An intimate relationship with a partner can be fulfilling and rewarding, yet challenging at the same time. If you have ever been in a relationship with another person, you know that there are inevitable struggles that will transpire along the way. How these struggles are managed and processed within the relationship is one of the markers for how successful and lasting the relationship will be. Sometimes, when struggles occur for a couple, the issues at hand are not always resolved in the clearest, healthiest way. When this happens, couples may experience increased conflict, heightened negative emotions, and no resolution. Hurt and anger builds up, and couples often lose connection and sight of why they got together in the first place. So how does a couple start repairing these hurts?
Every couple has a “relationship sound house”, which is a concept developed by Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman and Dr. John M. Gottman. One step towards repairing the pain is having both partners, together, reflect on their relationship sound house and make new meaning of their sound house together. This post will explore the different aspects of the relationship sound house and how it can be helpful tool for healing.
The construction of the relationship sound house is that of an actual house; it has seven levels, two walls, and a roof. The first level of the house is identified as “build love maps”, which, in other words, means for the partners to know each other’s inner worlds. One of the beauties of having an intimate relationship is that you allow yourself to open up to another human being. You share your innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences with your person and feel safe doing so. Love maps evolve and change over time; it is important that partners check in with each other explore their inner worlds together. When hurt occurs, emotional safety is compromised and partners may stop sharing these dialogues. In order to heal and move past the hurts, couples need to address and atone the betrayals, and then work on connecting again. Connection can start again through the exploration of each other’s love maps. However, this is not always easy for couples to do on their own; couples therapy may be helpful.
The second level of the sound house is “share fondness and admiration”. This level is seemingly straightforward, but I often find that couples forget about this piece, especially when pain and betrayal has occurred. Expressing your appreciation for your partner regularly fills up and sustains emotional safety and connection within the relationship. This, of course, can only occur if past hurts are reconciled. The third level is “turn towards instead of away”. This means that whenever there are moments for connecting with your partner and giving them your attention, you turn towards them and engage with them. Couples can do this even when there is conflict, and if they can do this during conflict, they are more likely to succeed and resolve the issue(s) in a healthy way. When we turn away from our partner, we create distance and disrupt emotional bonding.
The fourth level of the house is “the positive perspective”. This level indicates the couple’s ability to allow the positives override the negatives. This level cannot be directly worked on, but a couple’s friendship and conflict management skills influence the strength of this level. The fifth level is “manage conflict: accept your partner’s influence, dialogue about problems, practice self-soothing”. Managing conflict in a relationship can be very difficult, and it is at this level where things can get complicated. The relationship house is more sound when couples can resolve conflict in a healthy, productive manner. If a couple does not possess appropriate skills and tools for managing conflict, couples therapy may be beneficial.
The sixth level of the sound house is “make life dreams come true”, and the seventh level is “create shared meaning”. These two levels are only obtainable when a couple has strong floors leading up to them. Making life dreams come true requires that each partner honors the other’s aspirations and goals for life, and supports their journey to achieving them. And as partners support one another through life, they create shared meaning together. It is not required that partners share the same values at this last level, but it is important that they talk about them. The walls that hold up the home are “trust” and “commitment”. These two walls are essential for maintaining the structure of the relationship sound house. Trust ensures that partners will show up for one another, and commitment means cherishing your partner and being loyal to them.
Exploring your relationship sound house can be a deeply bonding and healing experience, regardless if you have experienced betrayals or not. If hurt has occurred in your relationship and you and your partner are feeling stuck, revisiting and processing the aspects of your sounds house may be a helpful tool. If this process feels intimidating to do on your own, it may be beneficial for you and your partner to consider couples therapy. Contact Symmetry Counseling to get connected with one of our skilled clinicians.
Most of the information used for this blog post was referenced from Dr. Julie Gottman and Dr. John Gottman’s book.
Gottman, J. S., & Gottman, J. M. (2015). 10 principles for doing effective couples therapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.