For many couples, the holidays are a stressful time. Expectations of togetherness without conflict clash with the reality of strained budgets, busy schedules, family dynamics, and personal stressors (including grief—memories of those who passed away). A great way to rejuvenate your relationship and sail through the stresses of the season is to get create and enhance love maps (John Gottman). A love map is an internal representation, or map, you have of your partner. It helps you know each other intimately. Being known by one another is what a friendship is all about, and it strengthens the foundation of your relationship.
A love map is an inner working map of your partner—it informs you their partner likes, stresses, worries, hopes, aspirations, relationships with others, joys, and challenges. Knowing this, you can help your partner get their needs met, empathize with them, and offer support where possible. The same applies to you and your needs—your partner is more likely to meet your needs when she/he knows them. A love map is like a good GPS system—it gets you where you want to go, a place of mutual support and reassurance. The essential question of relationships is “Will you be there for me; can I trust you to have my back?” (Gottman). Love maps answer this question in the affirmative because we are pay attention to each others reality and needs.
Like a GPS, a love map needs to be updated constantly. Our goals, dreams, frustrations, and priorities change over time. If you make a continued effort to update your love maps of each other, you create the emotional investment in the relationship which helps you get through hard times. It also makes for a great friendship.
Having a good friendship is important for many reasons, not least of which is intimacy. Great sex requires a strong friendship base and good emotional connection: Great sex = a good friendship + emotional connection (Gottman). Below are some ways you can deepen friendship and intimacy by adding to your love map:
Tips on Updating Love Maps:
- Prioritize Time Together: In the busy-ness of life, especially during the holidays, taking time to check-in with each other is often not on the list. It should be; this is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your relationship stays on solid ground. Updating love maps can be done during drives to relatives, by taking time each evening to check-in with each other, and by paying careful attention to your partner and their needs, frustrations, and daily struggles.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Use open-ended questions to find out more about your partner’s dreams, hopes, favorite foods, friends, family, hobbies, stresses (don’t try to problem solve unless asked to do so). “Do you like pizza?” is a closed question; the answer is “Yes” or “No.” An open-ended question is “What kind of foods do you like?” More information on open-ended questions here.
- Cultivate Curiosity: Curiosity shows that you are interested in your partner, and it helps you be attentive to their likes, stresses, friends, hobbies (all parts of a good love map) (this is also a good way to pick a Christmas present). Imagine you are traveler in a foreign country: you are very curious about the landscape (Gottman). When you are curious about your partner’s inner landscape, you are more likely to receive information to fill in the blanks in your map.
- Pay Attention: Couples who rate very high on relationship satisfaction have a few things in common, one of which is that they are constantly scanning their partner—assessing emotional needs, information that has changed, and they are ready to provide a response when needed. You can scan your partner by daily prioritizing that their world is important. Once this habit is practiced for a while, it becomes a relationship radar working in the background, part of your daily functioning (like drinking water throughout the day).
- Use your Love Maps: A map isn’t much good filed away in a corner of your mind; find some way to incorporate what you know into your daily life. Most of us already do a little of this: If you know your partner prefers tea in the morning versus coffee, even though you like coffee you may make them a nice cup of tea. You may not have the same thoughts, feelings, needs, hopes, or desires; but acting on a love map does show that you care enough to step outside of your comfort zone for your partner.
The holidays, and life in general, can be very busy. Updating your love maps is essential to managing life stress. It creates the experience of not being alone, of mutual support, which is why we value relationships so much. Schedule some coffee (or herb tea) dates this week and update your love maps.
I offer effective ways of mastering the art of love maps, and other essential skills. Talk to me today about how I can help you and your partner strengthen your friendship.