The Four Pillars of Shared Meaning in Our Marriage or Partnership

Is our love relationship or marriage just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love, or is there more? What about the spiritual dimension of creating an inner life or inner culture together?

Usually, we think of culture in terms of large ethnic groups or even countries. Within those macro-cultures, each couple and each family creates their own mirco-culture. These smaller units also have their customs, rituals and stories or myths about what it means to be part of their group.

In order to create shared meaning, Drs John and Julie Gottman name four pillars to build a solid relationship on. These four pillars allow the couple a shared sense of meaning. With this shared culture, conflict is much less intense and perpetual problems are less likely to lead to gridlock.

pillar_sky_one

PILLAR ONE: Rituals of Connection

Powerful antidotes to disconnection are rituals with your spouse and children—together and separately. A ritual is a structured event or routine that you enjoy together. Such rituals include

  • rituals of communication like talking over dinner or the stress reducing conversation
  • celebration rituals, like birthdays, holidays or anniversaries
  • rituals around recreation like repeating weekend or seasonal activities, and vacation times together
  • sexual rituals, like initiating lovemaking
  • rituals around everyday living, like start-of-day rituals, end-of-day reunions, bedtime routines or dealing with illness

 

PILLAR TWO: Support for Each Other’s Roles

We all play different roles. We are not just partners, but also parents, children to our own parents, siblings, friends, and of course we take on professional roles as well. Our perspective on our own roles, and our partner’s view of them, can either add to the meaningfulness or create tension and disharmony.

Dissimilar perspectives on what the role of the husband/wife is, different views on parenting, and which kind of interactions with parents, siblings and friends are appropriate, can all contribute to conflict. Our views and our partner’s views on what it means to work and the significance we attach to our own work can either deepen our sense of connection or create tension.

It is important to speak about and understand what the different roles mean to each partner. Even if we do not agree with each other 100%, we can reach a consensus if we know what is significant to the other.

heart-sky-door-cropped

 

PILLAR THREE: Shared Goals

Part of what makes life meaningful is the goals we work towards. No relationship stands on solid ground without shared goals of some kind. These are some useful questions to pursue.

  • Do we value each other’s accomplishments and honour each other’s personal goals unrelated to our relationship?
  • Do we share the same goals for our children, our life in general, our financial future and our old age?
  • Are our life dreams similar or compatible? If they are not identical, do we find ways to honour them?

 

Gottman-quote

 

PILLAR FOUR: Shared Values and Symbols

Values and beliefs form the final pillar of shared meaning. They are sometimes represented by symbols. Such shared philosophies are around

  • love and trust
  • the importance of family
  • spiritual beliefs
  • the role of sex in the relationship
  • the importance and meaning of money and possessions
  • the importance of education
  • similar dreams about retirement and old age
  • the role of fun, play, adventure and connection with nature
  • similar values around personal freedom, autonomy and interdependence
  • sharing power in the relationship.

 

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Angelika, Belief Change and Relationship Coach

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Sitting on the Anger Iceberg With You

angry screaming child

Listen to this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

The door slams shut with a loud BANG. Marcia feels the frustration and anger rising in her. Here we go again! She can hear her 11-year-old daughter slam drawers and scream at her sister to get out of her room. “That is really taking it to too far”, she thinks. “How dare she behave this way? If I had ever acted like this, I would have been grounded for life!”

Marcia has different voices in her. The outraged voice is one of them. Then there is the sad voice that feels frustrated and helpless to guide her daughter through this time in her life. Then there is the voice which says she has failed as a mother; she somewhere must have gone wrong in raising her children.

Marcia has not failed. Most of us have just never been given the tools to cope with anger in a healthy way. We learn it is wrong to be angry and that showing anger or even rage is inappropriate. Yet, this response is literally evolutionarily ingrained into our brains for protection. The sub-cortical areas of our brain are wired for fight or flight. Stan Tatkin calls those more instinctive parts of our brain our “primitives”. When we feel overwhelmed, stressed, threatened or unsafe in some way, anger instinctively kicks in for us to be able to fight and keep ourselves safe.

Gottman Anger Iceberg

In November, The Gottman Institute posted an interesting article about anger by Kyle Benson. He uses the analogy of an iceberg to describe how anger is only the tip of that iceberg. More important than the anger visible above the surface is what is underneath the water. Anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is our protection from more vulnerable feelings, like helplessness, sadness, grief, loneliness and shame, just to name a few.

Anger is our internal GPS and guidance system that we are somehow off track in regards to our needs. When we accept anger as a feedback mechanism rather than a problem, which needs to be fixed or suppressed, we can investigate why it is there. It’s easy to see your partner’s or child’s anger but it can be more difficult to see the underlying feelings the anger is protecting. We need to listen closely to what is going on at a deeper level. Underneath anger there is a longing for something else. Marcia will need to sit on the anger iceberg with her daughter to help her figure out what she is really feeling.

Your partner or child’s anger is not a personal attack. It’s about their underlying primary feelings and unmet needs. Rather than judging her daughter’s outburst as wrong or taking it personally, Marcia needs to become curious as to why she is angry. Is her daughter perceiving something as unfair, is she sad about a recent loss, is she confused, is she experiencing helplessness, is she feeling like a disappointment, is she carrying responsibility too heavy for her age and therefore feeling overwhelmed, are her human needs met, and so on?

Dhebi Essential Human Needs

As Dhebi DeWitz’s chart from her book “The Messenger Within” illustrates, our needs can be grouped into physical nurturance, autonomy, interdependence, celebration/play, integrity and spiritual communication. As a child transitioning from childhood to adolescence, Marcia’s daughter, for example, wants and needs to feel physically safe and taken care of, loved and accepted, able to play and laugh, able to experience a sense of achievement and independence while being reassured she can reach out to others, develop a sense of purpose as well as beliefs of a benevolent universe.

Anger often lives in our shadow. We have learned to disown our own anger as “bad” or “wrong”. The more Marcia has embraced her own anger, the easier it will be not to be triggered by other people’s anger. She can then let her daughter know that it’s okay to feel angry. She can invite her to connect with the more vulnerable emotions and the possibly unfulfilled needs that the anger or rage is protecting. When her daughter feels heard and accepted with all her emotions, pleasant and unpleasant ones, her primary emotions can rise to the surface and steps can be taken to address the underlying needs.

Join Dhebi DeWitz and myself for our next bi-monthly FREE webinar. Our topic on Tuesday, May 7 is “Are Your Essential Needs Being Met?”. How to discover your essential human needs that are not being met in your life and to honour them. Click here to receive the link to join us life from 8:00-9:00 p.m. EST or 5:00-6:00 PST. The webinar will also be posted here for you to access it at any time.

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Angelika, 905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca