Your lovemap, the mental image of what you want in a relationship, guides the way your actual relationships unfold. Sex researcher John Money, who first used the term, defined a lovemap as the mental guide that shapes your erotic desires in relationships. However, Money’s use of the term might more accurately be referred to as a “sexmap.”
Another well-known relationship expert, John Gottman, adapted Money’s term to refer to knowledge of your romantic partner’s more general interests, preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. However, this seems more accurately to describe your partner’s lovemap, not yours. The lovemap you have is your own image of how a relationship can, and should, be. It's the script that drives your hopes, expectations, and ultimately your behavior, in romantic relationships.
Think of a lovemap as your relationship GPS. It serves to point you in the direction of certain types of partners (the “destination”), tells you when you’d like to reach certain relationship goals (the “estimated time to destination”), and gives you an idea of what obstacles will stand in your way (what traffic or construction to “avoid”). These three factors all make up the expectations we have about our current and future relationships.
The lovemap starts to take shape early in life as you observe the relationships of the people closest to you. Ordinarily, this process starts as you see how your parents get along (or don’t). From this real-life portrayal, you start to build in expectations about how much affection romantic partners show to each other, how often and in what ways they argue, and how they share family tasks.
As you get older, you start to revise your lovemap when you see what it’s like for you in your own budding relationships. You realize which types of partners you prefer in terms of gender and age, and form preferences about the values and attitudes you want your partners to share with you. Additional factors start to come into play such as how long you expect your relationships to last, which you develop from watching your parents, and as you identify with the values of your ethnic group, religion, or community. Cultural depictions of relationships heavily influence your lovemap as well. A steady diet of movies in the romantic comedy genre can lead you to expect every relationship to have a happy ending despite the hilarious challenges you may have to overcome.
Our lovemaps, then, reflect our own sense of who we are in relationships. Once developed, we use them to help us decide who to become romantically involved with and how to manage what happens in these relationships. If your lovemap is based on a conflict-ridden view of relationships, you’ll find yourself involved in frequent arguments unless you make a conscious effort to redefine your lovemap so that it doesn’t simply replicate those of your parents. On the other hand, if your parents were openly loving and their relationship was well-balanced, you'll have a positive lovemap in which you expect relationships to be affectionate, healthy, and respectful.
Your lovemap doesn’t have to remain fixed by its early influences, however. If your lovemap is based on models of relationships that are maladpative, you don't have to go through life with a maladaptive lovemap. Relationships develop in mutually reverberating ways, with each partner influencing the other one’s lovemap. People who fear making long-term commitments because their lovemaps are based on these models of unhealthy relationships can gradually become more comfortable with commitment if they are with a reliable and loving partner. We are constantly adjusting our lovemaps based on the realities of our relationships as these evolve over time.
Though lovemaps are complex and multifaceted, we can break them down into these GPS elements. Answer these 10 questions to figure out what your lovemap looks like now:
- Do you expect that all romantic relationships involve commitment?
- How long do you think relationships should last?
- Can you not be satisfied until you find the right romantic partner?
Time to destination
- What is the ideal length of time between meeting someone and arriving at a romantic commitment (saying “I love you”)?
- If you’re in between relationships, how long do you think is healthy until you get into your next relationship?
- How long are you willing to wait until your partner is able to make a commitment to you?
Obstacles to avoid
- How much disagreement would you be willing to accept between you and your partner on basic life values?
- Does the prospect of getting into an argument with your partner excite or frighten you?
- If a partner doesn’t want a monogamous relationship, is that a deal-breaker for you?
- How important is it to you that you and your partner spend most of your time separate from other friends, family, or social obligations?
From these questions, we can identify 4 types of lovemaps:
Relationship-oriented: You desire commitment, want your relationships to last, and don’t like being without a partner, and want your relationships to be conflict-free. You prefer to be with your partner but don’t mind spending time with others.
Conflict-oriented: Commitment is not an issue for you, and if anything, you tend to seek conflict. If a relationship is too even-keeled, you feel that something is missing.
Commitment-avoidant: You don’t feel ready to make a commitment until a relationship is well underway (if at all). At the first sign of conflict, you’re out the door.
Relationship-dependent: Like the relationship-oriented, you value a committed relationship, but you do everything you can to spend time alone with your partner rather than share him or her with others. You believe in the one life-one love model of relationships and therefore demand exclusivity.
Now that you’ve asked yourself these questions, see if you can answer them for your current (or ideal) romantic partner? What type of lovemap in a partner would best match your own?
By assessing your own lovemap, you’ll be off to a good start in navigating the road of your relationships. It will be most likely to keep you on track if you can clearly identify these three key components and be willing to adjust them as your relationships, in turn, evolve and grow.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2012