Dr. John Gottman has dedicated his career to researching divorce prediction and marital stability, and has come up with a method to the madness of relationships – The Gottman Method. This method argues that there are seven specific building blocks required for a strong and stable relationship. Think of it as physically building your dream home: While there is room for ingenuity and creativity, there are laws of gravity, principles of engineering, and even design that remain true and necessary for all homes.
Below are the seven building blocks for successful relationships:
1. Build Your Love Maps
The love map principle emphasizes the importance of knowing your spouse deeply. Keep learning about each other's likes, dislikes, dreams, and experiences. The more you understand your spouse, the stronger your emotional connection will be. This is never a one and done task. As we grow older and experience new seasons of life, you should constantly be learning about your spouse. Stay curious about who your spouse is becoming, how he absorbs new experiences, and remember the details that are important to him. You don’t have to care about football, but you should care about the fact that your spouse cares about football and the ways this interest impacts his life.
The term “map” is important here, as what you are building is a guide covering what matters to your spouse and how you can better understand him, care for him, and love him.
2. Nurture Fondness and Admiration
Maintain a positive view of your spouse by focusing on his positive qualities and expressing appreciation for them. Regularly remind yourself of why you fell in love in the first place. It’s well known that gratefulness is the core of happiness, and in relationships, it is the gratefulness for each other that uplifts the individuals and consequently the relationship. Constantly reminding your husband of everything you admire about him will make him feel appreciated and respected – both matters of crucial importance.
3. Turn Towards Each Other
Cultivate a habit of responding to each other's bids for connection, attention, or affection. These small moments of engagement contribute to building trust and intimacy. Deflecting these bids would make someone feel betrayed as it contradicts the belief of being there for each other. Nonetheless, it happens. What matters most is that the positive bids outnumber the negative bids, and consequently reinforce the idea that we’re caring and attentive to the ones we love.
Positive bids reinforce the idea that we’re caring and attentive to the ones we love.
Positive bids are small things such as offering to cook, asking how someone’s day went, offering a back massage, etc. Asking someone how they like their coffee is a way to reinforce the fact that we are willing to do things in a certain way, not for our own personal benefit, but our spouse’s.
4. Accept Influence
Be open to your husband’s opinions, preferences, and suggestions. A successful marriage involves both spouses valuing and respecting each other's input and decisions. As much as we shouldn’t expect to fully convince our spouse to think and act the way we do, letting our minds be changed by our spouse is important. On one level, it demonstrates that we respect his opinions and consider them valid, and when fully adopted, we confirm that they are right. We don’t need to do this over every difference, but doing it over some will increase the quality of the relationship, as it demonstrates that our thoughts and beliefs are valued.
5. Solve the Solvable Conflicts
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but not all conflicts are unsolvable. Address problems openly and collaboratively. Focus on finding solutions and compromising rather than trying to "win" the argument. Keep a short (or long, if needed) list of all your relationship problems. Decide which ones are unsolvable and which ones have solutions. Go to therapy if needed, but be conscious and effective at addressing everything that may be hurting your relationship unnecessarily.
6. Overcome Gridlock
Some conflicts may become entrenched over time. The key is to explore the underlying issues and understand each other's deeper needs and values. This helps in finding common ground and resolving long-standing disagreements.
Talking about feelings and systems of meaning is the first step to overcoming gridlock, as it helps each person dive deeper into why something bothers them so much. Let’s say, your spouse doesn’t show appreciation for material gifts, and that offends you. It turns out that, during childhood, your spouse had a few experiences in which gifts were somehow turned against him. He was either made to feel bad for not liking that specific shirt someone gave him, or something he was not willing or able to give was expected from him after receiving such a gift. In this context, growing in understanding of what these experiences were like for your spouse will help you get out of the gridlock and reach a point where you can have a productive conversation.
Establishing rituals, traditions, and goals that are unique to your marriage creates a sense of unity and purpose.
7. Create Shared Meaning
Build a sense of shared purpose and meaning in your relationship. Establish rituals, traditions, and goals that are unique to your marriage. This creates a sense of unity and purpose. Parenting is the most common shared meaning couples have, but it should not be the only one. It’s a sad truth that many couples divorce after their kids leave the house because they find that they don’t have much of a bond aside from their children.
Working on projects together and accomplishing goals as a team will always solidify your relationship. Activities as small as taking self-defense classes together and as big as building your house from scratch are vital for your union. Even volunteering for a cause you both care about is a big contribution to your sense of union. Try to always have at least one shared activity going on as this will prevent the possibility that you will wake up one day and feel as if you are roommates more than lovers.
Here is an exercise to help you assess the seven building blocks in your relationship:
Make a two column chart with these seven building blocks. In the first column, write down how each block currently looks in your relationship, and in the second, write down how you’d like them to look.
Have your spouse do the same, and then compare your charts.
This exercise will give you an eye-opening understanding of how your spouse perceives the relationship and the vision he has for it. Without judgment and with plenty of curiosity, discuss your charts and work together to create a shared chart.
There is plenty of data showing that the quality of our relationships is a strong predictor of happiness and health; therefore, building a strong home is the best thing we can do for our loved ones. Be intentional, and embrace the uniqueness of your marriage and family, and stay curious. Aim to learn about the people you love so you can move forward in relationships with a shared vision and purpose.
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