Because butterflies and sweaty palms aren't really romance. INTIMACY is.
The honeymoon can last five days or five years, but at some point the heat and hormones subside. Susan Piver, author of the New York Times bestseller The Hard Questions believes that's when "the real fun begins."
Oh, yeah? "Romance can never last, but intimacy can never end," explains Piver, who created these 20 new questions exclusively for YourTango. She talks with us about her eye-opening exercise for anyone who has made a commitment — and is committed to making it last. Here's how the conversation went:
Q: Does romance really have to die?
Yes, sadly. I've tried to think of a softer way to say that, but all I come up with are new-age platitudes. The hard questions first occurred to me when I was thinking about getting married. I was scared. Most of the couples I knew were either getting a divorce or, even worse, in some kind of lifeless relationship. Sure, I loved my boyfriend, but all these other people were in love when they got married, too. So what would make us different?
I realized that none of my past relationships ended due to lack of love — they ended because one of us (OK, me) didn't love our life together. I didn't know enough about the life Duncan (now my husband) and I would be sharing. Initially, we asked things like "Will we keep our money together, or separate?" or "Do we have a religion?" or "How comfortable are we with each other's level of ambition?" When we began to answer, something wonderful happened. We started to get to know each other beyond love and sex.
Now, after six years of marriage, our questions are different, but it's part of the same process: figuring out how to translate our love for each other into a life we both love.
Q: You don't like the concept of relationships as "work," so why "hard" questions?
Whenever I read "relationships take work," I always thought, "Uh, no thanks." To me, that meant things like scheduling time for sex, "date nights," and pretending to be nice even when I wanted to shriek. Things that felt really fake.
With the "Questions," the "work" of being truthful with each other was hard, but it certainly wasn't phony. It has given our relationship a very healthy edginess — not the kind that comes from jealousy and fights, but the kind that comes from trying to meet every circumstance with awareness and skillful honesty.
Well, except when we're just tired of trying and ignore each other. Sometimes we retreat to our corners. But the questions help us to reconnect, when we're ready.
When is the best time to ask these questions?
For some, a crisis may precipitate the conversation. For others, it may be a feeling of taking each other for granted, even a tiny bit. Anniversaries are a great time to reflect and take a pulse.
If you try to have this conversation too early, you'll know — the questions will sound silly. And there's no such thing as "too late," but the longer you let troublesome issues stew, the harder it will be. Wait until you both have the time and ability to focus. You may want to sit down at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine and run through every question. Or you can take one or two questions at a time, see how that goes.
Long drives, quiet walks, a dinner date, chilling on the couch (TV off) — all these are good settings. Answer only those questions that seem interesting or important to you. But note those that don't; perhaps they'll become relevant in the future.
Is it vital to reach agreement?
Absolutely not. You don't need a laundry list of perfectly synchronized answers. If you happen to agree, that's wonderful. If you don't, fine. Knowing your partner's thoughts and feelings is always good.
And if discussion is just too uncomfortable, each partner can write down his or her answers, and then swap (or not), or the willing partner can simply keep a journal of answers. Giving language to these feelings in any form can be beneficial.
Isn't this a little scary? What if these questions uncover something we don't want to hear?
Let's face it: Our partner is going to disappoint us, make us mad, even bore us! It pays to find a way to discuss our feelings with both honesty and kindness. Better to talk now than to wait until someone gets really mad or becomes numb. The point is to create an atmosphere where differences and fears surface in a way that creates more intimacy instead of less. Be brave.
So, here they are ... The Hard Questions:
1. What have you learned to appreciate about me that you didn’t know when we first married? (Or, first became a couple.)
2. What have you learned that irritates, upsets or frightens you?
3. Are you satisfied with the amount of time we spend together? The amount of time we spend separately?
4. Have we had any major life shocks? If so, what did we learn about ourselves, each other, our relationship?
5. What dreams or expectations did we have about married life? Which have been fulfilled and which have not?
6. What have I given up for you? How do I feel about it?
7. What have you given up for me? How do you feel?
8. At what times have we felt happiest together?
9. Is our sexual connection satisfying to you? To me?
10. How do we manage when desire levels differ? [Note: "Though this is a very real and common issue, it’s very difficult to discuss," says Piver. “Still, it’s worth acknowledging such differences if they exist.”]
11. Where are you feeling content in your life? Our life?
12. How much money do we have now? How much did we think we would have at this point?
13. How much money do we wish we had? How much do we want in five years? Ten years? Are we planning for retirement?
14. How much is each of us contributing to our financial health? (In dollars, or otherwise.) Is each person’s contribution acceptable to the other?
15. Are we preparing for our parents’ aging and death? (Emotionally, financially, spiritually.)
16. Are we in agreement about having children, raising them, educating them?
17. If we have children, have we explained to them about sex, death, God? Are we comfortable with how we’ve dealt with these topics? How are they doing with these explanations?
18. How have we learned to cope with the normal, day-to-day irritations of married life? How could we handle them even better?
19. Do we feel more emotionally connected than we did early in our relationship?
20. How would we define love now? How does it compare with what we thought love was when we married?