What shape is your relationship in?


Like a house, relationships are built with a strong foundation, a robust framework and a sturdy, hard-wearing roof, complemented by gorgeous interior and exterior finishes. Each of these levels addresses a fundamental principle of relationship intimacy, and without one, a relationship will crumble.


This is the metaphor of the Sound Relationship House, a method developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman to guide couples in forming healthy relationships and is used in relationship counselling. This popular relationship theory was formed out of 40 years’ worth of research. Through cameras installed in their “Love Lab”, John Gottman observed how couples interacted while living together, discovering certain differences between the behaviours of couples who have successful marriages and couples who end up getting separated.


Gottman Sound Relationship House

Source: Gottman Institute.


What does it mean?

When I meet couples for the first time for relationship counselling, I share with them the Sound Relationship House principle. We talk about how, just like when building a house, you need to put all these pillars in place to create a strong relationship. Once these levels are established, couples can now live in a happy, safe and secure environment where they can fully grow their relationship.

The Sound Relationship House consists of seven fundamental levels, each having a strong impact on a relationship.










  1. Build Love Maps

At the very foundation of the house is a love map. This asks the basic question: How well do you know your partner? The same question also applies: How well do you want your partner to know you? This is about knowing your partner’s external and internal world. What happens at work, what sport he engages in, what stresses him and what his childhood was like. This level encourages couples to ask open-ended questions in an effort to understand your partner better and to be understood by them.


  1. Share Fondness and Admiration

The second level focuses on the good points and not just the bad points by creating a culture of appreciation in your relationship. All couples will experience difficult problems along the way. But having a reservoir of positive appreciation within your relationship can allow you and your partner find solace and comfort within the relationship based on the positive experiences you have built around it. Like of it like your relationship’s emotional bank account. Make the relationship a source of love and support during difficult times when you need to dip into the emotional bank account.


  1. Turn Towards Instead of Away

The third level is all about connecting with your partner. In every situation, strive to turn towards your partner, look at her and make eye contact when you talk or greet her in the morning or say good night rather than turning away. Little moments of interaction, such as having coffee together, eating dinner or just asking about each other’s day after work seem too minor to spend so much effort on. But as the years go by, these interactions start to wane and couples grow distant from each other. By making sure you ‘turn towards’ and being aware of how your partner tries to connect and express her needs, you will create an environment of strong emotional support.


  1. The Positive Perspective

The fourth storey is largely based on how you both reacts to the first three levels mentioned above. The goal is to move couples across one side of this spectrum called Positive Sentiment Override, where you have successfully built a strong foundation of friendship and seeing each other as allies. During conflicts, it is important to approach in positively with the goal of solving the problem. Negative assumptions should be put aside. You can start looking at the reasons behind these negative emotions, assess them and avoid giving them too much weight.


  1. Manage Conflict

Managing Conflict is the relationship skill development that counselling focuses on. Here, you will learn how to; talk about ongoing issues within your relationship, accept influence from your partner while learning how be open to compromise and discuss issues within the relationship calmly and without turning it into a big fight just to name a few.


  1. Make Life Dreams Come True

Many times in a relationship, when conflicts arise, we tend to feel frustrated and lose interest in our personal goals because we feel that we don’t have a voice in the relationship. But in this level, we are inspired to have healthy conversations around each partner’s dreams, goals and ambitions and help them come true.


  1. Create Shared Meaning

The last storey or the attic of the house is all about creating one whole life together and not two separate lives apart. It’s all about establishing habits and a culture of shared and agreed upon practices where one partner is connected with the other. There is a kind of synergy where couples work in unison to create a shared purpose


  1. Trust and Commitment

Trust and commitment are the walls that hold each level in the house. As you add levels to your house, your walls grow taller as well. This means that trust and commitment grows alongside your relationship. If the walls of the structure are damaged, each level of the house will be affected.


It takes tremendous effort to make a relationship work. Learning more valuable skills to help you connect, communicate, understand and build a strong friendship with your partner can be immensely helpful if you are struggling with your relationship. This is where counselling can help you.


If you need the help of a relationship counsellor, I invite you to book a session with me. You may reach me through 0403 747 626 or fill in our contact form.


Fiona Stevenson Gold Coast

Fiona Stevenson counselling psychotherapist Gold Coast



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