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These 8 conversations can deepen your relationship with your partner

“The conversations are not about the relationship. The conversation is the relationship," says author Susan Scott.
Close up of couple about to kiss
Inti St Clair / Getty Images stock

After leadership expert Susan Scott wrote two books focused on workplace conversations, she discovered something interesting. People were taking the ideas she shared about communicating in the corporate world and used them to improve their personal relationships. So, she wrote a new book focused on those intimate conversations, "Fierce Love: Creating a Love that Lasts—One Conversation at a Time."

“By having honest, courageous, meaningful conversations with your partner, you can foster genuine connection and a fierce love that will withstand the test of time and grow stronger over the years,” she said. “The conversations are not about the relationship. The conversation is the relationship. What gets talked about, and how it gets talked about, determines what’s going to happen — whether a relationship will thrive or flatline or fail.”

Scott said these conversations can be helpful for couples who have issues they haven’t been able to resolve, as well as for couples who have good relationships but don’t always truly know what’s going on with their partner.

Conversation 1: Do I want this relationship?

Scott said people ask themselves this question when they aren’t prepared to answer it — you can’t know if you want a relationship with someone else until you know your life is working for you. Otherwise, you might think that your unhappiness and frustrations are about the other person, not yourself.

Before you ask yourself if you want this relationship, take some time to check in with yourself. Ask yourself where you are going, why you are going there, who is going with you and how you will get there. Then, share your answers with your partner.

Conversation 2: Clarifying conditions — yours, mine, ours.

“One of the myths I bust is about unconditional love. Love does have conditions,” Scott said. “It’s not about telling (your partner) how to be, it’s about telling your partner how to be with (you).” You and your partner teach each other how to treat each other.

It’s important to have a conversation about the things that are essential for you both to be happy staying in the relationship. It’s as simple as asking, “I want to understand your conditions. Here are mine,” Scott said. Conditions might be monogamy, truth, kindness, or even a love of dogs. 

Conversation 3: How are we really?

“Every once in a while, you want to take the temperature of your relationship,” Scott said. That way, you learn more about each other and find out if there are unrealized goals or something your partner wants.

Scott pointed to the problems that have cropped up for a lot of couples during the pandemic. Those problems were there before the pandemic, but many couples hadn’t acknowledged them or talked about them. The forced togetherness brought those problems to the surface. Having honest conversations from time to time keeps you and your partner current with each other and prevents problems from getting buried, where they can get worse.

Conversation 4: Getting past “Honey, I’m home.

Scott said this conversation is about understanding where you and your partner are solid and where you are not as solid as you’d like to be. It’s about your partner, where they see their life heading, and where you fit in.

Ask your partner what’s the most important thing on their mind, listen openly, and ask questions without offering advice. “It’s not one of those conversations where you address everything in one sitting,” Scott said. “It’s touching base and prioritizing what needs your attention sooner and what can wait a little bit longer.”

Conversation 5: Let me count the ways.

This conversation is about recognizing your partner’s actions and contributions in a meaningful way. “‘Thanks, babe,’ doesn’t cut it,” Scott said. Even “I love you” can feel rote, especially if you say it routinely.

Instead, when your partner does something that touches you or makes you feel grateful, say something. For example, maybe your partner handled a problem with one of your children with grace and thoughtfulness. Point out what, exactly, you noticed and why you think they are a good parent. Or acknowledge the good times. When you’re together at the end of the day, snuggling and watching TV, tell your partner how cherished and loved that makes you feel.

 Conversation 6: It’s not you, it’s me.

In your relationship, you’re bound to do or say something that’s not helpful, kind, or loving. Relationships don’t survive unless we are willing to tolerate imperfections in our partners and recognize that we have a few of our own. In this conversation, you apologize properly. That means you avoid saying things like, “Mistakes were made” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“You need to say, ‘Hey, I recognize that what I said to you was a mistake. I’m very sorry, and I want to apologize to you. I hope you can forgive me, and I want to do better,” Scott said. And don’t ruin the apology by adding an excuse.

 Conversation 7: It’s not me, it's you.

This conversation centers on talking about problems. Scott points out that problems exist whether you talk about them or not. And talking about them is how you can solve them. Otherwise, one of you will probably blow up, eventually.

Talking about problems doesn’t mean assuming the worst of your partner. Instead, start with a request for more information: “Can you tell me what is going on?” That’s an invitation most people will accept — Scott calls them the eight magic words. The answer might not make the problem disappear, but it will show you where your partner is coming from.

Conversation 8: I love you but I don't love our life together.

Hopefully, you never have to have this conversation. But maybe your own life is working, you’ve helped your partner explore some issues, you’ve listened intently, you’ve shared what you’re grateful for, and you’ve brought up some concerns with your partner. You’ve shared your conditions, but nothing has changed.

At one point, you loved this person enough to make a commitment. This is the last-ditch conversation before you decide to leave. You’ll want to prepare what you’ll say ahead of time. Scott recommends that you name the issue, give a specific example, describe your emotions, clarify what’s at stake, point out how you have contributed to the problem, share that you hope to resolve the issue, and invite your partner to respond.

This conversation may not rescue your relationship. But it will clarify whether you’ve done everything you could to save it.