Stay Sane Mom Founder
Published in Spouse, Gottman on November 17, 2018
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You know those nights you have when you first fall in love with someone where you stay up until all hours of the morning talking about ridiculous, inane details? You talk about everything from the names of your second grade teachers (Mrs. Clarke) to what your favorite type of cloud is (cumulus...duh), and you wake up the next morning absurdly exhausted, yet incandescently happy?
(I know that you all are moms, so if you're anything like me it's definitely been a while since this happened. Approximately nine bajillion diaper changes ago, to be exact. However, cast your mom-brain back these many moons....you'll remember eventually.)
What you were actually doing as a couple here is something all new couples seem to do automatically: building a love map.
A love map is the mental "user's manual" you assemble on a person as you get to know them. What are your partner's worries, stressors, or fears? What makes them happy? What foods remind them of their childhood?
This concept is one of the famed Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work by the legendary marriage psychologist John Gottman.
If you read my post on whether you can predict which couples will get divorced (spoiler alert: you actually can, with 93.6% accuracy), you will know why I love The Gottman Method.
Just in case you didn't, the answer is simple: unlike many forms of marriage therapy, The Gottman Method is based on actual scientific research. Dr. John Gottman literally locked couples (with their consent) in his sinisterly-named "love lab" for a weekend at a time and coded all their behavior, down to the smallest facial expression.
He then followed the couples (not literally) to see which marriages worked out and which didn't. The Gottman Method was then formulated based on the results of that research.
So yes, by now, you know your spouse's favorite foods, why they hate that one Coldplay song with a fiery passion, which toy was their favorite when they were in kindergarten, and all those things. You're married. You know everything. So you're done, right? Wrong.
The act of assembling this "user's manual" is important for the user (for the lack of a better word) because it lets us know how to interact with a person, how to make them happy or feel loved.
However, the process of actually putting together the information is actually incredibly important as well.
Think about it from your spouse's perspective: Doesn't it make you feel just a little more loved, taken care of, or valued when your spouse asks you what's worrying you (and then actually listens attentively to the answer)? Doesn't it make you feel special if your spouse asks probing questions about the middle school bully who happened to make a guest appearance in a nightmare last night (even though you're thirty-freaking-something and you should be over it already)?
The act of compiling a "love map" is important not only because it helps us understand our partner better, but it also makes us feel like our partner cares about us.
...and in the land of carpool schedules, pre-planned date nights, interrupting kids, overtime at work, and messy houses to clean, there's a high likelihood that we married couples forget to care about each other in this fundamental way.
If your marriage feels like it could use some TLC, this is the first step.
The good thing is, this should be fairly easy and quick to start on. (No lengthy therapy sessions or expensive presents needed.)
At least once a day, make a point to ask your spouse a question about themselves. It could be something about a childhood event, asking their preference or opinions about something, or something else small that comes up in conversation.
Just make sure that you ask benign questions (aka don't bring up something that has previously been the subject of a fight) that center around getting to know your partner better. This is about learning more about your partner's world and making them feel like you actually care.
(Hint: This means you should probably listen actively to their answer too. Put the iPhone down for a minute.)
I've put together a list of 168 questions you can start out with. These have been assembled from all over the interwebs from the Gottman website to the "questions that will make you fall in love with anyone" list they joked about on The Big Bang Theory and everything in between.
It includes fairly easy ones (e.g. "who do you consider to be your closest friends?" or "what's the best book you've read this past year?") to pretty intense, deep ones (e.g. "Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?"), so yourself a favor and read the room.
If your partner has had a stressful day, you might not want to ask them about their inevitable demise. I guarantee it will make things worse, not better.
So try it out for a week or two, just a question or two every day. Your spouse might not reciprocate at first (especially if this isn't something that's part of your usual marriage routine), but that's okay. Keep at it and it will take effect slowly but surely.
If you're really ambitious, print out the list and put a page at a time up on the fridge (or some common area). Take turns picking a question and then cross out the "used" questions until you finish the page.
It's like taking vitamins. You can't pop one probiotic gummy and then get upset when you look in the mirror and aren't suddenly Heidi Klum's body double. These things take time.
And don't forget to leave your results in the comments section! How did it work? Are there questions that made your spouse light up? Anything that elicited an answer that surprised you? Let me know!
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
You just want to keep the house clean, have a happy marriage, raise functional kids, and still have a little left in the tank to be a real person as well.
I'm here for you.
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