Gottman says a love map is the part of your brain where you store important information about your spouse. It's like a mental notebook where you write down unique traits of your spouse and things about him or her you want to remember. It includes your spouse's dreams, goals, joys, fears, likes, dislikes, frustrations, and worries. Things like your husband's favorite breakfast cereal or the name of your wife's best friend are important "points" on the map.
Why are thorough love maps so important? Because they strengthen marriages. Couples with extensive love maps remember important dates and events, and they stay aware of their partner's changing needs. They constantly seek updates on what the other person is doing, feeling, and thinking. Being known in this way is a gift each partner gives the other, bringing great happiness and satisfaction. It also makes couples better prepared to cope with stresses on their marriage.
For example, in one study Gottman interviewed couples around the time of the birth of their first child. For 67% of couples this stressful event was accompanied by a significant drop in marital satisfaction. But the other 33% did not see such a drop, and many felt their marriages had improved. The difference was the completeness of the couples' love maps. "The couples whose marriages thrived after the birth had detailed love maps from the get-go. . . ," says Gottman. "These love maps protected their marriages in the wake of this dramatic upheaval."
Couples who had established a habit of finding out about each other's thoughts and feelings were likely to continue doing so at a time of change. Their deep knowledge about each other and their practice of staying in touch protected their relationships from being thrown off course. They grew to love each other more deeply because there was more about each other to love.
Are you connected to your spouse on this level? If not, why not start talking to each other about how you've changed over the years, how you've stayed the same, what unrealized dreams you have and how you want to change.
What everything Gottman says boils down to about happiness in marriage is being best friends. May your spouse be your best friend.