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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