How structurally sound is your relationship?
Over the last couple of years the housing market has been battered. Relationships have been regularly stressed also. Just how good a shape is your relationship in?
The collapse in housing prices didn’t only affect people’s pocket books, it affected their relationships. Families lost their homes, people were out of work. Sometimes families had to move in with relatives to get by. Some relationships failed.
Those houses that went in to foreclosure, many of them were ruined. People who can’t pay the mortgage don’t make repairs. A looked at a lot of those houses and was surprised at the broken windows, water damage and general state of repairs. People who come to see me for marriage counseling find their marriage is in similar disrepair.
You can’t buy a house, never do another thing to take care of it and then expect it to be in any kind of decent shape as time goes by. Same thing is true of relationships. They need maintenance just like houses.
John Gottman describes his approach to marriage therapy as building a “Sound Marital House.” One thing people forget to do in relationships, he tells us, is to make lots of repair attempts. Sometimes the kids throw things, maybe they break a window. We get mad; maybe we yell at them, tell them to be more careful. Then we get the window fixed.
Sometimes couples disagree, they have an argument. In the heat of the argument they throw things at each other, complaints, criticisms, and sometimes insults. Relationships get damaged. Trust gets broken. Once the trust is broken some couples just avoid that damaged area forever. People in healthy relationships make efforts to repair the damage.
Older houses used to be built right on the ground. They called that a mud sill foundation. I looked at a few of those old houses. The seller could put a nice coat of paint on them but the wood sitting on the dirt had rotted, the walls leaned, there were cracks in the beams. Sometimes termites had eaten away large parts of the wood.
Couples build their relationships that way also, no proper foundation. Two people meet somewhere; a bar or party, and then they end up spending the night together. Next thing they know they are moved in together. Sometimes there is a pregnancy and before they know it they are in a relationship that is hard to get out of. Now they try to decide, do we put a lot of effort into saving this relationship or do we just let our relationship house go?
The problem with these relationships is they didn’t lay down the proper kind of foundation. A relationship foundation consists of getting to know each other. What are your prospective partner’s hopes and dreams? What do they like and dislike. Most importantly what are their values? Lay down a good foundation for your relationship and it can weather the storms of the emotional winters. Neglect your relationship foundations and the relationship house will crack and shift and maybe even collapse, if you can’t do the repairs often enough and fast enough. Emotional repairs are costly and painful.
The strongest relationship foundations are made of joint, shared values and goals. You probably know want your partner looks like on the outside, but do you know what they are made of on the inside?
Lots of those foreclosed homes had bad roofs. You can put a new roof on a house, but you need to do this before the whole structure gets irreparable damaged. A new roof costs a lot of money. Sometimes a new roof costs more than you can afford to pay.
A damaged relationship needs immediate repairs also. But relationship repairs are emotionally costly. Every couple should have an emotional bank account. They put all the good things that happen in the emotional bank account. Then when something happens that needs emotional repair they have that shared emotional wealth to use to repair the damage. Some couples don’t get the idea that they need to save and invest in keeping the relationship positive. The put nothing good or happy in the account and there is no good will to use on the repair effort.
Abandoned houses routinely have windows broken out and boarded up. Some have the doors off. Relationships need good windows and doors. We need to see what goes on in the outside world. What is happening in the world affects our family. What we don’t need to do is let all that stress in. Couples find their relationship in jeopardy when stress from jobs and relatives finds its way too easily into the relationship house.
Have you built a strong relationship house? Are you maintaining it with lots of positive interactions with your partner? Do you make constant deposits in your emotional bank account or do you overdraw that account by thinking you don’t need to respect and care for your partner. Will your relationship house stand the storms of life or is it about to collapse?
For more on our counseling and therapy services in Fresno California see the David Miller Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist page at counselorfresno.com
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