By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
This may seem obvious, but you must know your partner to truly love him or her. Yes, you might experience ‘love at first sight,’ but this is more about chemistry than true love – that deep sense of understanding and caring that grows with familiarity. Loving your partner means intimately knowing and loving him or her.
Some couples think they know each other well simply because they’ve been together for a long time. However, time only provides the opportunity to get to know each other. It cannot substitute for the “work” of reaching out and connecting. I have treated many couples who either never really knew or understood each other, or who were interacting based on old information. And so the work of therapy was to help truly introduce (or reintroduce) them to each other.
Researcher John Gottman explains that it is essential for people to develop and maintain love maps or an understanding of their partner’s world. This is developed through conversations. You must share your experiences with your partner and also listen to your partner’s experiences in order to really get to know each other. And you must do this on an ongoing basis because experiences, hopes, dreams, and difficulties can change.
Dr. Gottman suggests that you develop and maintain love maps by connecting in some way everyday. It helps to talk each evening about the day. It also helps to make sure you know some basics about your partner. Consider the following questions, which are based on exercises suggested by Gottman:
- Who are your partner’s friends?
- Who are potential friends of your partner?
- What is a typical day like for your partner, both in terms of events and your partner’s thoughts and feelings about those events?
- What are recent important events in your partner’s life?
- What are the major stresses in your partner’s life?
- What is your partner looking forward to?
- What are your partner’s dreams?
- What excites your partner sexually?
- What is your partner’s favorite movie? Music? Play? Book?
- What is your partner’s favorite meal?
- What does your partner like to do to relax?
Each of these questions provides an opportunity to explore your knowledge of your partner. The questions can be seeds for discussions regarding basic facts about your partner, as well as for more in-depth discussions about your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Keep in mind that by committing yourself to knowing your partner, you are keeping the door open to love.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.