Couples and Perception - how you can improve your relationship

In Part one I talked about the importance of being able to listen to each other's point of view in order to come to a place of understanding and validation. Sounds good but how do you do that? 

It starts with you being able to identify what you need, miss, enjoy or appreciate for yourself and then being able to talk about this with your partner. Often times during this conversation you begin to learn new things about each other and this strengthens what John Gottman calls your "love maps", creating cognitive space. 

Cognitive space is the mental capacity you create for your partner when you learn new things about them. When you first started dating, you probably gave your partner a lot of cognitive space.  And when life got busy with work, children, family obligations, financial stress etc. etc. making time for one another got pushed aside.  Unfortunately unless you keep connecting with each other and updating your "love maps" your cognitive space for each other declines and your isolation within your relationship starts to grow. 

Most of the time couples come to therapy when this pattern has become entrenched and they have terrible difficulty being able to understand and relate to each other. They are in distress, disconnected and lonely or angry and resentful. By providing a safe place to learn new ways of relating to each othertherapy can provide relief to couples in distress. 

I encourage you to take time out of your busy schedule, it can be 5-10 minutes a day, to stopwhat you are doing and listen to what your partner is actually saying to you. Notice if you learn something new about their day or their life you had taken for granted.  Ask them questions if you don't understand what they are trying to share with you. You don't need to agree or disagree just merely listen and learn one new thing about your partner this week.


Helen Chadd is a Marriage and Family Therapist who  works with couples under relationship stress  and maintains a private practice in San Luis Obispo, California. If you want to learn more about how you can improve your relationship you can contact her at 805 387 3569 or