During the month of December, we gift some of our patron posts to the public. Please enjoy this post as our gift to you, whether or not you’re currently a patron of Tweetspeak Poetry!
I have learned over time that, despite the apparent directional omniscience of a GPS, the system doesn’t always steer you in the right direction. One of the funniest moments I ever experienced, in this regard, was the time I steered my car right onto a broad dirt path, compliments of a friend’s GPS, which had accidentally misconstrued my Volvo for a mountain bike.
Okay, more accurately, the GPS had accidentally been set for bike mode and this had gone unperceived. It still makes me laugh, to think that I trusted the technology’s guidance so much that I neglected to notice that the road I was turning onto was not quite… drivable… that is, if you were in a car. Which I was.
What Your Relationship Doesn’t Need
At the beginning of the 7 Principles for Making Friendship Work series, we learned that there are methods of relationship guidance that have turned out to be not quite what we need when we hit a relational rocky road.
Primarily, the conflict resolution method, so hailed as being spot on, can get you mired. While one of its foundational practices—active listening—makes sense on the surface, it’s actually not so helpful when you are in a degenerating relationship and having to sit with a counselor and listen to what your partner or friend really doesn’t like, or is disappointed by, in your relationship.
What Your Relationship Does Need: A Little Mapping
Dr. John Gottman, who has researched extensively on relationships—especially at his Love Lab (funny name, serious work)—notes that it is more effective to build one’s friendship than try to fix it through conflict resolution.
That doesn’t mean that conflict resolution or active listening are altogether unimportant. It does mean that there’s a time and a place for them. Using these methods while at the height of relational conflict and distress tend to be a bit like following the GPS onto a dirt path when the technology’s bike setting is not fitting the car moment.
The glories of a GPS aside, Gottman talks the language of love mapping in one of his main suggestions for solving things between us and our friends (or even us and our co-workers). He tells the amusing and not-so-amusing story of a pediatrician who ran an intensive care unit and slept at the hospital an average of 20 nights a month. Rory the doctor, who was so helpful at work, did not even know the name of his family’s dog or where the back door to the house was located. Workaholic might be too mild a word to apply to him. I understand Rory. Work can be consuming. But when it’s so consuming that we forget to keep our love maps current, we step into dangerous territory.
While Gottman’s love map exercises were originally designed for couples, they can be used between friends or even between parents and children. (If you’re interested in using them, check out his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.) But even without formal exercises, you can follow the basic idea that, as he asserts, “From knowledge springs not only love but the fortitude to weather [relational] storms.”
Love Mapping in Tiring Times
This year I have found it harder than ever to keep my love maps current. A good love map means we know what our friends or family are facing. We know what they care about. We are aware of details. Their favorite tea. The song that’s been playing on their mind. The tangle they’re experiencing at work or school. The book or movie they’ve been wishing to experience. And so on. (It’s not necessary to know all these particular details, but you get the idea.)
If you are introverted, which I am, all this becomes even more complicated when you feel like your life is filled with over-communication. (I heard a fascinating statistic recently that’s a real eye-opener, regarding the online life so many of us are living not just for fun but also for work and school: a virtual environment requires 25% more communication overhead, because of the lack of physical gestures and cues and settings. That amounts to about 2 hours more communication per day! Whew.)
Recently, I landed on a fairly simple way to strengthen my love maps for my children, without having to engage in a lot more verbal communication: they’ve been watching Supernatural for years, and it finally truly ended. For two weeks, they’ve been endlessly discussing how disappointing the finale to 15 years of great programming was.
I saw an opportunity. Maybe I don’t like to watch TV shows (I don’t!), but maybe it was time to offer to watch Supernatural. I did. And my kids were overjoyed. (If you’re wondering what I’m doing on weekends now, wonder no more.)
Watching the show has given me a simple way to make inside jokes with my kids and to understand the many inside jokes they are always making, that involve these characters and stories. It doesn’t require a lot of thinking on my part. It’s less of an exercise and more of an entertainment we are all involved in. This shared experience tends to also bring out other details of my children’s lives that might not otherwise be revealed, since stories have a way of being compared to life.
So if your love maps are feeling like they could use the omniscience of a handy GPS (set to the proper setting), I highly recommend this introvert solution: share in stories or poems with your friends or family—a TV show, even if you aren’t a regular watcher; a book read aloud right after supper or over the phone at break time; a morning poem over breakfast.
Of course, you could also go for the love map exercises Gottman offers. I’ve done those with my kids, too, though they feel more intense to me. And, at least for the rest of 2020, I’m looking for an easier drive.
For Discussion With a Friend or Private Journaling
1. Is there a friendship in your life that feels like it could be stronger?
2. How strong is your “love map” in this relationship?
3. Create a quick map that details several of the following:
-their life dreams
-their current stresses
-their favorite books, movies, or poems
-some of their hobbies
-their favorite flower
-a current nemesis
-their favorite meal
-their favorite holiday
-their favorite animal
-their favorite junk food indulgence
-a person they most admire
4. If you can’t create that quick map without help, by all means, create the map with your friend. Together, you can even choose what details you want to put on the map in lieu of or in addition to the above. Consider eating a snack together while you map, even if you’re mapping over the phone. Sharing food is a great way to bond.