In the days when I practiced couples therapy, I would kick off the start of conversations by first asking the couple to introduce their partner by telling me 3 positive qualities about them. This would typically catch people off guard. Usually, they would come into therapy as a last resort, be sitting on opposite ends of the couch, and were ready to each tell their own sides of the story. I did this not to spark feelings of discomfort, but to begin a process of healing and connection. My goal as a therapist with couples, no matter if they stayed together or not, was to learn to communicate with each other from a place of empathy and hope.
You see, I already knew lots of negative experiences had occurred before they got to my couch. I respect the feelings that those experiences brought up and we go through those in therapy in a profound way, however, one thing most couples had in common was a disconnect in the conversations I’m about to tell you about. As relationships go through various cycles, conversations often get lost. They get lost every day, in other distractions such as life, work, perhaps having children, fighting for individuation as adults, or other attachments both physical and psychological.
Strengthening a relationship doesn’t have to be a complicated menagerie of our complex psyches. Sometimes, it can be as simple as starting a conversation and respecting whatever the responses are from each other. Having a partnership doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything or have the same viewpoint…actually that would be pretty boring. And when I say “partnership” it doesn’t have to be romantic. These 3 must-have conversations can be effective in strengthening any relationship.
Conversation 1: What are you interested in right now?
Seems like most of us are living in the hustle of work, family life, being healthy, and neglecting ourselves these days, so why would they have time for their partner, right? Just as important as our self-care, having a connection to others is a basic instinct of our humanity. Even the most solitary introverts out there I know have relationships…whether it’s through a video game, close friends, or colleagues. When we ask this simple question we can get so much in return, particularly with the “right now” part because maybe you knew this person to like something like a particular band or designer from when you first met them, but maybe right now those are completely different.
This question is also letting your partner know that you are genuinely interested in them. It says, “Hey there, I’m interested in you and care about the things you care about!” It feels good and connects you to your partner in a profound way that keeps the passion alive. You might even surprise each other by having some common ground you could connect on, or you will gain more insight on how you can support that person in their own pursuits or hobbies. In fact, there is recent research from the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology aimed at romantic couples that found when couples tried new things together, they had greater relationship satisfaction and better sex life.
Conversation 2: When do you want to connect?
It is imperative to connect to your partner multiple times throughout the day to keep the conversation going, especially if your time together is limited due to children, elder care, work, etc. Establishing when this happens is not a chore, it’s really something to look forward to. It also avoids miscommunication if your partner is expecting to have time with you after the kids go to bed and you’re rushing downstairs for the next Bridgerton episode. A flirtatious text during the workday, a Friday date night, Wednesday pillow talk. Establishing times to connect ensures you are keeping the spark alive and shows that you are committed to the relationship.
It’s funny how at most people’s jobs they plan, present, and collaborate at meetings, but neglect to do this with the most important people in their lives. I’m not saying to treat this connecting time like a board meeting, but I do want to put in the perspective of work-life balance here in the way that if you are making things happen at work, but not in your relationship, that could be the wake-up call you need to save your relationship.
Be sure these connections are fun, positive, and about loving each other. It can be easy to fall into the trap of discussing the “business of home,” such as bills, kids, and other logistics. Save that for another time.
Conversation 3: Do you feel heard?
Hearing your partner is more than just listening to them. It’s reflecting back on what you hear, validating their emotions, and letting them know your reaction to what you are hearing because you are part of the conversation also. It’s this open exchange of connection and emotion that will strengthen your relationship. It’s about being able to focus on each other in a way that respects both emotions, experiences, and perspectives. This is not something people are born with. This is a learned skill and takes time to master!
One book I highly recommend if you want to learn more on how to connect to your partner is the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In this special edition book, there are his/hers personal assessments as you explore what your love languages are. Learning your love language will help you communicate better with your partner, but please remember that when you speak to your partner, you want to speak in their language, not yours.
I hope that these 3 must-have conversations strengthen your relationship while also bringing more fun and love to your partnership. When we stop hearing each other, seeing each other, and being genuinely interested in each other is when things start to fizzle. Let’s keep the connection going strong!
Peace. Love. Communication and Happiness. ❤️