How much time do we spend creating, maintaining, and increasing our satisfaction with our homes? Whether painting certain colors to create a desired ambiance, cleaning away dust, dirt, and debris, adjusting the decor each season, and managing the landscaping to control overgrowth…caring for our homes is undeniably an ongoing priority. However, how does that amount of time and energy compare to the time and effort we invest into the relationships within our homes?
After more than 35 years of studying what makes relationships work, Dr. John Gottman uncovered 7 main principles for relationship success. He presents his findings in a model termed The Sound Relationship House and explains that such identified principles can be applied to any relationship.
Furthermore, as Christians, we know that in order to have the healthiest “relationship house”, families should operate according to God’s design for a healthy home: revering our Lord as head, respecting husbands as leaders, protecting the marital unit, and then pouring into our children. Therefore, applying these principles to our relationship with our Heavenly Father first and then our spouses, takes utmost priority. However, for the purposes of this article, let’s see how such principles can be applied to the children in our lives.
Level 1: Build Love Maps: Increasing knowledge and awareness of your child and building a “road map” of his or her inner psychological world. Children grow and change quickly, so continuously learning and remembering their preferences and interests will help strengthen the parent-child relationship. Some simple ways of doing this include engaging in play, asking open-ended questions, and including what you are learning about your child in conversations so they feel heard and understood.
“Building love maps” of children can start as early as the infant stage in simply learning what positions the baby prefers to be held and understanding and responding to their cues. Apply this concept to older children as well by making observations about their worlds and validating their realities.
Level 2: Share Fondness and Admiration: Recognizing the positive aspects of your child and expressing your appreciations. Often, as parents, we may focus on what our children are not doing right or areas for them to improve versus what they are doing right. Not only should we be looking for the good, we must also be sharing our positive observations. Build a culture of appreciation in your home by trying to speak positives often.
Level 3: Turn Towards: Responding to our children’s need for emotional connection. We all have emotional needs to be met, and that starts the moment we are born. Our children express their need for attention, affection and affirmation in their own ways. Responding to them helps encourage attachment and build a trusting relationship. Gottman’s research shows that ignoring a child brews insecurity and trust issues. We need to be especially mindful of how technology use can interfere with this critical level of building a sound relationship house.
Level 4: Maintain the Positive Perspective: This level of the house is more of a litmus test of whether or not the first three levels are functioning well. Do we have a positive or negative perspective of our children? Do we give them the benefit of the doubt? If our view of their behavior is primarily negative, then that reflects a need to spend more time and effort building love maps, sharing fondness and admiration, and turning towards our children more often.
Level 5: Manage Conflict: Communicating effectively during conflict. When negative emotions are running high, many of us can be critical, contemptuous, defensive, and/or emotionally shut-down. Gottman warns us that doing so is destructive to any relationship. When problems arise, we need to be intentional about taking time to emotionally calm down, humbly ask for forgiveness if we have done something wrong, and validate our children’s feelings and perspectives before collaborative problem solving.
Level 6: Make Life Dreams Come True: Being advocates for our children’s life dreams and goals. Each child is blessed with his or her own unique interests, gifts, and talents. As parents, we are to help them explore, discover, and use such qualities. It is not about projecting onto our children our personal desires but rather supporting them in finding and living out the Lord’s plan and purpose for their lives.
Level 7: Create Shared Meaning: Creating your family culture though rituals of connection. Rituals bind people together, and as a family, this can be done in small, everyday moments as well as in those big, life milestones. For instance, how does your family start each day together? What is your bedtime routine? How do you celebrate birthdays and other holidays? Being intentional about continuing traditions and building your own family legacies strengthen relational ties.
Just as fixing up and maintaining your home increases its value and can provide a future return on investment, the same correlation works when investing time and effort into relationships. In fact, Gottman’s research shows that the parent-child relationship established in the early years is the most essential factor influencing the child’s healthy, physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Happy Relationship House Building!