Tis the season for new beginnings, and what new beginning could you desire more than the one closest to home.
When relationships become distressed, it’s harder and harder to take an interest in each other’s lives the way that we used to when it was easy. So we fill our time with our kid’s activities or with work demands. Soon, the schedule is so full, we don’t even have time to sit down over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
It’s not until we’re forced to be at home together, maybe over the holidays or when the kids leave, that we realize that we don’t even know each other.
This blog is for folks who find themselves here. I’ve come up with a brief list of ideas and questions to help you get to know your partner again. I hope you find it useful.
Play the journalist.
The longer we spend time in a distressed marriage, the more the questions we ask our spouses start to change. It’s a subtle thing. We go from asking open-ended questions that provoke detailed descriptions to causal questions that look for blame and provoke defensiveness.
If you’ve ever asked yourself why a simple conversation turned into a big fight, this may be why.
We stop asking, “What was that like for you?” or “How did that feel?” and we start asking “Why did you do that?” or “What were you thinking?”
This happens because we’re in a constant state of feeling like we need to prove ourselves to our spouses or partners, which leaves us always looking for opportunities to criticize each other. We don’t realize we’re doing it, but it happens.
To change this, start acting like a journalist. Eliminate all questions that begin with the word, “Why…” Choose instead to ask open ended questions that come from a place of curiosity.
10 questions to ask your spouse
Tell me about your day.
Okay, this one isn’t a question, but I wrote it to make a point that language really matters. If you ask, “how was your day?” you ask a value question that could get you a one-word response. Make this request and seek details from your partner.
Where do you see us in a year?
What was your favorite thing about us when we first met
Research shows that couples that can access the early positive aspects of their relationships do better in the long haul. This question takes you right back to the beginning with all the butterflies and anticipation.
What do you like about us now?
What would you change about us if you could?
What is the most challenging part of your job?
We all work hard. Some of us work hard inside our homes and some work hard outside. This question applies to everyone. Take an interest in your partner’s daily grind.
What’s your favorite way that I show you I love you? That I admire you?
Follow up questions:
What is that like for you? How did that impact you? What did you like about that?
Question to avoid:
Why did you do that?
What’s your favorite way to have fun with me?
I can’t overstate the importance of leisure time. If there’s not a clear answer to this question, then put on your journalist hat and discover something new.
Note: if you find that the answer to most or all of these questions is, "sex," don't fret. Our basic needs tend to be super exaggerated when we're distressed. This answer is more complex than you might realize.
Clear the schedule.
I’m convinced that the American work ethic is at least partially responsible for why many marriages fall apart. It’s not that work is bad, but if we redirected half the dedication that we reserve for our jobs, we might just discover a happy relationship.
I suspect that our schedules are so full accidentally on purpose. When couples tell me they don’t have time to get to know each other again, I wonder whether that is no coincidence.
Clear the schedule. Lose money for a week. Change jobs. Do something drastic, because ultimately, chronic distress leads to a chronically unhappy relationship that will implode or end.
It doesn’t take much to sustain a healthy relationship, but it does take a lot of work to jump start one. Divorces are more expensive than the money you might make on the deal you’ve been working on for the last three months.
Consider investing time into your marriage at the expense of your job. You may be surprised to find that it was worth it.