This question needs some setup. But I swear it could change your life. I’ve categorized this in the “Ask Your Significant Other” category but this is more a question to ask yourself ABOUT your significant other. In the normal ups and downs of a relationship, you’ll inevitably think something like, “I hate how impatient he is,” or “I wish she wasn’t so scatterbrained!” Every time you think something like that, immediately try to match the negative quality with a corresponding positive quality that you appreciate about your partner. “I hate how impatient he is… But it’s pretty awesome that he gets so much of our to-do list done every weekend.” Or, “I wish she wasn’t so scatterbrained… But I do love the random adventures we seem to get into every time we’re together.” What if the quality you dislike and the quality you appreciate are actually related? What if “impatient” and “get ish done” are just the two sides of the larger coin called, “Momentum-maintaining”? What if “scatterbrained” and “fun rando adventures” are just two sides of the larger coin called, “Go-with-the-flowiness”? And what if you’re not allowed to hate the “negative” side without praising the “positive” side because the two are inseparable? The two are the same. Getting rid of one side would mean losing the entire coin. And then everyone’s poorer for it. Instead, train yourself in this matching game – negatives with corresponding positives. Get quick at it. Make it automatic. And start to love the larger coins in their fullness. You’ll be rich! Rich, I tell ya! Continue reading What if every “negative” quality were just one side of the coin?
So I’ve categorized this question as “Ask your Significant Other” but really it’s a question to ask yourself ABOUT your significant other. How can I treat my partner like a child? Stay with me because this needs some contextualization. This question came from author Alain de Botton who wrote the most popular NY Times article of all of 2016 titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” Let’s go straight to Alain as he explained on the On Being podcast:
“I think that one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children. Not to infantilize them, but when we’re dealing with children as parents, as adults, we’re incredibly generous in the way we interpret their behavior. If you walk home, and a child says, ‘I hate you,’ you immediately go, OK, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something. We’re looking around for a benevolent interpretation that can just shave off some of the more depressing, dispiriting aspects of their behavior. And we do this naturally with children, and yet we do it so seldom with adults. When an adult meets an adult, and they say, ‘I’ve not had a good day. Leave me alone,’ rather than saying, ‘OK. I’m just going to go behind the facade of this slightly depressing comment…’ We don’t do that. We take it all completely personally. And so I think the work of love is to try, when we can manage it — we can’t always — to go behind the front of this rather depressing challenging behavior and try and ask where it might’ve come from. Love is doing that work to ask oneself, ‘Where’s this rather aggressive, pained, noncommunicative, unpleasant behavior coming from?’ If we can do that, we’re on the road to knowing a little bit about what love really is, I think.” Continue reading How can I treat this person like a child?
Would it be a workshop on how to get along with in-laws? Or maybe a workshop on how to talk about finances? Or perhaps one on juggling two careers? Basically, what relationship skill/hack/ability could you as a couple offer other couples? Where does your relationship feel strong in a way that others could benefit from seeing? If Emily and I offered a workshop to other couples, one subject could be about how to survive long term long-distance situations. After 4.5 absurd years of doing long distance from 2007 to 2011, we’d have a lot to offer couples struggling with distance. What would you and your partner teach? This is a great question to ask your S.O. directly but it’s also a really interesting one to ask another couple. Continue reading If you and I taught a workshop about one of our particular strengths as a couple, what would we teach?
Emily and I just celebrated our 2-year wedding anniversary! We spent a long weekend camping and hiking up Mount Mitchell, which was awesome. This question came up one night as we were huddled up next to the campfire. It was a good one for inspiring some reflection and it also served as a reminder that you’ll never know 100% of another person. There will always be some mystery. One year ago, Emily didn’t know that I would enjoy learning to fix things in our home. One year ago, I didn’t know that she would be such an eager correspondent with my younger cousins in the Philippines. Being happily surprised in a relationship is largely a 2 step process: Step 1) Let yourself be surprised. Step 2) Be surprised. Continue reading What do you know about me now that you didn’t know 1 year ago?
The relationships I admire are all ones in which the individuals inspire each other continually to be better. Ask your partner this question. Celebrate the moment! And help your partner recreate the conditions that led to the best version of him/herself. Your relationship will benefit. And the world will benefit! Ask away! Continue reading When were you your best self this week?
I know we’re not “supposed to,” but people gotta brag sometimes, man! We just do! It’s hard-wired at some level. That’s what makes this an awesome question to ask your significant other. It gives your partner the opportunity to boast and it’s an easy way for you to celebrate something together (even if it’s not a major life accomplishment). Everyone wants to be celebrated and admired! And what’s funny is that it feels psychologically similar to be celebrated and admired for not snoozing the alarm once this week as it does to be celebrated for landing a huge promotion at work. So celebrate the small stuff! Continue reading What are you proudest of about this week?
Here’s how you know when to ask this question: If you find that you and your significant other are getting worked up and are on the verge of arguing about something that is a) not that contentious, b) not that consequential, c) not that complicated, or d) all of the above, then probably you’re hungry. Eat something and the peaceable answer will present itself! (Or you’ll just forget what you were getting all riled up about in the first place.) Continue reading How about we eat something first?
This is another gem from “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices In Life and Work” by Chip and Dan Heath. I’ve listed this question here in the “Ask Your Significant Other” category but it’s better classified as a question you ask yourself ABOUT your significant other. As explained by the Heath brothers: “A blogger named Rochelle Arnold-Simmons uses the ‘assume positive intent’ principle with her husband: ‘When your husband does something and you immediately go to a negative place, ask yourself, ‘What are other possibilities that may be more positive than what you are thinking?’ Assume he is trying to help, assume he does not need to be reminded, assume it is not his fault. I try to always ask the question, ‘What’s another possibility?'”
Adopting this posture, “assume positive intent,” is a complete game-changer in relationships as well as work settings. It helps you to see around confirmation bias (the tendency to notice first the information that confirms your initial assumptions) and to make better decisions instead.
So the next time you get frustrated with your partner, how can you assume positive intent? Continue reading How can I assume positive intent?
This is a tough question to answer at first. But I encourage you to resist the urge to just say “Well I honestly can’t remember.” Just keep thinking and a person will emerge. It doesn’t matter if the moment was from 2 years ago. For me, two Tuesdays ago I went to my very first Nia class ever. Never heard of Nia? I hadn’t either. It’s part exercise class, part dance party, and part – I dunno – reflection on movement? My friend Heather just started teaching free classes in town and had included me on the email list she was inviting to her weekly workouts. Let me say the class was a blast. But it’s not a conventional thing exactly. There are plenty of opportunities to feel embarrassed when telling people to roar or chop the air or catch imaginary flies. But man, my friend Heather was just so into it! The joyfulness in her leading, the total lack of too-cool-for-school syndrome, the commitment to the workout and philosophy… All of that combined with how unexpected it was and the entrepreneurial nature of it left me thinking, “Huh – I’m really impressed.” This is a great question to ask anyone really. But for some reason, I especially like the idea of asking your significant other. Continue reading Who’s the last person that you remember really impressing you and what did they do exactly to earn your respect?
This question might at first seem like you’re trying to diagnose a problem with your significant other. But I don’t think that feeling alone means something is wrong. You can feel alone when surrounded by people and you can feel alone when you’re in a healthy, loving relationship. For me, in fact, very often creativity grows out of first feeling alone. I find that it’s a fertile place even if it’s not always the most comfortable. Ask your partner this question out of a spirit of curiosity (not “fixing”) and you may learn something new. Continue reading When in life have you felt most alone?
Okay, this question isn’t going to make sense unless I explain it. My wife and I were talking with two friends about one of their consistent (but never planned) evening activities: Googling stuff. Rachel said she enjoys learning about things and that she values curiosity. And right there at “curious,” Rachel’s husband, Adam, jumped in and said “You know, if Rachel is describing the characteristics of a person that she likes, nine times out of ten ‘curious’ will be in the list of qualities.” Rachel laughed and agreed. But it was, in a way, news to her. She hadn’t realized that she so often listed “curious” in her high praise for others. I found this super interesting and it kicked off a really intriguing conversation. In turn, Rachel said that Adam describes the people he likes as “the man.” As in “I’d hire Brian – he’s the man!” I immediately chimed in that my wife, Emily, when she’s heaping on praise, will often say that someone is “classy.” This means that they’re the type of person to do things the right way. You know, send a thank-you card or stick around to help clean up after a party. That kind of thing. And apparently when it comes to me, when I get going about someone I like, what often gets mentioned is that “He/she can eat!” This doesn’t necessarily mean that the person eats a lot (though it often does). It means that they enjoy the food, appreciate the details even of extremely simple/cheap recipes, and really get into the act of eating a meal together – storytelling, jokes, connecting in meaningful ways. I never really noticed that but it’s true. So ask your significant other what word/term you use most often to describe the people you like. You’ll learn something about what you instinctually appreciate in others. Continue reading What word or term do I most often end up using to describe the people I like?
Chaco sandals. No contest. I would donate away my wife’s Chacos. While they are in good shape, durable, extremely useful, and very practical, something about me growing up in Southern California and loving SoCal beaches makes my face scrunch up when I see Chacos. I can’t help it! I swear. (This says as much about me as it does about Chacos which, by all measures, seem to be very well made.) Meanwhile, I have a SNEAKING suspicion that my wife would want to throw away this No Fear t-shirt I still have from (no joke) 7th grade. It is so full of holes, huge and not as huge, that it barely clings to my torso anymore. Haha! But it’s the softest thing you’ve ever felt in your entire life. And I have this totally crazy “goal” of wearing it around the house and then one day, I go to get up off the coach and the shirt just rips and falls off of my frame and I nod my head approvingly and say “Huh!” and go find a real shirt. Anyway, ask your S.O. this question. It’s a funny one. Continue reading What one article of clothing or accessory of mine would you donate away if you could?
And why was that a memorable moment? Thank you’s are to people what water is to a plant. No joke. It pays off to get good at saying thank you — noticing when to get one ready, actually remembering to do it, understanding when your significant other is running low on them. We all just want to be appreciated genuinely. This question helps you sharpen your “thank you skills.” Into skillz. With a z. You want that mad thank-you game. Trust. Continue reading When’s a time that I said “thank you” to you that really sticks out in your mind?
It’s not about competition with another couple. Asking your husband or wife this question is much more about identifying what inspires them and what they aspire to in your own relationship. Work through this question thoughtfully. It will make you appreciate the gift of the solid marriages that surround you and it will give you tons of ideas for how to strengthen your married life. Continue reading Whose marriage do you most admire and why?
This struck me as an awkward question at first. It just doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that regular people ask each other. But why not? Shouldn’t it be? So often in life we have to make decisions based on imperfect or incomplete information. (It’s this way for decisions about jobs, where to live, how to save, etc, etc…) So with your partner, one of the rare times that you actually CAN have complete information about what to do in order to make him/her happier and more fulfilled, why not ask for it? Continue reading What can I do to make you feel more confident in our future direction?
I’m not a huge believer in the idea that men turn into their fathers and women turn into their mothers and that my marriage is destined to reenact my parent’s and my wife’s parent’s marriages. But I’m not NOT a believer in that either. Let’s just put it that way. Haha! There’s a grain of truth to it all. There is an influence – even if it’s in the opposite direction. Honestly, asking this question on the front end can save you and your partner hours of arguments because you’ll start to see the patterns earlier. “Oh yeah… his parents fought all the time about money. Part of his reaction is coming from that.” Or “Oh yeah… her dad wouldn’t eat healthier post-heart attack even though her mom tried so hard. Part of her reaction is coming from that.” It’s helpful. I promise. Continue reading What’s the one argument that your parents had that you try very hard to avoid with me?
(Almost posted this one to the “Ask Your Date” category. Haha. That would’ve been a mistake!) If you and your partner haven’t completely ruled out starting a family, this question is a good one to work through. Marriages are all about being on the same page. Finances, faith, work, and of course how to raise a family. This question gets right to the heart of parenting styles, strictness, and family values. And it gives you an opportunity to practice “the talk.” (I don’t have kids yet but I feel like I’m going to need a lot of practice.) Continue reading Can you give me a mock session of how you would discuss sex education with our kid?
“Put on your own mask before assisting others. Oxygen is flowing even if the bag does not inflate.”
We’ve all heard this. And we all know what it means in terms of day-to-day self-care even when you’re not on an airplane. But it’s often very difficult to actually take a mental health day or even carve out an hour or two each week for reflection, exercise, meditation, creative writing, pleasure reading, etc. Ask your partner this question and you’ll know what the O2-starved part of her wants most right now. This is important information. And even if you can’t arrange an entire day unplugged, you can probably knock out bills/bathing kids/doing dishes to give your partner 1 hour to journal and think. It might not be a whole, full day but…oxygen IS flowing even if the bag doesn’t inflate, right? Continue reading If you were by yourself for the entire day tomorrow and could do anything you wanted, how would you spend the day?
Life trajectories are beautiful and often unpredictable. It’s fun to learn about what your partner thought adult life would be like. You can appreciate the good surprises together. And for the sadness-tinged surprises (because that happens too – “I never thought I’d live so far away from my family,” or “I was sure I would have traveled abroad by now”) this question can help you start planning something special and memorable: a surprise visit home or that trip abroad after you’ve saved up for it. Continue reading What about our current life do you think would most surprise your 10-year-old self?
It’s the last part – “just the two of us” – that makes this question important. If you’ve got kids, you know why. But even if you don’t, for example, my wife and I noticed that pretty much all the travel we’d done in the last 2 years was for weddings and visiting family. These are beautiful occasions, to be sure, but it’s different to think about what you want to experience in the future just as a couple. Keep growing! Stay adventurous! Continue reading What would you like to do together in the future? (Just the two of us)