Chances are you know a whole lot about your partner. What makes them laugh, what makes them seethe, what makes them blush. You probably know their dessert of choice, coffee preference, and that story from their childhood by heart. And the list of other things you know by heart is likely quite long because of course it is. You share a life with them and likely have more insight into who they truly are than anyone else.
But there’s always more to learn. And when playing a round of “How Well Do You Know Your Spouse?” it’s wise to have rock-solid answers to some other questions at the ready. About what brings them joy, what’s caused them pain, and what’s still on their bucket list. Questions that touch on the past, present, and future, because an awareness of all three is crucial and understanding the answers will help you and your relationship in more ways than one.
Why? Now knowing the answers to these questions won’t necessarily solve problems, but it will give you a heads-up on what drives your partner. And when you understand the whys, you have a better understanding of why they react to certain things the way they do. With that knowledge, you become more empathetic, so the person you love feels loved, and possibilities for changing become more possible, since the explicit and implicit message is, “We’re in it together.”
“Awareness is a lot of it. Awareness gives you choice,” says Nedra Fetterman, psychologist in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. “Awareness is the answer to almost everything.”
To that end, here are eight important questions about your partner you should know the answer to. What they teach you can bring your relationship to an even better place.
1. What brought them joy as a child?
Whether it was trips to the beach or board games, there’s a strong pull to continue them. “The past will show up in the present,” Fetterman says. “We tend to repeat what’s comfortable and familiar.”
But you also want to answer the flip-side question, “What brought pain?” It could be overnight camp or long car rides, but the answer reveals trigger points and shame, and kids develop survival strategies like withdrawing, blaming, or looking to please. That comes forward too but doesn’t work in adulthood.
No, when asking such things you don’t want to unnecessarily “step on that hot point,” as Michael S. Bishop, marriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas, puts it. But your spouse’s feelings could be interfering with the present. So rather than say, “Get over it,” go with, “I understand how hard it is, but we still need to …” Fetterman calls it the “Texas two-step.” By showing both empathy and boundaries, you’re offering strength and support.
2. What was dinner like for them as a kid?
This answers gives a window into their home life and expectations such as if kids had to be quiet, a television was always on, or it was a time to share. In learning the answer, you’ll also learn about the making and serving of food and whether the gender roles were traditional or progressive. Like with anything, there could be a desire to undo or honor the past and difficulty in doing either. When you understand these factors, you “get out of power struggles,” Bishop says.
3. What is their love language?
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, creator of the five love languages, there’s a quintet of ways to express your love for another person: physical touch, words of affection, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. In turn, that’s what makes a person feel loved, too. But everyone is different and not understanding how your partner prefers affection can lead to feeling uncared about. That’s the last thing you want. So pay attention.
Now, understanding and then offering the other’s preference isn’t easy. What they prefer likely goes against your default setting and forces you out of your comfort zone. That’s okay. It just takes some time and effort to really nail it down. “You need to stretch,” Fetterman says. “You need to become bilingual.”
4. What are their favorite memories?
With that, “What always makes them laugh?” Life gets hard. Parenting can feel like an endless loop of tasks, and stress causes you to react rather than consider solutions. If you can tap into memories and those good feelings, everything gets lighter. “You can shift the mood,” Bishop says.
5. Who would they call in case of emergency?
Yes, there’s a practicality in knowing who to contact before it’s needed, but it also reveals how your partner views other people in their life. You might think the older sister is the choice, but it’s really a cousin who respects privacy and keeps a level head. This is where it’s easy to assume, and a reminder of not doing that, Bishop says.
6. What puts them in the moment?
It’s inevitable to look back or ahead, but there’s a problem with always doing that. The past brings up regrets. The future is uncertain and leads to anxiety. When you know that jumping rope or doing a crossword grounds your spouse, you can give that nudge. “The present is all that’s real,” Fetterman says. “It keeps us sane.”
7. What’s on their bucket list?
This isn’t about worrying over the future but about aspirations and values. Knowing the answer gives a roadmap, maybe ideas for gifts, and a sense of where to best spend your time, and it’s something you can be a part of. “If you know and assist in any way accomplishing one of these, or more, it shows how much you want to please and see your spouse’s happiness,” Bishop says.
8. How encouraged were they as a child?
When any kind of risk was involved, was the message, “Go for it” or “Why would you try that?” Maybe Mom was overly effusive and Dad was beyond reserved. It can explain struggles with confidence, brushing off compliments, and shying away from self-promotion, and possibly that someone else, like a sibling, was the constant supporter. It’s another window into family history but also how your partner responds when the kids face a challenge.
And while you’re learning about your partner, ask yourself all of these questions so you become aware of your joy, your pain, and what’s driving you. Says Bishop, “it contributes to the dialogue, which creates intimacy, which creates trust, and it helps us learn how to take care of each other.”