MY HUSBAND TOM and I fought most of the way to the Dr. John Gottman lecture.
I don’t recall what the argument was about. I vaguely remember he was annoyed that I hadn’t gotten the Subaru’s headlight replaced, which I guess I must’ve agreed to do. I was annoyed that he expected me, a car dope, to accomplish something even remotely automotive. He carped that I wasn’t parking in the best lot. I carped that he was checking his BlackBerry for email instead of talking to his wife. And he’d forgotten something in his office, dammit, so we were going to be late to the “Making Marriage Work” lecture.
As it turned out, we weren’t late: A knot of people clogged the Town Hall entrance, waiting to pay $50 a couple—during a recession—to hear the nation’s pioneer in relationship science dispense the marriage secrets he’d spent a career uncovering. Thirty some years ago, as a young clinical psychologist, he set out to study the relationship dynamics and concurrent physiological responses of married couples. One newlywed pair at a time would spend a full 24 hours in a lushly appointed apartment with a placid view of the Montlake Cut, discussing matters of both agreement and conflict, while Gottman wired them for heart rate and brain function and numerous other physical variables.
Over months and years Gottman and his grad students tested and retested these same couples, gradually amassing a pile of data on the behaviors that make marriages work—and those that make them weak. As the study ripened and some couples divorced, the scientist began to see that certain behaviors could reliably predict a split. Upon this data, Dr. John Gottman built a research institute, a self-help book empire, a thriving therapeutic practice, and an esteemed academic name. His therapeutic superhero skill? Divorce Predictor.
“Is that like horse whisperer?” Tom asked as we found seats. We looked around, suddenly self-conscious. Our marriage seemed pretty healthy to me, aside from a short list of ongoing differences—we call them Fight A, Fight B, and Fight C—and the occasional argument about nothing, as in the car ride over. Generally we dwell in a playful, enriching, and loving union.