John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, is widely known as a seminal guide for marriage therapists and the couples they counsel. One of his seven principles, and the focus of this brief musing, is the process Gottman refers to as “enhancing your love maps.”
So what are love maps for couples? Love maps encompass those details – some intimate, some mundane – that we know about our loved one. Simple things like your partner’s favorite color or more personal aspects, such as her deepest and most vulnerable longings. The things she shares with you and only you. These all form the constellation of special nuances we know and admire about the person we love. They are the maps that form our love.
Love maps, like all maps, get outdated. Can you imagine your love as a cityscape? As someone who moved back to Austin twenty years after first living here, I am very aware of how my map of this expansive city has drastically transformed. Les Amis Café on the drag and Liberty Lunch downtown are no more. I am called to evolve my map of the city. There are new cafes and music venues to love as they represent a new evolving essence of this place at a different time from when I first fell in love with her. She is different and so am I. I am called to renew my love maps with this beloved city.
So it goes with relationships. They evolve. People change and sometimes, just like watching the slow process of a city’s transformation, we can miss what is unfolding right in front of our eyes. We get into routines that blur our vision of the beautiful mystery of change that is so central to life. We forget about what drew us to our loved one in the first place. We get wrapped up in the comings and goings of work or the rearing of our children. Some drift and wake up one day thinking, “who is this person I am sleeping next to?” It doesn’t have to be this way.
Gottman encourages couples to consistently renew and revive their love maps. Ask about your partner’s new friend over a cup of coffee. Share how much you admire his resilience as he manages through yet another change at work. Ask her what she is most proud of. What is the best novel they read over the summer? What was that song that put a smile on his face before dinner? The questions are endless and with each asking we renew our love maps. We deepen our bonds and solidify our love.
Gottman’s research has consistently shown that couples that are in the habit of attuning to and renewing their love maps are better able to weather the storms of life’s inevitable disruptions and unsuspected changes. The arrival of a new baby, an unfortunate lay off, or the death of a parent are examples of events that can rattle a relationship. Love maps for couples provide a buttress against these storms.
Just a few examples of Love Map questions drawn from Gottman’s book include:
What Stresses are you facing right now?
What is the date of our anniversary?
What is your favorite way to spend an evening?
Who was your best friend in childhood?
What is your favorite TV show?
What is one of your biggest concerns or worries?
Do you have a secret ambition? What is it?
Can you think of anymore? Can you imagine a follow up question to the ones above that may deepen even further your knowledge of your partner? Give it a try and enjoy the ride of (re)discovering who your partner really is and why you love them so.
Andrew Groeschel is a licensed marriage family therapist at Austin Family Counseling. Along with being a father and an avid record collector, a core aspect of his love map is the inspiration he gains from helping couples cultivate their own love maps!
Gottman, John M., Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press. New York. 1999.