Curiosity is crucial to marriage. Remaining interested in your partner and wanting to learn more about them and the way they view the world is a big factor in the happiness of a relationship. But inquisitiveness about how they view you — where you succeed, where you fail, where your hidden strengths as a father, partner, a friend, and a family member may lie — is equally important. It’s certainly not easy. But it is a worthwhile exercise. That’s why it’s important to have the right questions to ask your partner.
We get it. While you’d like to think you’ll only hear rave reviews, you know better and might fear that their honest answer would sound like you’re failing as a partner, dad, or both, and that’s too much to take. So you don’t ask about yourself, and just keep doing what you’ve been doing. That might be adequate, but it guarantees that nothing changes, nothing gets better.
When laid out like that, not seeking answers makes no sense. You don’t take this approach at your job where you only review yourself with no input from your coworkers. No matter your level of insight, you cannot solely provide the 360-degree view in your relationship. And seeing yourself fully is the only way to truly grow.
As Robyn Landow, a psychologist in New York City, puts it, “We don’t always see ourselves as others see it.”
Your spouse is the other person in this case, and the feedback lets you improve, which you have to do since you don’t know everything and life with kids throws new challenges almost hourly. The only way to navigate it happily is to work cooperatively, solidify your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.
But questions serve another role. The exhaustion from young kids has the power to shrink conversations down to single syllables, and when the talking stops, so does the appreciation. Angry silence can often take hold, but asking can break that up, get you re-engaged, and help you remember that life doesn’t always have to be a slog. “It’ll improve your relationship and eliminate resentment,” says Steven Stosny, relationship expert and author of Love Without Hurt.
Here then are nine questions to ask your partner about yourself.
1. What do you see as motivating me?
This is a good starter question, Landow says, because it’s fairly neutral and unless you’re driven by revenge or greed, the answer will probably be positive. You might hear, “You don’t half-ass anything,” which is exactly your intention, or “You make everyone feel included,” which is something you didn’t realize. Regardless, it’s validating and that always feels good.
2. Can you tell from my behavior how important you are to me?
Couples get into a groove, but that also can be a rut. “The brain doesn’t process familiarity. It only processes novelty,” says Stosny, adding that this question is a pure wakeup call. It says, “You are important to me and I need to show that. It starts a dialogue.”
3. How do you think I handle challenges and what challenges do you think I’ve faced successfully?
It’s common to downplay successes, and this is another way to learn what resonated and remind yourself, “Do more of that.” A related question can be, “How do I handle parenting mishaps?” Ultimately, you’re asking about your ability to adapt, a good thing to know and possibly work on, since, as Landow says, “Life is coping.”
4. What do you like about (X couple’s) relationship?
Direct questions are good, but sometimes indirect ones are less threatening and unearth more. You’ll hear what your partner deems important, wishes for, is happy with, and thankful doesn’t exist at home. The answer might be imperfect, but, “People aren’t thinking as much, so you get more of an honest answer,” says Amelia Aldao, a New York City-based psychologist.
5. How do you think I’ve changed as a person in our relationship?
It’s not a leading question, Landow says, but it opens things up to both the positive (“You’re more patient and expressive”) and the negative (“You’re less of those things.”). It also might elicit, “You used to be so into playing basketball and I can see that’s missing.” The problem and solution have been identified, and there’s buy-in from your spouse to carve out time in order to get you reignited.
6. What do you like about our pizza Sundays?
You think your “thing” is the best. It might well be, but it also could need updating since life shifts regularly. You’re asking to make sure, but the added beauty is that it solicits your partner’s opinion, another thing that gets shed over time. Just asking for that is refreshing, Aldao says.
7. Do you feel that I support and respect you, even when we disagree?
There’s nothing wrong with arguing. As has been said before, we don’t marry ourselves, but there are two ways of tussling. One is to win, the other to learn. Guess which one is the relationship plus? You want to hear that when you two argue, it’s respectful and about the opinion, not the person. Anything else, you want to correct.
“If you see your partner as an opponent, your partner is the problem and the subtext is that, ‘I can’t love you unless you admit I’m right’ and that will reduce the bond,” Stosny says.
8. Do you think the kids know that discipline is not to punish but to help them be well and successful in the future?
Discipline can’t be about anger, intimidation, or humiliation, although it often veers that way, and you’re checking that your intention and behavior are in sync. But this question also ties into respectfully disagreeing. If you’re at odds, you could start to give out more discipline to compensate for your perception that your partner over-nurtures. That imbalance does no favors to anyone. “It becomes good cop-bad cop, but the good cop and bad cop don’t like each other,” Stosny says.
9. Am I sharing enough of the load?
Without regularly checking in about who’s doing what in terms of chores and general family maintenance, resentment grows. You can believe you’re doing a 50/50-ish split with the house and kids, but again, needs change and what was effective might not be anymore. The solution could be more tweaking than overhaul, but it begins with asking, and with this question, “It’s straight and to the point,” Aldao says.