At the foundation of any good relationships is how well two people know each other. Think of this as an ongoing adventure, not a completed achievement. We get in to problem territory when we start assuming we know all there is to know about our partners.
In many situations where I’ve counseled couples who are in periods of conflict, a lot of times what has solved the dilemma even better than working on conflict resolution skills is to encourage the couple to reconnect and simply begin getting to know each other again. Especially when it’s someone you care about, getting to know what it’s like to be them makes it so much easier to empathize and to cooperate.
Tools for Connecting
I want to share a few different types of ways for trying to connect better with your partner.
Blessings and Challenges
A couple of years ago, Carolina and I decided we wanted to work on communicating a little more about our inner lives. We ended up taking a very simple approach. Each night before we went to sleep, we would hold hands and take turns asking each other about two things:
- What was life-giving for you today?
- What was soul-sucking for you today?
You could describe these things in a lot of different ways. For you Ignatian Spirituality enthusiasts, you can talk in terms of the voice of consolation and the voice of desolation. You can say, “What was a blessing for you today? What was a challenge for you today?” Eventually, I think we even settled in to, “What was your good thing/bad thing?”
It seldom took us longer than a couple of minutes, though sometimes it would lead to a more in depth conversation. Just a brief sort of daily temperature check can go a long way in helping you know what it’s like to be your partner.
In another post about self-care, I referenced Pete Scazerro‘s framework for thinking of yourself as a multi-faceted, whole person who has several areas worthy of attention and care. Here are five things that are highly representative of what it means to be a person:
I’ve found that utilizing these various aspects in how you communicate about yours and your partner’s wellbeing is a very helpful framework for emoting precisely. After all, it’s one thing to have a “good day” or a “rough day.” But those can mean anything. If you learn to incorporate the various aspects of yourself in your description, it’s like adding a lot of new colors to your palette with which you can paint. For example:
- Today I got a lot done on that project. I am feeling emotionally fulfilled, though I’m mentally and physically exhausted.
- I like some of the things we’ve been working on, and have found them intellectually engaging. But socially I’ve been feeling a bit anemic. Do you think we could work out a way to go connect with some friends?
- I’ve been sticking with my routines so that I’m physically I’m feeling healthy, but I think spiritually I am feeling a little distanced from God right now.
In fact, even if it feels a bit robotic, if you and your partner have been feeling disconnected, I suggest keeping the list handy and each day simply working down the list. It’s a little more work than my example above, but if you know how a person is doing in these five areas, you definitely know how they are doing.
- Intellectually, what has been engaging you lately?
- How is your spiritual life going?
- Are you getting enough social connections?
- How are you feeling physically?
- What is your world like emotionally right now?
Building Love Maps
The Gottman Institute is a powerhouse in producing helpful ideas for what will help a relationship work. I believe that if any couple desiring to make their relationship work would give attention to the principles they share in their book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, they can almost certainly succeed. You can get this book for about the price of a fast-food combo meal, and it would be much healthier for you to consume.
The Gottmans refer to this foundational level in a relationship of knowing each other as “Building Love Maps.” They have an app you can download on iPhone or Android which provides you with question prompts you can use to get to know your partner better. One couple at my church who, frankly, already had a very strong relationship, decided to use it on a road trip. As they drove, one opened the app and they took turns trying to answer these questions about each other and discovering what the other actually thought or felt. It was a lot of fun for them.
I hadn’t looked at their website in a while, but they’ve got a lot of cool tools to help people connect. I like, for example, this set of postcards you can buy to send to your partner, inviting deeper connections.
I have compiled some lists of helpful questions you can use in building love maps. It has been long enough since I compiled these that I don’t remember where they call came from, but I am certain I must have gotten many of them from the Gottmans. Want to really know your partner? Try working through these. Also, if you want an easy way to print these out, here is a PDF of the questions below.
Specific Questions To Get Started
- Name my two closest friends.
- What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?
- What was I wearing when we first met?
- Name one of my hobbies?
- Where was I born?
- What stresses am I facing right now?
- Describe in detail what I did today or yesterday.
- When is my birthday?
- What is the date of our anniversary?
- Who is my favorite relative?
- What is my fondest unrealized dream?
- What is my favorite website?
- What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?
- What is my favorite time of day for lovemaking?
- What makes me feel most competent?
- What is my favorite meal?
- What is my favorite way to spend an evening?
- What is my favorite color?
- What personal improvements would I like to make in my life?
- What kind of present would I like best?
- What was one of my best childhood experiences?
- What was my favorite vacation?
- What is one of my favorite ways to relax?
- Who is my greatest source of support other than you?
- What is my favorite sport?
- What do I most like to do with time off?
- What is one of my favorite weekend activities?
- What is my favorite movie?
- What are some important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?
- What are some of my favorite ways to work out?
- Who was my best friend in childhood?
- Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”
- What would I consider my ideal job?
- What do I fear the most?
- Who is my least favorite relative?
- What is my favorite holiday?
- What kinds of books to I like most to read?
- What is my favorite TV show?
- Which side of the bed do I prefer?
- What am I most sad about?
- What medical problems do I worry about?
- What was my most embarrassing moment?
- What was my worst childhood experience?
- What is my social security number?
- What foods do I hate?
- What is my favorite animal?
- What are two of my aspirations, hopes and wishes?
- Of all the people we both know, who do I like the least?
- What sports team is my favorite?
- What is my favorite song?
Open-Ended Questions To Go Deeper
- How would you like your life to be different 3 years from now?
- Do you see your work changing in the future? How?
- What is your opinion of our physical home? Would you make changes if you could?
- How would you compare yourself as a mother or father to your own mother or father?
- What kinds of persons do you think our children will become? Any fears? Any hopes?
- If you could redo a 5-year period of your life, what would you choose?
- If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?
- Who do you consider your best friends or close allies? Has the list changed recently?
- What qualities do you most highly value in friends?
- What were the best and worst things that happened to you as a teen?
- If you could live in any other time in history, when would it be and why?
- If you could choose a different career or vocation, what would it be and why?
- Do you feel like certain things are missing from your life? What are they?
- Do you think you’ve changed in the last year? How so?
- If you could live another person’s life, whose would you choose?
- Have any of your life goals changed recently?
- What are some of your life dreams now?
- What are some of your goals for us as a family?
- What have the highest and lowest points in the past year been for you?
- What adventures would you like to have in your life right now?