I will never forget the day I slammed the garage door and then went back inside and slammed it again because it felt so satisfying in my anger and hurt feelings — all because of a hockey game.
My husband and I had been married for less than six months. I can laugh now at what came next, but in the moment I felt embarrassed and afraid that we were becoming that couple with a reputation in the neighborhood for screaming matches and slamming doors. Is this my life now? I wondered as I sat wide-eyed in my car, fat tears streaming down my face.
Some fresh air and the three questions I’m sharing with you here got us back on the same page.
The catalyst for these three questions was simple. I realized early on in our marriage that I was giving my husband too much “critical feedback.” I made it known when my expectations weren’t met, when I felt let down, unheard, alone, or unloved. I also realized that my husband was taking it personally (which astounded me because he was so healthy in his professional life). When it came to communication, we were doing okay, but there were many times when a simple discussion quickly devolved into hurt feelings, tears, and cold shoulders.
How could we create a simple routine to regularly check in on the state of affairs in our relationship? How could we affirm and challenge one another and also share our desires in a healthy way? These were the questions that nagged at me day after day, so I came up with the following three questions that, while each powerful on their own, can transform any relationship when considered together.
I’m sharing the questions that have transformed my marriage and close friendships with you, because I think they have the power to help all of us communicate better by asking better questions and getting better answers. They have the potential to support us in becoming better spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, children, employees, leaders, and friends.
Practically speaking, there are a million ways to apply these questions to your own relationships. My husband and I ask each other these questions once a week — for us, that’s just often enough that we can remember everything pretty clearly, but not so often that it becomes a chore.
Maybe you want to copy and paste these questions directly into your life, or maybe you’ll want to tweak them to fit your style. Maybe you don’t ask them at all, but simply use the principles of each one to frame the hard, but crucial conversations that we all face in our close relationships.
How have I loved you well this week?
The purpose of this question is affirmation. Most of us are painfully aware of our flaws and those of the people close to us. We hear it from our bosses, from social media, from the culture at large. So many of us are crumbling under the weight of expectations, especially the ones we place on ourselves. We’re not hearing nearly enough affirmation, and if we’re honest, it’s easy to be too distracted, too busy, or just downright stingy with the words of praise we give out.
We all need to hear that our efforts and even our good intentions haven’t gone unnoticed. There’s a piece of us that still longs for gold stars. In some ways, we’re just kindergarteners with mortgages. This question always comes first because when we feel that our big hearts and good intentions have been seen and acknowledged, it’s much easier to examine the sticky, selfish parts that remain.
Where have I missed the mark?
Okay, this is hard, but with practice, it will get easier. It takes an emotionally healthy person to ask a loved one to reveal our flaws to us and then to listen to them with an open heart.
Here’s the deal: You might feel defensive and vulnerable. That’s okay, and I want you to hear this — you are not your mistakes. We miss the mark every single day and it’s easy to avoid the hard work of examining our flawed humanity.
We sometimes have this unspoken agreement in our relationships that go like this — if you don’t call me out, I won’t call you out. That was certainly the case in many of mine. But that way of living doesn’t get us anywhere worthwhile. The beauty of answering this question is that we have a forum to voice our wounds and release the pressure. Suddenly, I don’t have to call out every perceived slight the moment it happens.
Asking the question is a practice in humility and facing our failures. And then seeing we are so loved regardless is mind-blowing — it’s what God had in mind all along when He made us for communion with one another. It might seem counter-intuitive, but knowing there’s a place for the painful parts of a relationship can be surprisingly healing.
How can I love you well in the coming week?
Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to voice our needs and desires and to receive the needs and desires of the people we care about. People tend to give love the way they receive it.
I’ll give you a prime example. Early in our marriage, my husband would be all about his love language, physical touch, around 10 p.m. while the dishes sat unwashed from the dinner I prepared after a long day at the office. All I could think was, “You can’t take five minutes to clean up the kitchen from dinner, but you want me to put down this novel and get intimate? You must be truly insane.”
My husband’s intentions were pure. He felt like he was loving me, but what made me feel loved was a clean kitchen and some time to read before bed. Now that we have a place to voice our needs and desires, the kitchen is clean, we can have sex on the regular, and I still have time to wind down like an 80-year-old woman going to bed at 9 p.m. with my chamomile tea and a book.
As I said, there is no wrong way to use these questions in your own life. These questions are meant to be a springboard for you to examine what needs tending to in your relationships. It’s true that God made us for relationship, and it’s also true that we’re not always naturally good at it.
I spent most of my early twenties feeling content with shallow friendships and loads of alone time. Life was simpler then, but it’s better now. We can choose to go an inch deep and a mile wide in our relationships, but that won’t get us the deep intimacy we’re longing for. The kind of relationships we’re craving require time, tending, and vulnerability — and they’re totally worth it.