Many of us believe that shoring up a declining relationship requires substantial effort. While this is often true — especially if a betrayal of trust has occurred — most relationships can be greatly improved by posing two simple questions to your partner.
These questions work because they address the two most important aspects of relationship health — understanding one another and caring about one another.
Luckily, the questions are also open-ended enough to apply in almost any situation, regardless of the cause of the relationship decline:
- “What do you want me to understand better?”
When we are struggling to connect with a loved one — particularly a romantic partner — we often put a tremendous amount of energy into getting our own point across to the other person. We focus on what we’re upset about, try to communicate it clearly, and rephrase and repeat until we feel that the other person gets it. Shouldn’t we attempt to understand what the other person is saying, too?
The question, “What do you want me to understand better?” reverses the normal dynamic of a disagreement. No longer are you trying to convey your point while your partner does the same. Instead, you focus entirely on understanding the other person’s point — a gesture of compassion, engagement, and interest that works wonders to quell resentments and relax feelings of gridlock.
Beyond the fact that this question shows love and compassion for the other person, the information you gain from the answer will be invaluable. Your partner may explain something directly relevant to your current argument that you never understood before — or something about himself or herself that increases your understanding of the individual overall.
For example: You and your partner are fighting about household chores and who will do the laundry (or dishes, etc.). You ask, “What do you want me to understand better?” — and you expect a response related to the duties. Instead, he or she says, “I want you to understand that I grew up in a family where no one ever yelled, so when you yell at me I have a hard time listening to you.” This information about your partner is much more important than anything related to the dishes!
- “How would that look?”
Often, we communicate well enough with our partners to know, generally, what they want from us: She wants him to be more affectionate; he wants her to help more around the house. But couples can still encounter major problems despite knowing this: We may know what the other person wants, but not know how they want it.
In other words, the delivery matters. If she says she wants him to be more affectionate, and he incorrectly interprets the how of that to mean initiating sex more often, this could cause major problems. She may act dissatisfied with his efforts — even discouraging him — or she may even turn against him for not giving her what she “asked for,” when, in reality, he never really understood what she meant.
When he first heard from her that she desired more affection, he could have asked her, “How would that look?” She could then have described how she imagined the idea of “showing more affection.” To her, “showing more affection” would look like a kiss in the morning, a text at lunchtime, or eye contact during sex. These are the delivery methods that work for her. And had he asked, he would have information that could significantly improve the relationship.
The next time you feel your connection sliding into decline, try these two simple questions for instant closeness. They may just save your relationship.
Two questions image available from Shutterstock