I tend to be a very intentional person. A planner. It’s probably why I became a psychological researcher in the first place. When I discovered there was a discipline already in place that tests our intuitions about each other and how the interpersonal world operates… well, it was frankly a huge relief.
I do a weekend series on this blog called “Psyched for the Weekend” that covers psychological concepts I find interesting (a mix of classical concepts that have been around a while and new studies I find). Nearly every time I publish an article, someone is upset that research even happens. They seem to want to be guided solely by their own anecdotal evidence, without any outside input.
This is incredibly strange to me. I worry constantly that I’m self-deluded and am always looking for evidence to help me test the veracity of my beliefs. (I never quite escape the specter of confirmation bias, for good or bad.)
Anyway, as I’m a relationship coach, self-help author, and someone who just plain has relationships myself and wants them to go well, I’m always interested in new relationship models. Some of what gains a huge following is incredibly fluffy pop psych. But other research groups are at least semi-empirically based. One of my favorites is the Gottman Institute. They’ve done well bridging the gap, offering models that are based on research that are also useful and easy to understand.
One example is the concept of “love maps.”
What Are Love Maps?
According to the Gottman Institute, Love Maps are “the cognitive understanding of your partner’s inner psychological world. Couples that spend time strengthening and updating their Love Maps remember the major events in each other’s history, and keep updating this information as the facts and feelings as their partner’s world changes.”
This is deep knowledge — of your past, present, and hoped-for futures. It requires a lot of conversation, attention, and careful listening from everyone involved.
Once again, the Gottman Institute has put into words something I’ve believed for years. They’ve named a phenomenon that I believe to be healthy and have consistently longed for but found wanting in relationships.
And could they make it any more explicit? A map is a planner’s dream. Talk about reassurance.
When I tried to ask past partners if we could try to develop Love Maps (without using that phrase), it never went well. Typically, I’d get a confused response. Or I’d be told that something like this didn’t exist. That it was an unrealistic goal, too much to demand from a romantic partner.
Seriously, this keeps on happening with me and the Gottman Institute. Every time they name something new, it’s something I had wanted or needed from partners but didn’t have shorthand for.
I’m Still Waiting for a Model to Fix Things
Interestingly, I’m in a long-term relationship now where we have great Love Maps. But they just sort of spontaneously formed — even without the shared vocabulary to talk about building them. A great deal about my marriage is implicit, which is really unsettling to me, the planner. My husband tends to be a great deal less explicit than me in the way he talks about things (especially feelings). But in spite of these differences, we instinctively move towards the same places.
It’s frankly caused a bit of an existential crisis. As a person who likes to make things explicit whenever possible, I’ve always loved models. But I find them less useful than I expect them to be. I keep running into two different situations:
- If we have difficulties, the other person is not open to the models and instead rejects them entirely (and prefers their gut feels and anecdotal evidence/intuition). This makes the models not helpful. –OR–
- It just works without models.
I dunno. It’s a long life. There’s still time. But as a person who has been in a fair bit of therapy and done research myself — and who LOVES models — it’s stunning to me that I still haven’t been in a situation where a model helped me effectively work through a conflict or troubled period with a partner.
Now, this doesn’t mean that models haven’t been useful in small ways. They help me to understand better when I’m on the right path. (And when I’m not.)
But they have never served as a fix. The fix always seems to be there in the implicit shadows, even if the explicit focus is on any given model.