Written by Anita Chlipala, LMFT
Ah, relationship beginnings. The stream of non-stop texting, the late-night conversations that will make you starry-eyed even into the next morning. Then time passes, you get married, life gets crazy, and you fall into the rut of talking about who’s picking up the dry cleaning or what you’re having for dinner tonight. Your daily conversations went from loving talk to logistical talk.
Newlyweds vow that this will never be them. But too many couples become emotionally disconnected and they never saw it coming.
This doesn’t have to be your story. When I was writing my book, First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love, it became clear that couples who managed to feel connected did things differently. They were deliberate about maintaining and engaging real dialogue with each other (sorry, conversations about the dishwasher don’t count). Notably, their methods didn’t involve grand displays of affection or an inordinate amount of time. In fact, the little things often pack more punch than the few, infrequent grand gestures.
One of the easiest ways to reconnect—that doesn’t even cost a dime or that much time—is to ask meaningful, open-ended questions and be fully present in conversations.
I’ve rounded up some of the best questions, but before you begin, two things:
Here are 10 questions that will help you to deepen your relationship. Once you get started, don’t be surprised if your 20-minute conversations turn into an hour!
1. What is your best and worst memory of your childhood?
Talking about your childhood experiences, both the positive and the things that hurt you, can give your partner insight into what has shaped you as an adult. Knowing their beliefs can bring more understanding and appreciation of your partner’s beliefs, ways of being, and differences.
2. List your three biggest needs, and how can I fulfill them?
One of the best ways to make sure your spouse feels satisfied and connected is to fulfill their needs. Think about the things that are essential to feeling happy in your relationship, and give your partner specific ways that they can meet your needs. This doesn’t mean they are at your beck-and-call, but when they do things that are important to you, how could you not feel even closer?
3. Of your friends and family, who do you think has the best relationship and why?
Sometimes people have a hard time articulating what they want or need in a relationship, but they can recognize it when they see it in another couple.
4. What is the best part about being together?
As time passes, you grow together as a couple. You’ll continue to experience new things as a couple and your answers may change as the years go by. Revisit this one frequently.
5. What kinds of things do I do that annoy you, and what kinds of behaviors do you think I should stop or modify?
You can hope that your partner is honest with you about your behaviors that bother them. This isn’t always so. Some people are conflict avoidant and they ignore these actions, only to have feelings come out in resentment or a rage later. It might hurt your ego, but it’s not realistic to believe that we won’t annoy our partner, even unintentionally. Being proactive can help minimize unnecessary negativity.
6. Does anything keep you awake at night that you haven’t shared with me?
Sometimes your partner may keep something from you because they don’t want to burden you with their troubles, knowing you have enough stress of your own. When you know each other’s stressors, you can provide support, understanding, and empathy.
7. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing but haven’t yet? What’s prevented you from doing this?
Your partner may have different dreams than when you first met him. That’s okay. Asking this question gives you insight into what they want and what blocks them from achieving their dreams. You want to be your spouse’s biggest supporter in reaching their goals.
8. Why do you love me? And when did you feel most loved by me?
It’s easy to say the three words, thinking that might be enough. But knowing why reminds your partner that you recognize their unique qualities. Also, people love differently and thus they feel loved differently. Differences are inevitable, but it’s important to have ongoing communication about what you both need to feel the most loved by each other.
9. What would you consider unforgivable and why?
It’s not surprising for couples to make brief statements like, “If you cheated I would leave you” or “If you blew our savings I would get a divorce.” They don’t talk in-depth about the pain that they would feel and why. Knowing in greater detail what would deeply hurt your husband can bring a dose of reality and help protect your relationship.
10. How can we make our sex life better?
One of the most vulnerable areas in most marriages, if not the most, is physical intimacy. When a repeated rejection to sex is taken as a personal rejection, disconnection can easily set in. Talking about sex is an important part of having a great sex life. Be gentle and positive, and focus on the things you need and want (as opposed to what your partner is doing “wrong” or not enough of).
Intimacy suffers when people stay focused on the things that aren’t going well or take the good things for granted. Asking questions and constantly pointing out what you love will help you stay focused on these good things and will help your relationship soar. It’s no secret, but it’s how happy couples stay happy.
The Marriage Minute is a new email newsletter from The Gottman Institute that will improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less. Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time.