Read An Excerpt
Chapter 4: Pull Out The Markers! Draw Your House!
The first step in figuring out your inner architecture is to draw your emotional house (or you can print out the sketch we've provided here). You can do this in your head, or with a pen and paper. We’ve always loved markers and sketch pads, so we encourage you to commit to a piece of paper for this project. (We promise it’ll be fun.) One note: over time, you may need to re-draw the walls, since as you evolve so will your house.
The most useful model may be a cross-section where all the rooms are exposed at once. We like to draw a three-story house with nine rooms. The basement and attic lie below and above the other rooms and on the first floor, you’ll find the family room, living room, kitchen and office since those are the most public spaces. Upstairs, lies the master bedroom, the bathroom, and the kid’s room, since those are more intimately connected.
Neither Catherine nor I live in houses with many stories and nine rooms. We live in New York City apartments, and you know how cramped those are! But trust us, you need a room for every area of your emotional life, and this drawing doesn’t reflect your actual abode.
Now make a list of all the rooms that will be in your house—include the basics, and your specifics, each corresponding to an area of your life. You may add or subtract a room, depending on your stage right now. So if you know you don’t want kids, the second bedroom could be a guest room or a place you sew, paint or write. Once you decide you are including a room, the relevant question is, how big should it be? And that is directly correlated to how much time and emotional energy you invest there, and how important that topic is to your overall happiness.
For me the bathroom was always large because I was preoccupied with weight, fitness and health in a way that took my attention from other thoughts, and even when I wasn’t in the bathroom these thoughts followed me into every other room. I would walk into a party and think, Do I look fat? Instead of, Oh, there is so-n-so I want to talk to!
Many women’s bathrooms are the largest in their house, since it’s where we scrutinize the number on the scale, the bags under our eyes, and all nature of self-criticism. It’s also where we need to love ourselves, and take care of ourselves (doing a mole check, indulging in a bubble bath, or remembering to floss). The bathroom connects to the bedroom, since feeling fat can torpedo libido faster than you can say, Not tonight honey! It connects to the kitchen, if you are dieting, and your kids’ room if you don’t like the way your tummy sags after popping out a couple of babies.
Meanwhile, you might think that my kitchen was tiny because I don’t cook much. (No domestic goddess here!) But most women’s kitchens are fairly large, whether they cook or not, because the kitchen isn’t just about meal prep or eating or dishes, it’s about all the household chores, responsibilities and upkeep, and we all have to divide up who does what, and if we are married and have families, there is usually a conversation about who will pick up the child at soccer, or take her to the dentist after or any number of other little details that you deal with in the course of a normal day. This is why the kitchen is a multi-purpose room, a place where you cook and clean, yes, but also discuss all the household matters at the kitchen table. It is literally the hub of the house.
For each room, think about the big issues you struggle with there, as well as the little ones. If you are constantly aggravated in one room, it has to be larger than the others because you will spend more time cleaning it up. A room can also be oversized if it brings you an enormous amount of joy, like that newborn in your kid’s room, or that career change you can’t stop thinking about --so your office is bigger than most.
Your Emotional House Will Harken Back To Your Childhood
As you draw your house you’ll see elements that are familiar (your rooms from childhood) as well as those that are pure fantasy (like a Brady Bunch one-big-happy-family home with everyone loving each other and driving each other crazy, in a good way). Or maybe your fantasy is a bustling, child-filled house like in Cheaper by the Dozen or Parenthood. Or perhaps you fill your house with pets, art or music.
My emotional house always has a strong nostalgic element—and to this day my family room is huge because I have a close relationship with my brother and his kids. In fact because my brother and I played together for long hours growing up, (zinging each other with balled up socks before video games made if possible to “kill” your sibling without actually inflicting pain) we still compete, now in triathlons and skiing and our children’s accomplishments. This sibling rivalry is both a pleasure and a pain, but mostly a joy, since no one can “zing” at me like my brother, but he is also my first call on all matters family-related. Ever since our parents split up, we’ve been in it together, through thick and thin, and always will be. So my family room and basement are connected, and both are relatively large.
Catherine explains that the memories we carry through life become an important, even essential, part of the happiness picture as we consider our adult relationships and our patterns of behavior. The basement turns out to be the largest room, since it is the foundation of our house, and those memories (painful and joy-filled) serve as the blueprint for our emotional architecture.
The 10th Room isn’t Always a Space, But You Can Disappear There
An important place for me when I was a child was my personal space, a little bedroom about 8-feet wide, rarely used at the back of our pre-war apartment, where I would go to disappear. Everyone needs such a place. I would sometimes slip away to a forgotten little room behind the laundry area, near the back door. My parents called it “the dog’s room,” because that was where the family mutt would curl up to find quiet.
It was a place where I could pat the dog and read and write and hide from scrutiny. Not every house has one and not everyone has the luxury of slipping away in the middle of the day, but the idea is to create some kind of a sanctuary. It’s wherever you go to think and contemplate your day, your life, your authentic self. You can do it on a walk, while swimming laps or wherever you can be alone with your thoughts. For some women it’s the solitude of folding laundry; for others it’s a long shower or just lying in bed with a book.
It’s critical that you go there daily, if only for 20 minutes, And it’s important to find such a place in your emotional house, especially now that so many of us live on top of each other in our busy, stressed-out lives. I think of it as a “mouse hole” since you can disappear into this space and no can find you or bother you there.
Kids are great at finding mouse holes, since they are better at closing out the world when they need to get away from the noise and the demands of school and family. It’s why Harry Potter’s little nook under the stairs appeals to children of all ages; it may be small, but it’s his and he can get away from the dreaded Dursleys when he goes there. We all have our version of the Dursleys, and we all need a space under the stairs, a mouse hole, even if it’s only a room in our minds.
Now You’re Done and Can Take a Breath, Or Even a Walk
Once you’ve drawn your house and have learned to move from room to room, you will have more control over yourself and your emotions in every room. Then you’ll be able to leave your house and see the bigger world—and your role in it--without having your thoughts and feelings about it distorted because you are constantly worrying about those messy rooms. Too many women get trapped in self-destructive patterns that minimize their happiness and hold them back from fully participating in their lives. Just by changing the dynamic within their emotional house, they can finally get to the point where they can go out and experience the world from a new perspective: a happier more confident and meaningful place.
Now You Get To Furnish It!
You have a floor-plan, so now it’s time to place the big defining pieces for each room—a bed in the bedroom, TV in the family room, table in the dining room, fridge in the kitchen etc… This isn’t your Martha Stewart moment, where you get to impress us with what a fabulous interior designer you are. The goal here is to take notice of the ways you spend time in each room. For some women, a beautiful bed and luxurious sheets are the key to their bedroom. Perhaps for someone else a futon on the floor is fine, as long as they have a gorgeous view or tons of sunlight streaming in every morning, or a comfy chair to read in. (Or great, carefree sex, often, on that futon.)
As much as I wish everyone in my family sat in the family room playing Scrabble every night, that just isn’t the case. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality of my family room: my husband James is on his laptop, writing his blog about photography, my son is using his computer to look up musical chords, teaching himself to play guitar, strumming and singing and entertaining everyone with silly songs, and my daughter is “i-chatting” with pals. It may not be the perfect, Norman Rockwell family portrait, but at least we all congregate there, and that makes all of us calm, relaxed and content. Sometimes, I’ve decided, sharing the same air is enough.
That’s it. Now you’re done sketching. You have your emotional house. Next you need to decide which rooms are neat enough and which ones you want to work on.
Where do you want to spend your emotional energy cleaning up a mess? That’s where to head first.