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10 Questions You Should Never Ask Your Partner

10 Questions You Should Never Ask Your Partner

Most articles on what not to say to your partner circle around avoiding taboo topics and off-limits prodding. While those tips are certainly helpful, there are deeper, more cutting questions that are even more crucial to avoid.

If all you do is steer clear of these 10 questions, your relationship will be dramatically more fulfilling and rewarding than average.

1. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you always doing that?”

It’s never a good idea to make a negative judgment or a blanket condemnation of your partner. All that does is reinforce the exact negative behaviors you’re trying to change because your judgments incentivize them to isolate from you.

Rather than attacking your partner personally for what you don’t like, share what you do like and how you would feel or do feel when they do those things. You might have to get introspective and creative to find out why certain things are so important to you.

For example, let’s say they often leave the cap off the toothpaste. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you always doing that?” you can say, “Honey, can you please put the cap on the toothpaste more often? It might seem silly, but when you do that, I really feel cared for by you.”

Then, the next time they put the cap on, feel that joy of being cared for, and let it make you happy. Go give them a big hug and kiss. Tell them you know it’s a small thing, but you really appreciate it. When your partner feels appreciated by you, they’ll want to do more and more of what you like to continue the positive vibe between you.

2. “Why do you never do what I want?”

Blaming is not sexy. It creates an atmosphere of hopelessness, resentment, distrust, and separation in the relationship. Not only is it harmful, it’s ineffective as well.

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When have you ever seen someone flip their life and personality around because they felt blamed enough? People sometimes change because they feel bad enough and hit rock bottom. In those moments, they find the inner strength to carry them into a new way of life. Don’t be that catalyst that gets your partner to rock bottom, though. There are other ways to create the same effect that are much more reliable and constructive.

Whenever you’re upset at your partner, focus first on taking responsibility for your own feelings, thoughts, and actions. Take ownership of your part of the equation. Instead of dwelling on what you think your partner is doing wrong, shift your focus to how you might be able to improve the relationship.

Once you’re more solution-minded and you’re clearer on the situation as a whole, approach your partner with open, transparent communication and a collaborative stance so you can find a solution that makes both of you happier.

3. & 4. “Why are you so (annoying, lazy, ungrateful, selfish)?” / “Why aren’t you (better, kinder)?”

When you’re upset, don’t personally attack your partner. It’s just not helpful. You’re with them, the whole package of them. They’re with you, the whole package of you. If you’re together, then you’re a match on some level.

If you want the quality of your relationship to improve, it starts with how you communicate. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, says that the most helpful way to communicate with your partner is to honestly express and empathetically receive.

Honestly express how you are and what you would like, without using blame, criticism, or demands. When your partner speaks to you, focus on empathetically receiving how they are and what they would like, without hearing blame, criticism, or demands.

This kind of communication is based on openness, honesty, and understanding, which nurtures the relationship. You can learn more about Rosenberg’s simple four-step Nonviolent Communication process here.

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5. “Why can’t you just relax?”

If your partner is in a fight or flight response, they can’t “just relax” on command. If they’re stressed, something is bothering them. Otherwise, they would be relaxed.

There are a myriad of reasons why your partner might be upset, and even though you would naturally want them to be more relaxed, saying that curtly in the heat of the moment is unlikely to get the result you’re going for.

The best way to help them become more relaxed is to seek to understand. You must first understand something before you can go about changing it. Sometimes understanding is all that is needed.

When you are open, curious, and gentle about what is actually going on for your partner, that is a clarifying and helpful step. Once you are talking together in that kind of supportive atmosphere, you’re setting yourselves up for success.

6. “Are you breaking up with me?”

Using this question in everyday conflicts is an unnecessary and emotionally destructive threat.

As Eben Pagan & Annie Lalla said at Burning Man’s Camp Mystic in 2014, oftentimes people ask that question not to gain genuine clarity but to escalate the conversation by introducing the threatening possibility of break-up themselves.

if you actually want to break up right there, then you can say so and follow through with it. Otherwise, ask genuinely clarifying questions of the other person. If it feels too heated right then, take a step back, reevaluate as objectively as possible, and discuss the matter again once the atmosphere has calmed.

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If you really are afraid your partner is breaking up with you, you can say simply, “Honey, I’m afraid. Let’s take a few minutes and come back once I’ve calmed down.” Once you’ve calmed down a bit, you can ask, “What are you feeling right now?” or, “What do you want?” or, “What do you want in our relationship?”

When you ask those questions in a non-threatening way, you give your partner space to think constructively about the answers. The one time, if ever, that your partner actually does want to break up, they will say so. Otherwise, asking these clarifying questions openly and gently strengthens the intimacy in your relationship.

7. “Are you sure you want to be with me?”

While it is important for the health of a relationship for each partner to praise and cherish the other, each partner is responsible for their own basic level of self-respect and self-confidence.

As relationship coach Jordan Gray says, expressing interest in your partner as a person and on a day-to-day level and affirming that you find them attractive is key to a satisfying relationship.

At the same time, Dr. David Scharchauthor of Passionate Marriage, points out that it’s hard to be sexually attracted to someone you constantly have to prop up. If you need constant validation on a basic level, then before long, it will be difficult for your partner to admire or respect you.

The solution is to make sure that you would want to be with you, and that you already enjoy being yourself. When you feel great in your own skin, it’s much easier for you to have the clarity of mind to actually assess whether the person you’re with is a great match for you and genuinely appreciates you.

8. & 9. “Can I trust you?” / “Are you telling me the truth?”

Asking this question point blank is never a good idea. For one thing, it puts your partner on the defensive immediately. For another thing, you can never trust the answer you’re getting.

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This is because if you’re not fundamentally sure you can trust someone, then asking them whether or not you can trust them will only drive you crazier.

When it comes to people getting jealous and possessive in relationships, Mark Manson, author of Models, says,  “It’s really simple: either you trust your partner or you don’t. If you trust your partner, then shut your mouth. If you don’t trust your partner, do everyone a favor and dump them.

“‘Well, what if I trust them but they lie to me anyway?’ Then trust that one day you will find out. Dishonest people cannot hide their dishonesty forever. Eventually it will surface and be obvious. And on that day, dump them.” Kind of harsh, but definitely straightforward.

10. “If you knew it would make me uncomfortable, then why did you bring it up?”

A quality relationship does not settle for the pseudo-comfort of avoidance. It thrives on the genuine comfort of two people who are transparent with each other and themselves for the purpose of deepening intimacy and fulfillment.

In order for your relationship to thrive, you have to be willing to talk about difficult and uncomfortable things and comfort yourself when the topic at hand feels confronting.

As Dr. David Schnarch suggests, in order for an emotionally committed relationship to be fulfilling, we have to be willing and able to soothe ourselves independently within the relationship. 

It is challenging to self-soothe and self-confront at once. That is for sure. It means coming to terms with the parts of us that we may not like to see so much, like our own fears, anxieties, and insecurities.

It is as rewarding as it is difficult, though.

Taking a look at what’s really going on inside with openness and curiosity means an ever-improving relationship and an ever-improving life.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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