Buzz Lightyear challenges his friends to go to “infinity and beyond.” I’m ok avoiding infinity actually. But I do want to move to deeper connection and beyond with my spouse and family. I think most people do. Connecting with other people in a deep and meaningful way makes us happy, especially when that other person is our spouse. In fact, we have a deep need for emotional connection to our spouse. And, if we perceive something as threatening our connection with our spouse, we do all sorts of crazy things—like argue, blame, accuse, give the silent treatment—in an attempt to reconnect. These actions rarely work well; but, like a toddler crying and screaming when dropped off at day care, we hope our behavior will bridge the disconnection and bring us back into synchrony and deep connection with our spouse.
There is a better way to restore our connection with our spouse, a way that doesn’t involve those “crazy actions.” Ironically, a series of twelve experiments focused on building greater connection to strangers provides us with solid instructions for restoring connection to our spouse as well. In these experiments, researchers asked pairs of people to discuss either deep or shallow topics. Sometimes they gave them the topics and sometimes the pair came up with their own topic. Shallow topics involved small talk like questions about weather, a TV show, or a recent sporting event. Deeper topics included more personal, intimate information about emotions, values, or personal desires. Participants also made predictions before having the conversation about 1) how awkward the conversation would be, 2) how connected they would feel, and 3) how much enjoyment they would experience. After the conversation they rated their actual experience in the same three areas.
Not surprisingly, those who discussed the deep topics found the conversation more enjoyable than those who engaged with one another on shallow topics. Those who discussed deep topics tended to overestimate how awkward the conversation would be. Additionally, if allowed to have a shallow conversation with one partner and a deep conversation with another, they preferred the deeper one. Most importantly, those who discussed deeper topics also experienced a stronger sense of connection with their partner.
As one of the researchers said, “If you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important exchanged in return, leading to a considerably better conversation…” and, I might add, a deeper connection.
The application to marriage is obvious, right? We want to know meaningful, important things about our spouses and their lives. They want to know meaningful and important things about us. We are interested in having a deeper conversation as a couple and so does our spouse. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and only talk about the “shallower topics” needed to manage our lives together, topics like family chores, children’s schedules, dinner plans, house maintenance. All these topics need to be discussed and managed. However, for deeper intimacy, we need to make time to discuss deeper topics as well. Put down the cell phones and tablets, turn off the TV, look at your spouse, and enjoy a conversation about the deeper, more meaningful aspects of life. If you struggle to think of what might constitute a deeper conversation, try these 10 conversation starters.
- What first attracted you to me?
- Would you rather talk about your problems or wait until they are resolved?
- What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?
- What is something you cannot live without?
- What is your biggest struggle right now? How can I help?
- What makes you the happiest?
- What has been your greatest accomplishment as an individual? What do you think has been our greatest accomplishment together?
- What is the best part of our relationship?
- If you could change one thing about how you grew up, what would it be? Why?
- What qualities do you most love about me?
Enjoy sharing these questions with your spouse…and enjoy going to deeper connection and beyond.