I see this time and time again. A couple will come into my office and tell me that they feel like they don’t even know each other any more, that they feel like “roommates,” or worse that they aren’t even friends. Sadly, this is a very common problem with couples that have been together for a while. Life gets in the way, they don’t take the time to talk to one another, and they drift apart. According to John Gottman’s research, a main culprit of this is that their “love maps” need updating.
Gottman defines love maps as how well someone knows their partner, how detailed their map in their mind is of the other person’s life. Think about when you first met your partner, you wanted to know everything about them! Their favorite food, their pets’ names, the name of their childhood best friend, their hopes, their dreams, their fears! You would ask open-ended questions to find out more about how your partner thinks or feels about certain things. Yes, you were getting to know them but you were also building your love map of their internal world. Then the years passed and now you sit next to your partner and feel like you don’t even know him or her anymore. Many people build a deep love map in the beginning of their relationships but they do not update them regularly.
“Without such a love map you can’t really know your spouse. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?”–John Gottman, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work
Luckily, couples can get to know one another again and update their love maps! I often give couples the homework of deepening their love maps by asking each other a set of questions to learn more about one another, to get to know each other again, and to keep them emotionally connected. When you feel like your spouse knows information about you, it helps you feel cared for, valued, and appreciated.
Here is a quick snapshot of the Gottman Love Map Exercise you can practice with your partner right now!
In the spirit of getting to know your partner again, pick a question and try to come up with the answer, then have your partner gently correct you if you did not guess correctly.
1. Name my two closest 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. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes?
9. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”
10.Who is my favorite relative?
Remember, the point of the exercise is not to be right or wrong, but to deepen your understanding of one another.
The next time you feel like you and your partner are “ships in the night” ask yourself if you have taken the time to update your Love Maps!