Marital Mathematics

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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Unhappy Family Has Its Own Bi-Linear Influence

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