There are plenty of questions that strengthen your relationship. Communication, above all, is the best way to maintain and enhance a relationship, and questions are a big part of that connection. From asking how your partner's day was to asking what you can do to alleviate a bad mood or a hard week, questions are the way we find out more about our partners, show that we care and want to know what they need, and signal that we're interested in what they have to say.
Of the thousands of possible questions to ask your partner, marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin's favorite is "What do you need more of from me?" It's seemingly straightforward and deceptively simple, but it's actually a complex query, and it can lead to some important and fascinating discussions. Not only can it wind up being a gigantic vote of confidence and positivity for the relationship, but it can also be a great conversation starter and a fabulous way to see eye-to-eye with your partner. "I love this question for a variety of reasons," says the relationship expert and CEO of Group Therapy Associates in Haymarket, Virginia. Here are five reasons she loves this question — and what it can do right now for your relationship.
1. It Promotes Positivity
Any time you give your partner an open forum for a conversation of their needs in a nurturing and loving manner, you're flinging open wide the door of positivity and good vibes. This question is all about putting both sides of a partnership in a space where they can hear and be heard. "First and foremost, it forces you both to a place of positivity — when we think of what we want more of, we are immediately focused on what's good and enjoyable about our partner," Boykin says.
Though we can naturally lean toward a "slightly negative bias" and be "wired to be alert to what's wrong in a situation before we focus on what's right," she says, this question puts a spotlight on our best qualities. "When you ask your partner what they want more of, even if their first thought is negative, the only way to answer the question is to turn it into a positive," says Boykin. "Rather than, 'I want you to stop nagging me,' they might say, 'I want to have more fun,' or, 'I want you to trust me to follow through.' This also helps keep their answer from becoming a catalyst for a fight."
2. It Leaves Room For Spontaneity
You never know what your partner is going to say. And that can be a little scary, but if you're with someone whom you trust and love, you can't go wrong. It's unlikely that such a query will start a fight — but the answer might surprise you in a pleasing way. "Because the focus is on being positive and seeing what good things you can bring more of to your relationship, things like timing and unexpected answers are much less likely to start a fight," says Boykin.
"Of course, there are no guarantees, but if you approach the question with an intention of curiosity, even an unexpected answer is a good thing." An open mind will go a long way here. "Remember, it's what do you need more of — so the answer should be something that you already do or have done, and is therefore not so unpredictable or uncomfortable." Even if it does surprise you — you want me to do more of that?! — remain neutral and don't jump to conclusions. If the answer really does bother you, you can always revisit at a later date.
3. It's Inspiring
"Aside from the positive perspective it promotes, asking our partners what they need from us can inspire us to do more for them and in ways that they will find meaningful," Boykin says. Instead of, say, cooking them dinner when what they really want is some face-to-face time with you over takeout, you get to find out what they actually want. This can lead to more acts of kindness that are actually of the ilk they really need.
"It's easy to do things for each other without stopping to think if what you've done is in fact meaningful to your partner or not," says Boykin. This is also a way to feel closer with your partner. "When we ask each other about our wants and needs, we stay connected and feel more understood," she says. "The longer you are together, the easier it is to assume you know what they want. But if you ask, then you occasionally you may be surprised to find that things you thought they didn't care about actually mean a lot."
4. It Helps Define What We Need
It's actually pretty rare to sit down and posit such a question to your partner. If you do, you give them — and yourself — the chance to ask the question to themself and become more focused about their desires within the relationship. "Asking your partner [this question] also forces them to get clear about their expectations for the relationship and for you," Boykin says. "Too often, couples don't spend a lot of time thinking about what they need in their relationship, they just wait to feel unsatisfied and then scramble to figure out why."
This question can act as a preventative measure, correcting whatever might need some help or augmenting whatever is working well before it's even an issue. "This one question can help you both develop a habit of being mindful about what you want and expect," says Boykin. "It also reminds you that your partner is not a mind-reader; you have to talk to them about what you want and need if you are ever going to get it."
5. It Encourages Kindness And Generosity
One of the best parts of a healthy relationship is just showing up for another human being, and having that person respond in kind. There are many ways to be there for someone, but one is definitely showing (and telling) them how interested you are in their well-being. "Asking someone what they want more of is in itself an expression of kindness," Boykin says. "It demonstrates an interest and desire to know more about them and how you can serve them emotionally."
Once you have the answer, though, you must be open to do — or at least try — whatever it is they want. "The willingness to meet their needs is a generous act of love," says Boykin. "It's not enough to ask — you have to be willing to give, at least some, of what they want." Always remain open to the possibility that their request might be the perfect opportunity for a new layer in your relationship.
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