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By Adam Maurer, LPC, LMFT Associate
Part 1- Knowing Your Partner
Being a guru of relationships people often ask me, “what is the secret to making love last?” Most folks are hoping for some quick two sentence response that will rescue them from the pain of separation. A simple guarantee that if they do this magical thing, then their love will last. The reality is that many factors contribute to maintaining a happy relationship. A fulfilling partnership is an investment of time and energy; it is work to make love last. Since maintaining love is not a simple fix, we are going to explore ways to increase connection in this four part series.
The place to start in maintaining love is knowing your partner. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking: “Dude, I’ve seen my partner practically everyday for countless years, I’ve even seen them use the bathroom! I think I know them.” To that I would say, we can know all about a person but not really understand them until we develop some deeper empathy for them. For example, my husband is an introvert and on a surface level many people understand what that means; he gets reenergized by having time away from people. But, for the beautiful biscuit that I call a husband, being an introvert means much more. Being able to understand his perspective of introversion gives me a deeper understanding of who he is as well as a greater appreciation for his way of being in the world. The Gottmans talk about this in terms of building love maps. Basically, how well do you know your partner’s world? People are not stagnant; they change overtime.
Taking time to update your understanding of your partner is essential to increasing connection. This doesn’t have to be an endless conversation about feelings, it can be a quick twenty minute check-in once or twice a week. If you pair it with an activity you both enjoy, like cheese and wine, then the talk can be even more enjoyable. Now, this talk might seem intimidating so focus on open ended questions. Remember that the goal of this talk is to simply know your partner on a deeper level, not to “fix” their problems. If you find yourself jumping to solutions you might unintendedly discredit your partner’s own wisdom. They were smart enough to choose you as a partner, and they can come up with solutions to their own problems. If they need help, then they can ask you for strategy, but this time is all about empathy. This is not a time to play devil’s advocate or to critique your partner’s way of being. It’s simply about understanding. Here are a few open ended questions to get you started:
*What has been your biggest challenge this week?
*What has been your biggest success this week?
*Who do you feel closest to at work?
*What are you most proud of today?
*What is a new goal you have for yourself?
*What is the best way to show you support?
Updating your love maps will not only reestablish your connection to your partner, but it will help you avoid conflict in the future. If you know that your partner is expecting a stressful Wednesday, then you can show support in a way that your partner has requested and/or avoid bringing up a complaint that day because your partner might not have the resources to process your issue in a helpful way. When you have a current understanding of who your partner is, you are better able to act in ways that honor the present version of who they are. Many couples struggle in their relationship because they see each other as they were when they first meet. I’ve been with my husband for close to eight years now, a great deal has happened in that time. We have both have changed tremendously, so our relationship contract has had to be flexible to accommodate that growth. Keeping your love maps up to date will help you avoid heartache in the future.
This is just one way to increase connection in your relationship. Part II will focus on making time for your partner. If you find it difficult to connect with your partner you can make a counseling appointment or read about marriage counseling and we can connect you with a therapist who is skilled at guiding couples towards connection. Relationships take work, and they sure can be worth it. If you would like additional tips for couples, you can Learning How to Fight Right, How to Avoid the Blame Game, and Three Simple Ways to Have a Happy Relationship.