By Nancy Ryan
Marriage and Family Therapist
Fair Oaks, California
Building a Sound Relationship House
John Gottman has spent the past four decades studying relationships. From over 3,000 couples studied and followed, he has learned a lot about what to do and not do in a partnership. With that knowledge, he’s built a tool on what does work in relationships called The Sound Relationship House Theory.
The foundation of the Gottman Method, this tool summarizes what masters of relationships know: it’s not about having a perfect relationship but about putting effort into building friendship, connection, and positive regard. This tool also teaches how to manage conflict and avoid the Four Horseman, which are the destructive patterns that show up in conflict.
Understanding the Sound Relationship House
Build Love Maps
Knowing each other’s love maps means staying curious about your partner’s inner world. For example, what are your partner’s current stressors? What are their dreams? Who is close to them? You become a master when you feel known by your partner and you know their love map as well.
Share Fondness and Admiration
Fondness and Admiration are crucial to happy relationships. Remembering your partner’s positive qualities helps to build a stronger bond and allows you to maintain a sense of respect for your partner. This can go a long way in reducing the effects of the Four Horseman (Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness and Stonewalling).
Turn Towards Instead of Away
Living busy lives and holding up responsibilities can lead to two partners living parallel to one another. By turning towards one another, couples acknowledge each other and make space when one of them tries to connect. Responding to your partner when they lean in is a vital piece of a happy relationship.
The Positive Perspective
When the three previous levels have been built, a positive perspective on the relationship takes form and a willingness to give your partner the benefit of the doubt develops. When your partner is in a bad mood, you won’t automatically take it personally or feel attacked. Instead, you may ask about what is going on for them, verses bracing for impact.
Learning how to manage conflict is crucial to any relationship. Couples counseling can help prevent such things as harsh startups to conversations, escalating conflicts that cause people to feel flooded, and use of the Four Horsemen. Techniques include listening to each other’s perspective, recognizing what triggers are being activated, apologizing for your part, and making a plan should this happen in the future, all of which help couples process a fight rather than rehash it.
Make Life Dreams Come True
After learning to manage conflict, couples who are masters at relationship can focus on making their own and their partner’s dreams come true, both as individuals and as a couple. Sometimes, this may be the hardest part, especially when one partner has a dream or goal that appears to conflict with the other person, so compromise is involved. Ultimately, both partners should feel honored that they can live their best life with a partner who supports them.
Create Shared Meaning
Creating Shared Meaning, the final piece of Building a Sound Relationship House, is about building a shared sense of purpose or a legacy as a couple. It involves creating unique traditions, being on the same page with roles and symbols within the marriage, having compatible views and philosophies about parenting, money, work-life balance, etc. Sometimes these take time to develop.
Building a Sound Relationship House is a tool that helps to evaluate your relationship to see where strengths and weaknesses lie so that you can create a great relationship with your partner.
About the Author
Nancy Ryan, LMFT is owner of Relationship Therapy Center where all the therapists are trained in the Gottman Method Couples Counseling.