If love were enough, all couples would be happy. The simple truth is relationships take work.
Most of us are willing to spend hours perfecting a skill or talent, yet we expect ourselves to be Masters of Relationships with little effort.
I had the honor of teaching the Gottman Method through a research study that was created to help low-income married couples with children. During that time, I witnessed how John and Julie Gottman’s work can help any couple, regardless of who they are or where they’re at in their relationship.
One of the first things I ask my clients is whether or not they’re willing to do the work to improve their relationship with their partner. Almost anything is possible when both people are committed to change.
My favorite tool in the Gottman toolkit is a simple exercise that rekindles the romance and connection necessary to get a marriage back on track.
This exercise worked wonders for Sandra and David. When they first came to see me, their number one complaint was feeling like “they didn’t know each other anymore.”
After being married for ten years and having three children, their marriage had undergone some serious changes. Their lives were hectic. David worked long hours and Sandra, who stayed at home with the children, was exhausted at the end of the day. There was little time or energy left for their marriage. Over the years they grew apart.
They felt like strangers, not lovers.
Love Maps: a path to connection
In our first session I explained Dr. Gottman’s concept of building “Love Maps.” Simply put, a Love Map is the map we create in our own head of our partner’s inner world – their dreams, hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, and everything else we can gather.
If you’ve ever used Google Maps, you know that having a GPS system is really helpful when navigating a city. In the same vein, we also know that cities are constantly under construction. Try returning to your hometown 10 years later and you’ll discover that the roads have changed and your favorite corner store or restaurant is gone.
Just like a good GPS system must be constantly updated to work properly, we must also update our Love Maps of our partner if we want to continue to feel connected throughout the course of our relationship. In fact, Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that couples with detailed Love Maps have stronger relationships.
Build a Love Map of your partner
To enhance your Love Maps, first make a list of some facts you know about your partner. I don’t mean age, height, or weight, but the meatier stuff: their hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes.
These could be facts such as:
- I know the name my partner’s best friends.
- I know what stresses my partner is currently facing.
- I know my partner’s basic philosophy on life.
Take the Love Map Questionnaire to get an idea of how well you know your partner’s inner world.
From that list, create a list of questions you don’t know about your partner. Ask your partner to do the same.
When you’re both finished, talk about your Love Maps.
- How up-to-date are they?
- What’s changed?
- Are there any surprises?
- Be sure to ask and answer the questions on both your lists. Remember: no judgment. The purpose of this exercise is to reestablish a connection, not to blame your partner for what he/she doesn’t know.
In my work with Sandra and David, building Love Maps helped them learn new information about each other that brought them closer together. Once reconnected, they were able to more easily understand each other. When they both felt heard, understood and loved, their issues no longer seemed so difficult to deal with and were soon resolved.
If building a Love Map seems like taking the long way toward resolving your relationship issues, consider this: when we’re stuck in traffic and the most direct route isn’t working, taking the back roads is usually faster, more scenic, and ultimately gets us where we want to go.
With a little work and a willingness to learn a new skill, Sandra and David put their relationship back on track. You can do it, too.
The Marriage Minute is a new email newsletter from The Gottman Institute that will improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less. Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up below.