Love Mapping

One of the greatest desires for humans is a desire to know someone and to be known themselves. Ideally, your relationship with your partner should be the place where this desire is best fulfilled. 

In John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, one of the principles that he endorses is what he calls “Love Mapping.” Love Mapping is really just knowing about your partner, their likes and dislikes, their current relationships, their struggles, their successes. It was probably easy to have a good Love Map when you just started in your relationship. However, over time, you both got busy, you stopped asking questions and you stopped sharing because it seemed like your partner wasn’t interested anymore.

People and situations change. Therefore, it is important to continually update your Love Map of your partner. Things that are included in the Love Map include things as mundane as your partner’s favorite flavor of ice cream and things as sensitive as the most stressful thing that happened to your partner as a child. 

Photo Credit: Andrea Neff

Photo Credit: Andrea Neff

Things that we love, we are able to describe in detail and with enthusiasm. We all know this. If you know things about your partner, both great and small, it shows them that you have made space in your brain for them and that it matters to you to keep that information in there. Whether you remember to order their food without tomatoes, even though they didn’t ask you to, or you are able to describe what they do for work in detail, you are demonstrating to your partner that they matter. 

For much of my marriage, I failed miserably at keeping an update Love Map of my wife, as a result she often felt uncared for. The last few years I have worked on it and still have room to grow. This week my wife took me out to dinner for Father’s day. I took a picture of some of the suggested questions from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work book and we took turns answering them. Some of our favorite questions were: 

  1. If you could live during any other time in history, when would you choose and why? 

  2. What is the most exciting thing happening in your life right now? 

  3. If you could instantly possess three new skills, which would you choose? 

We ended up having a lot of fun. The next time we went out, Ashley asked me if I had any more of those questions to ask. 

I encourage you to search for Love Mapping questions online, find some of your favorite and have a conversation with your spouse. You may find out some things that surprise you about each other. 

-Tim

Courage To Sit

 
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
— Winston Churchill
 
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In your marriage, there are times when you ought to stand up and confront your partner and there are times you need to shut up and listen.

There are times in my marriage when I need the courage to stand and times when I need the courage to sit. Merriam-Webster defines courage as: “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

I have shared in a prior blog about one of my fears, that those I love will leave me. Because of that fear, I have not always had the courage to stand up and say something to Ashley when she has hurt me or I think we need to discuss something in our marriage.   

There are also times when Ashley needs to talk to me about something and I become defensive and fail to listen. It is amazing what you can learn about your spouse if you truly listen.

Wisdom is knowing when you need to speak up and when you need to sit down. It is not always easy to know the difference; but there are a couple things you can do:

  • Talk to a friend. We cannot see our own blind spots so it is helpful to have a friend, or friends, that you can talk to. A friend that can be honest with you and tell you when you are wrong.

  • Meditate on the issue. Attempt to step back from the situation and think about it. Think about your fears, your wife’s fears, and what ultimately will benefit your marriage the most.

This skill is one that is learned by doing and failing. Over time, you can develop a better sense of when to speak and when to sit. When you fail, apologize to your partner and tell them you will try better next time, and then keep your word.

-Tim


Why Do I Have To Tell You?

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Why do we always find it so romantic when our partner can “read our mind?” I think it’s because on a very basic level, we want to be known. But the honest truth is that we are human, and thus far- incapable of actually reading minds. We also tend to have a double standard when it comes to our mind reading expectations-

Me: “Why do I have to tell you? Why don’t you just know?”

But also me: “How would I even know that’s what you were thinking, Tim?? I’m not a mind reader!”

I never liked the idea that I had to tell Tim what I needed. Shouldn’t he just know? That would make life so much easier, wouldn’t it? My inner dialogue would go something like this, “I want Tim to tell me nice things about me, because I could use some encouragement right about now.”

Me: Why isn’t he noticing that I’m having a rough day?

Also me: I’m really good at just powering through, no one will even know I’m struggling.

Me: Why should I have to ask him to encourage me? Doesn’t he just naturally want to??

Also me: Maybe if I encourage him, he’ll return and then I’ll feel better.

Me: Well, now he feels great about himself and I am now not only having a rough day, but now I’m resentful.

Also me: He probably doesn’t think nice things about me if he isn’t saying anything.

Is this just me?

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I spent a lot of time chasing the “magic” in our relationship. You know, the phase where you’re just constantly affirming things, learning new things, and everything feels shiny and new and exciting. But the reality is, that is...a phase. (More on this in my next blog) The time eventually comes when it becomes imperative for you to communicate your needs to your person. So why is this so hard?

I think first off, many people are never really encouraged to express needs. Maybe they were told it was selfish to ask for things people didn’t naturally think of to give you. Maybe they were told they were unworthy of having what they wanted. Asking for things isn’t necessarily a safe bet. You’re risking what feels like a lot by putting yourself in this position of vulnerability. It’s scary. But if you want a functional relationship, you have to be brave enough to ask for it. Mind reading simply has no place in a marriage. I don’t think it ever becomes possible for your partner to consistently read your mind, but they can be observant, and make educated guesses. This requires both partners to equally be invested enough to not only communicate their needs and wishes, but to take note of the other person’s needs and wishes, so they can try for those educated guesses. Take the “magic” when it happens, but you must also be willing to settle in for the long haul and communicate.

A note for those who struggle with anxiety: Your Anxiety spends most of the time convincing you that: You’re not good enough to get what you want/need, you will be rejected if you ask, and your partner doesn’t care enough and that’s why you have to ask. Remind yourself that these are lies. Don’t allow Anxiety to call the shots. You can have a functional marriage, it is possible, and you are allowed to hope for and work for that.

-Ash


Your Emotions Are Valid, But...

In my last blog post I talked about acknowledging and beginning to learn how to interact in a healthy way with my emotions. You can read my prior blog post here.

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Now what? I had emotions, I did not suppress them, but now what was I supposed to do? Well, I had to start learning what to do.

Ashley was a huge help to me in navigating the messiness of emotions. One thing she always told me earlier in our marriage, when I would try to convince her that she should not feel a certain way in a situation, was that emotions are valid. Regardless of the situation, your emotions are valid.

But, your emotions may not be proportionate to the situation. I came to realize that there were situations in which I rationally knew the strength of emotion I was experiencing was not proportionate to the severity of the circumstances.

Emotions that tend to be classified as “negative” are often tied to negative cognitions. Thoughts like, “I’m not good enough,” “I should have known better,” “I’m not lovable,” etc. What happens for many of us is that there are events in our lives that affirm these negative cognitions in our brain. An event happens when you are 4, then 8, then 11, then 17, etc. Your brain has connected all of these events. My counselor used the word picture of train cars linked together. Now, when you experience an event that brings up the negative cognition, “I’m not good enough” for example, the force of all of those train cars collide into your current event.

Ashley and I were at the mall one day. We were both in a store looking at items and then I turned around and she began leaving the store with the kids without telling me. I became extremely annoyed with Ashley that she hadn’t let me know that she was ready to leave. I realized that my level of emotions was not commensurate with the situation and I started thinking about it. Why did I have such a strong reaction?

I realized that I had a fear, or negative cognition, that “the people I love will leave me.” There were seemingly simple events that happened in my childhood, combined with my personality that influenced that fear. Later, in 8th grade, my first real girlfriend, and first girl I told “I love you,” left me. Then, early in Ashley’s and I’s marriage there were events that made me think that Ashley would leave me. These events compounded in my brain to make such a simple thing, like Ashley leaving a store without telling me, elicit a big emotional response.  

Your emotions are valid, but maybe they are not proportionate to the circumstances. Part of discovering more about yourself is recognizing these times. When you do, you can look back on your life and ask the question, “Why do I react this way when this happens?” The answers may surprise you. These instances are an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and for your partner to learn more about you.

For Ashley and I, these conversations revealed things about each other that we never knew. It is helpful as a partner, to know why your partner reacts the way that they do. It allows you to be more understanding the next time it happens. It also allows you to make little or big changes to help your spouse. Regardless of the severity of the emotions, your partner is responsible for his/her actions. However, if you can make loving changes to help your partner, you should.

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Now, when Ashley and I are in a store together, she comes and tells me, “Hey I am going to be over here.” or “Hey I am heading to the next store.” It is a little thing, but it is a way that she tells me that she loves me and is considerate of how I feel.  

It can be scary sharing with your partner your most deep-seated fears, like “I’m not good enough.” It takes vulnerability to share with your partner the events in your life that piled up to make that fear as strong as it is. Above all, it takes trust. In sharing these things, you also reveal to your partner how they can hurt you the most.

Sharing is scary, but it creates intimacy. To be intimate, you must risk being hurt. So take that risk; and, as a person who hears the fears of your partner, never betray that trust, it may take you a lifetime to earn that trust back.

-Tim