• Terry Gaspard

Enriching Your Marriage by Creating Shared Meaning

Article published Nov, 30 2017

After being married ten years, Teresa, age 38, discovered that being in love with Brian, age 37, was just not enough to sustain happiness in their union. When Brian married Teresa, he was impressed with her hard-working nature and financial independence. Teresa was attracted to Brian because he had a good job and was conscientious and kind.


However, over the last few years, Teresa found herself comparing her marriage to her friends unfavorably and criticizing Brian for habits she found annoying, such as leaving dishes in the sink and not hanging up his clothes. They rarely spend time together and intimacy and romance have evaporated since their young children, Aiden and Stacy, had arrived. Teresa put it like this:


“It seems like Brian puts all of his energy into his job and has little left over for me, our kids, or our home at the end of the day. We’ve been considering buying a bigger house but I’m putting that on hold for now.”


Just because you fall in love with someone, that doesn’t mean that love will stay alive without nurturing your partnership. If you find yourself asking, “What is missing from my marriage?” your situation may be similar to Brian and Teresa’s.


What might be missing is what Dr. John Gottman refers to as a sense of shared meaning. A successful marriage is about more than raising kids, paying bills, and getting chores done. It is also about building a meaningful relationship that has a spiritual dimension and is rich in rituals of connection.


Here are four ways that couples can build a stronger relationship with shared meaning:


1. Sharing a common dream or vision for life can help you gain a healthy perspective. When couples have that shared dream, the inevitable ups and downs of marriage are less bothersome. Creating a larger context of meaning in life can help couples to avoid focusing only on the little stuff that happens and to keep their eyes on the big picture.


2. Talking about your shared vision can foster attunement. Taking time to process your dreams can bring you closer. A crucial goal for couples is to create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her convictions. According to Dr. Gottman, couples who talk about their hopes and dreams with one another openly are more likely to be happy and less likely to be struggling.


3. Creating daily or weekly rituals of connection will enable you build shared meaning. Carve out time to be together and spend time doing enjoyable activities that bring you both pleasure. Couples need to make a commitment to spending quality time together – which includes saying goodbye in the morning and reunions at the end of the day.


4. Implementing your shared goals can help you to be a stronger couple with a purpose. For instance, your goals might include volunteering in the community, raising your children in a specific way, or adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Regardless of what your shared vision or goals are, they can strengthen your bond.


In fact, creating shared meaning is the highest level of Dr. John and Julie Gottman’s Sound Relationship House, which is a model on how to have a healthy relationship in which a couple can intentionally create a sense of purpose together. Building a relationship that is full of meaning and involves prioritizing time and resources is essential to a happy marriage. It encompasses a couple’s legacy – the stories they tell, their beliefs, and the culture they create to form a shared meaning system.


Maintaining a Deep Connection to Your Partner