I often recommend Dr. John Gottman's most famous book, Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, to any of my clients interested in improving their relationship, whether they're single, partnered, married, or divorced.
I teach the skills outlined in this book to help partners with the many difficulties related to conflict styles, communication, and strategies to heal long-term romantic relationships. In today's blog post, I discuss Gottman's first principle for creating a good relationship--truly knowing your partner by building a "love map".
Good Relationship Principle #1: Keep Updating Your "Love Maps"
How do you make a relationship work? You start by building intimacy and closeness. And then the you have to work hard to maintain it.
So where does intimacy come from? The key is knowing your partner. The more you get to know your partner, and I mean, really know your partner, the more that you create real intimacy in your relationship.
It's easy in the beginning. When emotions are high, and you're in love, you want to know everything about your beloved. Your curiosity about them is natural, and you're eager to learn who they are, which of course makes you feel even closer to them.
Dr. John Gottman, the premier relationship researcher of the last 40 years, calls this act of "knowing your partner" having a "love map" of your partner. Having a "love map" of your partner over time is what keeps the intimacy alive. It's about knowing the details of their life, their hopes, their dreams, etc. Here's an easy way to remember this:
Intimacy --> In--ti--ma--cy --> In--to--me--see --> In--to--me--you--see --> You--see--me! > You--know--me--and--you--love--me!!!
If only knowing your partner were that simple. It isn't just a light switch you turn on that stays on forever. It's important to remember that even the closest of relationships can deteriorate over time if neglected.
All people change, including you--and your partner, too. If you're not aware of how your partner is changing, you'll stop feeling close with them. And vice versa. It’s that simple. This is one of the ways relationships can fall apart. I see it all the time in couples therapy.
Another benefit to knowing your partner well is that you'll be better equipped to handle the inevitable stressful events and arguments whenever they happen. The typical changes that happen throughout the lifespan of a relationship, such as getting married, moving in together, having children, and adult children leaving the house, are better handled by couples who are intimately "in touch” with one another.
How Well Do You Know Your Partner?
Here's the love map self-assessment to see how well you really know your partner. Take some time to answer True or False to each of the following questions.
Love Map Questionnaire
1. I can name my partner’s best friend. T or F
2. I can tell you what stresses my partner is currently facing. T or F
3. I know the names of some of the people who have been irritating my partner lately. T or F
4. I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams. T or F
5. I am very familiar with my partner’s religious beliefs and ideas. T or F
6. I can tell you abut my partner’s basic philosophy of life. T or F
7. I can list the relatives my partner likes the least. T or F
8. I know my partner’s favorite music. T or F
9. I can list my partner’s three favorite movies. T or F
10. My spouse is familiar with my current stresses. T or F
11. I know the three most special times in my partner’s life. T or F
12. I can tell you the most stressful thing that happened to my partner as a child. T or F
13. I can list my partner’s major aspiration and hopes in life. T or F
14. I know my partner’s major current worries. T or F
15. My partner knows who my friends are. T or F
16. I know what my partner would do if he or she suddenly won the lottery. T or F
17. I can tell you in detail my first impressions of my partner. T or F
18. I feel that my partner knows me pretty well. T or F
20. My partner is familiar with my hopes and aspirations. T or F
Give yourself one point for each “true” answer.
10 & above - consider your "love map" knowledge of your partner a strength.
10 and below - consider your "love map" knowledge of your partner a weakness. Either you do not have a love map or it needs to be updated.
Play the Love-Map Game!
Want to improve your relationship right now? Spend some time asking your partner the following questions. It's a game you can play together in the spirit of laughter and fun. The more you play it, the more you’ll get to know what "love map" is all about, and how you can apply it to your own relationship. Here are the rules:
Each of you should take a piece of paper and pen, and then together, randomly decide on twenty numbers between 1 and 60. Write the numbers down in a column on the left-hand side of your paper.
Below is a list of numbered questions. Beginning with the top of your column, match the numbers you chose with the corresponding questions. Each of you should ask your partner this question.
If your partner answers correctly (you be the judge), he or she receives the number of points indicated for that question, and you receive one point. If your partner answers incorrectly, neither of you receive any points. The same rules apply when you answer.
The winner is the person with the higher score after you’ve both answered all twenty questions.
1. Name my two closes friends.
2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?
3. What was I wearing when we first met?
4. Name one of my hobbies.
5. Where was I born?
6. What stresses am I facing right now?
7. Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday.
8. When is my birthday?
9. What is the date of our anniversary (or engagement)?
10. Who is my favorite relative?
11. What is my fondest unrealized dream?
12. What is my favorite flower?
13. What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?
14. What is my favorite time of day?
15. What makes me feel most complete?
16. What turns me on?
17. What is my favorite meal?
18. What is my favorite was to spend the evening?
19. What is my favorite color?
20. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life?
21. What kind of present would I like best?
22. What was one of my best childhood experiences?
23. What was my favorite vacation?
24. What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed?
25. Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)?
26. What is my favorite sport?
27. What do I most like to do with time off?
28. What is one of my favorite weekend activities?
29. What is my favorite getaway place?
30. What is my favorite movie?
31. What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?
32. What are some of my favorite ways to work out?
33. Who was my best friend in childhood?
34. What is one of my favorite magazines?
35. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies”.
36. What would I consider my dream job?
37. What do I fear the most?
38. Who is my least favorite relative?
39. What is my favorite holiday?
40. What kinds of books do I most like to read?
41. What is my favorite TV show?
42. Am I right handed or left-handed?
43. What am I most sad about?
44. Name one of my concerns or worries.
45. What medical problems do I worry about?
46. What was my most embarrassing moment?
47. What was my worst childhood experience?
48. Name two of the people I admire most
49. Name my major rival or enemy.
50. Of all the people we both know, who do I like the least?
51. What is one of my favorite deserts?
52. What is my social security number?
53. Name one of my favorite novels?
54. What is my favorite restaurant?
55. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes?
56. Do I have a secret ambition? What is it?
57. What foods do I hate?
58. What is my favorite animal?
59. What is my favorite song?
60. Which sports team is my favorite?
Make Your Own Love Maps:
Who are the main people in your partner’s life? (friends, potential friends, rivals/enemies)
What have been the recent important events in your partner’s life?
What are the important upcoming events in your partner's life?
What are your partner’s current stresses?
What are your partner’s current stresses and worries?
What are your partner’s hopes and dreams?
Self-Exploration: Who Are You?
Take some time for self-exploration. Get to know yourself better, and share yourself with your partner. These kinds of discussions allow you and your partner to build even better love maps. Think about the following questions, and then discuss with your partner:
Who do you want to become?
What is your mission and legacy?
What is your inner emotional world like?
What's hurt you?
What helps you feel better?
My triumphs and what am I striving for?
Keep Updating Your Love Maps!
Remember, all relationships are a work in progress. And all relationships need to be cared for in order for two people to stay close and loving. So keep asking your partner questions, and learning about who they are now, and who they are becoming. And let your partner know you--keep answering their questions. The moment you think you know everything about your partner, you've moved closer to losing your connection.
Please feel free to comment on this article. I'm always looking for feedback and suggestions for future topics!
ABOUT: Stephanie Cook, LCSW, provides in-person and online counseling services to adults, teens, couples, and families; she specializes in working with young adults and couples on improving themselves and their relationships. Stephanie owns a small private practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an intown-suburb of Atlanta, GA, near Emory University. Her blog is dedicated to helping people improve their lives and relationships.