Relationships thrive upon shared meaning. Of course, any couple can find ways to co-exist. In fact, you can go for years in an unquestioned routine of caring for the house and kids.
However, a rich relationship goes deeper. In essence, you can build your own little culture within your relationship. This shared culture provides sustenance to you individually and as a couple.
Any creative act requires problem-solving and coming up with unique solutions. Building a life together is no different. Your mutual effort will result in the reward of a deep connection with your partner. Moreover, shared meaning brings new, invigorating power to everyday life.
1. Daily Rituals
In his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Dr. John Gottman asserts that there are four pillars of creating shared meaning. These four pillars are rituals, roles, goals, and symbols. The first, rituals, give you a solid foundation. First, there are daily rituals, things that you commit to doing together each day as a couple to strengthen your relationship.
For example, in her book, “Better Than Before,” author Gretchen Rubin shares one of her marriage rituals. She makes sure to kiss her husband each morning upon waking and each night before bed. That sounds simple, but in the routine of everyday life, we sometimes take those things for granted. When we commit to them, those daily rituals bring shared meaning to our lives. Gottman suggests that the daily kiss last at least six seconds so that it doesn’t just become an unnoticed routine.
2. Weekly Rituals
There are some things that you can easily do once a week to reconnect with your partner. For example, you can take a walk in the park every Saturday. Other examples include Sunday dinners, weekly date nights, or taking a class together.
3. Monthly Rituals
What are some of the things that you two love to do together but never make time for? For example, you might like attending live theater or going camping. Schedule those activities once a month, such as the first weekend of every month. These rituals enhance shared meaning by refocusing you both on things you enjoy.
4. Annual or Seasonal Traditions
Most families have some kind of seasonal tradition, passed down through the generations. Sit down together to co-create what you want for your family’s traditions. Find ways to incorporate your histories and dreams.
5. Tell Your Story
The story of the two of you is a key component of shared meaning. How did you meet? What was it like when you fell in love? Which challenges have you overcome together? Tell these stories to each other and create a shared narrative that you both believe in and feel good about.
6. Explore Your Roles
Everyone plays many roles in life. How well you each agree upon those roles can make a big difference to your relationship. For example, Gottman points out that some couples believe it is the role of the husband to be a provider. Furthermore, the wife’s role is to nurture. If you both believe in these roles, you have shared meaning. However, if you aren’t in agreement, this can lead to strife. Explore your roles and come up with creative new roles if necessary.
7. Find Shared Meaning in Words
Sometimes you think that you’re creating shared meaning, but you aren’t speaking each other’s language. That’s because everyone has different connotations for very important words. Take the time to define the following words and what they mean to each of you:
8. Celebrate the Symbols of Your Relationship
Every relationship has symbols that tell others about the couple. Wedding rings are one obvious symbol. Sharing photos of you as a couple on social media is a less obvious example. Talk with your partner about the symbols that you have, the ones that you want to create, and how you would most like to share them with others.
9. Shared Goals
If you work together towards a common goal, then you strengthen your relationship. You might have many small goals together. However, you should also explore your bigger goals. For example, a person who always felt abandoned as a child might have a goal of feeling safe in the relationship. If both partners share that goal, then they can work together to make it happen. This can result in profound meaning throughout the relationship.
10. Write a Mission Statement
One way to make your goals concrete is to write a “mission statement” for your relationship. Come up with a short paragraph that succinctly explains what you most want to accomplish together. Focus on your top three priorities. Review this every year or two to see if it needs updating.
Sometimes, as you work towards creating shared meaning, differences will arise. Couples therapy can help you work through such challenges as you define a life together. Please contact me soon for help and learn more about our services here.