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While shared interests or friends may have brought you together as a couple, what bonds you through life’s trials is your emotional bond. Intimacy, in all of its forms, from physical to mental, is the foundation of trust within a couplehood or marriage. And if you ask therapists, they’ll say it’s one of the most important investments you’ll make as a team. Like other parts of your relationship dynamic, emotional intimacy requires time, nurturing, and a joint, constant commitment to providing each other with a safe place to be your authentic self. Roses and champagne may be part of your Valentine’s Day plans, but consider also having a candid, vulnerable, and intimate discussion with one another about the state of your relationship. These questions, recommended by therapists, will foster and deepen your connection to each other—creating the dazzling kind of romance that made you fall in love in the first place.
First, set the stage.
So maybe you are in the mood to have a deep, meaningful conversation with your significant other, but um, they’re in the middle of a work deadline (or changing diaper number four of the day or fresh off the phone with a stubborn customer service rep). In order for you both to benefit from this intimacy-building chat, it’s essential to, as therapists call it, “build the frame”: Create a space where you’re both free to talk without distractions, with your attention on one another, says Kelly Rabenstein Donohoe, a licensed psychologist with Magnolia Psychological Services in South Carolina.
This time and space will look different for all couples, so it’s important to schedule it. It could be a one-on-one dinner, a long car ride, on the couch after the kids are asleep, or facing one another in bed. Wherever it is, put away your phones, turn off all distractions, and be fully present with your partner. Then, you can dive into these questions. They’re listed below in no particular order, though Donohoe does suggest a compliment sandwich technique: where you ask for a hard one, then a soft one, and so on. This will keep the conversation fluid and easier.
What do you love most about our relationship?
It’s human nature to want to hear about the good stuff and why people love us. It’s even more meaningful when it comes from a romantic partner. That’s why this question is a solid one to begin with, since it sets a frame for a comfortable conversation based on affection and positivity, Donohoe says. You may find yourself surprised by what your partner shares, especially if you haven’t shown appreciation to one another in a while.
“Sometimes, we’re wrong about what our partner loves most about us. For instance, we think it may be our s*x life, but in reality, the way you’re a good listener is the highest positive for them,” Dr. Donohoe says. “When we know what our partner loves the most, we bring it to the front of our mind and can incorporate it more thoughtfully into our relationship.”
What are your greatest fears tied to our relationship?
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Not everyone experiences relationship anxiety all of the time, but nearly every person can relate to feeling overwhelmed within their couplehood. There are natural stages that many go through, from the blissful beginning to the stress of wedding planning or becoming parents. (And not to mention navigating a global pandemic that’s left many people unemployed, or grieving the loss of a loved one.) These outside factors can create ripples in relationships, creating fears that we may not discuss as often as we should. For example, say your partner’s mother passed away, and now he’s anxious about something happening to you. Or your partner lost her job, and now she’s worried you’ll think differently of her as she takes time to search for another role. Perhaps his parents split up after five years, you’re inching closer to this anniversary, and he’s nervous about history repeating itself.
Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a Los Angeles–based psychologist and psychiatrist, says answering this question challenges both of you to self-disclose potentially difficult confessions. “Whether answering questions about tender, heart-wide-open topics or about more emotionally painful or upsetting ones, this takes genuineness, authenticity, and courage,” she says. “Doing this builds intimacy in the relationship because both parties are trusting each other enough to share such private or sensitive information.”
If you’re honest with this question, you will innately feel more connected to each other, especially since you’ll offer the reassurance of your love. “By sharing and revealing such personal answers about each other and/or about yourself, you can build a more substantial, intimate bond through increased trust and comfortability with each other.”
What do you remember from when we were falling in love?
It’s not always healthy to live solely in the past, but occasionally, it’s sweet and important to revisit those rose-colored memories. Taking a stroll together down memory lane can help reconnect you emotionally, particularly if your relationship has taken a backseat to other responsibilities in the last few months (or years), says Lisa Arango, PhD, a psychologist and licensed mental health counselor at Florida International University.
When asking this question, Arango encourages couples to get into the nitty-gritty details. Where were you when you met? What caught your eye? What was the weather like? What were those first few dates like? How did you know this person was the right match for you? Allow each other time to think deeply and take turns sharing stories. “You’re likely to learn something you didn’t know your partner noticed or felt,” she says. You can then figure out a creative way to bring some of that “just-started-dating” energy back into your relationship now: more date nights, dressing up for dinner at home, small daily gestures of affection, and so on.
What is the hardest part of our relationship for you now?
You know those couples you envy? The ones who seem like the picture-perfect match, who post generously about one another on Facebook and are so in love? They might be all of those things, but every couple has their own battles they’re fighting under the surface. Every couple struggles with something, but the healthiest ones take time to discuss their misalignment so they can move forward. With this question, Donohoe says you each get one complaint and one complaint only.
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When your partner answers this question, you may feel defensive, and you may want to dispute their answer, but Donohoe urges couples to listen carefully. “One trick to remain open is to pretend they’re talking about a problem with a friend,” she says. “This usually helps us to see our partner’s perspective and to be a better listener,”
When we know what’s most difficult for our person, we can work to change any of our behaviors contributing to this feeling and be more empathetic when they bring situations related to that difficulty to our attention, Donohoe adds.
How do you need to be shown love?
When you first became a couple, you probably talked about how you like to give and receive love, but it may have fallen lower on your priority list as time has passed. That’s to be expected, but consider this your gentle nudge to talk about this vital question. As Thomas says, the answer to this question is extremely significant; it will help partners be aware of and express the kind of love they need from one another. Your partner may be unloading the dishwasher every morning as a way to thank you, but you may appreciate a good snuggle before sleep instead. Or you may write him sweet notes or texts of appreciation, when in reality, he’d like it if you watched a TV show on the couch with him more often.
“Even if each [person differs in how they] need to be shown love, they’ll be better able to get on the same wavelength by answering this question, and not assume that what represents love to each of them is the same,” Thomas says. “Unfortunately, this mistake happens much too often and can lead to both partners being unhappy since the giver can feel unappreciated for one’s efforts and the receiver can feel emotionally neglected.”
An excellent way to figure out the answer to this question is to each take the Couples Quiz by Gary Chapman, PhD, based on his beneficial book, The 5 Languages of Love. Once you’ve taken it separately and have your answers, come together to share information and concretely develop different ideas of how to express love in each of your preferred ways. This way, both partners’ gestures will be mutually recognized and felt.
Do you think I understand you most of the time?
You may think you know your partner better than you know yourself, but there could be ways you misunderstand their needs. Thomas says this question can increase intimacy within the relationship by addressing how connected or not you really are to each other on a deeper level, rather than just superficially. If it turns out one or both of you often doesn’t feel understood by the other, you can practice a technique Thomas calls “reflection.”
In this practice, you’ll voice something, and then your partner will try to repeat it back to you as closely as possible. Then, you see how aligned you are. If your partner is off, you can re-state or clarify your opinion or observation so they better understand. It’s not about accusing them of not listening or not “getting you,” it’s about learning, a) how you both interpret things differently, and, b) how to find a place where you’re on the same page. Patience here is critical.
If you could wave a magic wand and have your ideal relationship, what would it look like?
Maybe you’d be childless, with an endless flow of cash on a secluded island for a month. Or, you’d be living out of a camper van in the middle of the desert. There is no wrong answer, so allow your imagination to take flight. This question is fun and reveals in a lighter, less heated kind of way what your partner longs for between you, Donohoe says.
“When we start relationships, it feels like the magic relationship, and then slowly, of course, the reality of life and humanness sets in,” she continues. “This question allows us to revisit what we long for, as that changes over time. And, we want to know what our partner dreams about, to see if our relationship is meeting those desires.”
When we know what the other person fantasizes about, it’s easier to build in more of those hopes and wishes. Most importantly, it could unstick your relationship from autopilot and inspire some necessary ideas for new ways to connect.
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