Creating a Couple Bubble to Strengthen Your Marriage
written by Nathan & Kelli
Each one of us is an individual. We have our own dreams, our own goals. We are taught to be strong. We are taught to be self sufficient. Then, somewhere along the way, we find the person of our dreams.
How fully do we surrender “I” to “we”?
This can be a tough question. Do we give up separate bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial identity? Do we make our last names the same? Do we find a path where we can remain individuals but share common goals, ideas and plans?
For the first 20+ years of our marriage, we lived in a close, intimate relationship, or at least either one of us would have said so. At the same time, we both knew there were significant cracks in our relationship - we just ignored them, or pretended they weren’t that bad. Over the last few years, we have run into a lot more challenges in life. The increased stress magnified those cracks and we could see we were not as unified as we had previously thought.
It was about this time we read a book, written by Stan Tatkin, titled Wired for Love. In it we learned about a concept he calls the couple bubble:
“The couple bubble is an agreement to put the relationship before anything and everything else. …[It] is to burden one another with the tasks of devotion and caring for the other’s safety, security, and well-being.” (Tatkin, Wired for Love, 17)
This book nudged us closer to “we” and further from “I”. As a result of this nudge, we came up with our own couple bubble agreement:
You are the most important thing in my life, more important than my need to be right, what other people think or want, or any other competing value. You are more important than I.
24 years ago we knelt across from each other and chose each other as the person we wanted to be with for eternity. Yet there are a multitude of things each day we consciously or unconsciously decide are more important than this person who we have committed our lives to.
“Honey, can you…” “Sorry, not right now, this show is over in 15 minutes.”
“Today was so busy! Sorry I forgot to call you at lunch.”
“Honey, were you listening to what I said?”
Do any of the above sound familiar? Similar things are said at our house all the time. It isn’t that there aren't good reasons why other things seem more important, more urgent, or simply more interesting than our spouse at any given point in time. The point is, that by agreeing to the idea that our spouse is the most important thing in our lives, we are giving our spouse permission to be needy, to be high maintenance. If our spouse wants something, they have the ability to say, “right now I need you” and everything else (kids, job, parents, etc) is less important right now as a result.
This may sound crazy, but if we trust our spouse, and if they are aware of our needs and we are aware of theirs, then this becomes perfectly reasonable. Even if their concern seems unimportant to us, we have agreed to trust them and drop everything else when they need us.
I will never leave you. Especially during a disagreement.
A while ago, we were hiking and sat down to eat lunch. At some point during lunch, we started disagreeing about something. Part way through that disagreement, Nathan felt the argument was going in circles and so he walked off to get some space. Kelli was terrified. Thoughts started running through her head, “He left me!”, “How will I get home?” By the time she gathered her stuff and ran after him, only to find out he was just a small distance away, she was in complete tears.
This was really the first time that Nathan realized how scared Kelli was of being alone. Since then Nathan has tried to be much more sensitive to this concern and not use this as leverage to get his own way.
The “I will never leave you” clause is a very important one in our relationship. It makes sure we stick around to resolve problems and that we don’t take advantage of each other’s insecurities.
I will share my concerns with you. Especially when I don’t feel like it.
We have an agreement that we can wake each other in the middle of the night if needed. This means if one of us wakes up at 2am and can’t get back to sleep, because they are anxious about something, we know the other will be willing to be woken and talk about any concerns. This can be hard to do because we know how much we each need our sleep, but being willing to tell each other our concerns is an important part of sharing our lives together. In many cases, waking each other up means we both lose 20 minutes of sleep instead of one of us getting a perfect night's rest and the other losing 4 hours of sleep.
It takes a lot of trust in our spouse to tell them we have a problem, big or small. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is difficult, but the more we share the little things in our life the easier it becomes to share the big things when the times get tough.
This also puts a lot of responsibility on the spouse who is listening to the concern. They need to give the person space to share their thoughts and, sometimes, it will be tempting to take it personally. Sharing a concern is showing vulnerability, respect that vulnerability, help them feel safe so they will be more willing to share in the future.
I will apologize. That means doing whatever it takes to make things right. (A hug and a kiss go a long way.)
In a marriage there are a multitude of ways to hurt the other person. Most of them are accidental. We forget a special occasion, we didn’t realize something was important, etc. Some of the ways we hurt each other aren’t as accidental. The solution is often still the same, apologize. Pride often stops us from taking that simple step.
We have to be able to acknowledge when we are in the wrong and apologize, but it doesn’t stop there. We need to be willing to show how sorry we are. It often starts with an “I’m sorry” along with a hug and kiss and ends minutes, or maybe days, later when our trust in each other has been restored. The couple bubble is meant to be cosy and comfortable, and that means both of us need to be completely committed to each other.
We can’t put in a minimum amount of effort when we apologize. We have to sacrifice to show that we truly mean it. This feels awkward at first but that’s okay. To grow, we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Depending on the status of the relationship, we may have to try a few times before the apology even sticks. Once the relationship is back on good footing, that is the perfect time to continue down a path of over reaching to help prepare a solid foundation of trust for the next time something goes wrong.
I will compromise. We both need to be willing to bend. Our relationship is more important than my opinions, decisions, and habits.
A few weeks ago we took a weekend away. We didn’t go far, just far enough so we could enjoy some time together without the normal concerns of life. Kelli loves to go out to eat and she wanted to go to two restaurants that were a bit more pricey than we usually go to on these trips. We settled on a compromise. We would go to both of the places Kelli wanted, but we would have just a light snack or intermittent fast for some of the other meals. This worked well. It helped us reduce calories and money (Nathan wins) but allowed Kelli to be happy by getting two fancier meals (Kelli wins).
A relationship is made of give and take. One of the best skills we can learn is to negotiate and compromise. This means we have to come into every discussion with an open mind. We should bring our own opinions, but we can’t be set on getting our own way. We can’t already have decided our way is the right way. If we don’t like the other person’s suggestions and opinions we are allowed to discuss and bargain, but remember, not all negotiations are symmetrical. Also remember, “any compromises we make should not result in one person losing.” (Tatkin, Wired for love, 152)
You will be the first to hear about everything, not the second, third, or fourth person I tell.
One of our children lost their first tooth the other day and it made Kelli think about how she had handled it in the past. She wasn’t sure if Nathan was always the first to know about these small moments in our children’s lives. This may seem like a small thing but each time we make the effort to include our spouse first in these simple, but special, moments in our life we are deepening the level of intimacy between us. We are letting them share more deeply our joys and our challenges. It is our job to keep these connections with our spouse alive even when they aren’t sitting right next to us.
Our spouse is our first confidant and they should be the first to hear about everything in our lives. They are the one who will always be there for us and stand beside us. They are our go-to person to share life’s ups and downs - not our friends, our mother, or our siblings. Nothing is shared outside the bubble until we have shared it with our spouse.
Our goal is to become one. We want to be able to count on one another 24/7. This is not a small task we’ve undertaken, nor has it been a smooth ride so far. We are still two people with varying opinions and thoughts, and as we become more aligned, other pieces pop up to remind us that this is still a work in progress. This doesn’t mean we want to quit or give up, it just means we have to redecide each day that we are committed to building our couple bubble.
We hope this article has been useful. If you have any questions we would love to be given the opportunity to clarify. If you would like to share how this article has helped you, we would love to hear about that as well. Either way send us an email. We read and reply to all of them.
Kelli & Nathan
If you enjoyed that article, try out a couple more:
The Couple Project is an attempt to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We will be sharing what we are learning, what ideas we are trying, and which ideas seem to help us. We realize not everything that works for us, will work for you, but we still hope you will find the journey valuable. Please subscribe to our newsletter. We are also hoping to learn from you, so share your stories and ideas with us. We would love to hear any questions you have, and we will try to answer them all.