Love Maps: building your own relationship road map
After over 40 years studying thousands of couples in their ‘Love Lab’, the Gottman Institute has produced some of the most highly regarded research into relationships. This in-depth knowledge revealed breakthrough patterns of behavior and interaction in relationships. Based on this research, husband and wife partners Drs John and Julie Gottman developed a theory of the principles which underpin stable relationships; this has led to the development of their Sound Relationship House approach. Love Maps lay the foundation of this structure, and are an essential feature in a strong relationship.
Gottman Love Maps: mapping your route to lasting love
Dr. Gottman himself confidently claims that within 15 minutes he can predict with 90% accuracy whether a couple will get divorced or their relationship will last1. This is a testament to the stability and predictability he has uncovered in relationship patterns, which he has shared for couples around the world to plot a route and make Love Maps for their own relationships.
The unprecedented research and results are outlined in the Sound Relationship House Theory, developed in collaboration with his wife, who brings her professional years of practical experience to his years of research. In this culmination of countless studies, ground-breaking research and years of investigation, they propose the fundamental principles which construct a lasting relationship. Few people, if any, have examined relationships with the same level of intensity or longevity, making this a powerful means to strengthen and understand your own relationship. This structure builds level by level the layers of a strong relationship – starting at enhancing each other’s Love Maps. A Love Map is the part of your brain which stores the blueprint of your partner’s personal information, such as their goals and dreams, favorites and fears, stressors and successes1.
According to the Gottmans' method, Love Maps are at the foundation of a sound relationship and the principles of making a relationship work - this entails sketching in the details of each other’s intimate world2. We will explore this further to navigate your own route using Gottman Love Maps, but to really understand these principles, we will first briefly look at the other levels in the Gottman approach3, which are also discussed in the renowned Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work4.
- Love Maps: A solid relationship starts with knowing the intimate details about your partner, the minutiae of their mind, heart and soul.
- Nurture fondness and admiration: On the next level remind yourself about the positive qualities of your partner and communicate this regularly, even in the tough moments. Without a reason to love and respect the person you are with, why are you with them? Tell your partner what those reasons are; this will give your relationship a tangible love boost and create an affirming cycle of expressed gratitude for each other.
- Turn towards each other: Rather then turn away from each other, respond positively to each other’s bids for attention and affection. Reach out for connection rather than step back, causing detachment. You are on each other’s team, be teammates.
- Let your partner influence you: Being influenced by your partner does not mean that you do not have independence or your own viewpoint rather that you power share with your partner and take their opinions and feelings into account for mutual and equal decision making processes.
- Solve your solvable problems: Gottman has a specific approach to enable conflict resolution in a relationship – begin with a softened start up (no criticism or blame, be polite, say ‘I’ not you), become skilled at making and receiving repair attempts (de-escalate, take breaks in tension, share feelings), soothe oneself and your partner to prevent overwhelm, learn to compromise. By using these techniques you can resolve even the most heated issues.
- Overcome gridlock: Gridlock occurs when partners become stuck in a perpetual conflict, and as Gottman explains, this is because it is often rooted in a deep existential base of unexpressed dreams resulting in an impasse. To move forward integrate and respect each other’s dreams and goals. They do not need to become yours but for the impetus to move forward, look for the underlying cause of the conflict, honor one another’s views and incorporate a shared vision.
- Create shared meaning: Creating your own relationship micro-culture, using customs and traditions that are uniquely yours. Building a shared inner life together with its own symbols, habits and meaning, and creating a shared level of meaning on a deeper dimension, fortifies your relationship against conflict, gridlock and time corrosion for a lifetime of healthy and happy love.
Viewing these layered principles, highlighted in Gottman’s Sound Relationship House 2, it starts with the foundational Love Maps and culminates in creating a shared meaning. This provides a view of the destination for your journey to relationship stability and strength. Focusing on charting your own route, we will now take a closer look at the Gottman Love Maps to gain a deeper insight into how to build your own solid relationship.
Love Maps: the foundation
The Gottman Institute describes the theory behind Love Maps as “scientifically proven tools to strengthen and divorce-proof a marriage” 1, and with divorce rates in the US between 40-50%5, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to utilize such a powerful resource. So what is the secret behind it and how does it work? Buckle up and let’s go on a journey exploring Love Maps.
What are your partner’s life dreams? Do you know which relative they like the least? Could you name their favorite music or best friend? From the serious to the superficial, these details are the landmarks that make up a human being, and becoming familiarly acquainted with these intricacies of your partner’s personhood, knowing intimately their personal traits and trivia, is the process of drawing in the latitude and longitude on your own Love Map.
The Gottman process to create these Love Maps is undertaken in a series of three questionnaires which you complete sequentially with your partner. To review, your Love Maps store all the information and details about your partner, and emotionally attuned couples are aware both of their own feelings and those of their partner, and consider this in their decision making processes1. Notably, happy couples also regularly update this emotional bank of information about each other and keep it current, this being an ongoing venture1.
The outcome of genuinely knowing your partner is a sturdy buffer against stressful life events, which everyone faces at some point in life, be it the birth of your first child or the loss of a loved one. Dr. Gottman found that 67% of couples experienced a decline in marital satisfaction after the birth of their first child, but the key difference with the other 33 % was that they had a deep knowledge of each other’s worlds before the birth of their child 1. His research has proven that when a couple has an in-depth understanding of each other, are in the habit of regularly updating this information and keeping emotionally in touch, their relationship stands strong in the face of traumatic shake-ups and change1. These internal maps are the life blood that keeps you connected, and are about also having a strong friendship hand-in-hand with your romance1.
In the Gottman Method, the first step to enhancing your Love Maps is doing the Love Map Questionnaire, a set of 20 questions about your partner which range from, ‘Do you know what your partner would do if they won the lottery?’ to listing their hopes and aspirations4. You get a point for each question you can correctly answer. If you score below 10 in this Love Map test you either do not have a Love Map or it needs to be revised4. Once you have a realistic understanding of the current status of your Love Map, take it up a gear and play the Love Map 20 Question game, to start inputting the coordinates on your map or to update it.
So then to build your Love Map, the next step is to play the Gottman Love Map 20 Question Game, but remember to be gentle with each other and use it as a positive tool – it’s not for pointing fingers at each other 1! There is a set of 60 numbered questions, and to play, each randomly select 20 numbers. Take turns answering the 20 questions and scoring points for correct answers. At the end whoever has the highest score in this Love Maps quiz, wins. But, to reinforce this point, in a partnership there are no winners and losers, and this should be done with a spirit of fun and with the intent purpose of understanding each other on a deeper level.
Examples of the questions include ‘What is my favorite meal?’ to ’What was my worst childhood experience?’, ‘Name two people I admire?’ and ‘Which side of the bed do I prefer?, covering a broad range of personal insights1. The Gottman Love Map questions can be done frequently and repeatedly. It will open the door to what kind of information you should know about your partner, encourage you to connect in these areas and clarify habits to utilize in your interaction patterns.
Once you have started to build this foundation and strengthen your Love Maps, you can take it one step further and engage in some personal open ended questions. Gottman has outlined a series of questions you can work through while alternating between being the speaker and the listener1. They are in-depth questions which can take time to answer, but really provide the color and shading on your map to ensure that you don’t get lost on your life journey together and can weather the storms that life throws at you. Questions like ‘What qualities do you value most highly in friends right now’ and ‘When it comes to the future, what do you most worry about?’1, really open your heart and soul to each other.