A happy couple giving valentines day gifts

Celebrating Valentine’s with Love Maps

Getting to Know Your Partner All Over Again

Love Maps are the not-so-secret secret to making your relationship stronger. As we prepare for Valentine’s Day, it can be a great time to look at how you can strengthen the Love Maps in your relationship!

Everyone from a stranger on Tik Tok to your grandmother will always come to you trying to give advice on what makes a relationship work. Magazines will try to sell you articles on secrets to “what your boyfriend really wants from you” or “what a woman looks for in a partner”, influencers will try to get you to buy special videos or trainings on dating, and sources all across all forms of media will claim to know the secret truth of “true love” that makes or breaks a relationship. 

When it comes to making love last, you may be surprised at the fact that there’s not some special secret that makes a marriage last 60 years as opposed to 5. Strong romantic relationships are built on strong friendships. Strong friendships are built on getting to know one another, to be able to connect through mutual understandings or interests. In romantic relationships, understanding is created through mastering the art of Love Maps. 

What are Love Maps?

Love Maps, as defined by Dr. John Gottman, are “that part in your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life” (see The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work). In other words, your Love Maps comprise all the data you have gathered about your partner over time: who they are, what they like, what they dislike, what they value, etc. This can be anything as big as what they would identify as their life meanings to something as seemingly small as if they prefer their coffee black or with some cream and sugar. If this concept seems simple, it’s because it is. The problem when it comes to creating Love Maps is not that they are hard to understand, but rather that they can often get sidelined in relationships when partners feel as if they already “know” each other. 

Love Maps serve as a critical foundation for our relationships – in fact, they are the very base of the Gottman’s Sound Relationship house which other principles are built on top of. Love Maps help us not only understand our partner’s world but be able to express admiration for that world, turn towards our partners in times of conflict, and create shared meanings together. If you want to make your relationship last in the long-term, you need to be mindful of your Love Maps!

How do you create Love Maps?

Ask Questions! When it comes to creating Love Maps, the very basics of it comes in seeking out information on your partner. Of course, there may be times when your partner or partners give information freely, but oftentimes the best way to build up your maps is to actively ask them questions. Consider taking time to sit down and ask questions, be it over dinner or having a date night planned around back-and-forth questioning. There are many card sets available to help get you started, both digital and physical ones (see resources below for some you can start with!). This can help you out especially if you’re not exactly sure what questions you want to know.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

When coming up with your own questions, something that’s critical is asking an open-ended question. Open-ended questions differ from what we call “closed-ended” questions in that closed-ended questions have simple and preset answers, typically yes/no.

For example, here is a closed-ended question:

“Do you want pizza for dinner?”

On the other hand, an open-ended question sounds more like:

“What do you want for dinner?”
“Pizza sounds good to me tonight.”

When asking open-ended questions of our partners, we open up space for them to really give their own views and input. Some great words and phrases that can be helpful starts to ensure your question is open-ended include: “what”, “how”, “why”, “describe”, “if ___, then what would ___?”, “what do you think about ___?”. 

Test yourself.

Sometimes, it can be good to actually test your knowledge to inform your questions. Going through card decks or lists and seeing what you can answer about your partner can inform where your Love Maps may have blank spaces. Be compassionate towards yourself and your partner if there may be things you might not know. This isn’t meant to make judgments about yourself as whether or not you’re a “good” partner but rather help to show where to move forward in your mapping process. 

Listen actively.

As I mentioned in the first point, there may be times that your partner is freely given information worth noting. Even if you are actively putting in the work to ask the questions, be sure you’re mindful of how you listen. Are you listening to understand, or are you waiting for your turn to answer the question? Are you showing your partner that you’re engaged with them – making direct eye contact, facing your body towards them, giving encouraging nods or otherwise showing interest? Are you asking follow-up questions when you have something you want to understand better?

When will I know that I’m done with Love Maps?

That’s a trick question - you’re never done learning about your partner! Love Maps are like any other map out there: the general features may stay the same over time, but roads get reconstructed, new buildings built and old ones torn down, and names of places may be changed from time to time. Just as Google Maps needs to make sure to regularly update their data, you need to make sure to tend to your Love Maps and update the information you have. So, how can you go about regularly updating your maps?

One solution is to have regular date nights that focus on conversation. Skip the binge for one night to prioritize conversation with your partner. Bring out card decks if you’re lost for words or maybe identify a topic you’ve been wanting to talk more about with your partner. Maybe you can spearhead it by identifying something you’ve been interested in recently – maybe a new book you’ve read or an article you want to talk with your partner about. Creating space for conversation creates space for listening and learning.