It’s that time of year again, where Hallmark cards and cheesy stuffed bears come out in full force, and you reminisce to the simpler childhood days when February 14th was on par with Halloween for how much candy you collected in one day. As we get older, Valentine’s Day often carries different meaning. Whether you’re married or not, Valentine’s Day can be synonymous with loneliness and unmet expectations. In marriage, the loneliness can feel particularly strong, as you may be reminded of your early dating years, but that special spark is missing in daily life now.
As time passes over the years in a marriage, satisfaction can tend to decrease. This is a normal occurrence in every relationship: research on marital happiness in early years of marriage shows that it tends to decrease over time. The birth of children play a factor in this as well, as John Gottman reports in his research that couples are less satisfied in their relationships after children enter the picture (for somewhat obvious reasons).
So what can we do to stop this dissatisfaction right in its tracks?
John Gottman’s extensive studies on marriage has led him to create a model called the Sound Relationship House to describe the various aspects that make up healthy, thriving marriages. The foundation of the house consists of three levels, fondly known as “the friendship quadrant.” This suggests that the strongest marriages are built upon a basis of mutual appreciation, respect, and knowledge of one another’s world.
The first level is “Build Love Maps” – essentially, creating a map of your spouse’s world. The foundation for this step, as defined by Gottman, is asking open-ended questions. This come pretty natural in the early dating years – you may have fond memories of getting to know your spouse during hours-long conversations, asking questions and learning more about their day-to-day life. But as time goes on, daily responsibilities of sharing a home and family make that connection time feel less important. While you might assume you already know everything there is to know about your partners world, that picture often needs to be updated over time as we change and grow.
Here’s my challenge to you: this Valentine’s Day, take some intentional time with your partner to ask each other 5 of the questions below. You can make it a game, share answers over dinner, try to guess your partner’s answer…whatever fits for you.
With each question you answer, you’re building one more street on that Love Map, and you’re building connections to your partner’s world.
Here’s some ideas for questions to ask:
If you could be any animal in the world, which would you be? Why?
What one or two fictional characters do you believe you are most like? Why?
Who is your best friend? What are the qualities about that person that makes you admire them?
What is one place you’d like to travel that you haven’t been to? What would you want to do there?
What’s your fondest memory of childhood?
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
What was your favorite subject in school? Least favorite subject?
If you could work in any career that’s different from your current position, what would you do? Why?
What was your favorite childhood vacation spot? Why?
What is one of your favorite smells? What does that smell remind you of?
If you could build a dream house anywhere, where would it be? What would it look like? What would you fill it with?
What was the best meal you’ve ever had in your life? Tell me the story behind it.
What is your biggest worry right now? If that worry didn’t exist, how might your life be different?
What was the last movie/book/TV show that affected you emotionally? Why?
Who is the person you admire most in the world? What are the qualities you admire in them?
What are the hobbies you would pursue if you had more time?
What are some of your dreams for retirement/later in life?
When you look back on your life, what do you want people to say about you?
What is something you’re truly grateful for in your life right now?
What was your favorite game to play as a child? What is it now?
If you’ve read through this list and enjoyed asking one another these questions, find ways to keep incorporating this into your date nights! You can use Gottman’s Love Maps or Open-Ended Questions apps to generate ideas, or do a Google search or Pinterest search for different questions to ask your spouse. The possibilities are endless!
Each step you take builds one more brick on that foundation of your relationship that will help increase your marital friendship and build toward a long-lasting, satisfying marriage. Why not start this Valentine's season?
In your marriage, you may be in a spot where even a Valentine’s date might feel out of the question. It may feel fake for you to be asking each other these lighthearted, fun questions when there’s the tension of betrayal, loneliness, or hurt in your marriage. If you’ve gotten to a point in your marriage where you’re losing hope, I’d love to be a support to you. Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based therapy office that offers marriage counseling based on Gottman’s principles of successful marriages. Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out my form here for more information on how I can help you.