Research reveals that one of the keys to a thriving marriage is in the details. This conclusion comes from Dr. John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Gottman presents key findings from over 30 years of research in his bestselling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Many of his conclusions come from direct observation of married couples in his “love lab” – a set of apartments where Gottman and his research team observe volunteer couples through one-way windows and video cameras.
Gottman studied newlyweds and found 67 percent of couples saw a significant drop in marital satisfaction after becoming first-time parents. The other 33 percent remained at least as happy as they were before, but half of these experienced increased martial satisfaction.
The secret ingredient in the marriages of couples who thrived after becoming first-time parents is that they had what Gottman calls detailed “love maps.” In his book, Gottman describes a love map as the part of the brain where spouses store all the relevant information they have gathered about each other. Relevant information includes things like details about their history, food preferences, hobbies, and sports interests.
I love it when my wife remembers not to put ketchup on my hash-browns. That’s the kind of detail that gets stored on a love map.
Couples don’t start their relationships with love maps. They have to create them over time. Married couples who do this, and update the information as their spouse’s world changes, set themselves up for a happier, lasting marriage.
My wife and I have been building our love maps for almost three decades. Here are my best tips for spouses who want to start creating their love maps, or build on the maps they have already:
1) Make a habit of asking questions of your spouse.
Sitting down together and reviewing each other’s childhood photo albums, asking about the photos, is a great way to learn about major life events in each other’s history. Doing this can also reveal other details, such as likes and dislikes, and unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Other clues about your spouse’s interests can come from paying attention to what they read, what they watch on TV, or what grabs their attention when you’re out together. Be curious about these clues and ask your spouse about them.
2) Listen intently to your spouse.
After asking your spouse a question, listen carefully to the details in their response. Don’t just hear the words, but also notice their facial expressions and emotional tone. Use this information to formulate follow-up questions.
3) Use your discoveries to create special moments.
Use the information you gather about your spouse to create special moments. As you build a love map of your spouse in your brain, draw on that information for special occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, other holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays.
I bought a bouquet of cut roses for my wife on our first Valentine’s Day together. We were only dating then. I expected her to be thrilled. She wasn’t. “You don’t seem very excited,” I said. I was surprised when she told me she didn’t like cut roses, because after a few days they wilt. “What do you like?” I asked. She liked potted flowers, because they lasted. So, the next time I bought her flowers, it was a pot of living carnations. She liked that. After we married and had our first home with a yard, I bought her a rose bush for Valentine’s Day—she loved it! That’s how building love maps works.
You don’t have to wait for special days to show up on the calendar. You can also create special moments throughout the week, mining your love map to let your spouse know you’ve listened and learned about the things that are important to him or her, and that those things are now important to you.
[thrive_text_block color=”orange” headline=”Create Your Love Map”]Get the Ungame Couples Version for great conversation starters that you can use to help your marriage thrive. [/thrive_text_block]
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A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.