When we first enter a relationship we begin to notice everything about our partner, from what they eat to how they respond to a given situation. For example, we might notice they like to eat pineapple on their pizza, or that they prefer to drink their coffee black. As the relationship deepens, we might start to ask questions about a partner’s likes and dislikes, wants and needs or how they feel about certain situations or scenarios. Our curiosity expands as we want to know how this person ticks.
When we do this, whether it’s through asking questions or noticing traits and habits about our partners, in essence, we are creating a love map.
“Love maps are pieces of information we gather about our partners as we get to know them,” Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D., Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and an Austin, TX-based licensed clinical psychologist, tells SheKnows. “We might not even be consciously aware that we’re constructing love maps for our relationships. It’s just one of those things that happen organically.”
Over time, says Meunier, these love maps become a database for our relationship.
How do love maps support your relationship?
According to Meunier, our love map is how we show our interest in a partner and is how we start to build a relationship. “When the love maps are mutual and you’re both asking questions, it builds a foundation. You start building a friendship. It shows mutual interest,” says Meunier. “As you build this database you actually discover things about this person that you adore, admire, and appreciate. As you build love maps you build that interest and attraction.”
What happens when you stop love mapping?
On the flip side, says Meunier, “If I ask someone what they like on their pizza and they don’t answer me and turn away, this shows me that they’re not interested in me and will cause me to stop asking questions.” This can either lead to a breakup or it could mean a couple has gone a long time without getting curious about each other and hasn’t taken the time to learn about one another’s lives.
Meunier says this type of scenario can happen a lot with long-distance couples when both partners have gone for an extended period of time of not sharing what’s going on in your daily life with one another. It might also happen when a partner is in a highly stressful or secretive job and they aren’t able to share with their partner what they’ve been up all day. Over time, says Meunier, this breeds room for detachment and disengagement. “And when you’ve been disengaged from your partner for a period of time, you begin to feel lonely and isolated. You begin to feel like you’re living with a stranger and you might become suspicious and guarded. The more you think you don’t know someone, the more likely you will become guarded and won’t trust someone enough to let them in.”
Some couples who’ve been married for many years might assume their partner is the same person they married so many years ago, so they’ve stopped love mapping and showing an interest in each other. “A lot of couples think they already know their partner after so many years of being together. We know this isn’t true,” says Meunier. “In healthy relationships, as people grow, they tend to revisit old conversations. They tend to ask questions they might have asked before. This is updating their love maps.” If there have been certain events in the marriage, like a separation, a birth, or deployment, these are other opportunities to create new love maps and reconnect.
How to begin love mapping
“The best thing about love maps is that they don’t take a lot of effort or time,” says Meunier. “You can literally build love maps all day long by asking random questions to your partner all day long.” She encourages couples not to stick to getting together for only one date night during the week to reconnect.
“You put a lot of pressure and expectations on that one night. And if you haven’t been talking to each other all week long, you could feel disconnected from each other and you might end up feeling anxious or getting mad at each other quickly.” Which is why she recommends from Monday to Thursday, to take the time, whether it’s five or ten minutes a day, and ask each other random questions. These could be about anything and everything. “Look at previous conversations you had with your partner five years ago, and ask them about an old memory or an old recipe,” says Meunier. “Reminiscing is a great way to connect too. Don’t assume that just because they answered a question one way before doesn’t mean they would still answer it the same way now. Keeping the curiosity alive about your partner is one of the key aspects of love maps.”
When it comes to making the most effective love maps, Meunier recommends making sure you’re learning how to ask open-ended questions. “Don’t ask loaded or complex questions. Learn how to ask questions that invite a story,” she says. Another important point? Make time for your partner. “While you could get away by asking partners questions via text — see if you can have face-to-face time attention and ask questions that aren’t too surface-level. Keep asking questions based on the other questions that you’re asking. Turn a simple conversation into an opportunity for a more elegant and rich love map.”
Why love mapping is so integral to the foundation of your relationship
“We want to promote the idea that even if you’ve been with someone for 30 years, when you go to dinner with them, you’re dying to ask them questions,” says Meunier. “You can’t wait to ask them future things and things about the past. It doesn’t have to be complex or deep. It can be the simplest or silliest question. Healthy love maps look like asking you questions that I’m curious about and being interested in your answer. Being more engaged about the answer than the question is what truly makes for a healthy love map.”
When someone is using a love map for you, Meunier says acknowledging it and appreciating it is just as important. “Even if your partner takes out your trash all the time, appreciating that they do that and telling them, ‘Thanks for doing that, you know how much I hate taking the trash out’ makes them not only feel good but also will give them the impetus to pay more attention to using their love maps for you.”
Ultimately, love maps help us feel seen and heard by our partner. “When we’re in relationships that we feel seen and heard, we feel we belong,” says Meunier. “We feel more connected, more relaxed, more loved and cherished. So if you want your partner to feel all those things, it doesn’t take a lot of huge dramatic gestures and trips. It takes these small things you can do often. You can do love maps everyday that lets your partner know that you’re thinking about them and you’re interested in learning more about them.”
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