The Importance of Creating Shared Meaning in a Relationship

April 25, 2024 |Gideon Hanekom

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Research by Dr John Gottman suggests that creating shared meaning in a relationship is crucial for its long-term success and fulfilment. It is one of the fundamental keys that couples must know and apply in their relationships.

In essence, the idea is that when couples have a shared understanding of their purpose, values, and goals, they are more likely to feel connected and satisfied in their partnership which will more likely lead to long-term success.

Now, creating shared meaning is part of a larger “relationship house” which we’ll look at in a moment, but it’s crucial to always keep in mind the overall yardstick is whether what you’re doing as a couple is adding or subtracting from the meaning you create as a couple.

For instance, one way to establish shared meaning is through rituals.

These can be simple daily routines like having breakfast together or more significant traditions like celebrating anniversaries or holidays in a particular way.

Rituals essentially provide a sense of stability and predictability in a relationship, thereby creating a shared history and memories that strengthen the bond between partners.

Setting common goals is another essential aspect of creating shared meaning.

When couples have shared aspirations and work towards them together, they feel a sense of unity and purpose.

Whether it’s saving for a house, starting a family, or travelling the world, having common goals encourages collaboration, communication, and mutual support.

There are also many other ways, but overall, creating shared meaning in a relationship is a dynamic and ongoing process. It is also unique to each couple as no one is the same.

That brings us to the notion of a “relationship house” and its seven levels, which, at their core, are all about creating shared meaning.

The Seven Levels of the Sound Relationship House

Dr Gottman introduced the concept of the “Sound Relationship House,” which consists of seven interconnected levels that are vital for a strong foundation.

creating shared meaning

Let’s explore each level briefly to understand how they contribute to creating shared meaning specifically.

Build Love Maps

According to Dr. Gottman, the first level of the Sound Relationship House is to “Build Love Maps.”

This idea basically emphasizes the importance of knowing your partner’s world. It involves being curious about their dreams, fears, and aspirations.

However, building love maps requires active listening and a genuine interest in understanding your partner’s inner world. Because by doing so, you in essence create a strong foundation of emotional intimacy and connection.

So, one way to build love maps is by engaging in meaningful conversations with your partner.

You must take the time to ask open-ended questions and listen attentively to their responses.

That will allow you to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and experiences and show that you value their perspective.

Another important aspect of building love maps, which is closely related to the previous idea, is paying attention to the little things.

It’s crucial to notice the small details about your partner’s life and show genuine interest in them.

Make an effort to remember their favourite movie, surprise them with their favourite treat, or plan a date night based on their hobbies and interests.

These gestures not only demonstrate your love and care but also strengthen the bond between you.

However, the most crucial aspect of building love maps is that it is an ongoing process.

As individuals grow and change, it is important to continually update your knowledge of each other.

You must make an effort to check in regularly with your partner, ask how they are doing, what their preferences, dreams, and goals are, and listen to their concerns.

None of us stays the same. We evolve and change. That means your spouse will not stay the same, and there is always more to explore about them as a person (and vice versa, of course).

By staying connected and attuned to each other’s needs, you stand a much better chance of nurturing a deep and lasting love while avoiding the risk of growing apart or becoming strangers in your own home.

Share Fondness and Admiration

The second level is “Share Fondness and Admiration.”

This level focuses on expressing appreciation and admiration for your partner and involves recognizing and acknowledging their positive qualities and actions.

The idea is that by regularly expressing fondness and admiration for your spouse, you strengthen the bond between you and your partner, fostering a positive and loving atmosphere in the relationship.

We know that because one key ingredient for a successful and fulfilling relationship is feeling valued and cherished by your partner.

And by expressing fondness and admiration, you essentially communicate to your spouse that they are important to you and that you appreciate them for who they are.

When you do that, you uplift your partner’s spirit and boost their self-esteem.

But, in addition to the emotional benefits, expressing fondness and admiration also helps to make your partner feel secure in the relationship, which is more likely to reciprocate these feelings and create a positive cycle in your relationship.

Remember, expressing fondness and admiration doesn’t have to involve grand gestures or extravagant displays of affection.

It can be as simple as saying “I love you,” complimenting your partner or showing gratitude for the little things they do.

Turn Towards Instead of Away

The third level is “Turn Towards Instead of Away.”

This level highlights the importance of responding to your partner’s bids for connection. I recently wrote about this, which you can read here.

The basic idea is that by turning towards your partner’s bids, which can be anything from a smile to a compliment or bigger gesture, you show them that you value and prioritize their emotional needs.

That then builds trust and emotional security within the relationship, which lays a solid foundation for relational well-being and satisfaction.

creating shared meaning

The Positive Perspective

The fourth level is “The Positive Perspective.”

This level emphasizes the power of positive thinking and focusing on the strengths and positive aspects of your partner and the relationship.

It also involves reframing negative experiences and conflicts in a more positive light.

The idea is that adopting a positive perspective cultivates an optimistic outlook and creates a resilient and supportive relationship.

When couples adopt the Positive Perspective, they approach their relationships with gratitude, appreciation, and goodwill.

That means they actively seek out and acknowledge the positive qualities and actions of their partner, fostering a deep sense of connection and mutual respect.

Moreover, by focusing on the strengths of their partner, couples can also effectively navigate through challenges and conflicts.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives, they choose to see the situation from a more positive angle.

This shift in perspective allows them to find solutions together and grow stronger as a couple.

Additionally, the Positive Perspective also encourages couples to practice empathy and understanding.

It reminds them to consider their partner’s intentions and motivations, even in moments of disagreement. And by reframing negative experiences, they can find valuable lessons and opportunities for growth.

However, embracing the Positive Perspective requires effort and intentionality.

It involves consciously choosing to see the best in your partner and the relationship, even during difficult times.

Yet, this level of communication fosters a sense of emotional safety and trust, creating a solid foundation for a lasting and fulfilling partnership.

Manage Conflict

The fifth level is “Manage Conflict.”

This level recognizes that conflict is inevitable in any relationship.

Gottman’s research has shown that successful relationships are not devoid of conflict, but rather characterized by how couples navigate and resolve it. Moreover, by recognizing that conflict is inevitable, couples can approach it with empathy, respect, and a genuine desire to understand each other.

It’s also important to remember that conflict does not define a relationship, but rather how it is managed. By fostering open communication, active listening, and a willingness to work through challenges together, couples can cultivate a healthy and thriving relationship.

Therefore, according to Dr Gottman, conflict is not a sign of a failed relationship, but rather an opportunity for growth and understanding.

It allows couples to express their needs, desires, and concerns, ultimately leading to better communication and deeper connection.

By acknowledging that conflict is inevitable, couples can approach it with a more positive mindset.

In fact, Dr Gottman encourages couples to embrace conflict as an opportunity for growth and resolution instead of avoiding or suppressing it.

However, Dr Gottman emphasizes the significance of engaging in constructive conflict.

That involves open and honest communication, active listening, and a willingness to understand each other’s perspectives. It’s about finding common ground and working together to find solutions.

Constructive conflict allows couples to express their emotions and needs without resorting to harmful behaviours such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling.

By establishing healthy conflict resolution strategies, couples can strengthen their relationships and build trust rather than blow up the relationship.

Now, constructive conflict involves learning effective communication and problem-solving skills to navigate disagreements and conflicts in a healthy and constructive manner.

And by managing conflict effectively, you prevent resentment and build a foundation of trust and understanding.

Ultimately, conflict is a natural part of any relationship, but how it is managed determines the overall health of the partnership. Effective conflict resolution grows understanding, strengthens the relationship, and promotes shared meaning.

Make Life Dreams Come True

The sixth level is “Make Life Dreams Come True.”

This level is about the importance of supporting and nurturing each other’s dreams and aspirations and involves actively working together to help each other achieve personal and shared goals.

One of the main ideas is that by making each other’s life dreams come true, you create a sense of purpose and fulfilment within the relationship.

Now, this process of making life dreams come true requires open communication and a deep understanding of each other’s desires and ambitions.

It starts with creating a safe and non-judgmental space where partners can openly share their dreams and aspirations.

That can be done through regular check-ins and discussions about individual goals, both short-term and long-term.

Once these dreams are identified, couples can then work together to develop a plan of action.

That may involve setting specific goals, breaking them down into smaller, actionable steps, and creating a timeline for achieving them.

It’s important, though, for both partners to be actively involved in this process, offering support, encouragement, and accountability to one another.

Supporting each other’s life dreams also means being willing to make sacrifices and compromises.

That may require reallocating resources, such as time, money, and energy, to help each other pursue their goals.

It could involve adjusting work schedules, seeking additional education or training, or even making lifestyle changes.

Furthermore, couples can also provide emotional support and motivation to each other during challenging times.

We know that pursuing dreams can be daunting and may involve setbacks and obstacles along the way.

But by offering reassurance, understanding, and a listening ear, partners can help each other stay focused and resilient in the face of adversity.

The main premise of this level is that when couples actively support each other’s life dreams, they not only strengthen their bond but also enhance their individual growth and fulfilment.

By working together towards their own aspirations, they create a sense of purpose and shared vision for their future.

And this shared meaning becomes the foundation for a fulfilling and meaningful relationship.

Create Shared Meaning

The seventh and final level, which is the focus of this post, is “Create Shared Meaning.”

This level focuses on creating a shared vision and purpose for the relationship and involves identifying and nurturing shared values, goals, and traditions. Overall, such a sense of purpose and direction in a relationship is essential for couples, as this provides a solid foundation for long-term stability and growth.

The main idea is that by creating shared meaning, you establish a sense of belonging and unity, strengthening the bond between you and your partner.

When couples clearly understand their shared meaning, they are also better equipped to navigate challenges and make decisions that align with their values and goals.

That level of stability also allows them to weather storms together and stay connected even during difficult times.

Take Away Idea

Considering all of the above, the overall aim is to create a certain level of stability and satisfaction on each of the Sound Relationship House levels, which is crucial for a healthy and thriving relationship. Each level also plays a huge role in creating shared meaning that serves rather than hurts the relationship.

However, as with an actual house, if any one or more of the levels are weak, the rest of the house is also compromised in some way, whether that be the roof, foundation, or walls. All of them pose different risks, but risks nonetheless.

Therefore, couples must actively work on nurturing and strengthening their relationship in all aspects and on all levels, including shared meaning, trust and commitment, emotional connection, and intimacy.

By doing so, they can create a solid foundation that can withstand the tests of time and challenges that may arise.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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