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  • Writer's pictureAbi Sims

Gottman's Sound Relationship House

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Image from https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-is-the-sound-relationship-house/


The Sound Relationship House was created by Dr. John Gottman, relationship expert, as a visual to explain what relationships need in order to thrive. The concept is that a secure relationship is like a house: we feel safe in our home, and we have a sturdy foundation. The same is true about relationships: the main goal is to have a solid foundation in our relationships and to feel safe with our partner. We're going to take a look at the Sound Relationship House, floor by floor.


Floor 1: Build Love Maps

Love maps refers to how well your know your partner and how well you feel known by your partner. It's the most basic level of friendship! It's kind of like a road map you've created in your mind of your partner's inner world: their hobbies, interests, aspirations, values, feelings, hopes, dreams, and goals. In order to build love maps, we have to ask open-ended questions and remember our partner's answers.

Floor 2: Share Fondness & Admiration

Sharing fondness and admiration is our ability to notice and express what we appreciate about our partner. This expression can be done verbally ("Thank you so much for doing the laundry") or nonverbally (hugging your partner from behind while they cook dinner). In order to build a culture of respect within the relationship, it requires us to notice when our partner is doing something right and express that to them. Building fondness and admiration requires both people to ignore the mistakes of your partner and notice their positive contributions to the relationship instead. We all make mistakes. It's what we focus on in the relationship that really matters.


Floor 3: Turning Towards Bids

You may have never heard this phrase before, but when we're trying to connect with our partner, it's called "making a bid" for connection. And you might not have noticed this before either, but we make bids for connection to our partners more often than we realize!


An example for making a bid looks like this:

Sally and John are sitting on the couch in the living room of the house they've lived in for the past 15 years. They haven't changed the decor in their living room since they moved in 15 years ago. Sally randomly says to John, "I really love the way we've decorated the living room." There's really no specific reason for Sally to say this; they've lived in the same house with the same living room decor for 15 years...except for that Sally is making a bid for connection with John. In that moment, John has two choices: he can either turn towards the bid or turn away from it. Turning away from the bid would look something like, "Sally, why are you telling me this? We live in this house all the time. It's not a big deal." Turning towards the bid would look something like, "I know, right? We love it so much that we've kept it the same all these years!"


Each time a partner turns toward the other when they make a bid, it's like they're putting money in an emotional bank account that builds over time.


Floor 4: Positive or Negative Perspective

If the first 3 floors of the house are working well, then the majority of couples will have a positive perspective of their relationship. This is when the positive feelings about the relationship and partner override any of the negative things our partner does. Negativity isn't taken personally, and it's viewed as a sign that our partner is stressed.


When a relationship is operating from a negative perspective, the negative feelings about the relationship and partner override any of the positive things our partner does. We become hyper-vigilant looking for put-downs, and positive events aren't usually noticed. Positive events that do happen can be viewed as neutral or even seen as negative. When relationships are operating from the negative perspective, it isn't something the couples chooses; rather, it's what happens when the relationship hasn't been doing well for a while.


Floor 5: Managing Conflict

Conflict is a common, natural part of every relationship. Conflict even has positive aspects to it, like learning more about ourselves and our partners. People in relationships who are able to manage conflict well start conflict discussions without blame, they accept influence, they're able to self-soothe, they de-escalate and repair, they use humor and/or affection during conflict as a way to decrease physiological arousal, and they make compromises.


Longitudinal research conducted by Dr. Gottman showed that only 31% of problems in a relationship are solvable. The remaining 69% of relationship issues are perpetual, which means they do not get solved over time. As daunting as this sounds, it's actually very possible to have a healthy secure, relationship, and have healthy conflict, with these odds. Perpetual problems usually stem from differences in lifestyle or personality. People in relationships who manage conflict well are able to dialogue about these issues without getting gridlocked, which means they don't have escalated fights about their perpetual problems, and they don't avoid talking about it completely.


Floor 6: Making Life Dreams Come True

When we're in a safe, secure relationship, one of the aspects to that is creating an atmosphere where each person in the relationship can honestly talk about their convictions, dreams, aspirations, and values, and feel supported in those dreams.


Floor 7: Creating Shared Meaning

Creating meaning in a relationship can be done in a multitude of ways. Because a relationship is about building a life together, a crucial aspect of that is having a relationship that has a sense of shared meaning and purpose. Through the use of rituals of connection, which are ways we intentionally spend time with our partner that are special and positive, we create shared meaning! Rituals of connection can be anything from creating holiday traditions together to sharing a cup of coffee in the morning to kissing each other before bed each night.


The Pillars: Trust & Commitment

Trust and commitment hold up the house. Without either, the house will fall. When building trust in a relationship, we're looking for how our partner acts in ways that maximize benefits not just for themselves, but also for their partner.

"Will you be there for me if I become depressed?"

"Will you stand up for me if your mother criticizes me?"

Knowing your partner will keep you physically, mentally, and emotionally safe is the foundation of trust.


Commitment is when each person in the relationship believes theirs is a lifelong journey with the person, in the good and the bad. When there's commitment, both partners believe each other to be their very best choice, and they cherish each other. When commitment is lacking, it's common for negative comparisons to be made between their current partner and a real or fantasized alternative partner. They believe their partner is lacking in some way.


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At Root Counseling, Abi uses the Gottman Method to work with couples who are experiencing issues in their relationship or want to enhance their relationship. To set up an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.

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