized by the following four attributes: the triumph of negative over positive affect (i.e., spouses allow negative interactions to have a large negative influence on how they feel about their marriage; in contrast, they’re not willing to allow positive interactions to have an equally large positive impact on how they feel), negative affect reciprocity (i.e., fights escalate as spouses respond to their partners’ negativity with an even greater amount of negativity), demand/withdraw pattern (i.e., one partner demands a solution even as the other withdraws from the discussion), and negativity (i.e., criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling). Gottman and his co-authors also say that the latter two attributes have very strong gender components. During conflict, the vast majority of husbands withdraw. In contrast, the vast majority of wives become demanding. During conflict, the vast majority of husbands become defensive and stonewall. In contrast, the vast majority of wives become critical and contemptuous. Suzanne, I hear you saying that we are in agreement on all of this.

Now, let’s get to the question of submission. Suzanne, you are mischaracterizing Love and Respect! Emerson Eggerichs does not claim that John Gottman argues in favor of a wife’s submission. What Emerson does claim is that the Bible tells a wife to submit to her husband. It then follows that if the husband has final authority, it is contemptuous of the wife (i.e., disrespectful) to fail to submit to that authority. You also mischaracterize Love and Respect when you imply that Emerson Eggerichs claims that women don’t need respect. He never says that. In fact, he explicitly states the opposite. Both men and women need both love and respect. Suzanne, it’s a continuum. Along that continuum, women have a greater tendency to behave in ways that come across to their husbands as contemptuous (i.e., to engage in disrespectful behavior). Along that same continuum, men have a greater tendency to behave in ways that come across to their wives as stonewalling and defensive (i.e., the opposite of the movement towards a spouse that is associated with loving behavior).

Gottman and his co-authors aren’t Evangelicals (and Gottman is a Jew), so it’s not surprising that they don’t explicitly talk about how to interpret Ephesians 5. But, they do address feminist concerns about the distribution of power in marriage. They believe that those concerns are misplaced. They argue that the concept of power is illusive, that every attempt to measure it has fallen apart, and that there is absolutely no consistent evidence that the definitions of power used by feminist scholars such as Pepper Schwartz in any way correlate with marital health and satisfaction. Gottman and his co-authors don’t appear to be particularly concerned about the outcomes of decisions. They go so far as to summarize the findings of marital research as “quite unsatisfying to sociologists and feminists, who are concerned with the concept of power and its distribution in marriage.”

Rather, Gottman and his co-authors argue that what matters is influence, which they define as “the ability of one person’s emotions to affect the partner’s emotions.”

How is it that partners can be influenced by each other? When a problem arises, is the solution for the husband to become less defensive, move toward his wife, and be open to her input? Or, is the solution for the wife to be step back, be less confrontational and less critical, so as to make it easier for her husband to hear her? Both John Gottman and Emerson Eggerichs argue that the answer to both questions is yes! The typical wife must be less critical and less contemptuous. She must be less demanding. A wife should be constantly evaluating her behavior along these dimensions. But, at the same time, the typical husband is to be constantly evaluating his behavior. He needs to be less defensive and less prone to withdrawing. He needs to move toward his wife, to be open to his wife’s input, and to be receptive to his wife’s concerns.

When both partners respond to each other in this way, both partners are influenced by each other. I love the way Sarah Sumner talks about this. She says that because of physiological differences and the resulting impact of those physiological differences on behavior, Ephesians 5 describes a husband’s openness to his wife as sacrifice, and a wife’s openness to her husband as submission. Stalemates will be rare. When they occur – and assuming that what is at issue is a matter of personal preference – I believe that the wife is to submit. As I’ve written before on complegalitarian, I believe that my husband’s knowledge that I will yield in the event of the rare stalemate plays a critical role in his willingness to being influenced by my input.

Like all of us, my time is limited. If the discussion continues, I’ll try to respond again at some point. But, I’ve pretty much explained my position and may not have much more to say.

Marilyn said...

P.S. I just realized that I forgot to respond to one of your points.

Suzanne, I've read Gottman and Murray's book. The graphs in Murray's Powerpoint slides are straight out of the book. Yes, the graphs are symmetric. But, they’re about consequences, i.e., negative and positive affect. The gender differences in behavior are still extremely relevant because they are what precedes/causes the negative and positive affect!

A husband experiences negative affect when his wife is critical and contemptuous. A wife experiences negative affect when her husband is defensive and stonewalling. So, the wife needs to be less critical and contemptuous, just as the husband needs to be less defensive and stonewalling. Same outcome for husband and wife - negative affect. But, very difference triggers!

Suzanne, you're claiming that Emerson Eggerichs misrepresents the content in The Mathematics of Marriage. Out of curiosity, have you actually read The Mathematics of Marriage? I say this because your comment suggests that you looked at the video, but have not read the book.

Gem said...

Suzanne, you are mischaracterizing Love and Respect! Emerson Eggerichs does not claim that John Gottman argues in favor of a wife’s submission. What Emerson does claim is that the Bible tells a wife to submit to her husband. It then follows that if the husband has final authority, it is contemptuous of the wife (i.e., disrespectful) to fail to submit to that authority. -Marilyn

Marilyn, I am disappointed. I recall your pointing out the coupling in Sarah Sumner's work of:
That just made so much more sense to me. Now you are back at:
which really is not in the passage at all. You (Eggerich?, etc) are adding to the scripture when you say "It follows that the husband has final authority". Scripture nowhere says that.

From the rest of your comment along the lines of Eggerich's assumptions that wives criticize nag and are contemptuous while husbands withdraw and stonewall, I suddenly realize that I am the "husband". YIKES!

I absolutely loved Dr Laura's book, but felt the same way, I could read the whole thing as "the proper care and feeding of me- the wife"

And though I have not read "The Mathematics of Marriage" I did some browsing of Gottman at googlebooks...
Here's a good one:

"contempt is any statement or behavior that appears to put oneself on a higher plane than one's partner"
At the link you can see the quote in context of the example which is one of contempt on the husband's part.

and this which explains that the husband's affect was critical in predicting the wife's affect (pg 60). http://books.google.com/books?id=cQsX_UgESWUC&printsec=frontcover#PPA60,M1

and on page 62 at the bottom:
"By the way, violent men hardly ever stonewall. They are fully engaged in vigilant and controlling behavior"

Everything I read by Gottman made sense, while Eggerich irritated me intensely. Maybe it sells books and makes Eggerich rich, but its going to bring many a woman much pain if she tries unilaterally to jump through the hoops he prescribes for her.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks for providing the summary statements on stonewalling and criticism. I should have made this more clear. Your quotes are a good illustration of Gottman and Murray's research. I think we agree on everything up to this point - when you write,

"It then follows that if the husband has final authority, it is contemptuous of the wife (i.e., disrespectful) to fail to submit to that authority."

I don't see Gottman and Murray implying anything like this ever. In fact, they talk of power-sharing and mutual yielding, of allowing each other dreams.

Eggerichs clearly equates "respect" with submitting to someone else's decision. I agree that it is likely that this is what the Greek phobeo means in Eph. 5:33.

Gottman and Murray to my sense equate respect with a lack of contemptuous tone or criticism. Nothing to do with authority.

I am not sure if you ever saw the conversation here, but in the end Janet contributed this comment,

I have been a practicing psychotherapist for over 15 years and have taken training in couples therapy from John Gottman in Seattle. Although his research points to typical patterns of communication among husbands and wives, with gender specific advice to each on how to deal with their spouse, he certainly does not support Eggerich’s generalization that wives are somehow less in need of respect than husbands — indeed, even 80% of men prefer respect, wives need both love AND respect.

Gottman’s work being based on sophisticated top-notch research is far more embracing of the nuances and individual differences across couples than what you see from Eggerich. For example, Gottman acknowledges a pattern that he describes as wife-demand-husband-withdraw, a pattern that Eggerich discusses at length in his book, to the point of generalizing it to almost all couples (only one page is devoted to emotional husbands with stonewalling wives). But Gottman’s work goes much further, noting patterns of mutually volatile couples, belligerent husbands, etc., each requiring different interventions.

Unfortunately, these facts are lost on those who have become fans of Eggerich, seeing his work as the answer to restoring gender roles, when much damage can be done to individuals and communities by its simplistic one-size-fits-all message. For example, there has been a burgeoning Christian “men’s rights” movement on this internet (aka “MGTOW”, “MRA”) that uses Eggerich’s writings to reinforce their mysogynistic stereotypes of women as shrews. In the wrong hands, Eggerich’s sweeping quotes can be very toxic stuff.

I think that Eggerich wants to present one Biblical model and therefore leaves disrespected women in a vacuum and they suffer terribly. While Gottman got right in there with Angie and supported her and acknowledged that she felt disrespected and controlled by her husband. Gottman did not try to make Angie fit a pattern.

I am sorry if it comes on too strong, but I think Eggerichs insistance on hierarchy at any cost, exacts too high a cost from some women.

I think you have brought attention to part of the research I did not articulate well enough. Thanks and I appreciate that you have a good heart in this. I simply disagree that a hierarchy is healthy in a marriage.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I feel that Eggerichs and other Christians are trying to use the reputation of Gottman and Murray to support the complementarian paradigm and that is disrespectful of what they really wrote.

Lin said...

" feel that Eggerichs and other Christians are trying to use the reputation of Gottman and Murray to support the complementarian paradigm and that is disrespectful of what they really wrote."

That is exactly what I thought, too.

Marilyn said...

Hi Suzanne,

You say that Eggerichs exaggerates and makes logical leaps.

But, that’s exactly how what you’ve written comes across to me! Let me give you a couple of examples. First, you cite a quote from a therapist that we need to be concerned because there is a burgeoning men’s movement that relies on Emerson’s materials. Curious about this, I googled “MGOTW Eggerichs” (without any quotes). My google search yielded three hits. Two of the three were to your website. I also googled “MRA Eggerichs” (again, without any quotes). Setting aside the false positives, there were two hits. One was to your site and the other was to another feminist site. So, where is this “burgeoning movement”?

Second, the logic underlying your argument about Eggerichs mischaracterizing Gottman makes no sense to me. Eggerichs never claims that Gottman talks about submission! You’re upset that Eggerichs talks about submission, but Gottman doesn’t. Well, John Gottman doesn’t mention sacrifice, either. Using your reasoning, love shouldn’t include sacrificing to the point of even laying down one’s life, because John Gottman never talks about sacrifice. So much for “Greater love hath no man…..” Do you walk to work or take your lunch?

I think the problem is that egals read their presuppositions into the Love and Respect material. On four occasions when I was involved at complegal, I wrote long comments about the importance of respecting women. On all four occasions, I used material directly out of the Love and Respect conference video. The first two times, I provided proper attribution to Emerson. The egals went ballistic because they read into what I had written, their presuppositions about the Love and Respect material. The final two times, I made exactly the same arguments, but bit my tongue (because, as an academic, giving credit where credit is due is important to me) and did not provide attribution. There was an outpouring of positive response from the egal women to exactly the same material – for example, to the I Peter 3:7 notion that men are to respect women because women are also created in the image of God and that husbands are to be sensitive to their wives’ physical and emotional vulnerability within the context of the marriage relationship.

Emerson is not saying what egals claim he is saying. He is talking primarily about how men and women are to relate, not roles. (There are many examples in his book, for example, of marriages with two-career couples.) He is not telling women they have no voice. Rather, he is telling them how to communicate in a manner that will open their husbands’ hearts to their input. He does not insist on hierarchy at any cost. He specifically states that his materials would not apply to a marriage like you’ve described yours, for example.

I think we’re at the “agree to disagree” point. But, I think that our discussion has been VERY valuable, in that we’ve found common ground with respect to John Gottman’s materials.

Suzanne, thanks for accepting my comments. I appreciate your gracious hosting of our conversation!

P.S. You’re correct when you say that there is no discussion of marriage styles in the Love and Respect book. However, the Love and Respect conference DVDs – which most people who seriously apply the material use in addition to the book - discuss Gottman’s various healthy marriage styles (e.g., avoidant and volatile).

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Eggerichs wrote,

Interestingly enough, scientific research confirms that love and respect are the foundation of a successful marriage.


Gottman's findings confirm what has already been in Scripture for some two thousand years.

Eggerichs make it quite explicit that he believes that Eph. 5 establishes a hierarchical relationship between the spouses, when he write,

If you want a Love and Respect marriage, do not argue or fight against hierarchy. (p 213)

We have already seen in chapter 1 7 that Paul lays out the biblical hierarchy of the home: The man is the head, and the wife is to be subject to him (page 216)

Eggerichs clearly says that Gottman's findings confirm the Eph. 5 model, which, according to Eggerichs is hierarchy.

Do Gottman's finding confirm hierarchy in marriage or not? That is the question.

Lin said...

My whole problem with this is that Eggerich made it sound like Gottman's research supported hierarchal marriage when it did not. Perhaps that was not Eggerich's intention but he simply mapped Gottman's research to his own views of hierarchal marriage and proclaimed it a fit.

I thought this was disingenuous.

Lin said...

Marilyn wrote:

" think the problem is that egals read their presuppositions into the Love and Respect material."

It is a presupposition to say that Eggerich teaches hierarchy in marriage?

Gem said...


Not sure if Marilyn is responding? Here is the acronym through which wives are supposed to see their husbands right from the book in question:
page 184 of L & R on Google Books

The "H" in Eggerich's "C.H.A.I.R.S" acronym stands for "Hierarchy"

Anonymous said...

I know. :o(

and the A is for 'authority'.

That is why I do not think egals read presuppositions into Eggerich's book. He teaches hierarhchy in marriage. Egals believe in mutual submission.


Suzanne McCarthy said...

Eggerichs is absolutely clear on hierarchy. He does not downplay it at all.

I think where Marilyn's views come in useful is in using the word influence instead of power. That is, in some hierarchical marriages the one under hierarchy may have "influence" although this is not explicitly described as power.

But I think Gottman shows that the wife needs to have influence in order to be in a healthy relationship. So one could say that she gains influence by being respectful

However, this is all negated if the husband believes he has final say in every decision, which is what Eggerich supports. He is clear that the husband has 51% authority, and I think on practical terms some women experience this as the wife having no influence at all.

Perhaps a more conciliatory term would be that marriage should be an "equal influence" relationship.

For those who experience unequal influence, either male or female, marriage is a place of estrangement and servitude.

Anonymous said...

This hits a bit close to home for me as I was a Leadership trainer for many years and I certainly understand the use of influence.

There are influential leaders and positional leaders.

There is a huge difference. For one, influential leaders must use strategic tactics because they have no positional power to make final decisions. If we map that to a woman in a hierarchal marriage, we could call it manipulation or even just persuasion. Many influential leaders use outside sources for crediblity with the positional leader.

The positional leader says, it is to be done and it is done. Period. Because he/she has the 'position'.

I detest the games that such teaching implies. And a marriage is not corporate America. I do believe a wife has great influence over her husband. But sometimes that influence can be very bad for her because it can turn her into a manipulative coquette to get him to see or do certain things. If he respected her as an intellectual equal in all respects and was taught mutual submission from the start, these sorts of tactics would not be needed so much.


believer333 said...

The CHAIR illustration sure sounds like narcism. I know a lot of good men who do NOT fit that model. And it appears to make women out to be enablers of immature attitudes.

I haven't read Eggrich's book yet, but that is somewhat disheartening. Also, I can fully understand how a woman who has knuckled under to fit herself in that model would be really angry and bitter at other women who have happy and fulfilling marriages without having to be subordinated in that manner.