Oh my goodness, we are done with this freaking house!
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this approach to couples counseling, but I definitely let this one drag out. It feels good to actually finish some series I started.
And with that, we’re on to Creating Shared Meaning.
Sounds kind of ambiguous, right?
It is kind of ambiguous! That’s why it’s the last step in having the relationships Walt Disney teased us about.
Creating shared meaning is what makes relationships thrive instead of survive. It’s all those conversations we wish our significant others would have with us about the future: marriage, babies, holiday celebrations, his and hers towels…
Basically, we are all autonomous creatures who are a culmination of our experiences. Even if we come from the same backgrounds – racially, culturally, economically, religiously – we still have different lives. We have different traditions. We have different narratives for how we want to live our lives.
For example: Jesse comes from a Jewish family. While he doesn’t necessarily practice the religious aspects of Judaism, he feels a very strong relationship with his family and his culture. He is proud to be Jewish and I admire that very much about him.
how amazing is this picture? shout out to Sean McPhee who created it.
I was raised Catholic. I grew up signing the cross every time I prayed, receiving Communion, and trying desperately to understand what the hell Father Pat was talking about (he had a verryyy thick Irish accent). I don’t follow the Catholic faith anymore, but it is a large part of my family’s culture and my upbringing. It has shaped me.
A few months ago, Jesse and I were having a conversation about putting up a tree this holiday. He grew up with a tree in his house since his mother was not Jewish, but he expressed that under no circumstances would he feel comfortable having an angel on the top of his tree. He said he’d prefer a star.
In my family, we had a tradition of putting the angel on the top of the tree every year. I remember what a treat it was to have my dad lift us off the ground and put the angel on the top of the tree. She was battery operated and had a glowing light and actually moved side to side. I loved that angel.
Now, I could have thrown a bitch fit and exclaimed that it was angel or nothing, but I chose not to do that (go me for being a mature adult). I thought about the difference between the angel and the star and the meaning it has to each of us. The angel really meant nothing to me other than that she lit up and moved. It was the tradition of placing her on top of the tree that I loved. I thought about if/when Jesse and I have kids and if this tradition would be something we could do. Yes, it was still the same with the star.
So I agreed to the star with enthusiasm.
Now, the star on the top of the tree will mean something to just me and Jesse. This will be our narrative. The star means acknowledging his culture and understanding that no meaning has been lost for either of us.
It’s the same for everyday things. It’s those little understandings you have with your partner. Do you eat breakfast together?, who gets to eat the last Oreo?, who navigates on car trips?, what does your retirement look like?, how many children to you want?, how to you feel about the first time you both met?, etc.
It’s those conversations about the future that create shared meaning. It’s the intrinsic motivation behind why all of want to have those future conversations with our partner and when we find a partner who doesn’t want to or is scared to, alarm bells go off. Our intuitive understanding of how we want our long-term relationships says, “If we can’t talk about this, how will we know if it will exist?”
The truth is, there is no hard and fast rule to get you to the Relationship Promised Land. The only one I’ve consistently found in all of my experiences and studies is the giant C… communication. You can’t expect to be on the same page with your partner if they either don’t know or don’t want to share. That’s why Creating Shared Meaning is the attic of Gottman’s Sound Relationship House theory. You have to climb those stairs and build the foundation before you ever get to the top.