Research shows that a powerful predictor of relationship stability and longevity is whether couples allocate “mental room” for their partner’s world. This means having a mental map of the relationship and its history, and knowing each partner’s past and present concerns, preferences, experiences, and reality. Most of us are very good at doing this in the beginning of a relationship. When the two of you first got together, do you remember staying up all night talking, or finding it hard to get off the phone? During those conversations, you were building Love Maps. Love Maps enable partners to connect emotionally, and increase intimacy and understanding in a fun, gentle way.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that we must continue to do this as our joint and individual worlds change over time. Think of it this way: When you choose to spend your life with someone, you hand them a map to your inner world. Your inner world is, of course, quite complex including the memories of your past, the details of your present, and your hopes for the future. It includes your deepest fears and your grandest dreams. But the map you hand your partner is merely a pencil sketch. Asking questions and telling stories adds detail to the primitive pencil sketch map that you’ve been handed. Over the course of a lifetime, you and your partner will be constantly adding landmarks, texture, and color to your Love Maps. Detailed Love Maps brings perspective to the inevitable twists and turns that come with sharing a life together.
How well do you know your partner’s inner psychological world at this very moment? Do you know his/her worries, joys, and dreams? What is the biggest work or family stressor impacting your partner right now? Can your partner answer these questions about you?
The following exercise will give you a launching pad from which to have your own Love Map conversations with your significant other. My goal is to give you at least one new way to move through time together that will strengthen your bond and make your relationship last. The beauty of this exercise is that it can be done anywhere: at the beach or a park, on a road trip, or in the comfort of your own cozy living room.
Instructions: You and your partner take turns asking each other questions as they relate to each other’s worlds. For example:
Speaker: “What’s your partner’s favorite thing to do in their free time?”
Listener: “I think you like to read in your free time.” – or – “I’m not sure, what is your favorite thing to do in your free time?”
The following questions are just a starting point to help you build your Love Maps. Use the ones that you like, ignore the ones that you don’t, and get creative with your own questions:
- Describe your partner’s vision for your life together over the next 5 years.
- With whom does your partner currently have conflict?
- Who’s your partner’s favorite musician?
- Does your partner have a secret ambition? What is it?
- Which people does your partner most admire in the world? Name two.
- What’s your partner’s worst childhood experience?
- What’s your partner’s favorite holiday?
- What’s your partner most afraid of?
- What would be an ideal job for your partner?
- What are two of your partner’s aspirations, hopes, or wishes?
- What are some of the important events coming up in your partner’s life, and how does he/she feel about them?
- What’s your partner’s favorite movie?
- Who was your partner’s best childhood friend?
- Who is your partner’s greatest source of support (other than you)?
- What’s most relaxing to your partner?
- What’s your partner’s favorite way to spend an evening?
- What’s your partner’s favorite vacation?
Take turns going back and forth, offering gentle corrections. Don’t give advice to your partner, and don’t keep score!
I promise you, there is, and always will be, more that you don’t know about your partner than you do. In other words, you can always get to know your partner better. Make it a priority to do just that over the lifetime of your relationship.