When you are married or involved in a committed relationship, Parkinson’s Disease is something that happens to both of you. Having Parkinson’s can change the dynamics of the relationship, the family, and both partners’ carer roles and responsibilities.
Relationships are hard enough and a diagnosis of Parkinson’s can expose cracks in relationships that, left unattended, can become fatal to loving and fulfilling relationships. However, if you can find the courage to be honest and vulnerable with one another about your fears and worries both now and in the future, your partnership may become stronger than before.
In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr John Gottman introduced the concept of the sound relationship as having the same components as a house. He describes a strong lasting relationship as having weight bearing walls and levels of intimacy and connection that each person builds upon to create a sturdy bond.
Here is an overview of Gottman’s ‘Sound Relationship House’:
Floor 1: Build Love Maps
Understanding each other’s inner world builds a strong foundation of friendship and connection. Building love maps means making plenty of mental space to store information about each other’s personal opinions, preferences, quirks, dreams and fears. Research has shown that couples who have detailed love maps of each other’s worlds are far better prepared to cope with stressful events and conflict.
Floor 2: Sharing Fondness and Admiration
In strong healthy relationships couples develop a culture where they share their fondness and admiration for each other both in private and in public.
Floor 3: Turn Towards
Gottman refers to those verbal or nonverbal actions to connect with our partners as emotional bids for validation, empathy and intimacy. Your partner turns towards that bid when they respond or reply with what you need. Consistently turning away (or worst yet turning against) a bid spells disaster for any relationship. When you both recognise and turn towards each other’s bid, you create a sense of emotional connection and unity as well as a safe space to express yourselves and your needs.
Floor 4: The Positive Perspective
Believing that you are on the same team solidifies and strengthens you both from the inside out. This is demonstrated by not rushing to offence and seeing the best in each other before criticising.
Floor 5: Managing Conflict
Since you can’t avoid conflict, knowing how to handle it is key. Different conflict styles become habits and they may not always be helpful or productive. Understanding how you can manage conflict productively is a strong predictor of a sound relationship.
Floor 6: Making Life Dreams Come True
The beauty of good companionship is that you have someone who will not only encourage you in your goals but also help you reach them. It’s about coming together and working out ways that each person can live their best life given the challenges and circumstance life throws your way.
Floor 7: Create Shared Meaning
Develop a culture of symbols and rituals that express who you are as a couple. It can be as simple as pizza from your favourite takeaway every Friday night – it is the art of growing rituals of connection and personal meaning together.
The Weight Bearing Walls of Trust and Commitment
As important as all the floors of the Sound Relationship House are, they don’t hold together without the pillars of Trust and Commitment. In a healthy supportive relationship, two people make the decision to have faith in each other and are committed to staying together.