“Couple Bubble” is a term popularized by the author and couples therapist, Stan Tatkin, PhD. It describes a boundary that is mutually constructed by a couple that connects and protects the couple from big or little and inner or outer life events that challenge secure functioning. Secure functioning as described by Tatkin is a way of relating that prioritizes the relationship above all else. Secure functioning couples honor themselves, their partner, and are in service of the relationship.
The couple bubble protects the couple’s resources and sustains the ongoing safety and security of the relationship. It’s part of what makes risking vulnerability and intimacy possible. It offers each member of the couple a soft landing as well as a sense that we’re in this together, no matter what. I got your back and I trust you have mine, period. Each member of the partnership assures the safety and security of their partner.
This way of relating frees up tremendous resources and energy that can be dedicated to other areas of life including individual pursuits or parenting.
Many couples argue about the basic tenants of their relationship. That arguing zaps everyone’s energy and overtime erodes trust. Life is so much easier when you aren’t arguing about the basic tenants of what’s important in your relationship.
Tatkin describes two steps toward developing a couple bubble.
1) The relationship comes first before all other matters and all other relationships. “You are in each other’s care,” says Tatkin. You’ve agreed to have each other’s backs.
2) You have a set of shared agreements that guides your relationship and serves both the personal and mutual good.
Shared Agreements, what Tatkin calls Guiding Principles support the endeavor of secure functioning. They help reorient or course correct when you aren’t being your best self. Shared Agreements help define the “Us” and what you love about the relationship. Shared agreements are principles that answer how do we want the relationship to be? What are the conditions that enable us both to thrive and move forward? Shared agreements/principles are the do and don’t do that support the secure connection of the relationship.
In order for the principles/agreements to be useful they must be discussed and agreed on by both partners. Tatkin says it’s important for both partners to be clear about why each agreement is a good for both. Shared agreements are fair and just. They cover the big things so that couples don’t get hooked into fighting about small stuff.
Here’s some examples.
- Our relationship comes first.
- We tell each other everything, we practice honesty without omitting anything.
- We support each other. We endeavor kindness, compassion, and consideration.
- We protect each other in public and private.
- We seek to understand before seeking to be understood.
- We move together, no unilateral decisions.
- We know each other so well that we are experts on one another. Therefore we can cut each other slack.
- We don’t let “thirds”, (the people, career, choices) interfere with our couple bubble unless we both agree.
- We drop everything to tend to one another’s distress.
- We promote independent endeavors and celebrate each other’s achievements.
- We repair misunderstandings as soon as possible.
- If one of us falls out of line we discuss it and it’s followed by a corrective action.
- We honor our “stop safe word” to time-out before arguments become destructive.
One of the things that couples discover when they are developing shared principles or agreements is each had many assumptions/expectations about how the relationship would work that weren’t discussed.
It’s important to talk about expectations.
Sometimes expectations can be unconscious (more on that in the next post). Sometimes couples discover deal breakers while discussing expectations. This can be challenging and painful. While difficult, it’s better to know if you disagree on fundamental issues before either of you feels betrayed.
Agreeing on fundamental principles assumes that you will make mistakes, won’t always function at your best, or be lazy. You won’t always be kind or considerate. This is about how you want to show up in the ideal circumstances, how you can reorient in the less than ideal circumstances, and who you are as a couple. This way of being together is a commitment, overrides mood, circumstances and is bigger than thoughts and feelings.
We humans are flawed and self-centered.
Shared principles build a safety net that’s there when you need it. Couples who haven’t built shared principles that are based on personal and mutual needs and desires will pay the price when relational life goes through life’s inevitable fluctuations.
Make up your own agreements/principles or use some of the examples above. Remember both of you must fully buy into each principle and explain why it’s a good idea for you and your partner otherwise the principle will be meaningless.
Tatkin, Stan PsyD MFT, Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help you Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship January 2012.
Tatkin, Stan PsyD MFT, Relationship Rx: Insights and Practices to Overcome Chronic Fighting and Return to Love, Audio 2017.