You know that moment at a wedding when the DJ invites all the married people onto the dance floor for a slow dance. Then he say something like, “If you’ve been married less than 1 year, please leave the floor.” A few moments later, “If you’ve been married less than 3 years, please leave the floor.”
Then 5 years. Then 10. 15. 20. 30. 40. 50. Eventually there are just one or two couples left, someone’s grandparents or even great-grandparents.
Then there’s just the one couple. Married 62 years or something. Their dance is creaky and off-balance, but still, everyone applauds. We cheer and say something like, “Wow! That’s unbelievable.”
Why do we do that? Why do are we impressed with these folks? What makes them special? More importantly, what’s their secret? How did they manage to stay together so long? Surely some of these long-term marriages are the result of endurance and stubbornness. But I suspect most of them survive on the basis of a strong marital friendship.
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 62 years didn’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. A primitive map.