Getting to Know Your Partner Deeply

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

young couple getting to know each other

As I pointed out in my last article, one of the characteristics of successful and satisfying relationships is “positive sentiment override.” This means that you have built up enough positive feelings (friendship) towards each other that you’re able to withstand the inevitable disappointments, conflicts, and just plain hard times in your marriage. One way to do this is by getting to know your partner deeply.

It sounds so simple. In fact, most partners would say that they know each other well. But often that knowledge is superficial. For example, you may know where your partner grew up but do you know anything about her best friends back in elementary school or why these friends were important to her? Or, you may know that your partner is experiencing a lot of stress at work, right now, but do you understand the sources of that stress? Or, are you aware of your partner’s deepest fears or greatest longings?

I’m talking deep knowledge

Happy couple’s knowledge of each other is not surface but deeper, emotional knowledge. What are your partner’s hopes and longings? Likes? What brings her the greatest joy? What are his deepest fears and stresses? What is his life philosophy? What did she love most about her childhood? What was difficult in her childhood? What is his biggest dream? Who irritates him? Which relatives does she like least and why? What is her favorite music? Movie? And what is it about that movie that she loves? What would she say are the most special times in her life? What are his favorite sports and who are his favorite athletes and why? What would be your partner’s ideal job? Favorite flower? Worst childhood experience?

I’m just scratching the surface here. The list of topics could go on and on. You deepen your friendship and love for one another as you construct a richly detailed map of your partner’s life, personality, and preferences.

It reminds me of the saying, “To know me is to love me.” To refer back to another past article, the more you get to know your partner, the more you’ll experience him or her as a “thou” rather than “it.” Your love and appreciation will grow.

Be curious and ask open-ended questions

You make this happen by being curious and asking your partner open ended questions and then listening as he or she discloses their answers. Most people like to open up and talk about themselves if they feel safe. You make it safe by being a good, non-judgmental listener. Of course, you don’t want to come off as interrogating or controlling. The conversation has to feel quite natural.

And you certainly can’t have an agenda of trying to correct or fix your partner in any way during these conversations. Your purpose is to genuinely care about their world—the past, present and future. Doing this builds trust and greater friendship and love. Remember this: Happy couples spend about 50% of their communication being curious and inviting their spouse to share. What would it be like if you tried this? Next time you’re with your spouse be curious, ask a question or two and then be an interested listener.

Sample topics to know your partner

Here is a sampling of the kinds of topics you can explore.

  • Important lessons I learned about myself from my mother/father…
  • The child inside of me…
  • A really great memory from my past…
  • A difficult memory from my past…
  • The five most important things about me…
  • If I were to die today, my obituary would read…
  • Some of my greatest successes…
  • What I would do if I won the lottery…
  • My five most important values…
  • My most important goals…
  • If I had one wish…
  • The statement my clothes make…
  • My body…
  • Three of my biggest fears…
  • My identity as an adolescent… (the way I saw myself and portrayed myself to others)
  • My biggest weaknesses and how I feel about them…
  • One of the best memories of our relationship…
  • Five reasons I was attracted to you…
  • What brings me pleasure…
  • My relationship with God…
  • My theme song…

One way to do this is to choose a topic every day for 3 weeks. If you can, take some time, individually, to write your thoughts about the topic in a journal. Then take 10 minutes per person to share your thoughts on that topic.

The Book of Us

Of course, you’re in no way limited to these few questions. In fact, a friend wrote me after my last blog post and told me about a book entitled The Book of Us: A Journal of Your Love Story in 150 Questions by David and Kate Marshall. She and her husband have been answering questions from the book for many years now. She shared with me that the book has helped them through some serious ups and downs of married life. (They almost divorced twice.) But their willingness to work through these experiences, in part by sharing their answers to deeper questions, has brought them to a point of great satisfaction in their marriage.

Resilience in your marriage

In short, deep knowledge of each other brings resilience to weather marital storms. Couples who get to know each other deeply are better able to deal with stress and conflict. Their intimate knowledge of one another helps them stay connected during difficult transitions—having a baby, losing a job, suffering an illness, moving to a new location, going through retirement, or simply getting into a big fight.

Happy Couples Talk, a lot

And now let me move to another, similar practice. Research shows that happy couples talk an average of five hours more per week than unhappy couples. One way they do this is by coming together for about 20 minutes, often towards the end of the day, to talk about their day or share whatever is going on in their lives. These conversations are friendly and usually not deep. They are non-relationship focused and don’t include bringing up conflicts or problems. A simple way to do this is to ask your partner how their day was and then sit back and listen without giving unsolicited advice.

Try reminiscing

A related practice is reminiscing, talking about good times and shared memories. Research shows that people who take time to reminisce are happier. Couples can do this by deliberately talking about the good times from the past, even viewing pictures or mementos that are significant to you both. These memories are anchors that help cement your relationship. It’s also possible to do this when times are hard. If one or both of you are struggling, rather than giving in to the negative, you can think back to positive experiences together. Marriage counselors will often have couples talk about life when they first met in order to rekindle positive feelings. You can do this on your own as well.

Now you might be thinking, well, of course, happy couples spend more time talking. They like each other. The question is, do these couples spend more time talking because they like each other? Or do they like each other because they spend more time talking? In truth, it doesn’t matter. If you want to improve your marriage then do what happy couples do. Deepen your understanding of one another and carve out time to connect daily. You’ll grow in friendship and love.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

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