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  • Dr. Teresa Edwards, LMFT

Exploring the Architecture of The Sound Relationship House

Relationships are such a crucial part of life, and your marriage is one of the most significant relationships you'll ever have. In the early years of psychology, theorists speculated about the factors contributing to a successful marriage and the strategies couples could use to overcome challenges and prevent divorce. This speculation turned into scientific research in the mid-20th century, with Dr. John Gottman emerging as one of the foremost researchers in the field of relationship studies.


Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychologist, has been scientifically researching marital stability and divorce prediction for over five decades. From this research, he and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, created the theory of the Sound Relationship House, the foundation of a scientific approach to couple's counseling.


The Sound Relationship House (SRH) consists of seven levels and two walls, each representing an essential characteristic of successful and lasting relationships. The levels, like floors in a physical house, are structured so that each level supports and builds upon the others. Let's explore the Sound Relationship House:


The Sound Relationship House

Levels of the Sound Relationship House


The walls of the SRH are trust and commitment. Trust is a belief that your partner will always be there for you and has your best interest at heart. Trust is built and maintained when each individual behaves in ways that contribute to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of their partner, rather than solely focusing on themselves.


Commitment is choosing the relationship daily regardless of how you feel. Commitment involves the perspective that the relationship is a lifelong journey, navigating both good and challenging times. In the presence of genuine commitment, partners remain loyal, consider each other as their best choice, and hold a deep appreciation for one another.


Without the pillars of trust and commitment, the levels of the Sound Relationship House will not stand.


Level 1: Build Love Maps


The first level of the SRH focuses on the cognitive space that you give your partner by maintaining an detailed familiarity of their daily life and inner world. It involves being genuinely interested in your partner's world, staying up to date on your their likes and dislikes, current struggles, day-to-day routine, and their dreams, hopes, interests, and fears. This information forms a mental "love map" that represents your partner and their world.


Couples who regularly update their love maps have a better understanding of each other, are more emotionally connected, and are more attuned to their partner's needs and desires. Couples grappling with challenges at this level of the SRH may experience a sense of being unimportant and unknown, which leads to decreased levels of passion and romance.


Level 2: Share Fondness and Admiration


The second level of the SRH focuses on the amount of affection and respect couples have for each other and their willingness to express those feelings to each other. This level highlights the importance of maintaining an overall positive atmosphere in the relationship by creating a habit of mind to look for what you love and admire about your partner and communicating that appreciation and admiration.


Expressing love, fondness, and affection helps create a positive and nurturing environment within the relationship, which increases a couple's emotional bond and fosters a sense of security and validation in the relationship. Dr. Gottman's research found that the frequency of spontaneous expressions of fondness and admiration were a significant predictor of relationship success.


A low level of fondness and admiration in a relationship suggest significant problems with the couple's friendship. Couples who struggle with this level of the SRH report not feeling respected, admired, or loved by the other, and often feel taken for granted. Struggles with fondness and admiration can be a natural biproduct of past hurts and wounds, poor conflict management, failed bids for emotional connection, and a lack of expressing needs.


Level 3: Turn Towards Instead of Away


Level three of the SRH concentrates on building engagement and emotional connection by paying attention to and being responsive to your partner. In happy relationships, partners respond to each other's bids for emotional connection in a positive way. A bid is any behavior, verbal or nonverbal, that initiates a positive connection between partners.


Partners have a choice of how to respond to a bid. Turning towards your partner during bids means being receptive, supportive, and engaged when they seek attention, affection, or communication. Prioritizing the relationship by turning towards bids builds trust and intimacy by demonstrating that you are aware of and willing to engage with your partner’s needs and emotions.


Connection in a relationship is maintained through these small daily moments of interaction. Each time you turn toward your partner's bid, you are essentially making a deposit into your partners emotional bank account. In successful relationships, partners toward each others bids 86% of the time.


This level of the SRH can suffer if bids are not being noticed or responded to or if a person has stopped bidding for the attention of the other. In relationships headed for separation, partners only responded to each others bids 33% of the time. If this level is not maintained, and the emotional bank accounts are empty, couples feel isolated and distant from each other. They may lack a sense of fun and sharing in the relationship and may feel that their interest and enthusiasm is not reciprocated.


Level 4: The Positive Perspective


The dynamics between couples are shaped by the lingering emotions that build up from each interaction over time. These interactions create a sentiment override, or overriding perspective, about your partner and the relationship that can skew objectivity of present interactions.


A positive perspective – also called positive sentiment override (PSO) - occurs when the first three levels of the SRH are working properly and the friendship in the marriage is strong. A person in PSO will have a positive outlook on their relationship and their partner's intentions and will give their partner the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming the worst.


A negative perspective - also called negative sentiment override - occurs when a person carries feelings of hurt, insignificance, or rejection from past interactions, causing them to perceive all current interactions through a negative lens. Being in negative sentiment override can thwart conflict management, problem solving attempts, and efforts to get back on track if conversations get derailed. If you’re not in a positive perspective, then chances are that one or all of the first three levels of the SRH need repair.


Level 5: Manage Conflict


Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but the way conflict is handled makes a significant difference in the quality of a relationship. This level of the SRH focuses on developing effective conflict management skills including active listening, communicating with respect, being empathetic, and working toward compromise rather than resorting to destructive behaviors like criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.


Gottman uses the term conflict management instead of conflict resolution because his research found that 69% of problems faced by couples are perpetual in nature and are based in differences in values or personality. Dr. Gottman and colleagues also found that it is the successful regulation of conflict, not the resolution of conflict, which is predictive of the long-term success of a relationship.


Level 6: Make Life Dreams Come True


The sixth level of the SRH focuses on couples supporting and working together to achieve each other’s dreams, goals, and aspirations. This encompasses not just overt dreams and aspirations like career goals, but also the often unspoken desires, such as an individual's vision for marriage and family life. When partners actively contribute to each other's life dreams, it strengthens their bond and sense of teamwork. It is important to cultivate a relationship that allows both partners to feel that their life dreams are supported.


Level 7: Create Shared Meaning


The final level of the SRH revolves around the deeper sense of meaning and purpose that couples create together. Couples create a new, shared culture by developing rituals, traditions, and goals that are meaningful and unique to the couple. This allows couples to deepen their emotional intimacy and create a sense of “we-ness.”


In Conclusion...

By actively working on each level of the Sound Relationship House, couples can navigate challenges and create a solid and satisfying relationship. In upcoming blogs, we will dive deeper into each level of the Sound Relationship House and how you can fine tune your relationship. As we continue to explore the nuances of communication, intimacy, and shared dreams, may we find inspiration in this metaphorical house, working to create a space where love, understanding, and mutual respect can truly flourish.



References:

Gottman, J. M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically-based marital therapy. W. W. Norton.


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