How well do you know your lover?
It’s an important question to ask and answer. After all, the human heart was made to be known. And to be loved.
You were made for someone to study you. To read you. To reflect on you. You were made for someone to be attuned to you.
How Well Do You Know Your Lover?
Attunement is the desire and willingness for someone to travel into your inner world to explore who you are and who you are becoming. In a securely attached relationship, this connection cultivates trust that allows your heart to rest.
(This post details the different attachment styles, including secure attachment. Don’t miss it!)
To truly love another, we must read them well. I’m not talking about the kind of reading where you skim to the parts of a book you think might be interesting, but the kind of reading that engages you in such a way that you are captivated by the story.
To read implies attentiveness. The capacity for curiosity of what you know and to anticipate there’s so much more to come.
How curious was your mother about you?
For most of us, our parents are not curious. They already know “who we are.” They were there the moment we were born, and they watched us form into the person we are today.
(Read more about how our childhood experiences shape our adult relationships in this post.)
So there’s an assumption they know you well. Yet, true attentiveness starts with the assumption that I know you well and that the more I know, the more I know what I don’t know about you. Do you hear the sense of humility required to love?
Without delight in this curiosity, our quest to understand our partner is nothing more than a dissection of their heart. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who asked you so many questions that it felt more like an interrogation? At some point, you felt suspicious. A wonder of “what are you going to do with the data I have given you, and still you’re asking for more…?”
As you can see, attunement is more than just “I see you. I can see that you’re upset or happy.” It stems from the feeling that another is holding what they know about you with curiosity and humility that there is so much more to be known.
When You Don’t (Really) Know Your Lover
Steven is a managing partner for a successful law firm in New York. He is a workaholic who doesn’t even know the name of his son’s best friend. When asked about his family cat, he was shocked to learn that they named the cat Hairy Potter.
His wife is distraught at how disconnected he is from her and the family. She frequently makes small gestures to reconnect by demonstrating her love and care, but her gestures just annoy him. This leaves her with a sense that he doesn’t value her or their marriage.
The most profound problem this couple faces is the lack of knowledge Steven has about his home life. He is so caught up in his work that there is practically no space in his mind for the basics of his wife’s world.
While this is an extreme story, many romantic partners fall into the habit of inattention to the details of their significant other’s life. They lose the sense of each other’s joys, passions, dislikes, fears, and stresses
The wife may love dancing, but the husband couldn’t tell you why or what her favorite style of dancing is. She doesn’t remember the names of the friends he plays poker with every month, even though they come over to the house.
The law of diminishing returns tells us that increased frequency leads to decreased satisfaction. The more you know your partner, the less satisfying each subsequent interaction will be. In the same way, visiting Rome isn’t the same on the tenth trip as it was on the first.
Facts Destroy Love
When we see our partners do or say things, we now have knowledge about them. So we tell ourselves that they are this way and not that way. We categorize them and put them in a box.
Being put in a box sucks…
If we feel like we completely know our partners, then we forgo knowing them more. If we know they are “selfish,” we are unwilling to discover evidence that proves otherwise. We cannot change the “facts” about our partners without changing the essence of our relationship with them.
When we are no longer open to getting to know our partners, we are no longer open to relationships and love.
Fortunately, the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply to love, for it’s based on the assumption that we experience our partner in the same way we experience a bagel or a new pair of shoes.
Janet, a client of mine, told me, “perhaps I am bored because I already know him,” I responded, “what makes you think you truly know your husband?”
The illusion of a committed relationship is that we know our partners completely. In truth, their uniqueness is unassailable, and their mystery is forever ungraspable. As soon as we can acknowledge that there is always more to learn, the more desire to know our partners becomes a true possibility.
Mapping Your Partner’s Inner World
Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with the terrain that has taken shape and is being shaped in each others inner worlds.
Dr. Gottman calls this rich understanding a “Love Map.” This is a part of your brain where you hold and resculpt the relevant information about your partner’s life. Couples who last continue to update this information as the events and feelings of their partner’s inner world changes.
- Stacey knows that her partner hates public speaking. So when he presented a speech to 76 employees of his company, she made sure to acknowledge how much courage it took.
- Mike knows religion is important to his wife, but he knows that she is questioning things deep down.
- Tori knows her husband loves pickles on his hamburger, so when he asks her to order for him so he can go to the bathroom, she asks for extra pickles.
Partners who continue to love each other know each other’s life goals, worries, and dreams. They understand that there is always so much more to know.
Without such a love map, you can’t really know your partner. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?
Maggie: “Tell me, Kevin, do you love me?”
Kevin: “I love you deeply. You mean so much to me.”
Maggie: “ Do you know, my love, what gives me pain?”
Kevin: “Um…not really.”
Maggie: “If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you tell me that you truly love me?”
Love is so much more than relishing in the joys of life together. It’s a willingness to sit in the puddle of disappointments, stressors, and fears with your partner. It requires both partners to expose their fears and doubts to each other.
Do you hear the vulnerability that deep love calls of you?
Know Your Lover and Have Your Lover Know You
Couples intimately connected with detailed love maps of each other’s inner world are far more prepared to cope with difficult life events, daily stressors, and conflict. Take, for example, the major life shift of having a baby.
According to Dr. Gottman’s research, 67% of couples lose touch with each other when the baby comes home. As a result, the marriage takes a significant drop in satisfaction. The other 33% of couples did not experience this decline. In fact, 16% of those couples saw their relationship improve.
The couples whose relationship thrived during this profound life change had detailed love maps before having the child. As a result, these love maps became a shelter in the storm of the dramatic lifestyle shift. Since the partners were in the habit of traveling into each other’s world to update their map of each other, they were aware of what each other was thinking and feeling throughout the transition. Due to this, they didn’t lose emotional connection when the landscape of their inner worlds was abruptly redesigned.
Couples who do not venture into each other’s world to truly understand one another often lose each other when their lives have a dramatic shift.
The more you travel into each other’s world to know and learn about each other, the easier it is to stay emotionally connected as the storms of life swirl around you.
Traveling Exercises to Know Your Lover Better
Download the Gottman Card Deck App and use the Love Map and Open-Ended Questions Card decks to map each other’s inner world as Drs. John and Julie Gottman would say.
The more you know about each other’s world, the more rewarding and meaningful the relationship will be. The more both of you will want to explore each other’s inner worlds.
Being Known Requires Sharing Yourself
“Vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.” – Brene Brown
Partners often hide their darker sides from their lover: Their pains. Their fears. Their insecurities. But when you hide in the darkness of your mistakes, imperfections and shame, you hide the light of your beauty.
You are responsible for opening up and sharing the good and the bad things with your partner.
(Speaking of opening up, take a look at this post next about the paradox of love and how giving more helps you feel more.)
If you minimize or pretend it isn’t there, you neglect your partner’s opportunity to truly connect with you in a profound way that allows them to be there to celebrate the wins and support you in your struggles.
The Courage of Letting Yourself Be Known
It is profoundly courageous to show up and let ourselves be seen as we are.
Our willingness to engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our relationships and the clarity of our connection. The degree to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is an indicator of our disconnection. Being emotionally connected with our partners gives our lives purpose and meaning.
The Intimacy of Being Known Together
There are few greater joys in this world than feeling known and understood by the one you have entrusted your heart to. Getting to know your partner better and sharing your inner world is a lifelong process. When couples understand each other at deep levels and lovingly express that knowledge to each other, true intimacy exists.
Did you learn a lot about this post? Here are three more to read next:
- 6 Signs of a Toxic Relationship
- 6 Steps to Becoming an Emotionally Available Partner
- 4 Anxious Attachment Strategies That Sabotage Intimate Relationships
This post was first published in 2017, but it was updated in 2021 just for you.