When you’ve been married for a long time, it’s easy to slip into a daily routine and familiar lifestyle and forget that you might not necessarily be meeting all of your partner’s needs. Just because someone isn’t vocalizing a complaint doesn’t mean they don’t have one, and the last thing you want is to be blindsided by divorce papers when you thought your marriage was going perfectly well.
What’s more, according to couples consultant and coach Lesli Doares, women in particular have a tendency to “go radio silent after years of attempts to improve the relationship. If she no longer is talking about it, and a specific solution has not been implemented, she may be planning her exit.” But men—as our society seems to often forget—have feelings too, and many a husband would rather bottle up his emotions than tell his spouse that something is amiss.
Now, no one is suggesting that you have a Big Relationship Talk every day—that would be exhausting. But it’s important to check in every once in a while, if for no other reason that to show the other person how much they mean to you. And just so you don’t have to go into this conversation blindly, here’s a handy guide to the kinds of questions you should ask your spouse at least once a year. And for secrets to marital bliss, check out the habits that experts say will increase your chances of divorce.
“How can I make your day better?”
In his article “How I Saved My Marriage,” writer Richard Paul Evans said that asking his wife this one simple question completely changed everything for him and his wife, for the better. “The walls between us fell. We began having meaningful discussions on what we wanted from life and how we could make each other happier,” he wrote. To learn more, check out 10 Real People Share How They Turned Their Marriage Around.
“What could I do to make you feel more loved?”
In 2004, Tom Elliff, the International Mission Board’s Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations, came up with a list of questions that every husband should ask his spouse, and this was at the top. His wife of thirty years, Jeannie, told Family Life Today that when her husband first asked this question, she “was almost blown away. It was wonderful.”
“What could I do to make you feel more respected/honored?”
In his book, How to Turn Your Marriage Around in 10 Days, lead pastor of Oasis Church Philip Wagner said that “behind every marriage problem, there is an honor problem. Whether it’s finances or sexuality or differences, somebody is feeling dishonored.” Therefore, he suggests first being honest with yourself and asking, “How am I dishonoring [my spouse]?” and then ask them what you could do to make them feel a deeper level of respect.
“What could I do to make you feel more understood?”
You might think you know your spouse inside and out, but the truth is that people change. Your partner might not be the same person now that they were when you first married them, so it’s worth addressing if there are any significant differences between you two that makes the other person feel less heard or seen. You’ll notice that many of these questions begin with, “What could I do to…” rather than just, “Do you feel understood?” or, “Do you feel loved?,” as it’s always better to enter a discussion in a way that lets your spouse know you’re willing to take actions to change.
“What could I do to make you feel more secure?”
This is another good one from Elliff. By the way, he emphasizes that you need to ask them one-by one instead of just printing them out like a list and handing to your spouse to fill out like a form.
“What could I do to make you feel more appreciated?”
It’s easy to take the little things that your spouse does for you for granted, and this question shows that you are aware of that and are actively trying to avoid this very human pitfall. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes,” Allen Barton, the lead author of a study on the link between gratitude and marital outcomes, said in a university newsletter. For more tips like this one, check out 30 Things You’re Doing Right That Will Improve Your Marriage.
“Are you happy?”
It’s the atomic bomb of questions, but it’s one you need to ask your spouse—and, honestly, yourself—every once in a while to make sure the answer is (overall) a “Yes.”
“How do you envision our future together? What can we do together to achieve that goal?”
Not to be undone by her husband, Jeannie Elliffmade her own list of questions that every wife should ask her spouse, and this is a particularly good one, as it ensures that you have the same vision for your future as a couple and are actively working towards it.
“Do you have any big dreams that you have yet to share with me? And, if so, how can I help you achieve them?”
One of the best parts about those first few years of dating is the “long walk stage,” where you, well, go on long walks and share your hopes and dreams. But, once you’ve been married for some time, your spouse might be reticent to share dreams that seem financially risky or even outlandish. Asking this question will help you spouse know that their individual pursuits are still important to you, and the follow-up shows—before they even answer—that you’re on their side.
“If you could change one thing about our marriage, what would it be?”
This is a nice, open-ended way of inviting your spouse to share concerns without any of the negative connotations of “What’s wrong with our marriage?”
“What’s your happiest memory of us together?”
According to research published in Motivation and Emotion, couples who reminisce about their best times together report greater relationship satisfaction. But, if you’ve lost the spark in your marriage a bit, talking about the old times can also help you remember why you got together in the first place and infuse it into your current bond.
“Keep close in your mind some poignant memories of the first rushes of love—when you knew that you never wanted to be far from this person, when your heart felt a physical jump at the sight of them,” Lewis and Marsha McGehee, who have been married 42 years, told Best Life.
“What would you like our sex life to be like?”
It might sound like a weird question, but, according to certified sex therapist Kristin Marie Bennion, “many couples in long-term relationships never talk about their sexual agreement until they hit troubled waters. It can be so helpful to talk about how often each partner would like to have sexual contact, what their understanding of fidelity is, and other ways of staying intimately connected when having a sexual experience just isn’t in the cards.”
“What’s your idea of an ideal marriage?”
Phrasing the question this way leaves room for your spouse to explain their priorities in a way that seems theoretical as opposed to specific to your marriage, and may therefore make it easier for them to express how they really feel in a sort of roundabout way.
“How do you feel our marriage is going?”
According to dating and relationship coach Carla Romo, asking a question like this in an open-ended way is better than flat-out asking, “Do you think things are going well/badly?” as it gives your partner a chance to fully express their thoughts and feelings instead of being boxed into a one-word answer.
“What can I do to make you know how much I love you?”
In a touching Reddit thread that went viral, an elderly widower wrote about how haunted he is by the memory of all the times his wife asked him if he wanted her to lose weight or if he still found her attractive, and how he wished that he had tried harder to make sure she always knew how much he loved her. Even if you don’t get a substantive answer to this question, in some ways, the question itself is probably its own answer.
“Do you feel like we spend enough time together?”
Acccording to the therapist and best-selling self-help author Tina B. Tessina, it’s crucial to not to get “so into your role as parents that you forget to be partners.” So it’s important to check-in every so often to make sure your spouse feels you are spending enough quality time together, so that the romance doesn’t completely go out the window as you tag-team taking care of the kids.
“Where do you see our relationship in five years?”
People ask this a lot before they get married, but once they’ve walked down the aisle, it’s easy to assume it’s not necessary anymore. However, it’s important that your relationship continues to grow even after you’ve said your vows, and that you’re both on the same page about what that means for you.
“Is there anything I can do to make your day easier?”
This is a particular good one to ask your wife, as a recent study out of Harvard Business School found that as many as 25 percent of couples divorce due to “disagreements about housework,” with the majority of the instigators being women. As this viral Facebook post from 2017 proves, it’s often the little things—like making your wife a cup of coffee in the morning or doing the dishes so she can watch her favorite TV show—that can make her feel truly appreciated and loved.
“Of your friends and family, who do you think has the best relationship and why?”
Like the “What’s your idea of an ideal marriage” question, this provides your partner a chance to shed light on some of the things that might be lacking in your marriage without having to make it specific to you. As an added benefit, it can make it easier for them to realize what’s bothering them or what they need more if they haven’t quite figured it out yet. “Sometimes people have a hard time articulating what they want or need in a relationship, but they can recognize it when they see it in another couple,” relationship expert and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love Anita Chlipala, told The Gottman Institute.
“What would you consider unforgivable and why?”
Don’t assume you know your spouse’s bottom line. The reality is that some people know they could forgive, say, a one-night mistake, but couldn’t get over the deception of a year-long affair. “Knowing in greater detail what would deeply hurt your husband can bring a dose of reality and help protect your relationship,” Chipala wrote.
“Why do you love me? And when did you feel most loved by me?”
It’s only fair that at least one of these questions would be a self-esteem booster, but this question also has a lot of practical value. You’ve already asked about some of the things you’re doing wrong that you should try to change, so why not find out what you’re doing right so that you can amp that up?