“What do you mean you don’t like word games?” I asked my husband last week. “We used to play Scrabble a lot when we met. What’s changed?”
When we first meet our partners, we usually spend a lot of time getting to know each other. Time on the phone, time meeting each other’s family, friends and colleagues, time finding out about our partner’s likes and dislikes, their worries, hopes and dreams. So how is it that we can be surprised when we find out something new about our partners?
The simple answer is we all change over time. John Gottman’s research shows the importance of continuing these “getting to know you” conversations as we continue in our relationships. He calls it “building Love Maps”.
That is, keeping up to date understanding of our partner’s world. What is it they like, don’t like, who and what are important in their lives, what stresses they are experiencing, and their dreams and aspirations. And continually updating these Love Maps.
As life gets busy with families, careers and so on, how often do we have the kind of conversations that can let us know what matters to our partner? John Gottman cites a 2009 study showing US couples working full time with kids talk to each other about 35 minutes per week. Really! Only 35 minutes. And their conversation is mainly about family administration – who is driving the kids, picking up the groceries etc. This is where intentionally creating more depth to daily conversations and setting aside time for a date night each week is so important for your relationship.
What can we do?
Choose to spend time on your relationship. You may feel it’s important to spend more time at the office or just relax online when you get home, but a great relationship results in better health, greater wealth, greater resilience, faster recovery time from illness, greater longevity and more successful children. Isn’t that worth making time for?
One of the simplest ways we can update the Love Maps of our partner is by asking them open-ended questions. When they report work is stressing them out ask, “What would you do if you could do anything?” And go deeper with more questions. “How long have you wished for that?” “When in your life did you realise this would be good?” “What else would fill the same needs?”
If you’re out of practice with the questions the Gottman Institute has a free app called the Gottman Card Deck with several sets of questions for different occasions – very useful for date nights.
When you’re asking questions be an active listener. This means asking questions, reflecting back answers to check you’ve got the gist of the conversation and maintaining a listening stance – eye contact, nods and ahahs all help. The aim is to be interested.
Mindfulness has become trendy of late. It’s very useful to practice mindfulness, not just in your everyday life, but also in your interactions with your partner. Look for moments to learn more about their world and respond to their needs. When your partner keeps bringing up friends who have children – is that a sign they’ve changed their mind about children? Or is something else going on?
And when you notice the little things your partner does for you and the family take a moment to voice your appreciation. Be specific about what you appreciate so it feels authentic. Experiment. See how it feels and what response you get.
Small Things Often
With all this noticing, listening, appreciating and connecting going on it’s an opportunity to share more fondness and admiration. When your partner is interested in you, shows their appreciation and makes time to connect it’s an easy next step to affection. To summarise John Gottman, it’s not the fancy restaurants or expensive holidays that make a relationship, the research has shown it’s the small things often that build the intimacy for passion and romance.
More on word games
So I took an interest in my husband’s announcement he didn’t like word games and found out a little more about why he currently has a backgammon craze. BTW he’s off to buy a Scrabble set – I guess he listened to me too.