A Guide To Shared Meaning In Romantic Relationships

February 13, 2021
By Max Jancar

Years ago, I read a great book called The Seven Principles For Making A Marriage Work. But you probably haven't' heard of it. It's an obscure work from an underground marriage counselor named John Gottman that's unquestionably, and certainly NOT, world-renowned and like, mega-famous.

Jokes aside, Gottman's book had numerous excellent ideas for making a romantic relationship virtually unbreakable, one of which I'll go over in this article. And it's called, creating shared meaning.

The definition of shared meaning

We can define shared meaning as a culture that has been developed throughout the years by two people in a relationship and holds the utmost emotional attachment and value to them.

I understand that people usually perceive the word 'culture' in light of a selected group of people's practices and traditions. However, you should not be surprised to know that a culture can be started and sustained by partners in a relationship. It involves developing a common way to do things and respond to certain situations.

It could be as simple as a traditional Friday night out, or a weekend when you both cook at home or simply eat dinner together. This way, you and your lover know that it would be out of place to stay indoors on a Friday night or eat out on the weekend.

Shared meaning can also mean experiencing a powerful mutual emotional attachment to a place or an object due to an event that involves you and your partner.

Let's say you and your partner have daily morning strolls through the same local park where you've met. It's the place where you've first kissed each other. It's the place where you became exclusive. It's the place where you fucked in the bushes for the first time. Because of these reasons, you both attribute the park a high dose of sentimental value.

There are many other ways in which we can find shared meaning. However, the bottom line involves understanding that it consists in creating a culture that is acceptable to you and your partner and bonds you together in love and harmony.

There are four specific components or, as Gottman calls them, pillars of shared meaning that help solidify a healthy relationship culture. They're also indicators of the ways through which a relationship culture can be formed. Below, I'll tackle these components one by one.

1. Bonding Rituals 

The first and most important feature of building a strong relationship culture are bonding rituals or rituals of connection. They're synonymous with routines or repetitive practices. Couples perform them at stated periods, be it weekly, fortnightly, monthly, yearly, or quarterly.

The point of bonding rituals is that they are repeated periodically by the couple and geared towards building a mutual connection or a bond. In fact, you must ensure that the activities that will form your relationship ritual are designed so that you can easily attach emotional value to them.

Cast your mind back to when you were young. Do you remember Christmas time, Thanksgiving, and other family reunions? Think about their purpose - what is it? Well, it's to foster a connection between family members.

Let's ignore that most family reunions are awkward, uncomfortable, or just plain out scary and focus on the bigger picture, which is that more than half of the people there will enjoy their time together.

Grandparents will finally meet their grandchildren, relatives who never knew each other might bond to the point where they become great friends, and everyone can access free food.

These occurrences in our childhood are indications of what a family culture looks like. Now with that example in mind, you should know what a healthy relationship culture looks like.

It entails activities and events that occur periodically involving you and your partner. Both of you should decide on when and how frequent you want them to be.

The decision of the time and frequency of these events must be considerate of each of your schedules, which also raises the issue of communication and mutual respect. You must be ready to listen to your partner's opinion and consider it while making this decision.

And by the way, the activities you do at your ritual don't need to be grand or complicated. They can be simple as cooking, playing games, eating together, watching certain movies, or virtually any activity that encourages emotional connection.

2. Support for each other's roles

You and your partner play different roles in your relationship, and they have, to some extent, much to do with how you connect and bond.

If you're a man, you may feel that it's your responsibility to provide for and protect your lady. You may feel that to do this, you need to work for several hours, make financial plans and decisions for you and your partner, and so on. And If you're a woman, you may feel it's your responsibility to make sure the home is neat and clean and your partner's lunch made.

There is no fault with this ideology (or any other) as long as your partner is aware of it and understands it. Because by understanding it, they will know what to expect from you and vice versa.

The key is having a solid overall idea of what your partner does in the relationship and what they expect you to do. More specifically, get clear on the aspects like who's cleaning the dishes, who's cooking, who's taking care of the bills, etc.

But never forget that no matter what roles you take on those roles change over time regardless of external influences. Sometimes you're going to act more masculine or more feminine irrespective of your gender. And that's ok. Stay flexible. Just don't lose sight that your partner is your teammate.

3. shared goals

A healthy relationship culture involves shared goals. They don't necessarily mean that you and your partner aim at the same thing at the end of the activity. Still, the activity must be something you can both relate over – something mutually beneficial. 

Ultimately shared goals will give you and your partner a unified and focused sense of direction and make it easier to support and help one another.

Here's a concrete example; my girlfriend and I can have a shared goal to exercise at least two times a week. My goal is to build muscle, and hers is to build stamina and lose weight. Even though we are heading towards different goals, we can still relate to each other along the way since we're exercising together—emphasis on together.

Nevertheless, shared goals don't always have to reside on surface-level subjects like exercise, diet, or general chores. They can also be deep and profound, like shared goals related to hopes and dreams. 

For instance, some couples have the goal of moving in together. Others want to start a family together. And some want to do both.

4. Shared values and symbols

As an individual, you have some distinct values that you live by and hold in high esteem. These values may be enshrined by religious philosophies or secular way of reasoning. Either way, the most crucial point to note is that there are values that are important to you. Likewise, some are probably also important to your partner. 

And those values that are important to you both often give birth to shared symbols. These can be either physical objects or bodiless and abstract.

For example, an abstract symbol could be what a bedroom represents for you and your partner - in my case, it signifies fun, comfort, relaxation, and sex.

Another example could be the evenings you share with your partner. In my case, they represent a time of play and leisure since I nor my girlfriend work at that time.

In contrast, physical symbols work somewhat differently. 

For instance, many religious couples bear a symbol of the cross in their bedroom, which signifies their devotion to God. So instead of their bedroom presenting a particular quality, an object inside of it does.

There are also shared symbols out there that are not assigned to any shared values, in which case they carry the meaning given to them by you and your partner. These meanings are defined by emotions or events that you both can relate to and hold in high regard.

Importance of Shared Meaning

Till now, you're probably thinking, "Ok, Max, maybe you're on to something. This shared meaning sure sounds important, but what's exactly the point of it? Why do I need to go through the hoops to ensure that my partner and I develop one?"

The primary reason why you must develop a relationship with shared meaning is connection. The need to connect with your partner beyond superficial relationships is the principal motivation for a relationship culture. 

When you have ritualized activities, shared goals and symbols, and understand and appreciate your different roles in the relationship, you begin to understand and enjoy each other better, improve mutual bonding, raise affection and, ultimately, prolong your relationship.

And to top it all off, developing shared meaning also makes solving conflict and disagreements way easier. Now that's sexy!


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