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

Well That Was Embarrassing

I know it’s not Thursday, but here’s a throwback for you about our very first fight. Enjoy. It’s about as stupid as you would expect from two 18 year olds.

So we were on a trip in Florida with Tim’s family the summer after graduation. After a few days at Disney World, the plan was to pile into a minivan and drive from Orlando to Georgia where Tim’s older brother would be getting married. Disney World was (of course) magical. We held hands, laughed, and were so carefree. I look back on it as one of our favorite trips because aside from our honeymoon, it was the only trip we had been on together before we had kids. We’ve been on other trips without our kids since then, but as a parent- you still carry the responsibility even if your kids aren’t with you.

Anyway-

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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


Emotions Do Not Ask For Permission

Ashley had done some hard work through counseling and processed through a lot of baggage in her life. It was now 2016, and I had graduated law school and now it was my turn. Ashley had a tough conversation with me and told me that she did not want to continue our relationship in the way it was going. She told me I needed to see a counselor and work through some stuff. There was no coercion or threats, but I knew she was right.  It is impossible to distill the 11, or so, years of marriage that led to that point in a single post. But, we both knew that for us to have a thriving relationship for the next 50+ years of our marriage, I needed to do some work on myself.

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Out of wanting to not disappoint or hurt Ashley, I tended not to speak up or let my opinion be known. I thought, “better for her to be able to do the things that she wants then for me to ask her not to,” or “better to stifle my emotions, then to express them and hurt her.” I associated emotions with weakness. So in her expressing emotions and me being calm, I was being the strong one, the person that she could depend on to be steady. I also tend to shy away from personal conflict, so I was quick to try to make peace and move on when there was conflict, instead of dealing with the real issues.

I enjoy the logical side of being human. For me, rationality seems easy, clean, simple. Emotions are difficult and messy. I was even keeled, my highs were not very high, and my lows were not low. I was okay in the gray zone of emotions. I may not have been experiencing strong positive emotions, but at least I did not feel strong negative emotions. I came to ask myself, “What if I am not experiencing life how it was intended to be?” Humans are rational creatures, but they are also emotional creatures. For my entire life, I let my rational side overpower my emotional. What was I missing by stifling the emotional side of me?

Emotions do not ask for permission. They happen regardless of whether you want them or not. Unlike rational thoughts, your body does not ask you, “Hey Tim, this happened, how would you like to respond?” Nope, something happens, and before you know it, BAM! Emotions show up and you ask yourself, “What happened? I was just sitting here.” So, you have two options: You can stifle them, or you learn how to approach them in a healthy way.

For my adult life, thus far, I chose to stifle them. Going through counseling was messy. I actually asked for a chart with the names of the different emotions on them so when I felt something I could work on identifying the emotion. Shocking, I know.

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Counseling stirred up a lot of topics for Ashley and I to talk about, which was not easy. I had to start learning a balance between sharing, but not over-sharing. Somethings are actually best left unsaid. Sometimes, expressing emotions is overly selfish because the motivation is completely self centered.
I am still learning, and will continue to learn. Fortunately, Ashley has stuck by me through the process and we have learned a lot. Emotions do not ask for permission, but you have a choice for how to approach them.

-TIM