Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola are a married couple who have been together for 18 years. Their most recent book is called “How to Keep Your Marriage From Sucking.” Here, they share eight questions you should ask your partner to help foster a healthy relationship.
1. How can I help you today?
Saying "how can I help you" is like saying "how are you?" We get so caught up in our lives, we can end up not checking in with our partners. We don't see the invisible work. Often the burden we carry isn't seen by our partner if you're a high-functioning overachiever that makes everything look easy. By asking to be included and be of service, you are acknowledging that you see the "invisible work" being done for the greater good. If the person doesn't want the help, then he or she must acknowledge I'm choosing to do this on my own and be overwhelmed.
2. What makes you feel most loved?
The way you show love so often ends up being the way you like to receive it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's how your partner likes to receive it. What you want to do for your partner to show that you love them, may not actually translate as love.
One partner might feel love by receiving compliments, another might feel loved when a significant other helps with housework.
3. What can I do to validate you as my partner and make you feel good about yourself?
This question brings up the importance intimacy plays in validation. Sometimes, you just need to connect with your person and let them know, "Hey I still think you're attractive. I'm still into you. But that being said, I'm exhausted so this just isn't gonna happen right now."
You can often connect and have emotional intimacy even when you don't have the time or energy for anything else. Acknowledging that you find your partner attractive keeps the fire alive during the polar vortex of stomach flu, sleep deprivation, work, travel, etc.
4. How much alone time do you need?
We take it personally when our partner wants space, but the allowance of space is restorative and healthy. It also prevents relationship suffocation.
5. Are you willing to renegotiate things that have worked for us in the past but no longer works for me?
We are constantly evolving both together and individually so it's insane to think that everything you set up together won't need adjustments accordingly. This can include the division of labor you had pre-kids or the schedule you had in place when the kids were small, but now that they are in school, everything shifts slightly and that's normal! A healthy relationship means having difficult conversations and asking for what you need. You could always agree on having these discussions with the agreement that there will be a "prize" at the end.
6. Can we adjust our expectations so that we're not failing each other?
We take our favorite person and then hold them to these completely unreachable standards. It's important to take a step back and realize that life can be crazy, which means that sometimes you need to put your expectations on hold.
7. When we are in conflict, how best can we collaborate to resolve it BESIDES yelling or cold hard silence?
Finding a way to communicate or fight that can end in resolution rather than injury is paramount to a healthy relationship.
It's OK to disagree, couples don't have to agree all the time. There are different styles of arguing, too. Some people need space and some people get right into it. You just have to set up a system that works for you and then over time, you will both grow the muscles to get there faster.
8. Is there anything you need from me that you're not getting or an area where you feel unseen or unappreciated that you need me to know about?
We can't all be mind readers, so it's important to open up that level of communication with your partner. Also, don't you want to know the answer to this question and be asked it in return? Taking each other for granted kind of comes with the territory of long-term relationships so calling a time out and asking to be shown your blind spots can be the beginning of fixing so much historic injury or letting the steam out of resentments. It's a miracle cream!