Getting to Know Your Partner’s Inner World
How well do you know the inner world of your partner or spouse? Do you know how they think about things, their fears, dreams, etc.? According to Dr. John Gottman, one of the keys to having a happy, successful relationship is how much of your mind you devote to this information about your partner. Gottman refers to this as how much cognitive room you hold for them, or how much space in your mind is focused on things such as your partner’s life story, dreams, hopes, fears, and important facts about them. The more cognitive room you hold for your partner, the more your partner will feel understood and seen by you (and the other way around). The good news is that couples can actively work to increase the cognitive room they hold for each other and expand their understanding of each other’s inner world, which will strengthen their relationship overall.
One way to increase the cognitive room you hold for your partner (and that your partner holds for you), is to do activities together that help you to continue to learn about each other. One thing you can do is set aside time to sit with each other uninterrupted, and take turns answering questions like the following about your partner, or similar ones that you make up yourself. After giving your answer, your partner can let you know if you got it right, and either provide a different answer or expand on your answer. The goal is to be present and focus on really hearing, acknowledging, and learning about your partner’s experience (and have your partner hear, acknowledge, and learn about yours), which can serve as a way to build up the cognitive room you hold for each other.
Example questions that can be used to explore your partner’s inner world and build cognitive room are:
What is your partner’s biggest dream in life?
What is your partner most excited for currently?
What is your partner’s biggest current fear/concern?
What is your partner’s favorite memory?
What does your partner’s daily routine entail?
If you and your partner would like support in expanding your cognitive room for each other, couples therapy can be a great place to engage in activities to help you learn about each other’s inner world with the guidance of a third-party. A therapist can help to create experiences in the therapy room that will offer you the opportunity to grow the foundation of your relationship through better understanding each other's individual experiences.
Gottman, J. M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically-based marital therapy. WW Norton & Company.