Create Shared Meaning with Your Spouse (b205)

This post concludes my series drawn from Dr. John Gottman’s book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” Today’s installment is:

Principle #7: Create Shared Meaning

If you haven’t read them, you should read the previous four principles I’ve covered in my blog (click on the title to read the post):

This seventh principle is the frosting on the marriage cake. If you’ve ever had a cupcake without frosting, you know they can be quite delicious. But, seriously, a cupcake without frosting is missing something wonderful.

Likewise, a marriage can be stable and happy without creating shared, but there is a rich — spiritual, maybe — dimension to marriage that goes beyond raising kids and following dreams. It is the shared inner life of a couple who have developed a deep, mutual sense of meaning in their lives together as a family. This does not mean that goals have melded or that both partners always agree on what the best child-raising strategies are. It is a culture of marriage that shares the adventure of life, that honors each other’s needs and dreams, and that is flexible enough to change as each partner changes and grows.

Creating shared meaning involves cultivating a shared narrative that includes shared rituals and values. Couples can do this by sharing their life stories and sharing new growth experiences. But the key to creating shared meaning is to share the impact of these stories and experiences on your perceptions, values, etc.

Try these suggestions:

  • Share stories from your family of origin.
    • In what way did your childhood stories impact you?
    • Why are they important (nor not important to you)?
    • What did your family of origin do during your childhood that you want to avoid?
    • Reflect on the interaction between your childhood stories and your adult life together.
  • Read books together.
    • What did you like about that chapter?
    • What did you disagree with?
    • Did anything make you uncomfortable?
  • Talk through family gatherings (like a CIA debriefing session)
    • What was great? Why made it great for you?
    • What should be avoided? Why do you want to avoid that thing? Did it make you uncomfortable? Why?

As you share experiences and their personal impact on you, you and your spouse will build a shared narrative for your life. You will adopt some things from your spouse. Your spouse will adopt some things from you. Your spouse will let go of some things as part of your new family. You will let go of some things that were important to you for the sake of this new family. The two of you will be melding your story and his/her story into our story.

Family rituals also reinforce a sense of shared meaning. When you and your partner intentionally adopt or reject rituals, habits, expectations from your families of origin, you create shared meaning. You build identity into this couple or family by developing the ways that this family does things.

When I was growing up, we celebrated birthdays on the nearest convenient day. Not so for my wife. We have adopted her tradition as the way we do things in our family. We might have a party on the nearest available weekend day but, in our home, we ALWAYS have cake and sing “Happy Birthday” on the person’s actual birthday.

A family ritual is anything you do habitually together. It could be eating dinner together (perhaps on at least Sunday evenings). Rituals can involve:

  • The ways you keep in touch with family and friends.
  • What you do on vacations
  • How you spend Saturday morning
  • What you do on Christmas, when and how you decorate the tree or open presents
  • Having family “business meetings”
  • Bedtime routines
  • It could be anything. You get the idea…

A quick Google search turned up some great resources for creating family rituals:

I confess to you that I am feeling a little inadequate as I complete this series. I’ve seen several ways in which I haven’t done the greatest job. This is especially true with family rituals. I can see how they are important and I can see how our family has very few rituals that identify our family. One of my children has already moved out but I have two left at home. In terms of kids, it’s not too late. And it terms of being a couple, it’s never too late.

The trick to life is not never making mistakes, it’s recognizing them and moving forward. Everybody falls, the successful people are the ones who get up again.

From my Christian perspective, Jesus came full of grace and truth. In this series, you may have been hit by some “truth” that wasn’t so pleasant for you to recognize (as I was with regard to family rituals). If so, be gracious to yourself. Speak to yourself as you would speak to a close friend who has realized some error or inadequacy in his way of living life. Be gracious… then move forward. Don’t just feel bad, do something different. If something pierces your heart, take it to heart. Choose a new road. Will you do it perfectly? Not likely! But get going in the new and better direction you perceived yourself as needing. And keep going.

As with every post in this series, there’s much more in Dr. Gottman’s book, including inventories and exercises to help you grasp the seven principles and put them into action.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope it is helpful to you.

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1Gottman, John; Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Note: Links on this page may be affiliate links. See Disclosure page for details.

25 Things People Regret Later in Life (v204)

Don’t end up regretting things later in life that other people have already ended up regretting later in life!

In this Facebook Live video I walk through a Forbes article on 25 things people say they regret later in life. This was a helpful review for me and I hope it is for you, too.

The first 1:30 is me explaining about and apologizing for missing a Facebook Live Bible study I was supposed to be leading. If you don’t want to hear me explain and apologize, skip to about the 1:30 mark.

Peace,

Overcoming Gridlock in Your Marriage (b203)

This post continues my series drawn from Dr. John Gottman’s book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” Today’s installment is:

Principle #6: Overcome Gridlock

If you haven’t read them, you should read the previous four principles I’ve covered in my blog (click on the title to read the post):

 

(Chapter 9 of Dr. Gottman’s book includes practical tips for very specific solvable problems that couples often face, such problems dealing with stress, in-laws, money and sex. This post continues with the content from chapter 10.)

Gridlock can happen when partners desire mutually exclusive things. One wants kids, one doesn’t. One is a homebody and one is a party animal. One is a person of faith, the other an atheist. The trick with gridlock issues it to treat them as sort of a relational “bum knee.” They may always be there but they don’t have to suck the joy and energy out of the relationship.

Regarding how to deal with gridlock, writes Dr. Gottman:

The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue. (p. 217)

Dr. Gottman says the trick is understanding what’s behind these gridlock issues:

To navigate your way out of gridlock, you have to first understand its cause. Whether the issue is momentous, like which of your religions to pass on to your children, or ridiculous, like which way to fold dinner napkins, gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other. By dreams I mean the hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are part of your identity and give purpose and meaning to your life. (pp. 217-218)

In happy couples, each partner wants to help the other fulfill his or her dreams. These can be concrete, such as a certain size house in a certain type of neighborhood, or more intangible, such as a sense of safety or living life as an adventure.

The trick here is (no surprise!) learning to talk. Instead of negotiating or manipulating to move toward or hold onto your dreams and aspirations, talk about them. Talk about what’s underneath them. Perhaps the house and neighborhood aspiration is really a desire to feel successful? Perhaps a sense of adventure is more a reaction to his parents’ fearful attitude toward life.

Move forward by talking not just about your goals and aspirations, but about what they mean to you. Each person should let the other talk for a while about what the partner’s goals and aspirations mean or symbolize to him. No judgment. No interruption (except for occasional questions for clarification).

Here’s an important tip from Dr. Gottman for identifying unfilled dreams that might be fueling gridlock:

One good indicator that you’re wrestling with a hidden dream is that you see your spouse as being the sole source of the marital problem. (p. 224)

How to move past gridlock:

  1. Listen to yourself and your spouse to identify unfulfilled dreams.
  2. Speak and listen compassionately to each other (and to yourself) about what those dreams mean and why they are important.
  3. Soothe each other. These can be tender emotional places.
  4. End the gridlock. Support each other’s dreams.

As with every post in this series, there’s much more in Dr. Gottman’s book, including inventories and exercises to help you grasp the seven principles and put them into action.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope it is helpful to you.

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1Gottman, John; Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Note: Links on this page may be affiliate links. See Disclosure page for details.

5 Practices for Solving Solvable Problems in Marriage (b202)

This post continues my series drawn from Dr. John Gottman’s book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” Today’s installment is:

Principle #5: Solve Your Solvable Problems

If you haven’t read them, you should read the previous four principles I’ve covered in my blog (click on the title to read the post):

Remember, solvable problems have to do with behaviors and attitudes. What would you like your spouse to stop doing, start doing, or just do differently. It could be helping around the house. It could be not heaving a sigh whenever company is coming over. It could be talking more in the evening. It could be something more serious.

You can learn how to solve these problems in ways that will build your relationship and increase you respect for your partner. It may take some education, some practice, and even some self-discipline. But relational problem-solving is a learned skill. You can do it.

Through his study of couples successfully resolving conflict, Dr. Gottman came up with 5 steps (p. 158):

  1. Soften your startup
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
  4. Compromise
  5. Be tolerant of each other’s faults

It is important to note that these five steps do not include the empathic listening skills taught by many therapists. Dr. Gottman writes

It’s not a bad method— if you can do it. But, as I’ve said, many couples can’t— including many very happily married couples. Plenty of the people we studied who had enviable, loving relationships did not follow the experts’ rules of communication when they argued. But they were still able to resolve their conflicts. (pp. 157-158).

Soften your startup by complaining about a behavior instead of blaming a person. Start your statements with “I” instead of “you.” Be clear. Be polite. Be appreciative. Don’t store things up. (Instead of “You never put the dishes in the dishwasher,” try “I get frustrated when I clean the kitchen and then I come home to dirty dishes in the sink.”)

Repair attempts are points at one partner will share a feeling, apologize, indicate a need to calm down, share a change in thought or believe part way through the conversation or express appreciation.

Soothing has to do with using techniques and time that reduce the emotional heat that’s been raised by the discussion you’ve been having.

When approaching compromise, be sure that each person shares what’s behind their position in the conflict. Why is it important to partner A that partner B puts dirty dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink? Dig a little. Then get creative. You don’t want to go to mother-in-law’s house because she controls everything? Maybe take her out to dinner. Or maybe suck it up because it’s important to your partner. Or maybe non-related partner goes for a short time and then leaves for some other important event. You get the idea. Don’t dig in on your positions. Dig deep to find out what real needs are underneath then dig around to find creative ways to find the best compromise. BTW – If you are trying to keep a relationship going, it’s not weak to compromise. It’s strong.

Finally, be gracious toward each other. Don’t expect perfection. Changing habits takes time. Some days are better than others.

As with every post in this series, there’s much more in Dr. Gottman’s book, including inventories and exercises to help you grasp the seven principles and put them into action.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope it is helpful to you.

john-signature

1Gottman, John; Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Note: Links on this page may be affiliate links. See Disclosure page for details.