by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
According to The Gottman Institute there are 4 pillars to creating shared meaning in your relationship. One pillar is rituals of connection. Rituals are structured events or routines that you can rely on in your relationship. A special aspect of rituals is that if they are strong they get passed down. Rituals make an imprint on life beyond you.
– big rituals around things like holidays and birthdays.
– rituals around daily activity like how you start and end your day together.
– rituals around communication – how do you make sure you catch up with each other? Over coffee on Sunday? At the end of each night after dinner? Glass of wine on a Friday? A long walk?
-rituals around recreation – how do you go about taking vacations? Play? Seasonal activities?
The 2nd Pillar of Shared Meaning is roles. To create a sense of “shared meaning” in your relationship you need to have a clear understanding of what you BELIEVE your roles should be. Did you notice my emphasis on “believe”? You don’t need to agree exactly on how roles should be defined but you need to have a clear understanding of where your partner is coming from.
Some questions to ask to get clear:
1. What do you believe is the role of a (insert title here – partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband, etc). ?
2. What do you see as your role being in our partnership? What should my role be?
3. What’s the role of a mother? What’s the role of a father?
4. Who is responsible for chores in a home? Who is responsible for our finances?
The next pillar is life goals. Having shared meaning means that you support each other’s personal goals and accomplishments. It also means that you work to create goals with each other – how do you want to raise your children? What financial goals do you have in place? How do you want to impact others? Where will you travel? It also means finding ways to ways to honor goals that might be incompatible.
The fourth pillar of creating shared meaning is values and symbols. Strong couples are able to come together on basic sets of values and philosophies. Understanding and respect are key. It’s always fun to see what your philosophies are on different areas. Use the list below as a convo starter with your beau :). What are your philosophies on how the following should be managed in a relationship?
- love and trust
- possessions and money
- the role of education
- fun, play, adventure, and nature
- sharing power
- autonomy and individuality in a relationship
- religion and spirituality
- child rearing
- retirement and old age
How a couple creates “shared meaning” really means – “how does a couple create a culture?”. From the moment you start dating you are creating a culture with your partner – a culture of respect or disrespect, a culture of inside jokes, a culture of rituals.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a marriage therapist practicing in Center City, Philadelphia. Elizabeth works with couples of varying ages and levels of commitment to help them understand their relationship better.