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 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.



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?




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



Relationships need rituals. With our children we all recognize the need for rituals. We hug and kiss them goodbye and hello. We might have the ritual of reading or singing to them before bed-time, eating certain meals together, perhaps engaging in a spiritual practice, or we might have a ritual of doing something together like gardening. When my children were small I used to put a note of encouragement or love in their lunch box on a regular basis. Perhaps, you have a personal sharing ritual with your children? For a while we used to do the “What was the best part of your day?”- Question at dinner. In fact, the day with children is full with deliberate moments of ritual behaviour.

rituals blog bench under willow

We say the children need rituals. I would like to claim that it is not just the children but the relationship itself which needs the rituals. Rituals give us predictability and help us to be emotionally connected with each other; they make our relationships stronger. As our children become older, some rituals change or fall by the wayside. However, those rituals were part of the reason why the connection between us exists.

We all have birthday rituals. In our family, the birthday girl or boy is being woken up with a song in the morning. The cake later in the day, with the ritual of singing and blowing the candles out, making a wish is another common ritual in many families. Birthday presents are rituals. We all have our rituals around different holidays. They all strengthen the bond between the members of the family engaging in those rituals.

“Rituals are an important part of belonging. They are repeated, intentional ceremonies that recognize a special time or connection. Rituals engage us, emotionally and physically, so that we become riveted to the present moment in a positive way.” (Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight)

My dad calls us every Sunday morning. This is a ritual established more than 60 years ago as his mother, my grandmother, could already be counted on calling every Sunday morning. When I know we will be out, I’ll let him know, not because he will otherwise worry, my dad is pretty laid back despite being in his 80ties, but because it acknowledges our ritual and shows both of us that we value and treasure it.

Fourteen years ago, when I first moved to this area, I very quickly made a new friend, another mother from the school my older daughter was attending. Right from the start, we established a strong ritual. Once a month we went on a girl’s night out, going to dinner and a movie afterwards. This ritual lasted long after our children were not attending the same school anymore and they had lost touch with each other. Our friendship remained strong due to our ritual.

Then our lives became so busy that we did not have a lot of time anymore to go out at night and we changed our ritual to going for lunch. However, that new ritual did not have the same strength as our old one. I am sad to say that our lunch dates became more and more infrequent and our friendship drifted apart. Friendships need rituals. Some friendships need regularly shared activities, other friendships can survive on picking up the phone twice a year on each other’s birthday. However, without recognizing the bond in an intentional way, the friendship is going to struggle to survive.

The one relationship which we sometimes forget when it comes to rituals is our partnership or marriage. When I was married to my first husband, we didn’t go out anymore for regular dates after the children were born. We didn’t recognize the importance of alone time and rituals to keep our bond strong. Regular small gestures or ways of connecting go a long way in keeping a relationship healthy.
rituals blog bench in snow

What rituals do you have—or would you like to establish—in your primary love relationship? Do you touch, kiss and hug as part of your day, on waking up, going to sleep, leaving the house or coming home? Do you call or text during the day, not just to exchange information but to connect emotionally? Do you take a new class together, for example learning a language, or taking a cooking class, or dance class together? Do you have a special time together, for example having your morning coffee together or maintaining a regular date night or weekend getaway?

Other bonding rituals, deliberately structured moments of connecting, are validating your partner’s struggles and victories on a regular basis, for example “I am so amazed how you are able to…”, “I am proud of you for pushing through…”, or “I saw you struggle in that situation. You did your best…”

Publicly recognizing your partner and your relationship in front of friends or family members is another way of strengthening the bond. Some couples renew their vows; others are comfortable to express their love on facebook. But even a simple thank you in front of other people on a regular basis is a ritual that strengthens the relationship. Or a gesture of gratitude like bringing flowers home with a sincere thank you “for everything you do”.


As mentioned above, one ritual for some couples is to take a workshop together. Many couples who have taken our workshops have established a ritual of helping each other to change subconscious beliefs. I am teaching muscle testing during the four day Shadow Energetics Workshop. We will learn to muscle test others and how to do self-muscle testing.

To learn more contact Angelika

905-286-9466 (free phone consultation) or

For 2016 workshop dates and locations go to Upcoming Workshop.

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What do Easter traditions mean to you and your family?

“What does Easter mean to you?” my father asked me just yesterday. He wasn’t asking about how we celebrate Easter, about the traditions in our family, which he of course knows about. He wanted to know how I interpret resurrection. He started a discussion about the concept of all humans being sinners by birth, and the teachings of Jesus as God’s son, who takes away all our sins through his own death.

To understand why a talk like that is a bit of a surreal experience for me, you need to know that I grew up in a family with a catholic mother—who wasn’t practicing her religion but whose beliefs and fears were strongly shaped by the belief systems of the Catholic church—and an atheist father with an uncompromising belief system of “nothingness” after death.

Easter Lily, yellow

Now that my mother has passed on and my father himself is in his eighties, he is reflecting more about our mortality and the here and after. He is interested in what spiritual concepts other people find comfort and peace in. I can sense a longing in him to believe in something, yet his logical mind is struggling with a whole set of beliefs about whether it is okay to believe anything at all. He is unaware that—beyond spiritual beliefs—our entire reality and all our experiences are based on our individual beliefs, and more importantly, on our collective beliefs about this world.

As I am answering his questions, sharing my own very personal spirituality with him, he almost makes me laugh out loud because he grumbles “you mix and match religions”. He is struggling to understand how I can possibly be so sure that our soul will continue beyond the death of the physical body, and why I choose to believe that we can all be close to God. In fact, that we all are God—or whatever you want to call that Divine Energy which flows through every one of us.

I don’t think my father will find the answers he is looking for about an afterlife or re-incarnation until he himself is on the other side. I should make an agreement with him to come back after his passing and to give me a clear message or sign that his soul indeed continued in the eternal cycle of life.

Easter Sunday 3

So what does Easter mean to me? Eastermore than the religious meaningshas a strong component of being a family tradition, just like Christmas, New Year’s or Thanksgiving. Every family has their own rituals. Easter for me spells out sunshine, spring flowers, a wonderful new beginning, the eternal life cycle, re-birth, but most of all family togetherness and fun time.

When my oldest daughter was little, the TV show “Blues Clues” was her absolute favourite. That started our family tradition of Easter treasure hunts rather than just hiding eggs and looking for them. Over the years, the treasure hunts got more elaborate, pictures became words, words became riddles, English or German riddles became French or Spanish “clues”, depending on what language my children were learning at the time. I was delighted when my older daughter took on the task of creating the treasure hunt for her younger sister. Like some of our favourite Christmas or New Year’s traditions, the treasure hunt will undoubtedly also be passed on to the next generation in some form.

Despite the girls being almost grown-up now, they still enjoy the treasure hunt for their Easter basket. However, other Easter traditions which used to be part of our celebrations, like colouring eggs or making Easter crafts have lost their attraction for them. Sometimes, you need to give your family traditions an overhaul. While traditions provide a sense of belonging and create lasting memories, they must be altered to keep up with changes in the family. After all, traditions are supposed to serve our family, not keep us stuck in the past. Flexible traditions enhance the family sense.


What about blended families? What can they do to enjoy those first holidays as a newly formed family? A key is to be willing to modify your rituals to suit your new bonus family. It is a fine line to walk between keeping some of the old traditions for your own children to give them a sense of continuation and opening up to embracing new traditions to welcome new members to the family. Sometimes we tend to make it all about the younger members of the family and we forget the feelings of the older ones. The result could be that the older children learn that they and their needs don’t matter as much.

Somebody told me a childhood Easter story which is a prime example that we learn limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world during those precious holiday experiences. He is the oldest son with two much younger half-siblings. One Easter, after both his siblings had been born, he was excited to find many Easter treats. When he proudly brought his basket filled with his goodies back inside, he was presented with a letter from the Easter Bunny, telling him that from now on he would have to share every Easter egg with his baby siblings.

As much as I can appreciate the parent’s attempt to teach the son the values of sharing, this child also learned destructive beliefs like “I can never get ahead in life.” “When I have had a success it will be taken away.” “I don’t deserve to be successful.” “Why do I even bother to put any effort in?”

Obviously, one experience like this does not teach us lifelong limiting beliefs about ourselves. Most people have repeatedly been taught certain beliefs. The parents in this example could have avoided the sobering experience, had they from the start explained that from now on, the Easter Bunny was bringing three times as many treats for all the children and that he, as the oldest, would for now have the important job to find all the eggs. He could have learned that there is enough for everybody, that he deserves good things and he could have felt proud of taking care of others.

Easter Bunny Hug 3

Wishing all of you, your families and children of all ages a