You’ve made up your mind that you are going to be “all-in.” No more finding emotional support from people outside your relationship. No more seeking out friends, first, in time of need. You’ve decided you are putting both feet firmly inside the house and you are going to make.this.work.
You’ve actually completed the hardest part. Sure, there will be times when the relationship will feel difficult, but deciding to be “all-in” is the biggest step. Worry, doubt, and fear are now erased from your plate and you can start clean. Start with love.
If you are a fan of getting a little boost in your journey back into love, I recommend that my clients read two books: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts and Communication Miracles for Couples: Easy and Effective Tools to Create More Love and Less Conflict. There are others that are wonderful, and these aren’t perfect solutions, but they are an easy place to start. Both of these books will offer everyone some eye-opening insight into themselves and their partner. The author of the 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman, has some free resources on his site you can look into, if you like his style.
*A note on books, study guides, quizzes, etc.: Do not force them on your partner. He may not like them at all. She may not at all be interested in spending time reading a relationship book. These books are for you. You can employ lessons YOU learn without your partner being involved.
The important message in both of these books, and my previous post on this topic, is that you have to start with your partner. You have to heal them before you can heal the relationship–in spite of your own hurt and need for healing. It may seem exhausting at first, but it will pay-off. I promise.
Once things start to come together, the anger dissipates long enough for you to hear each other in conversation, it is time to ask difficult questions. Don’t ask these all at once, just slip in a few here and there when the time feels right. If you feel like you are unable to handle truthful answers, do not ask them just yet. If you are not ready to answer the question yourself, do not ask yet. A best case scenario would be for you and your partner to set aside time to work on these. This isn’t always possible. Just make sure your partner doesn’t feel “ambushed.”
1. How much space and time do we need apart from each other? It is important to also consider what “space” means to each of you and make sure you both understand the difference: emotional space, physical space, quiet. For some people, time spent in silence is the equivalent to distance. Other people need physical space.
2. What happens if we can’t agree on something important that involves both of us? You need to come up with a plan before things heat up.
3. What kind of physical touch best expresses, “I love you?” This is especially important if your partner has a “love language” of touch. Dive deeper. Go beyond sexual intimacy, and find out what kind of touches your partner cherishes most.
4. Who do we know that has the kind of relationship we want? Can you think of any couple you would like to emulate? What specifically about this couple (even though it may be perceived behavior only) suggests a quality relationship? How do they express intimacy to each other? Pinpoint each other’s ideal couple. Who is your partner using as an example and why? Can’t think of any? Find one. Work on it together and pay closer attention to how your friends (in couples) treat each other. What do you like? Which things do you find off-putting?
5. How can each of us get our needs met when we want different things on a particular day? Again, come up with a plan when things are smooth. This is the kind of thing that needs to ebb and flow in a relationship. Some days it will be easier to put your partner’s needs ahead of yours. Some days you might need to ask for what you need–out loud.
6. During times that I have not been able to get your attention, what will I have to say in order for you to focus on me? This was a particularly important question for me to ask in my relationship. How can I successful get you to hear me, listen, or focus when nothing I have tried has worked? My instinct is to yell. That is not always effective. Maybe your partner hasn’t ever thought about it before and will have an opportunity for reflection. This is a good one.
7. What about my voice or communication style makes you want to spend less time around me? This is a companion to the question above. Do you yell a lot (one of my bad habits)? If so , the yelling might trigger a shut-down in your love. The answer to this question might be hard for you to swallow, but it is important to hear. Try not to think of this as criticism, but as information that will bring you closer to your love. Also, make sure when you enter into conversation about this, you do not attack or criticize your partner. Be gentle and approach from kindness.
8. How will you be able to forgive me if I’ve done something that really hurts you? Let that one seep in. Think about how you handle forgiveness in your own heart as well. It takes more work for some.
9. In an argument, how will you take responsibility for your part of the problem? You might need to answer this first. How will you take responsibility for your portion of the issue?
10. What do you expect from me that you really expect of yourself? Again, answer this first. Can you think of a time you help your partner responsible/blamed him for something you hold yourself to? Cleaning is sometimes a hot button for couples. This question requires each of you to clarify standards and expectations. Not everyone uses the same definition for “clean,” “saving,” or “quality time.” Say exactly what you mean.
Want even more questions? These questions were adapted from a list I found here. Once you have a good foundation going, put a couple questions on your phone (in the notes section) to ask when you are on a long drive. Put some fun ones in there too. Make sure that the experience of discussing your relationship is positive–that it doesn’t feel like a chore or torture. If it does, that’s the first question you need to answer for yourself. Learning to discuss your relationship calmly is one of the best things you can do for each other.
For your first conversation, invite your partner to a quiet place that you both consider neutral territory. For example, I learned that my spouse does not like discussing potentially emotional topics in a restaurant (where I frequently brought things up). Personally, I thought a public place would help me control the volume and tone of my voice. He felt like he was being “put on the spot” or that he “had an audience” and couldn’t express himself freely. Try a place with few distractions, no doors to slam, that encourages free discussion–like a park.
Always remember that quiet is OK. Just listen, don’t feel forced to respond to her/his answer. Just let it seep in. Also, make sure to ask the question and allow time for thought. Some of these are probing, and your partner might really need to think about an answer. Take care not to cut them off in thought by interrupting or asking another question too soon.
Have any particularly effective questions or experiences you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments. We love feedback.