What is Shared Meaning?

How do you build shared meaning with your spouse? By Dr. John and Julie Gottman’s work, shared meaning is a level of the Sound Relationship House built with your partner. It encompasses ideals, values, and dreams. It gives you a sense of purpose. This is bigger than just the two people in a relationship. This is part of your legacy. What does it mean to be a member of this family? What is expected?

In Dr. John and Julie Gottman’s work this is done usually by rituals and symbols. Think of the holiday season just past. Every time I put an ornament on the tree, I was connecting the story of the ornament to a moment in time that held a special memory for me. Perhaps, you too remembered the handmade ornaments your kids made and put them on your tree too. It reminded you of the year when your child was that age. What special things took place that year in your lives? That is how symbols give us meaning. That snowflake or wreath certainly would not be worth anything to any other family but yours, because it represented your child’s artwork. Those memories are priceless to you because they symbolized what grade or age your child was and what things they learned that year.

Rituals create shared meaning for us, too. It comforts us to know what is to happen, and in what order, and when. Rituals can be simple such as kissing your spouse when you walk in or out of the house. Those rituals are to let your spouse know you are safe and glad to see them. Rituals such as going to church on Christmas Eve as a family, reading Luke 2 together before Christmas Eve dinner, or opening just one present on Christmas Eve help future generations know what is to happen and when. Rituals give us continuity as it makes us share experiences over time the same way every year.

In some families, Christmas Eve is when all the gifts are opened. Some families open gifts Christmas morning. Some families light advent candles. Some families eat a Christmas luncheon and others eat a Christmas dinner. Some people take down their Christmas tree the day after Christmas, others wait to take their tree down until after New Years Day. These traditions are passed on to the next generation. There is no right or wrong tradition, it is just the way your family does it. Likewise, there is no right or wrong way to build shared meaning as a family.

Our brains are pattern seekers. Therefore, each time we perform a ritual it stirs my brain to remember all the other times I went through this ritual and it’s meaning for my family. When I see the ornament I remember who gave it to me and why it is special. Did they go on a trip somewhere to get it? Is it handmade? Is the year on it? I hope you and your spouse are creating shared meaning in your sound relationship house. I would love to help you if you find that more mess and chaos is created than happy memories. Please call me at 972.277.1217 if I can be of service.

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