In case you didn’t get the memo, communication is the thing that makes relationships click. Well, its one of the things. Maybe one of the most important things. Intimacy, vulnerability and expression of care are also huge, but they all rest on the basic skill of communication.
Not everyone is super skilled or comfortable with “real” communication. But since you’ve decided you like this person so much, why not talk to them? And why not really talk. Practice it, grow, stretch a little if these kinds of questions are a stretch. They’ll feel better, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be investing in your mutual long-term happiness.
If you don’t already have a weekly time set aside to really connect, start to make time. John Gottman’s research-based Magic 6 Hours for satisfying and long-lasting relationships suggests it’s a no-brainer. Try asking these questions or others that are in the same neighborhood and see how they improve your relationship. And of course, this is a two-way street. These questions should always be asked to both partners.
1.How was your day/week…would you tell me something about it that was hard so I can help you hold it?
Sometimes its hard to ask and be asked this kind of question. Sometimes we’re silently dying to have our partner ask and help us hold or sort through something. When you ask this kind of question, try to stay away from advice giving and certainly from taking sides with anyone other than your partner, and definitely from any form of critical comments. Offer words of empathy, understanding, care and support. Ask follow-up questions that give your partner the opportunity to explore more and re-articulate just what they’re really feeling and thinking. For more see Gottman’s Stress Reducing Conversation.
2.What do you need most from me at the end of a day?
Knowing what each other need and being able to try to get some or most of that met by each other is a life-long tango you’ll be dancing, so see if you can do it more intentionally and consciously. Letting your partner know explicitly that you are interested in, care about and aware of their needs (even if you can’t meet them perfectly) is a huge part of the dance. Do your best to stay aware of each other’s needs and collaborate.
3.What is something you feel like you struggle with, that maybe you haven’t ever shared with me?
It’s not uncommon to hold things back from the person we’re most vulnerable to, even though (or maybe because) we want to feel seen and accepted by them. Asking this question can open a doorway in your relationship for deeper intimacy and connection. Staying compassionate and non-judgmental will be a key to success.
4.What is one of the most important goals/dreams you have that I can support you in and share with you? (Follow up: Can you help me understand more about why that goal/dream is so meaningful to you?)
John Gottman’s 30 years of research tell us that shared meaning in our partnerships are an important element in long-term satisfaction. Being a part of or even just a present cheerleader and advocate for each other’s goals and dreams paves the path for us to be there to hold disappointments and achievements together.
5.What is one thing I do that bothers you or is hard for you? (Follow up: Can you help me understand why and a way that might work better for you?)
Most of us steer clear of things that others don’t like about us. But its unrealistic to expect that you’ll be perfect, or that you won’t bug or even frustrate your partner at times. Get it out there on the table in a collaborative way so it doesn’t come out sideways in a moment of anger. Maybe even find a way to get more light-hearted about it and put yourself in their shoes. You’re both different and both imperfect, so some friction is par for the course. Get good at acknowledging and talking constructively about it.
I love hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you relate and are creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297. I am San Francisco’s resident relationship therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!