Building Love Maps
Updated: 6 days ago
The Sound Relationship House (SRH) is a theory developed by psychologists Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman based on their extensive research around understanding and predicting the success of relationships. The first level of the SRH focuses on developing and maintaining “Love Maps.”
Similar to a physical map, Love Maps are cognitive maps that help you navigate your partner’s inner and outer worlds, including their day-to-day routine, life experiences, hopes, fears, dreams, and concerns. If love maps are not detailed and up to date, it can create a feeling of disconnection between partners. Image trying to navigate through a large city, like Chicago or Pittsburgh, with a map that is 5 or 10 years old. Not only would this be extremely frustrating, but chances are that you wouldn’t arrive at the destination you intended.
The Importance of Love Maps
When partners lack Love Maps, they become distant, feel disconnected, and are less receptive to each other’s needs. A couple, we’ll call them Mary and John, came to me for marriage counseling after 15 years of marriage. In detailing the problems with the relationship, Mary told the story of her most recent birthday. She knew that John was planning something for her and was very excited. That evening, John had invited several friends to the house and grilled out for dinner. At the end of the evening, John presented Mary with a large chocolate cake. Mary felt hurt and angry.
I was a little surprised by her response. It seemed like John had tried very hard to make her birthday special. When I asked Mary what upset her, she went on to tell me that she hates chocolate cake, which is John’s favorite, and that she had communicated this to John multiple times throughout the years. So, instead of feeling loved and cared for, Mary ended her birthday feeling unknown by her husband because he hadn’t paid attention to Mary’s likes and dislikes and updated his Love Map. For Mary, it was another example of how disconnected the relationship had become and how unimportant she was to John.
Maintaining Love Maps
Building Love Maps requires that you be genuinely curious about your partner. According to Gottman, having an accurate Love Map of your partner is essential for maintaining a healthy and happy relationship. The more intimately partners know each other, the stronger their emotional connection and relationship satisfaction will be. It helps to cultivate emotional intimacy, trust, and mutual support, which are fundamental for the longevity and health of a relationship.
There are multiple ways to build and maintain love maps.
Ask open-ended questions: Instead of asking yes or no questions, try to ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share more information about their thoughts, feelings, and wants. Examples of open-ended questions are, “What is your biggest challenge in the upcoming month?” or “If we could run away for a while, where would you like to go?”
Be curious about personal stories: Listening to your partner’s past experiences gives you insights into their likes and dislikes, desires, wants, and worries. It also gives you an understanding of their enduring hurts and wounds.
Listen to understand: Listen attentively when your partner is speaking and ask follow-up questions to show that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying and encourage them to share more. Follow up questions can look like: “What worries you about that situation?” or “What about that interests you?”
Share experiences: Engage in activities together, such as traveling or trying new hobbies, which will help you learn more about each other. Discuss the activity or experience to get an in-depth understanding of what your partner did or didn’t like about it.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues: Observe your partner's body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to gain a deeper understanding of how they are feeling. Follow the observation with questions to get more insight.
Building and updating Love Maps is a constant process that requires effort and intention from both partners. By investing time and energy in understanding each other's worlds, couples can strengthen their emotional connection and create a more satisfying and resilient relationship. My prescription for your marriage today is to be curious about your partner and start a conversation to get to know them on a deeper level.