Last week I wrote about the 4 signs that your marriage needs help. Well, it is time to go on the positive and talk about how to build a strong relationship. Marriage is such a gift from God, and is worth investing in on a daily level. Victoria and I are working our way through these suggestions that Allan Mathews has put together. Allan is married to the wonderful Julie (who is an elder at church) and a trained counsellor. In turn these suggestions come from Professor John Gottman who has mapped which marriages work and last.
There are some great practical things here (more compliments than criticisms) and also some key things that you need to spend time on like working out shared values and beliefs. So… with help from Allan Mathews from church, and using the picture of a house, here are the 3 main areas to build a strong relationship…
So firstly, building the foundation. A good marriage is composed of friendship. These foundation elements are:
- Build Love Maps – Know your partner intimately. A “love map” is that part of one’s brain where one stores all the relevant information about your spouse’s life, such as their worries, hopes, and goals in life; their history; and the facts and feelings of their world.
- Share Fondness and Admiration – Nurturing fondness and admiration involves meditating a bit on one’s partner and what makes one cherish him or her. Exercises suggested for doing this include thinking about incidents that illustrate characteristics one appreciates in your partner; talking about the happy events of the past.
- Turning towards – Turning towards each other means connecting with one’s spouse; being there for each other during the events in each other’s lives; and responding favourably to your spouse’s bids for attention, affection, humour or support.
Secondly, building strong living areas – the places where you daily rub against each other!
The Positive Perspective -. Gottman has a measure that says partners who give more than 5 compliments for every 1 negative comment to each other are up there with the “masters in marriage”. This is the opposite of the two indicators to divorce discussed in part 1 (criticism and contempt).
Managing Conflict Well – You will disagree on a large number of issues, so you will need to manage conflict in a healthy way. There are three parts to this:
Establish dialogue and agree on the rules of how you will discuss conflicts. This is the opposite of the two indicators to divorce discussed in part 1 (defensiveness and stonewalling) which leads to gridlock.
Gridlock occurs when: A conflict makes one feel rejected by one’s partner. They keep talking about the disagreement but make no headway. The partners become entrenched in their positions and are unwilling to budge. When the partners discuss the subject, they end up feeling more frustrated and hurt. The conversations about the problem are devoid of humour, amusement, or affection, and finally, the partners become even more immovable over time.
Conflict resolution involves: Softening the start-up (i.e. leading off of the discussion without criticism or contempt). Making a straightforward comment about a concern and expressing one’s need in a positive fashion. The efforts a couple makes to de-escalate the tension during a touchy discussion. Soothing oneself and one’s partner. Compromising and being tolerant of each other’s faults.
Finally, building a strong roof – the overall meaning of your relationship that you build your life together under!
The final level has to do with creating shared meaning for the marriage that both can share and aspire towards. This consists of:
Creating Shared Dreams – Meshing the couple’s individual life dreams together to create a shared life dream, for the two to work together towards.
Creating Shared Meaning – Meshing rituals of connection, goals, roles, beliefs, narratives, and metaphors.
Is that helpful? Why not take each part of the strong house and discuss with your partner an area each night, for 3 nights. Ask each other, how well do we do these things, and, how could I grow (take turns)?