When you want to build a sturdy, solid structure that will stand up to everything from calm summer days to punishing storms, what do you do? You look at a blueprint, and you make sure everything inside fits together the way that it should. When you follow the plan and build with intention, the final product will reflect it and stand proudly for years to come.
Relationships are no different. That’s what John Gottman and his wife, Julie, realized as they spent decades researching the interactions and long-term relationships of couples at many different life stages. The Gottmans found that all strong, sturdy relationships had the same foundations, support systems, and blueprints – a phenomenon they called the Sound Relationship House.
Their house has 7 floors, each of which reinforces the others, and two supporting walls that hold up the entire thing. Altogether, the model is a way to show couples how to deepen their intimacy, better manage conflict, and share the things that are meaningful to them – both as individuals and as a collaborative unit.
The Floors of Gottman's Sound Relationship House
1) Build Love Maps
How well do you really know your partner? Building love maps refers to the knowledge and genuine interest in knowing who our partner is: their favourite things, pet peeves, secret wishes, most passionate causes, most cherished memories, and everything else that helps us truly connect. Building a love map should come naturally in a relationship as you get to know each other, and as time goes on, the map gets more and more filled in without ever being finished. If this level is lacking, we feel distant, overlooked, and unappreciated.
2) Share Fondness and Admiration
A relationship is a two-way street, and it requires ongoing care and nurturing to flourish. Part of this is simply expressing how you feel to your partner – the things you love and admire about them, and why you are happy to be involved in their life. This mutual respect and affection makes your partner feel valued and cared for, and avoids the onset of contempt: one of the deadly Four Horsemen that signal trouble in a relationship, and the enemy of the Sound House.
3) Turn Towards Instead of Away
When we try to reach out to our partner, so much depends on how they react. If they accept our bid for intimacy and contribute positively to the “emotional bank account”, we are much more likely to continue that pattern and keep building up a strong and healthy connection. If they don’t respond at all, or respond with a negative reaction, that opportunity for connection is lost – potentially forever. By choosing to turn toward each other instead of away, we create a positive feedback loop that keeps on giving.
4) The Positive Perspective
If the first three floors of the Sound House are well-balanced, partners will find this fourth floor already halfway built. A stable, healthy relationship built on mutual respect and fondness means it is easier to laugh, love, overlook small things, and work through difficult issues with a positive attitude toward the future. If there is a negative perspective instead, couples can begin by strengthening the earlier floors to reach a more positive place.
5) Manage Conflict
In every relationship – even the most perfect ones – there will be some element of conflict involved. It’s bound to happen when you have two individuals coming together as one unit! But learning how to properly manage conflict is another vital part of the Sound Relationship House. The Gottmans recommend accepting your partner’s influence (that is, taking their thoughts and feelings into account), communicating fully about the issue, and always approaching conflict with a calm and rational mind, even if you need to take a self-soothing break on the way to revisiting it.
6) Make Life Dreams Come True
Real encouragement can make all the difference in our lives. Everyone has aspirations, and working towards those goals together with a united front is an exceptionally intimate and trusting activity that shows how invested you are in your partner’s success (and vice versa). After all, when we care for someone, we want them to have a genuinely fulfilling life, and we work to help them make it happen.
7) Create Shared Meaning
The top floor of the Sound Relationship House is an extension of the first floor, building love maps – except this time, it’s all about the life you share and build together. From the inside jokes and slang you use with one another, to the places in your life that are important to your story, to the weekly rituals you have to celebrate another week together, every little piece of your puzzle is important and contributes to your shared life. The Gottmans call these rituals of connection, because that’s exactly what they do: form a bond that stretches between you and your partner.
The Walls of Gottman's Sound Relationship House
Just like every other house, the Sound Relationship House has a set of load-bearing walls that lift up the entire structure. And just like any good relationship, these are built on two key facets: trust and commitment. These form the pillars on which everything else rests. If you don’t have these two qualities, the rest of the floors will never unfold to their full potential.
Couples Therapy and Marriage Counselling in Calgary, Alberta
None of us are born knowing how to be perfect partners. It’s a skill that takes practice, time, and effort – but in doing so, we gain something that is irreplaceable in our lives. What better way to show how committed you are to your relationship than to seek help in improving it?
Reach out today to find out more about couples therapy or marriage counselling, and book your free 15-minute consultation to get started. Experience the power of a therapeutic, intimacy-building activity that can show you a path through difficult times – and bring you out the other side with more compassion, love, and understanding.