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We treasure our intimate relationships for an infinite number of reasons. With our partner, we experience joy, rapture, safety, friendship, and pleasure. We create a safe haven from the outside world in which we can nourish and be nourished.
When life is going smoothly for us, it’s easy to cultivate this kind of bond. However, when we’re faced with obstacles that bring challenge and suffering, it becomes much more difficult. We can easily be lured by blame and resentment into actions that damage our relationship. Resilient couples are careful to navigate their way out of the blame game. Instead, they use challenges to facilitate growth. Their bond is tested, and it becomes stronger for it.
Resilience isn’t a quality distributed at random, gracing lucky couples and forsaking others. Resilience is a quality that can be cultivated over time. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman have devoted their careers to helping couples foster healthy, long-lasting, resilient relationships. Together, they founded The Gottman Institute, which takes a research-based approach to relationships.
What does this look like in practice? The Gottman Method has firm goals: “to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy; and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship.” Each of these goals plays a significant role in cultivating a couple’s sense of resilience.
For some couples, reaching these goals may include spiritual counseling or sessions with a therapist. However, the Gottman Institute gives us tools and frameworks we can apply independently in our everyday lives. One such tool is the Solid Relationship House.
What is the Solid Relationship House?
Think of the Solid Relationship House as a blueprint. Only, instead of building your dream home, you’re building the best possible version of your relationship.
Gottman reasons that a secure relationship is like a sturdy house. Its walls can withstand the elements and their share of weight. They aren’t made from bricks or drywall, though. These walls are built from trust and commitment. Trust and commitment are the basic building blocks that house a couple’s sense of resiliency.
The Solid Relationship house has seven levels of connection. Like all sturdy structures, each level is strong enough to support the next. When couples apply the Solid Relationship House teachings to their relationship, they can cultivate an unshakable bond.
Applying the Seven Levels to Everyday Life
Level 1: Building Love Maps
According to Gottman, a Love Map “is the essential guide to your partner’s inner world.” He’s referring to the way you and your partner know each other on a deep level: think worries, fears, stresses, hopes, joys and dreams. A lot of this information may already be known to you. However, there’s always something new to learn about your partner, no matter how close you are. Try creating your own Love Map by asking each other some of these questions:
- What was your childhood dream?
- Who was your favorite teacher?
- What leaves you feeling amazed?
- How do you cope with anxious thoughts?
- How is this relationship different from your past relationships?
- Can you describe a time you changed your mind about something?
Level 2: Share Fondness and Admiration
In long standing relationships, it’s not uncommon to assume our partners intuitively know how much we value them. Yet, we all cherish those moments when we feel seen and appreciated by our partners. That’s why it’s important to verbalize our love. It strengthens our bond and helps us feel more secure in the knowledge that we can see each other through challenges.
To make this type of sharing habitual in your relationship, you can commit to doing one small act of expression per day, whether it’s giving your partner a compliment, writing them a note, or simply describing something that you love about them.
Level 3: Turn Towards
Sometimes our instinct is to turn away from our partners when we feel stressed, threatened, or overwhelmed by a challenge. However, resilient relationships are built on mutual support. This means we turn towards our partner for solace rather than away. If turning towards doesn’t come naturally to you, there are a few simple actions that can help:
- Talk about what triggers stress and fear for each of you.
- Make a list of your default reactions – all the ways you turn away.
- Brainstorm replacement habits. For example, if you always call your sister when you are upset and rarely share your feelings with your partner, pause before you hit call. Try to verbalize how you feel to your partner first. You can always call your sister later.
Level 4: The Positive Perspective
Our thoughts create our reality. We experience this every day, be it at work, in our spiritual practice, or in our own self-care routines. The same goes for our relationships. Having a negative perspective hinders our ability to build a more resilient connection with our partner. It threatens our growth and undermines all of our previous hard work.
That’s why the Gottman Method advocates for taking a positive outlook. This doesn’t mean gaslighting yourself into being happy. It just means regarding yourself, your partner, and your situation with gentleness. Offer up the benefit of the doubt whenever you can.
Level 5: Manage Conflict
Nothing tests a couple’s resilience quite like conflict. However, the Gottman Method encourages couples to view conflict as a natural part of human relationships rather than as a foe that must be defeated. Resilient couples don’t eradicate conflict – they work with it. No matter what your current relationship to conflict is, you can implement these techniques to develop a healthier relationship to it:
- Break old patterns through dialogue. Rather than walking out, going silent, or raising your voice, find a time when you can talk calmly with your partner and explore the conflict together.
- When you notice that you are getting swept up in the conflict, ask for a time out. Go take a walk, play some music, or do some breathwork instead. Return to the conflict when you feel more settled.
- Take turns listening. Make a pact not to interrupt each other and just hold space for your partner to speak.
- Make time to do something fun. Just because there’s a challenge doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy each other’s company. See how mired in conflict you feel after a lunch date or an evening in the park.
Level 6: Make Life Dreams Come True
We can achieve so much in our intimate relationships. Having a resilient partnership doesn’t just mean that you can withstand turbulent times - it also means that you help one another bring goals into fruition. Think about your partner’s greatest ambitions and deepest desires. What role can you play in making them come true? How can you act as a team?
Level 7: Create Shared Meaning
The final level in the Stable Relationships House encourages couples to create shared meaning in their relationship. This increases the relationship’s value. When we value a relationship, we are expressing our faith in its ability to endure.
But what does creating meaning mean? For each couple, this will look different, because creating meaning is all about celebrating the everyday rituals we share with our partners. Think of the small moments that feel like “yours.”
Much like building the Love Map, we can cultivate shared meaning through open dialogue. These prompts can get your conversation started:
- What do you most look forward to doing together each week?
- How do you celebrate accomplishments as a couple? What about birthdays? Holidays?
- Describe a favorite memory shared together.
- Take turns telling the story of how you met.
Know that the Stable Relationship House doesn’t get built overnight. It’s okay if you work through the levels slowly, or to pick and choose practices that resonate with you and your partner. What matters most is that, by engaging in this work, you are already committing to cultivating a resilient, enduring relationship.