“Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together – a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you…” Gottman, 7 Principals of Making a Marriage Work
There are different elements that help build and support a shared meaning, all of which should be established and then built on over time. Read through each element and answer the questions after each section, making note of any thoughts that pop up you want to share with your lover.
Four Elements that Build a Shared Meaning and Purpose
Tip 1. Rituals of Connection
Tip 2. Shared Views
Tip 3. Shared Goals and Dreams
Tip 4. Shared Values
Tip 1. Rituals of Connection:
A ritual of connection refers to the small things you do as a couple or a family which build and strengthen the emotional and spiritual connections between you all.
Ask yourself these questions:
• How do you and your partner connect with each other?
• Have you developed your own family rituals?
This could be a special meal on the weekend such as a takeaway on a Saturday or Sunday roast or movie night every Friday.
• In what unique ways do you celebrate religious holidays?
• Do you have a ritual for love making?
• Do you dedicate a day or night per week for family or romance?
Many couples find love and connection flourishes when they have an intimate ritual to look forward to. The key here is to find something that you do together regularly that you can look forward to.
Answer the above questions and think about the rituals of connection you have: do they work for you? Could you improve them to increase your connection or create some new ones?
Tip 2. Shared Views:
Support for Each Other’s Roles
When couples come to me a lot of the problems stem from the fall out of what they think their partner “should” be doing versus what they are actually doing. I often hear: “As a husband… ” he “should” be doing this, fixing that, paying for this or giving me that. Similarly I hear it the other way round too: “A wife “should” look after the home, stay in with the family and contribute to the finances.” The problem stems from the fact that these assumed roles are often never discussed so each person develops their own views on situations without taking the time to understand the perspective of their partner. This where resentment builds. The happiest couples agree on the roles they define for themselves and support each other with them. This is crucial as it helps to build a shared meaning.
Family and Parenting
Having similar views on parenting also adds to a strong sense of shared meaning, so does your views on the level of interaction you expect to have with your parents, siblings and cousins. For example, do you both consider extended family part of your daily family life or do you prefer distance and more of a nuclear family?
Work and Career
Even the views on what it means to work and the significance of work in your life is important to discuss. How much work is part of your life can be disputed, potentially causing friction, so having a shared outlook is crucial. Where you can talk about its importance in your life and share your experiences. Some individuals I work with get jealous and annoyed at their spouses involvement with work and staying late or socializing with colleagues on the weekends and this can cause tension for some couples. Compared to couples who agree that work comes first and encourage each other to be the best they can possibly be. Which couple are you?
The extent to which you feel similar about these issues, the stronger your marriage and connection becomes. This doesn’t mean you need to agree on everything but often it’s the couples that are more closely aligned in their views and approaches that are happier and more fulfilled.
What views do you share when it comes to living out your life? Are there any expectations that are a cause of frustration for you that you have not communicated? Could you benefit from some more support when it comes to your roles, family or career?
Tip 3. Shared Goals and Dreams:
Part of what creates a meaningful life are the goals that we strive to achieve. Many of us wouldn’t be where we are today without setting goals and going for it. Without a direction we become aimless, lifeless even. Imagine a ship in the ocean that has no route to follow, directionless, it will float aimlessly and get nowhere. Marriages are the same. The goal of a relationship is not to get married and that’s it. As with any area of life whether that be work, fitness or hobbies, having the next goal in mind ensures your progression, sense of purpose and prevents you from stagnating. Your marriage should be no different – you need positive goals for your shared time together.
Too often we don’t talk about our deepest desires and sometimes we haven’t even asked ourselves about what we want for our relationship, as we’re too busy with life to notice. When we start to explore and define our shared goals we increase intimacy, meaning and purpose. When united by a goal, we can let arguments and differences go more easily.
What are some of your short-term and long-term goals for your marriage? List them and create some more joint ones.
Tip 4. Shared Values:
Like with shared views, having shared values also help marriages flourish.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do you value most about being a part of the family you belong to?
What family stories do you consider with pride?
What does home mean to you?
What activities or objects symbolize a meaningful and well-lived life to you?
What symbols or objects demonstrate who you are in the world?
Analyse what you and your spouse value most by answering these questions and list anything that comes up that matters to you most in life.
Now Create Your Shared Meaning
I have heard many different rituals, views, goals and values because every couple has their own story. Here are some shared meanings:
“to heal and have a peaceful existence” (after a difficult previous relationship and childhood)
“to create a family filled with laughter & love”
“to enjoy life to the max: travel, explore, adventure and excitement”
“to step into parents footsteps and care for the whole family and business”
“to give our children the best education and watch them flourish together”
“to have our dream home on the beach and retire (early) in luxury”
“to live God’s mission together, wherever that may lead us”
“to set up our own business and leave a legacy”
Above all, it’s important throughout your journey to remember one thing: this is your journey. I have offered examples of other couples shared meaning to show that every couple is different.
Share your dreams with your partner and list your one-, five- and ten-year goals and come up with some ideas for a shared meaning that is personal to you and your partner.