The Not-So-Silent Relationship Killer That Creeps Up On You

The weird thing that might be ruining your marriage.

man and woman sitting down shadow Arlette Lopez/ Shutterstock

It’s your favorite day of the week: any day when I regale you with my thoughts about how to improve your ability to connect to other people. And luckily for you, that’s nearly every day here on Dr. Psych Mom. Today I tackle the horrific menace of intimate connection called Small Talk.

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Small talk leads to the most boring conversations in the world. If you’re single, it goes like this:


“Hey, what are you drinking? Oh really? I like that. Hmmm. Vodka girl. Ha ha. I like that. Yup. Yup. And so you’re from here? Uh-huh, yup, good deal. Hey, you need another drink?”

If you’re married, it goes like this:

“I saw we don’t have carrots. Yeah, I needed carrots for the salad. Whatever. Oh, I guess I’ll go tomorrow with Madison. After nap. Yup. Also, we need milk. No, skim. Yeah. Also, I guess we’ll go to the post office.”

You can imagine how too much of this, without any deeper conversation, leads to intimacy just withering and dying between two people, whether they’ve just met or have been married for 30 years. Social penetration theory states that if you self-disclose your deep feelings, you get to have sex.


Not really, but it does say that self-disclosure leads to increased intimacy, and the penetration pun was too easy to pass up. Self-disclosure can be about little things or big things, but it usually relates to either the past or the future.

You don’t want to get stuck in the present constantly. E.g., “I like hot dogs” = boring. “The first hot dog I ever ate was with my dad at a baseball game”= interesting. “I want to make you a hot dog for breakfast tomorrow at my place” = creepy. But you get my point.

So, how can you use this idea to jump-start your desiccating intimate connection? You can use deep, open-ended questions (like mine here) to move your relationship to the next level. Even if you’re married, there is always a next level, as Woody Allen said.

What, you don’t know that quote because you’re not Jewish from Brooklyn and watch Annie Hall all the time? Oh, well the quote is: “A relationship… is like a shark…It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” Here are some examples, one for you singles, and one for you marrieds, about how to use self-disclosure and deeper-level questions to start or restart your connection.


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Single guy in a bar, to the attractive woman: Hi, I like your dress. (You may scoff but a compliment is the easiest way to make someone feel good; it also communicates your interest directly so there is no room for misinterpretation.)

Attractive woman: Oh, thanks.

SG: I’m Mark.

AW: I’m Jane.

SG: So, do you live around here?

AW: Yup.

SG: What do you like about it? (Note: this question is OPEN-ENDED! She can’t say “yes” or “no,” but has to expand. It also leads to self-disclosure from Jane, so the connection deepens.)

AW: Well, I don’t know, I mean, there are a lot of friendly people. Lots of young people, it’s fun.


SG: I think so too. I like it better than Boston, where I lived before. Did you ever live anyplace else that you liked? (SG is moving to deeper-level questions. Now he can find out about AW’s earlier life history, as she self-discloses more. They can get to know more and more details about each other, but the key is that he is also asking about emotions; what she liked or didn’t like. They aren’t stuck in the present, they are looking back at the past, which is joining them. For you nosy people, SG and AW make plans to meet up again.)

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Now let’s look at a married couple:

Mark (why do I always call my random guy Mark? It’s a mystery): I thought we got Chex. What cereal is this?


Jane: Hey, let’s not talk about cereal. I miss connecting with you.

Mark: What are you talking about?

Jane: I don’t know, I just want to talk about something interesting. How about I ask you a question and you ask me a question?

Mark: Can my question be about the cereal?

Jane: Can you stop it with the cereal? Here: what’s your favorite memory of us?

Mark: Okay fine. Our wedding day. Well, maybe the honeymoon.

Jane: Okay, what exactly do you remember?

Mark: How beautiful you looked, and also how my sister was crying because her boyfriend dumped her, and also how crazy your mom was acting. Also, I was nervous to walk down the aisle.

Jane: Aww. I remember that too. My mom needed a Xanax for sure. I like that memory. I also liked the honeymoon…


(Jane allows Mark to grope her and doesn’t swat him away like usual.)

See how well this conversation went? If you’re married, you know that this is actually a pretty intimate conversation for a random morning. If you’re single, just wait, Grasshopper.

The takeaway:

If you’re single, move the conversation to deeper, emotionally-focused, open-ended questions sooner rather than later. This forges an intimate connection, whereas small talk does not.

If you’re married, demand more intimate questions NOW! Even if your partner thinks you’ve lost your mind. You don’t want to wake up in 15 years and say, “Who the hell is this person I’m married to? All I know about him is that he likes Chex.” And reciprocate with your feelings and thoughts when your partner tells you his or hers.


Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Wants to Revitalize Your Intimate Connection Through “Big Talk.”

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.