One of the common reasons why couples come to see a marriage counselor is that they feel like their relationship has no direction. “We’re stuck”, and “our relationship is going nowhere” are not uncommon phrases heard by marriage therapists when couples first come to see them.
Marriage is about a lot of things-including raising kids, managing a household and making love. But, it can also be about deeper, sometimes spiritual dimensions that have to do with the couple’s inner world that becomes a culture of its own, full of rituals, symbols and meaning that defines who you are as a family.
Successful couples often become the authors and storytellers of their own couple journey. They craft a cultural tale about their relationship, how they have overcome the many obstacles they have faced and the shared dreams they have for their future. This story helps to define who they are as a couple. This shared marriage story gives the relationship a greater sense of meaning, which also helps to reduce intensity during conflict and the frequency of perpetual problems.
That is why Creating Your Unique Story is the seventh ingredient in our recipe for a great marriage.
When couples take the time and effort to create their stories they not only reap the benefits of avoiding unwanted conflict, they also find that their marriages are both richer and more enjoyable. What happens is that these couples are more likely to have created an atmosphere that promotes an honest dialogue, which promotes an increased sense of meaning in the couple relationship.
Marriage experts John Gottman and Nan Silver describe “Four Pillars of Shared Meaning” that allows couples to create their unique story. These four pillars are:
Pillar #1 is Building Rituals of Connection. A ritual is simply a planned event or routine that both partners enjoy and depend on that strengthens the couple’s sense of togetherness. A lot of us have experienced some wonderful rituals beginning when we were kids: Going to church on Christmas Eve, a camping trip to the lake every summer, or picking apples in the fall. It works the same as adults. The key is that we need to be intentional with our rituals, so that we can depend on them. When we trust in our rituals of connection, whether they are an annual anniversary trip away or taking a monthly hike together, we are able to build a deeper level of meaning and connection.
Pillar #2 is Supporting Each Other’s Roles. In marriage, our understanding of our own and each other’s roles can add meaningfulness and harmony to the relationship. We all play several roles in life: Child, parent, spouse, employee. While partners may have very different views of their own roles as adult children, a clear understanding and appreciation of each other’s can strengthen their marriage.
Pillar #3 is Creating Shared Goals. Part of what gives us meaning in life is the active pursuit of our goals. Unfortunately, married couples don’t always do a great job at sharing their deepest goals with each other. The good news is that when couples share their goals with each other they often find increased intimacy.
Pillar #4 is Sharing of Values and Symbols. Values and beliefs shape the final pillar of shared meaning, which forms the script of a couple’s shared story. These values and symbols are the philosophical tenets that guide our life decisions and choices. Successfully married couples routinely utilize symbols, both actual objects or intangible, to represent their shared values and beliefs. Couples use symbols such as religious icons, or personalized symbols such a picture of baby shoes memorializing a child lost to miscarriage. Abstract symbols can be just as meaningful. Family stories can also be richly symbolic and tell a rich history of what it means to be part of their particular tribe.
Creating your unique story is the seventh ingredient in the recipe to create a great marriage. And some really great news is that any couple can enhance their marriage by working together to tell their unique story. Successful couples often become the authors and storytellers of their own couple journey.
My encouragement for you is to take some time together to craft your unique story.