Quite a while back, we did a shallow dive into the work and wisdom of John Gottman, the person who has clocked more hours observing couples in action than any there researcher, dead or alive. He has taken those thousands and thousands of hours of observation, along with collecting physiological data from his research subjects, and compiled it all to create a comprehensive picture of what makes a couple either a “master” or a “disaster” of relationship. You can read here, here, here, and here to refresh yourself on some the basics. I will not repeat what I have already shared, but will be adding to and going a little deeper into his research findings.
This blog post will be devoted to providing an overview of what Gottman calls “The Sound Relationship House”. He conceptualizes healthy, functioning relationships to be structured much like a house. The foundation of the house is built on friendship and positive regard. There are several components present in the foundation:
- How well do you know each other? Gottmans called these “love maps”.
- Do you admire your partner and express fondness and appreciation towards them?
- Do you turn toward your partner? If your partner makes a bid for your attention, do you turn towards, away from or ignore the bid?
- Do you see each other through a positive lens?
The second level of the house is managing conflict in a healthy way and avoiding getting gridlocked over the perennial issues that will arise in any relationship. You and your partner are not mirror images of each other. Your inherent differences will inevitably lead to disagreement or conflict. How you handle these moments matter a great deal. The masters of relationship have figured out a way to compromise, agree to disagree, have a sense of humor around their differences, etc. The disasters end up criticizing, becoming defensive, showing contempt, or stonewalling one another (aka The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). They also have a skewed ratio of negative to positive interactions. Gottman has been able to quantify and predict relationship demise based on the golden ratio; for every 1 negative in a relationship, there needs to be 5 positives to offset the negative. When the ratio is skewed, prepare to pay for couples therapy or for divorce attorneys.
The roof of the house is what Gottman refers to as “Creating Shared Meaning”. This involves having shared rituals, goals, roles and symbols.
The house is supported on each side by trust and commitment. The foundation, levels and roof of the Sound Relationship House must be strongly anchored by trust and commitment, or else it will collapse.
So there it is, in a nutshell. We will continue to dig deeper into Gottman’s work over the next several months. He is a giant in the field of couples therapy. If you want to create a healthy, happy long term relationship, do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with his work.
Until next time, peace.