Marital Mathematics


| June 9, 2003


Retired University of Washington psychology professor John M. Gottman has invoked the principles of calculus to develop a formula for marital discord, reports David Glenn in The Chronicle of Higher Education. This formula is the foundation of the book, The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models (MIT Press). Based on the theorem that divorce can be predicted by ?husbandly tone-deafness??the man?s inability to respond to his wife?s ?suggestions and emotional expressions??Gottman and his colleagues have successfully predicted couples? divorce rates with ?greater than 90 percent accuracy.?

Inspired by mathematician James D. Murray?s book, Mathematical Biology, a book explaining the mathematics of ?complex dynamic systems, such as brain tumors,? Gottman met with the author and suggested the possibility that mathematical equations could be applied to his marital studies. Initially, Murray dismissed the possibility, but by the end of the conversation, he was ?totally hooked.? Gottman?s colleagues also expressed some skepticism toward his research, but six months into the project they couldn?t go into the applied mathematics lounge ?without getting drawn into arguments about how to write these marriage equations.?

Gottman and co-authors Kristin R. Swanson, Catherine C. Swanson, and Rebecca Tyson based their final formula on several factors: ?influence functions??which describe a variable of spousal ?snarky comments?; the ?uninfluenced steady state??which represents each spouse?s overall mood on a given day; ?ojive functions??a ?sophisticated variant? that measures whether or not one partner?s mood is positive or negative enough to affect the other; and ?dampening? or ?repairing??spousal attempts to respectively hinder or fix communications during an argument. Although the long-term implications of their research are unclear, Gottman and his colleagues have utilized the formula to inform and improve their marital therapy techniques.

Next on the docket, Gottman will study ?the chaos theory? that newborn babies introduce to a marriage.
?Erin Ferdinand



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