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Love Maps: A Fluffy Game or Powerful Friendship Building Technique for Relationships

[Warning some expletives used in this blog]

In the previous blog article, “Let’s Be Friends”, I discussed how important a solid friendship is to relationships and marriage. However, knowing that friendship is important is not enough. We have to know what steps we can take to improve our friendship and be proactive about incorporating these activities into our relationship. Fortunately, there are numerous ways that we can improve and enrich our friendship with our spouse or partner. In this blog article I am going to focus on one simple, but powerful way you can enrich and sustain your friendship with your spouse called Love Maps.

When my wife Stephanie and I became Gottman educators I was struck by how much emphasis his approach put on taking the time to actively ask detailed questions to your spouse about the minutia of their lives and their innermost thoughts. For example, do you know what is your spouse’s favorite restaurant or what is one of their greatest fears? (More on these questions later.) Not sure of the answers? One of the best things you can do for your marriage is to take the time to ask and find out. You can make it into a bit of a game as we do in our workshops by sharing first what you think the answer may be before they answer. It is highly encouraged then to ask follow up questions and to share your reactions.

How can something so simple be helpful to your marriage or relationship? It may even seem a bit “fluffy” or juvenile. As a licensed clinical social worker and professor I love learning and teaching different therapeutic or relational techniques. For example, how to do a Readiness Ruler in the therapeutic technique of Motivational Interviewing or how to use Gottman’s multi-step process for managing conflict in relationships. So with all these advanced skills and techniques to choose from why prioritize what can feel like a game 12 year olds play into your marriage or relationship? Personally I remember feeling a bit silly engaging in this activity with my wife. To get over this resistance it was important for me to have a clear sense of why this is worth my time to do.

The simple answer is because it works! When we take the time to be curious about each other and ask each other questions it is an easy and effective way to bond with our partner and to strengthen our friendship. As discussed in the previous blog, a strong friendship provides a strong foundation to weather the challenges that occur in relationships. Moreover, the information we learn may help us to be a better spouse. For example, what gift you should get for your anniversary or which foods to avoid cooking so your spouse does not get a migraine. When we can appreciate the utility and power of this simple approach to build friendships and strengthen marriages, it makes it all the more attractive. It is like low lying fruit with a big payoff. It also can be fun to do, especially if we allow ourselves to get into it and be in the moment with the interaction. Lastly, it can be therapeutic and healing to have our partners be authentically interested in the details of our lives and our inner world and to respond to us in a supportive manner. I remember when I shared with my wife how I got shingles a few years ago during a particularly stressful time. She was so interested in the details of my story and so sympathetic in her reaction. It made me feel fondly towards her and like she is my best buddy. The Love Maps technique is a simple and powerful way to improve your friendship with your spouse and let them know that they are important to you.

So back to the previous questions. What is my spouse’s favorite restaurant and what is one of their greatest fears?


Stephanie’s Favorite Restaurant

Hmmm, I am pretty sure Stephanie would list Pizza as one of her favorite foods. There are two pizza joints we love to eat at - Graziella’s and Patsy’s . I think these two would be listed high on her list of favorite restaurants.

One of Stephanie’s Worst Fears

I think Stephanie would probably have a heart attack if she ever was attacked by a rodent. I am not sure how common rodent attacks are, but I remember the first time we saw one together. I think I have PTSD from her reaction, lol. Anyway I know it is important to keep her safe from rodents!

Stephanie’s Reply:

Juan’s answers are on point. Reading this reminds me how much he knows about me, which is nice because it means he listens and pays attention to my likes and dislikes. He shows a genuine interest and curiosity to my innermost thoughts and the minutiae of my life. When we were talking about our answers I was able to tell him about another pizza place I really like that he had never heard about. The reason why is because I only eat there for lunch when I am work. Because of this initial question, he now knows another random factoid about me and my fondness of pizza.

I LOATHE AND DETEST RODENTS! It is one of the things I like least about living in NYC. I am freaked out whenever I get off at a particular subway stop because I always see them skittering about. I remember when I saw that movie MouseHunt. It is supposed to be a comedy, but I had nightmares!


Juan’s Favorite Restaurant

Juan is a lot like me in the sense that he has lots of different favorite restaurants depending on what cuisine he is in the mood for. One type of food he really likes that I do not is barbecue. He may say the Smoke Joint and Fletcher’s are his favorite spots for a good pulled pork sandwich in our area. I know another favorite of his is Meskerem in the East Village. It serves the best Ethiopian food I have had in NYC. He discovered it when he was doing his Master’s at nearby NYU.

One of Juan’s Worst Fears

This question is harder than the first one. My first instinct is to say that Juan fears dying without having had a positive impact on the world.

Juan’s Reply:

Like Stephanie mentioned, I would be hard pressed to come up with a single favorite restaurant. However, I do like me some pulled pork and the Smoke Joint and Fletcher’s are my go to places in the neighborhood. Interestingly my fondness for barbecue developed later in life. I just did not have much of it growing up so never really thought about it. However, after reading “Cooked” by Michael Pollan I became intrigued by the subculture, politics, and methods used to cook barbecue. There is one line in the book that was so great I immediately shared it with Stephanie, “Though his brisket was gooood, it wasn’t knock-your-dick-in-the-dirt good.” I have no idea the origins of that expression or even if I understand it, but I immediately fell in love with it. Stephanie and I often quote this line or some variation of it when offering our opinions on food. “Though the salmon tartare was good, it did not knock-one’s-penis-in-the-dirt.” As far as Meskerem, it completely changed my opinion on Ethiopian food. I was neutral on it pre-Meskerem and even had mixed feelings about using my fingers to eat. However, after I ate at Meskerem I saw the light! I would have to say it makes the cut in terms of knocking the penis-into-the-dirt good!

I would also have to agree that I do want to make a large and positive impact on the world. If I was to die now I would feel like my work is unfinished, which would be a shame. It would give me a lot of satisfaction if years from now I could feel like I made a difference. However, as Jean Valjean said during the confrontation scene with Javert, “There is power in my yet. My race is not yet run.”


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