Are you asking the right questions?
Many of us believe that it takes a substantial amount of effort to save a declining relationship. While this is often true — especially if a betrayal of trust has occurred — most relationships on the skids can be saved (or at least greatly improved) by posing two simple questions to your partner.
These questions work because they focus right in on the two most important aspects of relationship health: understanding one another and caring about one another. Luckily, these questions are also open-ended enough to apply in almost any situation, regardless of the cause of the relationship decline.
Let's dive in and learn the 2 things to say to save relationships.
Question #1: What do you want me to understand better?
When we are struggling to connect with a loved one — particularly a romantic partner — we often put a tremendous amount of energy into getting our own point across to the other person. We will focus on what we're upset about, try to communicate it clearly, and rephrase and repeat until (hopefully) we feel the other person gets it. But don't we need to put some effort into getting what the other person is saying too?
The beauty of the question "What do you want me to understand better?" is that it turns the normal dynamic of a disagreement on its ear. No longer are you trying to get your point across while your partner does the same. Instead, you're focused entirely on understanding the other person's point — a gesture of compassion, engagement, and interest that works wonders to quell resentments and relax hard feelings.
Beyond the fact that this question shows a great deal of love and compassion for the other person, the information you gain from his answer will be invaluable. He may explain something directly relevant to the fight that you never understood before. Or, he may explain something about himself more generally that increases your understanding of him overall.
For example, let's say you and your boyfriend are fighting about household chores — who's going to do the laundry, the dishes, etc. You ask him, "What do you want me to understand better?" expecting a response related to the chores.
Instead, he says, "I want you to understand that I grew up in a family where no one ever yelled, so when you yell at me I have a hard time listening to you." This is information about your partner that is so much more important than anything about the dishes!
Question #2: How would that look?
Often, we communicate well enough with our partners to know, generally, what they want from us. She wants him to be more affectionate; He wants her to help more around the house.
However, we all know from personal experience that couples can still have major problems despite knowing what each other want. The issue is that, while we may know what the other person wants, we don't know how they want it.
In other words, the delivery matters. If she says she wants him to be more affectionate, and he incorrectly interprets the how of that to mean initiating sex more often, this could cause major problems.
She may act dissatisfied with his efforts, discouraging him greatly, or she may even turn on him for not giving her what she asked for. When, in reality, he never really knew what she meant.
Instead, if, when he first learned that she wanted more affection, he asked her, "How would that look?" she could describe how she would execute the idea of "showing more affection." To her, "showing more affection" would look like a kiss in the morning. It would look like a text at lunchtime. It would mean eye contact during sex. These are the delivery methods that work for her and he now has information that could significantly improve the relationship.
The next time you feel your relationship sliding into decline, try out these two simple questions for instant closeness. They may be the very things that save relationships today!
For more advice, check out Kira's book, Stop Being Lonely.