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Nurturing the Heart: Building a Foundation of Healthy Communication in Relationships

“Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. Without it… it dies.”

Tony Gaskins


Interpersonal communication is unavoidable. In one day - think about the number of times you smile at someone passing by, wave to someone in a vehicle, you speak to friends, colleagues, or family members, send a text message or email, respond to a comment online, answer a phone call, and so on. Interpersonal communication is all around us all the time and especially with today’s online social networking capabilities. From finding ways to utilize nonverbal cues as early as the moment we come out of the womb, to the UN declaring long-term solitary confinement as a form of torture (“Solitary confinement…”, 2011) there is endless proof that interpersonal communication, is a requirement for life, and without it, humans, and their relationships, will suffer.


If you thought sending the right text message was a tricky task, how about getting your point across to your partner in an argument?


While communication is inextricably fundamental to all relationships, healthy, and effective communication can be particularly important in romantic relationships.


According to Crofton, the source of happiness within your relationship is rooted in the vision you share with your partner, and the collaboration between partners in the creation and attainment of the vision (“Be happier than…”, 2020). Dr. John Gottman posits that effective communication is fundamental to this vision as, along the way, it will minimize rumination, foster intimacy, and help to reduce and resolve conflict (Cherry, 2022).


Figure1: [One of the greatest gifts of a relationship…]. (2023). Retrieved July 10, 2023, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/


In Gottman’s book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” he introduced the analogy of the Sound Relationship House. Gottman (2000) proposed that a strong, secure relationship could be thought up like a house; one with sturdy, weight bearing walls built of trust and commitment, and floors within the house built with an equal and joint effort creating a sturdy bond.


Figure2: [The Sound Relationship House]. (2023). Retrieved July 08, 2023, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/


Gottman (2000) proposes 7 “floors” in his house, built from the ground up; build love maps, share fondness and admiration, turn towards instead of way, manage conflict, make life dreams come true, and create shared meaning within the relationship. Each floor is built off of commitment and trust, and the foundation beneath it.


What does this mean exactly, and how can you apply this to your relationship?


1. Build Love Maps


According to Gottman (2000), building love maps is to ask the right questions, and in an ideal word, to be able to honestly say you know your partner, and your partner knows you, better than anyone else in the world.


What is your partner’s biggest pet peeves? Who is their best friend? What is something that they love about your relationship? If they were deserted on a desert island, what is the one food they would miss the most?


Once you’ve gotten to the place where you know your partner like the back of your hand, remember that people are constantly evolving within their day-to-day. Stay curious, and enjoy the ride of evolving with your partner, and continually getting to know them.


Figure2: [Pay Attention to Each Other]. (2023). Retrieved July 10, 2023, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/


2. Share Fondness and Admiration


As we know from Chapman (2016), one of the 5 love languages is words of affirmation. Words of affirmation are positive, verbal messages that, “can help to build and strengthen relationships” (Gordon, 2022). They are genuine, from the heart, and they communicate specific things about your partner, big or little, that they do well, that you appreciate in them, and are reasons as to why you have chosen your partner as yours.


Figure2: [Fondness & Admiration]. (2023). Retrieved July 10, 2023, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/


3. Turn Towards Instead of Away


In healthy relationships, you should feel safe to communicate to your partner when you’re in need of attention, support, or comfort (or when you need anything from them, really). Gottman (2000) says that when one partner needs something, they will give some sort of cue. He calls this cue a, “bid.” Partners who can turn towards the bid, instead of away, help create a space within the relationship where one partner feels supported, and the other feels an increased sense of happiness as well.


“Everything is better when you’re here.”

“I couldn’t do this without you.”

“I love the way those shorts look on you, they suit you well!”

“I’m so lucky to have you in my life.”

“It impressed me when you…”


Having the ability to be there for your partner, support them and help them, has been shown to increase the happiness and well-being for an individual (The Science of Happiness, n.d.). Researchers have posited that this may be, “due to higher self-esteem, a sense of self-worth, or a deeper sense of purpose…” (“The Science…”, n.d., Can you change your set point section).


4. The Positive Perspective


Holding the positive perspective within your relationship is to see the best in one another, trust their actions, and intentions.


Often when people feel their partners are giving short responses, or aren’t showing enough affection, they forgot to kiss you goodbye, whatever the case, we tend to take these instances personally. “They clearly don’t care about me.” The positive perspective reminds the individual that your partner loves you, and may be giving you short responses because they had a long day at work.


Believing that your partner wouldn’t intentionally try to hurt you, creates a “team” spirit and helps strengthen your relationship (The Gottman Institute, n.d.).


5. Manage Conflict


Gottman (2000) acknowledges that conflict is inevitable and is a part of every healthy relationship. However, conflict as a part of healthy relationship does not necessarily come naturally to people, and is something we all could work on. Gottman (2000) outlines three ways to help manage conflict:


1. Be empathetic to your partners perspective – this means taking their thoughts and feelings into consideration and understand that how they perceive a situation may not be the same way you do and they deserve to be heard.


2. Create a space to discuss your problems – creating an environment in your relationship where you can discuss your problems is important. You cannot expect problems to be fixed if you’re not willing to tell or hear someone about their problems.


Mind reading is harder than dialogue.


3. When conflict gets heated try some calming techniques – deep breathing, taking a walk, cooling down and revisiting the conversation when you’re feeling less emotional may help to avoid hurtful things that may be said in the heat of the moment.


6. Make Life Dreams Come True


Making life dreams come true means supporting your partner in accomplishing both their life dreams, yours, and your joint goals. It means that you get the pleasure of helping and supporting your partner, and knowing that they will do the same for you. Having a partner to help you accomplish your goals, and you theirs, not only makes goal attainment easier, but more fun to have a support team by your side the entire way through the ups and downs.



7. Create Shared Meaning Within The Relationship


The final floor of the house encompasses all floors and what you have built together as you’ve made it to the top level. It means understanding the inner world of what it means to be in your couple, who you are as a couple, and know yourself, your partner, and your couple, better than anyone, or anything else. It could be as easy as what is our routine after work on weekdays, to, how do we support one another in times of extreme stress, to how do we like to celebrate our holidays?


Lastly, but most importantly, the house is built off the foundation of commitment, and trust. Without either, the foundation would crumble. At the most basic level, how can you allow yourself to be so vulnerable with someone, that you can say you know them, and they know you like the back of their hand, if you cannot trust them, or you do not feel you have any commitment to one another?


“Trust is a greater compliment than being loved.”

George MacDonald



Communication is a very tricky topic. It can be confusing and frustrating, but it can also be exciting and liberating. Practicing healthy communication, learning your communication style, your partners, and how to work together to build your foundation and Sound Relationship House, is paramount to developing lasting happiness within your relationship.


The good news is - you have the tools to work on Gottman’s floors. You have the tools to share these with your partner. You’re in control of your own actions and can feel validation from knowing you’re trying your best to implement effective, and healthy communication with your partner, and that you’re participating in your joint goal happiness within your relationship.




References


Be happier than you have ever been in your relationship.(2020). Reflexology. https://resolvology.com/marriage-redesign


Chapman, G. D. (2010). The five love languages. Walker Large Print.


Cherry, K. (2022, February 23). How to Improve Your Communication In Relationships. Verywell mind Weblog. https://www.verywellmind.com/communication-in-relationships-why-it-matters-and-how-to-improve-5218269


Gottman, J. (2000). The seven principles for making marriage work. Orion


Gordon, S. (2022, August 22). How to Use Words of Affirmation in Your Relationship. Verywell mind Weblog. https://www.verywellmind.com/words-of-affirmation-4783539


Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases, UN expert says. (2011, October 18). UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012


The Gottman Institute. (n.d.). What is The Sound Relationship House?. The Gottman Institute Weblog. https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/



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