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How Can I Stay Curious In My Long-Term Relationship?

Andrew D. Castillo, LCSW, MSW

When we first start a new relationship, we are full of curiosity. What are this person’s interests?  What are their goals? What makes them tick? We are so eager to learn about this amazing new person, and are driven to constantly ask questions. Overtime, however, we see that driven curiosity start to ebb. Especially in long-term relationships, we may assume after a time, that we truly know everything about our partners. This may have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic we find ourselves in, where many of us have been spending extended times isolated with our partners. As is often the case with assumptions however, this mindset can lead to challenges in a relationship.

What are love maps?

According to the Gottman Method, an established, evidence-based form of couples therapy, maintaining curiosity about our partner’s “inner world” is necessary for a developing an accurate “love map”. What is a love map you ask? You can picture a love map as a map of your partner’s inner psychological world, including their values, hopes, beliefs, along with more painful things like wounds, traumas, losses, and fears.  Decades of research has shown that partners in successful relationships and marriages have an accurate perception of each other’s inner world. Doing so requires us to maintain a genuine curiosity of our partners. Think about what its like when you first start a new relationship. Typically, this time is full of excitement and curiosity. We put a lot of energy into learning about this new person who we are really connecting with, and want to learn all about this persons’ interests, goals, and values, and are constantly asking them questions. What tends to happen over time, however, is that the initial excitement begins fading, and we lose some of that initial curiosity. If we have been in relationship or married for years, we may begin believing that we know all there is to know about our partners, that there are no surprises to be found. I love how licensed couples’ counselor Dawn Swan, LPC puts it, “What we know to be true about people is that we are constantly changing. Just like the physical landscape in a city, buildings are going up and coming down. Our inner world is constantly changing.” Not realizing or acknowledging this will likely leave us with an outdated or incomplete view of our partner’s inner world, opening the door for further challenges and disengagement.

What can we do?

One of first steps towards change is having self-awareness; be aware when you are making assumptions of your partner’s beliefs, values, and thoughts. Get into the habit of asking your partner for clarification, maybe asking a question like, “I think I understand what you believe here, but I’m not sure. What do you think?” Another simple way to stay curious in our relationship is to keep up a habit of constantly asking questions. Taking regular time during the week to catch up with each other and asking questions that go beyond the superficial can be a great way to encourage our partners to open up about their changing fears, hopes, and goals. Gottman recommends having an initial set of prepared questions to help get couples started, including lighter ones (“What was your partner wearing when you first met?”), and those that challenge us to be a bit more vulnerable (“What is one of your partner’s greatest fears or disaster scenarios?”). There are also many apps and games out there with other examples of love map building questions. Seek out what works for you and your partner!

References

Dawn Swan LPC. (2017, February 16). Gottman series week 1 – Building Love Maps [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmYZL7xGrN0&t=264s

Hunt, L. H. D. H. H. (2012, August 12). Curiosity Killed the Cat, But It Can Save Your Marriage. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/relationship-advice_b_1574518

Lisitsa, E. (2020, November 4). The Sound Relationship House: Build Love Maps. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-sound-relationship-house-build-love-maps/

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