How many arguments do you think started because of The Newlywed Game?
You’ve probably seen the game show in one of its many iterations since it first aired in 1966. The concept is simple: Bring in newly married couples. Separate them, then ask them questions about themselves, their relationship, and each other.
Bring them back together and see how well they can guess what their spouse answered. The result was often humorous and always revealing — and it didn’t take a relationship expert to tell which couples were the strongest. The winners were the couples who knew the most about each other. Those who didn’t found themselves in an emotionally tense situation with their spouse on national television.
Through his years of research with couples, Dr. John Gottman has discovered something that may seem intuitive: In the strongest relationships, each partner is intimately familiar with the other’s world.
Gottman conceptualizes this as a love map, meaning that each partner knows and can navigate the inner-terrain of the one they love. They know their partner’s history, philosophy, raw spots, hopes for their future, and important relationships.
He can name her coworkers, including which ones she grabs lunch with regularly and which ones she avoids in the breakroom. She knows that the holidays have been difficult for him ever since he lost his dad—even though he puts on a brave face for the kids.
This makes sense, and for good reason. One of our most basic needs is the need to be seen, heard, and understood by others. This is why we communicate, connect, and create — we seek to be known by those who are important to us throughout our lives.
Child development expert Dr. Karyn Purvis says that when babies are born, they are looking for someone who is looking for them. From the moment we arrive on the scene, we need to know that we matter to others and our cries are heard. Adult attachment researchers have noted that the need to be seen doesn’t end in childhood, but continues into adulthood — and across the entire span of our life. As we date and mate, we continue to seek out deep, meaningful connections with others. We need to feel deeply known and understood.
This may sound a bit theoretical, but its application is remarkably practical. In your day-to-day life with you partner, find ways to know him or her better. Far too often, what causes relationships to suffer is not a major, life-altering rupture. It is the slow and steady disconnection caused by a lack of intentionally getting to know your partner better each day. The purpose of long-term, committed relationships runs deeper than joining bank accounts and sharing a bed—we mate and marry to love and be loved. As David Augsburger reminds us, being heard and understood is so close to being loved that it’s hard to tell the difference.
By developing a love map for your partner and your relationship, you can deepen your sense of security and connection, creating a safe haven that exists between the two of you. Here are five conversations that will enable you to become intimately familiar with the one you love:
Learn his (or her) history. Your partner lived years of life before he met you — and that history impacts his values, relationships, and outlook on life. By learning about your partner’s history, you can discover valuable information about how his past affects your present life together.
Get to know the characters in her life story. Who was the first person to break her heart? How does she feel about her boss? Who does she like to have fun with on a day off? Knowing who matters to her and how she interacts with others will help you make sense of what is going on in her life.
Know what challenges he is currently facing. If your partner comes home exhausted or short-tempered from work, it would be really helpful to know that he has a big project due and a frustrating team member blocking his progress! Understanding his current stressors can help you have empathy for his feelings — and not take his stress responses personally.
Discuss your values and philosophies on life. Deepening your understanding of what matters to each other can help you in your shared decision-making and enable you both to live more meaningful lives together. Take time to discuss your opinions and experiences concerning spirituality and what it would mean to live a life of significance.
Ask about her hopes and dreams for the future. You want to grow old with this person — you should learn what her expectations are for the journey! As you make big decisions together like what house to buy, what city to live in, or how many children to have, understanding your partner’s hopes for the future will give you a compass to guide you forward.
Whether your current love map is a topographical masterpiece or just a rough sketch, you can improve your connection to the one you love starting today by filling in the blank spots. Take the time to have these five conversations with your partner — they will likely turn into many more. By knowing your partner’s experiences in the past, struggles in the present, and hopes for the future, you can strengthen your relationship and deepen the bond you share.