How well do you truly know your spouse? While you were dating, it was easy to dig deep and ask questions that revealed the nature of your partner. At this stage, you were curious. You were collecting information about this person that would help you determine if this person is worth keeping as a long-term partner.
But after you say your vows and have lived with your spouse for years, familiarity kills curiosity. We fall into this trap of familiarity and only ask surface-level questions that merely report the day’s events. Or we make statements that are instructional.
“What’s for dinner?”
“How was your day?”
“Could you bring the kids to gym class, please?”
We could go through days, months, and years just asking logistical questions without sharing intimate thoughts that reveal values, personal convictions, and dreams. We have to stop reporting and start learning to ask the right questions that say,
“Who are you, really?
According to a research by psychology professor Dan McAdams, there are three different levels of intimacy in a relationship.
Level 1: General Traits
This is where you get to know someone’s personality. How open and curious are you to new experiences, as a person? How organized and dependable are you? Are you a people person? Are you more emotionally-inclined and empathetic or are you more analytical and detached? Do you tend to feel moody and sensitive to your emotions or are you generally quite stable?
Level 2: Personal Concerns
This is where you get insight into your partner’s values, goals and motivations. You begin to understand why he or she makes certain decisions and are triggered by others.
Level 3: Self-Narrative
This is the level where you truly know someone. You understand the stories they tell themselves and how they make sense of their life and purpose. An example could be, “I have gone through a lot of challenges in life, but I am a survivor.” or “I am unlucky in life; nothing goes well for me; I am always the victim.”
So how do you move from Level 1 to 2, right up to 3? You really need to start asking the right questions. Remember that intimacy takes time to build, and you need to be intentional about it. Vulnerability brings people together. Judgment and criticism tear people apart. So when your partner shares an opposing value or goal that doesn’t align with yours, remember that this is his or her worldview. Learn to listen without judgment and begin to see your spouse’s life from this new perspective.
Here are some great questions that can help build intimacy.
- If you had all the money in the world, what would you do?
- Who was your biggest influencer as a child?
- Think about a time when you completely lost track of time. What were you doing?
- What inspires you?
- What is your secret dream?
Social psychology researcher Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York has developed 36 questions that will deepen a couple’s level of intimacy. Why not pick one question a day, and see your relationship transform!
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a perfect day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell you partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…”
- Complete this sentence “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
- If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
- Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
- Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
- Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
- Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
It is when you feel understood, free to be yourself, in a place of safety, that’s when trust and connection truly happens.