It has come to my attention that I don’t know my spouse especially well. There have been a few occasions over the years where pieces of information have suddenly manifested in the middle of a conversation, like when she casually mentions ‘those summers in America’ or working in random European capitals, leaving me wondering if somehow I have married Jason Bourne. Or she will suddenly inform me that she is allergic to chinchillas, or that she is one sixteenth Huguenot.
We are together for 18 years, but it is only in the last few years or so that I have started to accept that I really don’t know her that well, and why would I: We conveniently skipped all the getting-to-know-you part of courtship by crashing straight into parenthood, ditching ‘so tell me a bit about yourself’ in favour of ‘let’s do shots’. To rectify this, I have decided to put some effort into my relationship, albeit the smallest amount of effort possible – I downloaded an app.
The American psychological researcher and clinician John Gottman conducted extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability. Among the results of his work were the identifying of what he calls ‘the four horsemen of the apocalypse’ for any marriage. Whether the use of horsemen was intentional or not, the four are definitely traits that I and many of my kind will recognise: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.
I gave them capital letters because I am so good at them that they almost fall into the category of martial art, as I am able to summon my four horsebro’s at signs of the slightest disagreement so they can ride roughshod over our happiness.
Gottman’s research has been conveniently distilled into the Love Maps method and associated app; over a series of topics, the app gives you challenges and questions for you and your partner, about almost anything. So despite feeling completely lame, and a little bit awkward, we gave it a go. For her, it was nice to have me finally ask her questions about who she actually is, having spent two decades putting up with my existential navel gazing and generally ignoring her. For me it was great because the app was free. Another blow struck against the sadness industry, no counsellor is going to monetise my dysfunction on behalf of Big Ennui. Also, the perverts amongst us – ie, everyone – will be glad to know that there is a section on sex, which fittingly provided the most laughs for both of us.
There are no grand revelations in any of the answers we gave to any question – but neither of us was able to answer all the questions on the other’s behalf, proving that actually, we don’t know each other as well as we thought. She did better than me, but that’s probably because of her incredible Huguenot intellect, or her spy training.
What the questions bring home is that this isn’t really about knowing your spouse better, or being able to recite every single detail of their life, but that you pay attention, because to know about them is to know more about yourself. I can see qualities in her that are counterpoints to mine, but for the most part we are far more alike than we are different, and like any couple, we are equally guilty of summoning the four horsepersons when we bicker about what constitutes the washing being dry. We have spent much of the last 18 years having the same, stupid argument, about the same stupid things, but ultimately we were just trying to find our way out of an endless stupid maze that we were both wandering through long before we bumped into each other. I’m not saying the Gottman Love Maps are going to solve those riddles, but at least we can say that we tried to find a path together. As for Gottman himself, he is still very much alive and working, and is happily married. And the cynic in me is also keen to point out that his first two marriages ended in divorce. Did I mention that the app is free?