Building A Map With Your Partner – A 4-Minute Life Story

Have you ever noticed that, with good friends, you share a curiosity for each other’s lives. Maybe at the beginning of each meeting, you spend a few minutes “catching up.” We all do it, and there is a good reason…

The marital friendship is the foundation of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House theory. It’s the thing that sustains a relationship. The couple married for a life time don’t stay married because of the absence of conflict, or their enthusiastic sex life, or their good luck. They stayed married because they liked each other. They knew each other.

This is the primary task of the new couple just starting out. Get to know your partner. I promise you, there is, and always will be, more that you don’t know about your partner than you do. Another way of saying this is you can always get to know your partner better. Make it a priority over the lifetime of your relationship.

Dr. Gottman’s term for getting to know your partner’s world is called Build Love Maps. Think of it this way: When you choose to spend your life with someone, you hand them a map to your inner world. Your inner world is, of course, quite complex including the memories of your past, the details of your present, your hopes for the future. It includes your deepest fears and your grandest dreams. But the map you hand your partner is a pencil sketch.

The task for new couples is to intentionally be adding details to that map. It needs scale, direction, a legend. Over the course of a lifetime, you will be constantly adding landmarks, texture, color. Your lives will shift suddenly and dramatically. In fact it probably already has. As a first step toward building Love Maps for your relationship, I’d encourage you to draw one of your own about your life before this commitment. Think back through the twists and turns in your story. Write them down. Answer these questions…

Start with where you grew up.

Share some of your best memories and dreams. 

Talk about some of the most difficult events in your life.

Talk about how you ended up where you are today.

Now, don’t just sit on this information – share it! Tell your partner, friend or loved one that you want to know their life story and would like them to do the same – answer those four questions and then share it in four minutes.

Whomever you choose for this challenge will also tell you his or her life story in four minutes. Choose a time today or this evening to complete the task. Once you’re ready to get started, set the timer and get talking! Spend four minutes each connecting with each other about who you were and who you are. Tell your story however you wish. But if you need some tips, consider these.

Do your best to limit your stories to four minutes. But once you are both done, don’t be afraid to keep talking or asking questions. It will forge an even deeper connection with a person you love.

The 4-Minute Life Story task is part of an original series of questions often called “The 36 Questions to Fall in Love.” You may have heard of them – the original New York Times article about these questions was extremely popular. But behind the hype is real science. The original study was called “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness.” The aim was to see if researchers could, in an experimental setting, create closeness between two strangers.

The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

The original goal was not to help people fall in love, but instead to create closeness in a laboratory setting for research purposes. The first time the researchers tried this, they were surprised by high reports of ongoing closeness between the pairs in the study – including one couple who married! They continued to study the questions in different situations. The bottom line is that the series of questions allowed for self-disclosure between two people, which can lead to greater intimacy. Telling someone a brief life story is a form of self-disclosure and will help you feel closer to your partner.

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