Enhance Your Love Maps

Many partnered couples fall into a habit of inattention to the details of their partner’s life. One or both partners may have only the slightest sense of the other’s joys, likes, dislikes, fears, stresses. For example, Sam may love modern art, but their partner Alex couldn’t tell you why or who Sam’s favorite artist is. Sam doesn’t remember the names of Alex’s friends or the co worker they feel is constantly trying to undermine them.

In contrast, emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world. I call this having a richly detailed love map; a term for that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life. Another way of saying this is that these couples have made plenty of cognitive room for their marriage. They remember the major events in each other’s history, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change. When she orders him a salad, she knows to ask for his dressing on the side. If she works late, he’ll tape her favorite TV show because he knows which one it is and when it’s on.

One partner could tell you how the other one is feeling about her boss, and exactly how to get to their office from the elevator. One partner knows that religion is important to the oher but that deep down thay have doubts. She knows that he fears being too much like his father and considers himself a “free spirit.” They know each other’s goals in life, each other’s worries, each other’s hopes. Without such a love map, you can’t really know your spouse. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?

In Knowledge There is Strength

From knowledge springs not only love but the fortitude to weather marital storms. Couples who have detailed love maps of each other’s world are far better prepared to cope with stressful events and conflict. Take, for example, one of the major causes of marital dissatisfaction and divorce: the birth of the first baby. Sixty-seven percent of couples in our newlywed study underwent a precipitous drop in marital satisfaction the first time they became parents. But the remaining 33 percent did not experience this drop—in fact, about half of them saw their marriages improve.

What separated these two groups? You guessed it: The couples whose marriages thrived after the birth had detailed love maps from the get-go, according to a study of fifty couples by Alyson Shapiro. These love maps protected their marriages in the wake of this dramatic upheaval. Because husband and wife were already in the habit of keeping up to date and were intently aware of what each other was feeling and thinking, they weren’t thrown off course. But if you don’t start off with a deep knowledge of each other, it’s easy for your marriage to lose its way when your lives shift so suddenly and dramatically.

Maggie and Ken knew each other only a short time when they married and decided to have a family But what their relationship lacked in longevity they made up for in intimacy They were in touch not just with the outlines of each other’s lives–their favorite hobbies, sports, and so on–but with each other’s deepest longings, beliefs, and fears. No matter how busy they were, they made each other their priority—always making sure they had time to catch up on each other’s day. And at least once a week they’d go out for dinner and just talk—sometimes about politics, sometimes about the weather, sometimes about their own marriage.

When their daughter Alice was born, Maggie decided to give up her job as a computer scientist to stay home with the baby. She herself was surprised by the decision since she had always been very driven in her career. But when she became a mother, her fundamental sense of meaning in life changed. She found she was willing to undergo great sacrifices for Alice’s sake. Now she wanted the savings they had earmarked for a motorboat to go into a college fund. What happened to Maggie happens to many new mothers–the experience of parenthood is so profound that your whole notion of who you are and what you value gets reshuffled.

At first, Ken was confused by the changes in his wife. The woman he thought he knew was transforming before his eyes. But because they were in the habit of staying deeply connected, Ken was able to keep up to date on what Maggie was thinking and feeling. Too often when a new baby comes, the husband gets left behind. He can’t keep up with his wife’s metamorphosis, which he may not understand or be happy about. Knowing Maggie had always been a priority to Ken, so he didn’t do what too many new fathers do–he didn’t back away from this new charmed circle of mother and child. As a result they went through the transformation to parenthood together, without losing sight of each other or their marriage.

Having a baby is just one life event that can cause couples to lose their way without a detailed love map. Any major change-from a job shift to a move to illness or retirement–can have the same effect. Just the passage of time can do it as well. The more you know and understand about each other, the easier it is to keep connected as life swirls around you.

Love Maps Questionnaire
This is a copy of the exercise that will be available as a separate activity; on this website and in Quenza

By giving honest answers to the following questions, you will get a sense of the quality of your current love maps. For the most accurate reading of how your marriage is doing on this first principle, both of you should complete the following independently without the other person present. Read each statement and reflect on whether it is true or false.

I can name my partner’s best friends.

I can tell you what stresses my partner is currently facing.

I know the names of some of the people who have been irritating my partner lately.

I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams.

I am very familiar with my partner’s religious beliefs and ideas.

I can tell you about my partner’s basic philosophy of life.

I can list the relatives my partner likes the least.

I know my partner’s favorite music.

I can list my partner’s three favorite movies.

My spouse is familiar with my current stresses.

Know the three most special times in my partner’s life.

I can tell you the most stressful thing that happened to my partner as a child.

I can list my partner’s major aspirations and hopes in life.

I know my partner’s major current worries.

My spouse knows who my friends are.

I know what my partner would want to do if he or she suddenly won the lottery.

I can tell you in detail my first impressions of my partner.

Periodically I ask my partner about his or her world right now.

I feel that my partner knows me pretty well.

My spouse is familiar with my hopes and aspirations.


Give yourself one point for each “true” answer.

10 or above: This is an area of strength for your marriage. You have a fairly detailed map of your spouse’s everyday life, hopes, fears, and dreams. You know what makes your spouse “tick.” Based on your score you’ll probably find the love map exercises that follow easy and gratifying. They will serve as a reminder of how connected you and your partner are. Try not to take for granted this knowledge and understanding of each other. Keeping in touch in this way ensures you’ll be well equipped to handle any problem areas that crop up in your relationship.

Below 10: Your marriage could stand some improvement in this area. Perhaps you never had the time or the tools to really get to know each other. Or perhaps your love maps have become outdated as your lives have changed over the years. In either case, by taking the time to learn more about your spouse now, you’ll find your relationship becomes stronger.

You will find a version of this exercise as an interactive activity [Here]

There are few gifts a couple can give each other greater than the joy that comes from feeling known and understood. Getting to know each other shouldn’t be a chore. That’s why the first love map exercise below is actually a game! While you’re having fun playing, you’ll also be expanding and deepening your knowledge of each other. By the time you complete all of the exercises in this course lesson, you’ll know
there’s truth in that old song “To Know You Is to Love You.”

Exercise 1: The Love Maps 20 Questions Game
This is a copy of the exercise that will be available as a separate activity; on this website and in Quenza

Play this game together in the spirit of laughter and gentle fun. The more you play, the more you’ll learn about the love maps concept and how to apply it to your own relationship.

Step 1. Each of you should take a piece of paper and pen or pencil. Together, randomly decide on twenty numbers between 1 and 60. Write the numbers down in a column on the left-hand side of your paper.

Step 2. Below is a list of numbered questions. Beginning with the top of your column, match the numbers you chose with the corresponding question. Each of you should ask your partner this question. If your spouse answers correctly (you be the judge), he or she receives the number of points indicated for that question, and you receive one point. If your spouse answers incorrectly, neither of you receives any points. The same rules apply when you answer. The winner is the person with the higher score after you’ve both answered all twenty questions.

  1. Name my two closest friends. (2)
  2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?(2)
  3. What was I wearing when we first met?(2)
  4. Name one of my hobbies.(3)
  5. Where was I born?(1)
  6. What stress am I facing right now?(4)
  7. Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday.(4)
  8. When is my birthday? (1)
  9. What is the date of our anniversary?(1)
  10. Who is my favorite relative?(2)
  11. What is my fondest unrealized dream?(5)
  12. What is my favorite flower?(2)
  13. What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?(3)
  14. What is my favorite time of day for lovemaking?(3)
  15. What makes me feel most competent?(4)
  16. What turns me on sexually?(3)
  17. What is my favorite meal?(2)
  18. What is my favorite way to spend an evening?(2)
  19. What is my favorite color?(1)
  20. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life?(4)
  21. What kind of present would I like best?(2)
  22. What was one of my best childhood experiences?(2)
  23. What was my favorite vacation?(2)
  24. What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed?(4)
  25. Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)?(3)
  26. What is my favorite sport?(2)
  27. What do I most like to do with time off?(2)
  28. What is one of my favorite weekend activities?(2)
  29. What is my favorite getaway place?(3)
  30. What is my favorite movie?(2)
  31. What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?(4)
  32. What are some of my favorite ways to work out?(2)
  33. Who was my best friend in childhood?(3)
  34. What is one of my favorite magazines?(2)
  35. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”(3)
  36. What would I consider my ideal job?(4)
  37. What do I fear the most?(4)
  38. Who is my least favorite relative?(3)
  39. What is my favorite holiday?(2)
  40. What kinds of books do I most like to read?(3)
  41. What is my favorite TV show?(2)
  42. Which side of the bed do I prefer?(2)
  43. What am I most sad about?(4)
  44. Name one of my concerns or worries.(4)
  45. What medical problems do I worry about?(2)
  46. What was my most embarrassing moment?(3)
  47. What was my worst childhood experience?(3)
  48. Name two of the people I most admire.(4)
  49. Name my major rival or enemy.(3)
  50. Of all the people we both know, who do I like the least?(3)
  51. What is one of my favorite desserts?(2)
  52. What is my social security number?(2)
  53. Name one of my favorite novels.(2)
  54. What is my favorite restaurant?(2)
  55. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes?(4)
  56. Do I have a secret ambition? What is it?(4)
  57. What foods do I hate?(2)
  58. What is my favorite animal?(2)
  59. What is my favorite song?(2)
  60. Which sports team is my favorite?(2)

Play this game as frequently as you’d like. The more you play, the more you’ll come to understand the concept of a love map and the kind of information yours should include about your spouse.

Exercise 2: Make Your Own Love Maps
This is a copy of the exercise that will be available as a separate activity; on this website and in Quenza

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the love maps concept, it’s time to focus more seriously on your love maps for each other’s everyday lives. Even though these maps are “all in your head,” it helps to write down some of the basics. Spend extra time on this exercise if you (or your spouse) believes that your current love map is inadequate or, as is often the case, has fallen out of date.

Use the following form to interview each other as if you were reporters. (If your spouse is unavailable, you can fill out this form without his or her input, but obviously the major benefits of this exercise come from sharing information.) Take turns as listener and speaker, and write out the answers to these forms. (It’s best to use a separate piece of paper, or better yet a notebook or journal that you can use for all of the exercises in this book.) Don’t pass judgment on what your spouse tells you or try to give each other advice. Remember that you are simply on a fact-finding mission. Your goal is to listen and learn about your partner.

  • The cast of characters in my partner’s life
    • Friends:
    • Potential friends:
    • Rivals, competitors, “enemies”:
  • Recent important events in my partner’s life
  • Upcoming events (What is my partner looking forward to? Dreading?)
  • My partner’s current stresses
  • My partner’s current worries
  • My partner’s hopes and aspirations (For self? For others?)

Although this exercise offers you just a snapshot of your partner’s life, it can be quite illuminating. Couples who have completed our workshop say this exercise offered them plenty of surprises that helped them better understand their spouse. Joe, for example, never realized just how deeply Donna longed to be an author and how frustrated she was in her banking job until he asked her point-blank about her hopes and aspirations. And she never realized that his recent irritability was rooted in his concern about his new boss and his job performance, not her mother’s visit. This love maps form is useful for creating a broad outline of your current lives. But love maps shouldn’t just be broad–they should also be deep. Exercise 3, Who Am I, will ensure that yours are.