Getting to Know You: staying updated about your partner's world

couples therapy, relationships. love maps, gottman

couples therapy, relationships. love maps, gottman

to know you is to love you

For many of us, the first few months of an intimate relationship can feel like we're exploring a new world. We stay up late, gathering stories and details about our partner: what were they like as a child? what are their hopes? who is important to them? where do they want to travel? when have they felt scared? how do they like their coffee? Each new detail brings them closer to us, and sharing our own likes, dislikes, histories and hopes creates an intimacy that only comes when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and known.

John Gottman, a research psychologist who has spent decades studying couples, coined the term "Love Map" to describe this collecting of details about our partner. As we gather more information about our loved one, our understanding of them becomes more nuanced and rich, and we devote more space to them in our mind and heart. Without a richly drawn map, we cannot know our partner. And without fully knowing them, we cannot love them deeply. When our Love Map is accurate, we are more likely to remember important dates, anticipate their needs, and generally support them in ways that they want to be supported.

without a map, we are lost in the storm

Having a detailed Love Map of your partner can protect against getting lost in whatever stormy conflicts inevitably come our way. Couples who are already attuned to each other's internal world are less likely to feel surprised or thrown off course when new challenges or stresses arise. For example, when your partner is caring for an aging parent, having a detailed understanding about how they cope with stress, how they feel about their parent, and what helps them to feel soothed will allow you to better support them, and will help you both avoid additional fights and conflicts that can arise in stressful situations.

keep your map updated

Sure, it's easy to be infinitely curious about your partner when you first meet. But after 5, 10, 15 years, we can fall into the trap of assuming we already know everything there is to know and stop asking questions. But who stays exactly the same year after year? We all develop new likes, new dreams, new preferences. When was the last time you asked your partner about her day and really wanted to hear all the details about what brought her joy, what caused her worry? When was they last time you invited your partner to tell you about a dream he has for the future, or encouraged him to talk with you about new insights he's having about his family dynamics?

For Valentine's Day, give your partner a prime piece of real estate--a spot in your mind and heart dedicated just to them and their hopes, dreams, memories, feelings and opinions. Update your Love Map with open ended questions. Invite them to share their current worries, day dreams, thoughts about their friendships, sexual fantasy, fears, physical ailments. The little moments of attention and curiosity will deepen intimacy and help you recommit to traveling life together.

Haven't you noticed,
Suddenly I'm bright and breezy,
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I'm learning about you
Day by day.