As a couples therapist, I have no shortage of tough questions for couples to ask each other. In my experience, I have seen that there is also no shortage of excuses that allow us to avoid having tough conversations with our partners.
There are usually good reasons we have for avoiding scary topics. Life can be hectic and it can be tempting to wind up in a never-ending pattern of avoidance.
Tough questions for couples
Here are some tough questions I encourage you and your partner to explore together.
Do we like and respect each other?
Another way to phrase this question, “how is our friendship?”
One of the most important things a couple can do is invest in their friendship. John Gottman, a leader in couples counseling research, emphasizes how important it is to nurture friendship with your partner. In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he outlines a number of ways to begin the process of healing and rekindling a strong friendship.
Friends like and respect each other. They assume good intent. Typically they will prioritize spending time with one another and have a lot in common. Those all seem like important ingredients in a romantic relationship, too.
Can you change that behavior that bothers me?
Sometimes your partner can annoy you. If you spend enough time with anyone, there will be small behaviors or habits that get under your skin. This in and of itself is usually not the end of the world.
Whether it’s the way they dress or how they fill the dishwasher, there will be things that your partner does that bother you.
What can you do about it?
Start with self-reflection. Why does this particular behavior bother you? That can help you navigate how or if you decide to bring it up with your partner. There are some battles that are not important enough to engage in. There is some level of acceptance that we have to have with our partners. However, if you decide you can’t live with the behavior anymore, how would you go about addressing that with your partner?
Avoid snapping. If you’ve carefully looked at your own feelings around the problem behavior and you’ve made the decision to speak up, I recommend you do so sooner rather than later. When we let things build up and fester, there’s more of a chance we may snap and bring something delicate up in an indelicate manner. Plus, holding in resentment is no fun!
Lead with respect. Start with a compliment. Watch your tone. And be aware that you may hit a sensitive nerve. Think back on that friendship bit mentioned above!
Ask permission. Check in with your partner and ask if they’re open to some feedback. If they’re not in the right headspace to hear feedback you may be better off waiting for a different time.
These are good things to keep in mind whenever you bring up a sensitive topic for discussion with your partner.
How can we talk about sex?
There are certain topics that are universally hard to bring up. Sex, money and politics usually rank in the top three.
However, sex is a really important topic to be able to talk about with your partner. Here are some concrete steps to keep in mind when navigating a discussion around sex.
Establish that you’re on the same team. You have the same goals and want the same outcome. Acknowledge sex is a sensitive topic and it makes you uncomfortable. Join together and be curious, in a nonjudgmental way.
Fantasize together. Maybe you’re uncomfortable or unsure what is missing in the bedroom. Instead of watching Netflix one night, browse online together. Establish some ground rules to create a sense of safety and then share clips from movies, porn, or erotic fiction, whatever works for you.
Set aside time for fun. It is important to make sure you’re spending enough quality time together. For some couples, it is important to schedule a date night on the calendar every week. Other couples might be more free flowing and spontaneous. Regardless of your style, when you feel close, supported and valued by your partner, chances are you’re likely to have more sex.
Is there a better way to talk about money?
Money and finances are one of the most difficult topics for couples to talk about. This is especially true when you were raised with different philosophies and ideas about money.
What are your shared goals about money? If you picture a Venn diagram, there will usually be some area of overlap between the two of you. Start there and then work on communicating the ways in which you’re different.
Get support. Money can tap into lots of primal emotions. Find a financial advisor or couples therapist that can help you untangle the emotional component of talking about finances.
Should we go to couples counseling?
Talking about your relationship can be tough. If you try and navigate some of the topics listed above and you keep hitting roadblocks, it may be time to consider couples therapy.
With the support of a professional you can identify your common and individual goals and make a game plan to find solutions.
Seeking support doesn’t mean you’re a failure. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Most couples wait until they’re really in distress before they reach out for support. The more time you wait, the more entrenched the negative patterns will become.
By coming to understand the past and present, you can plan a more harmonious future together. That usually will start with a few tough conversations. Give it a try, and remember, if you keep hitting roadblocks find some support. You don’t have to do it alone!