The Sound Relationship House theory is the basis of couples work and couples intensives.
There are seven parts of the Sound Relationship House. This is the name for the theory which is the framework for Gottman couples therapy work. Each of these levels involves the need to build a fundamental process. The first three levels of the house describe the essential components of your friendship.
- Build Love Maps. The foundation of the house, The Love Map, is a road map of your partner’s inner psychological world. The fundamental process is asking open-ended questions. It involves you knowing one another and periodically updating this knowledge. This includes building knowledge of your partner’s changing sexual map.
- Share Fondness & Admiration. The second story of the house is The Fondness & Admiration System, which is the antidote for contempt. The fundamental process is changing a habit of mind from scanning the environment for your partner’s mistakes, and then criticizing them, to scanning the environment for what your partner is doing right and thanking them for it. This builds a culture of appreciation, fondness, affection, and respect.
- Turn Towards. Bids for Emotional Connection. The third story is Turning Toward versus Turning Away or Against in everyday moments, or what we call building the “Emotional Bank Account.” The fundamental process is building awareness of how your partner asks for connection with you and expresses emotional needs, and you deciding to turn toward these bids (rather than turning away or against them). The movie “Sliding Doors” is about how small choices can hugely affect the course of a couple’s life. Life is full of these “sliding door” moments, which are opportunities to turn toward your partner.
- The Positive Perspective. The first three stories build the fourth story, that you gets as a “free add-on”: Bob Weiss’s idea of Positive Sentiment Override (PSO). This determines a lot of things, including the presence of positive emotion in problem solving discussions, and the success of repair attempts during conflict resolution. If the first three levels of the Sound Relationship House are not working, then you’ll be in Negative Sentiment Override (NSO), in which even neutral or positive messages are perceived as negative, so you’ll be hypervigilant for negativity. You’ll have a “chip on the shoulder.” It’s not possible to change NSO to PSO, except by changing the quality of your friendship. You are in negative sentiment override for good reason: you see your partner as an adversary, not a friend. To change that state, you need to build your couple friendship, using the first three levels of the Sound Relationship House.
- Manage Conflict. The next story of the house consists of two parts of conflict regulation. You need to identify the core issues and the anatomy of repeating negative cycles in your relationship. By “anatomy” we mean you need help to understand what triggers escalation (e.g., defensiveness, criticism, contempt, belligerence), and what the story is of these triggers in each of your past history (either within the relationship or not). Conflicts are one of two types.
- Type 1: For couple problems that are resolvable, there are Six Parts of Effective Problem Solving. These are Softened Startup, Accepting Influence, Make Effective Repairs During Conflict, De-escalate Quarrels, Compromise and Physiological Soothing of Self and Partner. The use of positive emotion in the service of de-escalation is a part of this, too, but it happens by itself – only when Positive Sentiment Override is in place. You can’t make it happen and it’s not about positive thinking.
- Type 2: For couple problems that are perpetual and probably not resolvable, in order to avoid couple “gridlock,” it is necessary that the you establish a “dialogue” about the perpetual problem. This involves a great deal of positive emotion (during conflict discussions, plus interest, affection, humor, empathy, excitement, softening) even when discussing a disagreement. Again, physiological soothing is a critical part of this process. There needs to be a ratio of 5 to 1 positive-to-negative displays of emotion.
- Make Life Dreams and Aspirations Come True. What is the basis of a continued positive emotional connection even during conflict? Therapists used to believe that if conflicts were resolved, positive emotions or good feelings of all types would rush into your couple world by themselves, like air rushes into a vacuum. Not true! Positive emotion systems need to be built intentionally. This includes play, fun, and exploration/adventure. This level of the Sound Relationship House is also about helping your partner realize important life dreams and making the relationship effective at Making Dreams and Aspirations Come True. This aspect of relationship is the basis of unlocking conflict gridlock, in which your values and hopes within a position in the gridlocked conflict are explored and understood.
- Create Shared Meaning. Finally, we have “the attic” of the house, where you either intentionally create, or do not create, a sense of shared meaning in your life together. A relationship involves building a life together, and that life is full of meaning. This happens by focusing on the way you move through time together, in how you prioritize your time and resources, in the stories you tell one another about your lives, your ancestors, your culture, your beliefs, and your legacy. By intentionally deciding what meaning you give to things and events in your lives, you create this shared meaning system. Here is where you build the symbolic meanings about emotion (your feelings about feelings – known as your “meta-emotion” system), and your ideas about the relationship and life in general.
Here is where your photo albums and memorabilia live.The formation of a relationship and a family involve the active creation of a new culture that has never existed before. Even if you both come from the same racial, ethnic, and geographic background, the two families you grew up in will be very different and so your union will always involve the creation of a new world of meaning. Every relationship is a cross-cultural experience.
During Gottman couples therapy/two day intensives, these seven levels of the “Sound Relationship House” are our guide. We are deeply grateful to the thousands of couples who, through their participation in our research, gave us the secrets for how to build strong and lasting relationships. It is these skills and strengths that we wish to impart to you.