This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
Have you ever been in a fight with your partner and had the unsettling experience of looking at them and thinking, ‘Who are you?!’
It’s extremely disheartening to suddenly feel that you don’t really know someone you thought you knew better than anyone else in the world. Even worse is feeling the person you thought knew and understood you doesn’t actually know you after all.
Feeling like your partner ‘gets’ you is a big deal — it’s one of the main things that make us fall in love with each other. There’s really no more reassuring feeling in the world than knowing someone deeply understands who we are, and loves us anyway. That feeling of being known and loved is foundational to a healthy relationship. Having that abruptly taken away can be terribly painful and disappointing, and make you question your entire partnership.
Who are you?
Dr John Gottman, relationship expert and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says knowing your partner on a deep level not only strengthens your bond, it safeguards your relationship against stressful events, like the birth of a child, the loss of a job, moving, illness, or a death in the family. Gottman maintains that remembering small details about each other’s lives, like what you eat for breakfast and your childhood best friend’s name, is just as important as knowing the big things about each other, like your hopes and fears.
To that end, Gottman created the ‘Love Maps’ game. All you need to play is a willing partner (sometimes persuading your partner to play is the hardest part), a private place to play, something to write with, and a piece of paper to keep score. And, of course, the questions…
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How to play the Love Maps game
First, talk with your partner about why you’d like to play. Explaining Gottman’s theory about how knowing each other better will make your relationship stronger might help convince a reluctant SO — but also, games are just fun. Plus, you can score points and get competitive in this one! Make it into a fun date night activity, with the winner agreeing to buy dinner for the loser, or maybe getting to choose a fun kinky activity to engage in afterward.
There are 60 questions in the Love Maps game; you can find them here, or in Gottman’s book. You’re going to ask each other 20 of them, so write down 20 numbers between one and 60, taking turns choosing numbers at random. Then go to the list of questions, and take turns asking each other each question you’ve chosen. The questions range from lighthearted (what type of books do I like to read?) to serious (what do I fear the most?) to serious tests of memory (what was I wearing when we first met?)
If your partner answers the question correctly (you get to make the call as to whether they got it right), they get the number of points assigned for that question, and you get a point, too. The person with the most points after you’ve answered all 20 questions is the winner. But really, you both win, because you’ll know more about each other, and your relationship will be that much stronger.
The importance of open-ended questions
A great way to follow up the Love Maps game is to ask each other some open-ended questions. These are questions that don’t have an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer; they take longer to discuss and may spark deeper discussions than the Love Maps questions. These questions are another way to know each other better and shore up the foundation of your relationship. Again, they’re listed in Gottman’s book — which is well worth buying — or here.
You can ask each other these questions anytime; you’ll probably want to do just one or two at a time, whenever you’re in the mood to dig in and deepen your understanding. If you’re feeling disconnected, or facing some stress, try taking some time to ask each other one of these open-ended questions. Here are a few of them: How would you like your life to be different three years from now? If you could redo five years of your life, which five years would you choose? Do you think you’ve changed over the past year?
There’s no magic bullet for fixing a relationship that’s lost its spark; marriage takes work. But taking time to know each other better and enhance your friendship is a surefire way to increase your intimacy and stress-proof your relationship. The Gottman Institute’s research shows that friendship is at the heart of how satisfied couples are with their sex life, as well as the level of romance and passion in their relationship. When there’s conflict, a strong friendship can save your relationship.
Marriage isn’t a game. But playing one can actually help strengthen it. So, game on!