When people begin a new romantic partnership, everything feels new and sparkling.? For decades, movies, art and music has expressed the awe and fascination that is part of this stage of love.? As the relationship grows, couples often go through a ?cocooning stage?.? Relationships with friends and family may temporarily fall away as they spend much of their time together. They want to learn everything possible about their new love-interest?favourite foods, earliest memory, most embarrassing moment?and the sharing of confidences are reciprocal.? At this stage of relationship-building, the couple is making up for lost time?the time before they knew each other.
Alas…This Stage Doesn?t Last
Contrary to popular culture, the cocooning stage doesn?t last.? People can only stay in this closed relationship for so long, before boredom sets in.? Eventually, one or both members of the couple may feel the desire to reconnect with friends and family.? Hobbies start calling and jobs demand attention.? While they want to spend time with their ?person?, each partner may become one of the priorities instead of the priority.
Time Rolls On
Now, flash forward seven years.? This couple is still in a relationship.? They have moved in together and possibly married. ?Children have been born, one or both of them has progressed in their careers and made?new friends.? Each partner has developed new interests.
In an ideal world, the couple has been able to grow together as their lives have grown.
However, this isn?t an ideal world.? Often the complications of the life they have built together get in the way of their intimacy.? Weeks or months may go by before they are able to spend time alone together or go on a date.? Where once this couple felt they knew everything about each other; now it?s a struggle to remember each other?s schedules.
It Doesn?t Have To Be Like This
While the above scenario is common, it doesn’t have to be like this–and it takes work and intention to stay emotionally connected to your partner.
John M. Gottman and Nan Silver in their book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: ?A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert state that “emotionally connected couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world.” ?They have kept in touch with what matters to the other person, remembering past history as well as updating information as their partner’s world changes. ?Gottman and Nann describe this ongoing collection of information a “love map”.
Not sure about the state of your love map? ?You and your partner can do the Love Map Questionnaire.
How Do We Update?a Love Map?
I suggest that most couples already have a love map–it’s all that information that was gathered at the beginning of the relationship or until life became too busy to stay connected. ?What happened is that the map became forgotten or out-of-date. ?Just as using an out-of-date map can lead to getting lost when travelling, an out-of-date love map may lead to getting lost in the partnership.
Updating a Love Map Can Be Fun!
Updating?a love map is an opportunity to spend some positive time with your partner! Think back to the intimate conversations that happen at the beginning of a?relationship. ? Gottman and Nann have created an exercise called the Love Map 20 Questions Game. ?The goal of the game is to become reacquainted with your partner. ?Each partner agree on a random list of 20 numbers between 1 and 60. ?Starting at the top of the list each person asks the other the corresponding question on the set of provided questions. ?Point values are assigned to each correctly answered question. ? The person with the most points at the end wins–though both people win as it leads to greater emotional intimacy.
While this game is meant to be fun, if playing leads to conflict, it may be an indication that there may be deeper, underlying issues that are getting in the way of recreating intimacy. ?If so, a therapist skilled in couple therapy may be helpful.
If you’re interested in learning directly from John Gottman, here’s a link to a series of talks that he has given on making relationships work. ?Enjoy!