Congratulations on taking an action step to create positive change in your relationship.
My hope is that you will find my complimentary report helpful, interesting, and inspiring.
As you know, your relationship is unique, so you will need to find your own way to take this information and make it work for you.
Although they may require some effort on both of your parts, the suggestions below certainly aren’t meant to be forced. However, changing a pattern often involves some discomfort, so don’t be concerned if the process feels a little awkward or uncomfortable at times.
However, if you find that following through on these suggestions brings up unresolved feelings or creates more conflict in your relationship, please consider contacting myself or another relationship counselling professional.
For more information or support in implementing the practices below, for information about my counselling services, or to book a free 20 minute consultation, contact me at 1 888 504 4111 or
To your happiness,
Simple Steps to Being—and Staying—Happier Together
Your life is probably busy, and you may be juggling obligations involved in some combination of work, children, housework, extended family, friendships, volunteering, and the various other things you need to manage in your day-to-day life.
When our lives are full, it can sometimes be challenging to maintain a strong feeling of connection to-- and intimacy with--our spouses.
Of course, relationships go through phases and sometimes you will feel more connected than other times, due to changing life circumstances and the natural ebb and flow in the rhythms of intimacy.
However, if a feeling of disconnection is maintained over a long period of time, this can become problematic for the long-term health of the relationship.
Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has spent many years researching what makes a relationship problematic and what makes it happy over the long term. Their approach to couples counselling is unique because it is research-based.
According to Dr. Gottman, ongoing disconnection can put us into what he calls “negative sentiment override.” When we are in negative sentiment override, we tend to only see the negative in our partner’s behavior and character.
People in this state also tend to see the whole relationship negatively. Looking at both the present and the past, it’s like the positive aspects have become virtually invisible and only the negative is highlighted, appearing larger and more important than anything else. Obviously, unless something changes, this state doesn’t bode well for the future of these relationships.
There are many things that can contribute to finding yourself in the state of negative sentiment override and some will go beyond the scope of this article. However, a major contributor to entering and staying in this state is a lack of general, ongoing connection with your partner.
This lack can happen easily when we don’t know how to keep up with what is required to maintain that closeness. The closeness gets lost as the relationship no longer takes high priority in the hierarchy of life’s demands.
Maintaining connection is necessary in order for us to have satisfying—or, ideally, better than satisfying!—love relationships.
But--you may be wondering how people do it, in the midst of their busy lives. Is there some sort of magic formula for this?
There are several tools that can help couples stay in positive sentiment override, and this article will address one of the most basic, foundational behaviours that help couples stay in this state.
This behaviour is certainly not rocket science, and is actually common sense, but it’s amazing how many couples get out of the habit of doing this and don’t realize the implications of doing so.
Dr. Gottman’s research stresses the importance of creating and maintaining a guide to your partner’s life through what he terms “Love Maps.” Since our partners are continually changing and growing over time, these love maps need to be continually updated in order to be current. This takes a certain amount of time and commitment.
What is a love map?
Creating a love map involves:
- Creating and maintaining a guide to your partner’s life
- Behavior that is similar to what most people use in their closest friendships
- Acquiring and storing information about not just your partner’s outer life, but also their inner life (in other words, their responses to their outer life.)
You most likely have some version of a love map for your partner already. However, if you are wondering whether your current map to your partner is adequate, some of the questions you could ask yourself are:
- Do you know who your partner considers to be their dearest friends?
- Who does your partner find irritating or stressful to deal with in their life?
- What are some of the current stressors in your partner’s life?
- What is he or she most worried about currently?
- What are your partner’s dreams for the future? What does he or she find inspiring?
- What would he or she do with a million dollars?
Other questions might be related to your partner’s favourite music or authors, important things that happened to them in their childhood, or their religious or spiritual beliefs.
If you don’t know the answers to these kinds of questions, and/or you believe that your partner does not know this information about you, it would be helpful to figure out why this information is missing and how you (both) can go about working on your internal guides to each other’s inner and outer lives.
(In general, women tend to have an easier time with creating love maps and men have to work a little harder at it, but as always there are many exceptions to this rule.)
If you want to create a deeper and more meaningful guide to your partner’s life, remember that creating and maintaining love maps requires three steps. These three steps are: 1. Intention; 2. Willingness; 3. Discipline and follow-through.
Intention involves having the clear objective or goal to get to know your partner in a deeper way, or to re-connect with your partner at a deeper level, and to maintain that level of knowledge about your partner’s life and inner world once you have it.
If you’re not interested in doing this, you may want to ask yourself what it is happening in your relationship that you don’t want to put that kind of energy and attention into your spouse.
There can be many reasons for this, such as deeply held resentments due to unresolved conflicts, the unconscious impact of your childhood experiences, or difficulty understanding and navigating the inherent differences between you, all of which would be helpful to discuss with a relationship counsellor.
Secondly, you must also have the willingness to set aside time each week, in order to create the space for this time to connect.
Gottman’s research has shown that couples who spend about five and a half hours a week total, including at least a two-hour chunk of quality time, are the ones that are successful in maintaining a sense of connection over time.
You may want to set aside an evening a week for a “date night” to get your quota of quality time!
Lastly, staying connected involves having the discipline and follow-through not to cop out if you are tired, feel lazy or are feeling uncomfortable with the increased intimacy with your partner. (However, if your discomfort is too much to handle, you may benefit from talking about it with a relationship counsellor.)
If making time feels like work, make sure that what you plan for your “date” time is fun, creative, and rejuvenating for the two of you. Perhaps you can take turns planning for it each week.
Discipline and follow-through also requires making sure that some of the time that you spend together during your date is not spent talking about everyday, necessary things such as paying the bills, your schedule, or how to handle the latest challenge with the children or issue with the in-laws.
If you find that when you are alone together most of your conversations revolve around one stressful topic, like work or the children, you may want to agree on a rule that when you go on your date you cannot talk about this particular issue.
The five and a half hours a week that Gottman recommends also includes placing importance on connection during daily partings and reunions.
To implement this practice, make sure that you each know something important about the other’s day before you leave each other, and that you re-connect at the end of each day to talk about anything significant that happened.
Making a habit of doing this will make a big difference in your sense of connection over time. And--the reconnecting conversations at the end of the day can also reduce stress for both of you and help you feel like your home is a safe place to come to for support.
Things to Remember:
- Love maps change over time—creating them is an ongoing process that is never complete.
- Knowing more about your partner is only one half of the equation—the questions, comments, and effort you make to learn more is what actually demonstrates to your partner that you care, and helps them feel known by you.
- Your relationship is unique and you will need to incorporate these ideas in a way that works for your unique circumstances.
These ideas may be simple—but that doesn’t mean they’re easy.
If you find that you need further support to implement these practices, or need help dealing with the issues that may come up when you do try them out, it can be helpful to talk to a professional couples counsellor.
You can find counselling services by asking at hospitals, medical clinics, mental health agencies, the local library, the local college or university, churches, and crisis centres, or by searching online.
About the Author
Tamara Mortimer, M. Ed, RCC
I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor in private practice in Victoria, BC and I work with both individuals and couples, either on the phone or in person.
I have spent the last 25 years studying and working with both children and adults in various settings, including schools, camps, leadership seminars, university, and community agencies. I love working with people who are looking for ways to reduce their stress and find deeper happiness, peace, and purpose in their lives and their relationships.
My formal studies in both education and counselling and my deep interest in the subject of healing have led me down many roads of learning about personal and relationship wellness.
This learning has deeply affected my own life, both personally and professionally. The healing journey I continue to pursue has helped me find a deeper peace and happiness within myself and in the world.
I am grateful for the continued opportunities to learn from life, and for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with others if and when it is helpful.
I love connecting with and supporting my clients in their healing and growth, and I count being able to witness profound change in others as one of the major blessings of my life.
I have an M. Ed in Counselling from the University of Victoria, and am a Registered Clinical Counsellor and a Canadian Certified Counsellor. I also have ongoing interest, experience, and training in:
- Gottman Marital Therapy
- The Couples Institute--with Dr. Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson
- The Work with Byron Katie—Attended the School for the Work October 2007
- Gordon Neufeld’s methods: Working with Stuck Kids; Making Sense of Adolescence
- Various meditation and mindfulness techniques
For more information about my counselling and coaching practice, or for a free 20 minute consultation, please call me at 1 888 504 4111, email email@example.com.