When you form a bond with someone beyond friendship, you create a connection that is special from others. For better or for worse, this long-term relationship can change who you are through the sacrifices and compromises that happen over time. Like snowflakes, no two relationships are ever the same, with each couple thriving, managing conflict, and dreaming about their future together in their own unique way.
Despite these differences, couples who identify as a team (more than just two individuals) are most aligned because of some form of shared meaning and purpose.
Shared meaning refers to a common culture, and for Dr. John Gottman – one of the top 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century – shared meaning in couples is created through the use of traditions, roles, goals and symbols.
Studies have shown a positive correlation between shared meaning and relationship satisfaction. Intimacy increases naturally because the more things you have in common, the closer you feel to your partner. And with 93% of adults in the US crediting a happy marriage as one of their most important life objectives and over 80% of adults marrying at some point in their lives, understanding what makes couples work is important. Creating shared meaning and purpose together is the key.
While Dr. Gottman says it takes years to develop shared meaning, there’s no better time than the present to start. So, without further ado –
Here are 7 Goals to Create Shared Meaning & Purpose as a Couple
1. Make Joint Activities a Thing
Finding joint activities you can enjoy together is an excellent way to develop shared meaning. Common interests that have a balance of independent and inclusive elements to them are great for couples who are just starting out.
For my partner and I (we’ll refer to her as Meredith), we drive to the mountains regularly during the winter to go snowboarding. That’s our thing. We interact on the rides up the chairlift and have plenty of moments bombing down the hill feeling free on our own.
Recommendations: Exercising, movie nights, volunteering
2. Adopt a Daily Tradition (or three)
Something you do on a regular basis together builds meaning over time. Whether it’s a small gesture or carving intentional time every day, the act of repeated connection becomes the building block toward a common purpose. Dr. Gottman recommends some form of tradition or ritual to start and end each day.
My daily tradition with Meredith is ‘cheersing’ to the first bite of every meal. We actually raise our forks or touch burgers before we start eating. It keeps us in tune with one another and turns a regularly occurring necessity into a shared purpose.
Recommendations: Good morning kisses, cuddling before falling asleep, cleaning the house
3. Celebrate Together!
This is a hybrid of joint activities and daily traditions, but more calendar-based and celebratory. The key is to go out and acknowledge some thing or event together. Wedding anniversaries and birthdays are obvious examples, but this can go beyond staple norms. An ice-skating day during winter? An annual hike? Or going to the Calgary Stampede during summer?!
4. Create Meaning Where Others Do Not
By placing significance on an object, song, city or inside joke, it becomes a symbol of your relationship. These symbols keep you thinking about your partner, building shared meaning when you are together and when you are apart.
I call Meredith a ‘unicorn’ for the rarity of embodying all of the traits I had hoped for in a partner (I am that particular). Unicorns became our relationship symbol over time. Now, whenever I see unicorns on t-shirts, toys and other media, I think of her.
5. Talk About Your Shared Meanings
Once you have established some of these activities, traditions, celebrations, and symbols as a couple, verbally recognize them through dialogue. When these shared meanings are talked about, planned for, and referenced as “our thing,” you make them somewhat official and place enough value on them to add to your relationship’s identity.
6. Build a Shared Purpose
Working towards a dream, goal, or vision as a couple is possibly the biggest and most literal shared meaning you can have. Relationships that are relatively new may not be at this level yet, but for couples who are, this is the glue that bonds their connection even stronger.
It doesn’t have to be something tangible either. Working towards aligning your common values also emphasizes the bigger picture over smaller day-to-day differences.
7. Put Your Couple Values in Writing
While it can feel restrictive, some counselors suggest writing down your values. Shared meaning and purpose can grow with or without a commitment in writing, but seeing your values in words as a couple elicits a response – move forward together and/or engage in healthy dialogue to work out significant differences.
Let’s face it: relationships are a lot of work. And when you factor in the evolution of you – from individual to boyfriend to couple to husband and more (brother, friend, son, employee, etc.) – there’s a lot on your plate. But this is why you are here. There is some part of you that wants to learn and grow for yourself and for your partner.
Creating shared meaning and purpose can start as big or as small as you like. From joint activities and small gestures you do for one another, to bigger celebrations and discussing what your shared dream may look like, the key is to do it together. The more frequent and established this becomes, the deeper the bond you have with the one you love.
And together, you enrich each other’s lives, for the short and long term, as a team.
For related topics, read the following Men & articles:
This article tackles shared meaning and purpose by showing you how to express appreciation for your partner (daily rituals) and prepares your mindset for building a strong relationship with them.
The article explores the importance of communication, mutual respect, trust and commitment – all necessary ingredients to foster a shared meaning and purpose.
Communication is an essential skill for conveying a shared meaning and purpose. This article focuses on what goes into effective communication that will resonate with your partner.
Emotions are usually involved when it comes to talking and building your shared purpose. This article offers more insight into the techniques for expressing emotions and navigating difficult conversations.
Half of communication is listening. And when it comes to shared meaning and purpose, you will be listening to your partner’s perspective. I encourage you to read this article to reflect on your own listening skills and why empathy is important when listening.
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