A lot of clients have asked me when it is a good time for them to find out important things about someone they are thinking of becoming more deeply involved with. It is natural to want to know as early as possible if they should invest the kinds of time and energy that a really good relationship needs. I usually answer with something along the lines of:
“Before you’re invested in the outcome.”
By that I mean that they should ask as early as possible in a new relationship. The next question is usually what kinds of questions they should they should ask.
There are lots of things you could ask that would get you the information you need. I will give you ten high quality and easy to deal with information gathering questions. They will help you successfully begin the process of really knowing who and what someone is about. Because they are richly intimate questions, it is really important that you approach your possible partner from a perspective of genuine curiosity and a love of shared discovery.
When you are both interested in knowing what you can expect from each other in an intimate, long-term relationship, you also need to be prepared to be just as open in return. Your willingness to be as open and honest as you can possibly be gives you both the best chance of entering a relationship with open eyes and an understanding what your chances of success are down the line.
The next ten questions are ones I have found to be successful in facilitating a strong start. I have also included some explanations and examples. As you read them, consider what your own feelings and answers might be if you were to find yourself on the other end of someone who is looking for the same kind of honest intimacy:
“What are you like when you don’t get what you want?”
Face it, we all have had, or will have, specific requests we ask of our partners that are from time to time not met. Those disappointments can easily end up in frustration and sadness. People who are flexible, confident, and innovative don’t usually react with anger, or attempt to control the other person. Instead, they clarify why their request is important to them, offering to negotiate to reach their goal. If nothing works, they fall back on their own resources and don’t punish.
- Great answer: “I’m a little embarrassed to say that I sometimes pout a bit, but I would never ever want my partner to do something she didn’t want to. There are lots of other good ways to get what I need.”
- Ok answer: “I guess, whether or not it’s so important to me is the issue. Also if my partner could give it if he wanted to, but is withholding because he’s mad about something else is a big deal. I guess I can give it up if it’s going to be a real problem, but not forever.”
- Danger sign: “If it’s a big deal, I just push until I get what I want. It’s the only way.”
“If you disagree with your partner about something important, what strategies do you use to convince him or her to be on your side?”
We all know that disagreements happen in relationships. People come from varied backgrounds and have lots of both painful and treasured memories to share in each new partnership. As the relationship grows, you encounter biases and prejudicial attitudes of your own and your partner. Depending on how deeply ingrained those preferences are, one or the other of you will likely use some of those behaviors to get the other person to see it his or her way.
- Great answer: “It is best for both of us to listen carefully to what the other feels and thinks and then work to find common ground. Sometimes I have to give way, and sometimes he does.”
- Ok answer: “I give my partner every chance to persuade me that she’s right. If she can’t though, I expect her to come over on to my side.”
- Danger sign: “When he disagrees with me over something that’s really important, I typically back away and act like I don’t care. I get back at him in other ways to maintain control.”
“If your partner asks you for something you can’t or don’t want to give, do you blame them for wanting it from you?
People who tend towards thinking they should automatically provide whatever their partner wants can feel that they are not measuring up if they can’t—or don’t want to—provide it. In an effort to feel less guilty, they blame their partners for wanting it in the first place. That is especially true of new lovers who strive to be everything to each other. Sometimes, even though they love them, what one person wants the other just can’t do or provide. Blame is a very bad response.
- Great answer: “That would be easy but it’s not fair. If I want something and she isn’t into it, it’s not her fault. I would surely make it as clear as I could how important it is to me, but blaming never solves anything.”
- Ok answer: “I try to always see my partner as the good guy. If he can’t give me something I want I might be disappointed. When I think about it, don’t most guys who are really into you try hard to do whatever you ask, don’t you think?”
- Danger sign: “If she doesn’t even give it a try, why wouldn’t I blame her? Heck, she needs to keep her priorities straight if she wants me to keep loving her the way she wants to be loved.”
“How open are you to new ways of looking at things even if they are different from your own opinions?”
New lovers usually focus on the ways they feel the same about things. They want one shared heartbeat, one dream, and one path to follow together. They often ignore and deny major differences that threaten that shared reality. Best efforts aside, eventually the differences surface. When confronted with a new idea that challenges ingrained views, most partners will do whatever they can to settle differences as fast as they can. Sometimes though, you find a different response. Couples that succeed work through those contrasting ideas, listening carefully to each other before they answer.
- Great answer: “I had a dad who knew all the secrets of the universe. It didn’t matter what you thought or felt, it was always his way or the highway. I really believe that my partner has a lot to teach me and vice versa. You can always fall back on what you think, but it’s important to see things from a different point of view.”
- Ok answer: “Yeah, I’ll admit it, I have some strong opinions on things that are important. I always listen, but I’m not all that easy to convince.”
- Danger sign: “I put a lot of time and energy into figuring out what I think. I hate it when someone tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about. People should stick with what they know and what works for them. It takes a hell of a disagreement to get me listening to something that doesn’t feel right.”
“When something is important, what methods do you use to get your partner to do what you want?”
Lots of times people have strong desires for something they want and are concerned that their partners may not be willing to give it to them. You find their responses can run the spectrum from pouting, withholding, pushiness, charm, irritation, disconnection, martyrdom, negotiation, all the way to begging. Your or your partner’s responses learned from their own past relationships, and emotional baggage, can greatly influence the outcome.
- Great answer: “Well, sweet-talking first, of course! You can get more out of anyone you love being kind in your approach rather than pushy. If it’s very important, I just tell her why it matters and listen to what she needs to feel good about giving me what I want. I’m a big negotiator, not a pusher. It just works better in the long run.”
- Ok answer: “It depends on whether or not he has some good will credit at the time. If he’s been good to me for a while, I’m more likely to just ask and hope for the best. If he owes me then I’m going to get in there and fight if I have to.”
- Danger sign: “I’m pretty much willing to do anything I have to if it’s important to me. I start with a reasonable style, but I can get pretty intense if I feel I’m being denied what I deserve.”
“When you feel disconnected from your partner, what do you usually do to get back together?”
Disconnections between lovers happen all the time and if left unresolved, can create a growing gap between them. When confronted by too much frustration or a threat, many people withdraw to their corner, lick their emotional wounds and wait for the other to find them and apologize, or at least make a peace offering of some kind. Other people leave, figuring things out on their own and come back when they feel ready to connect again. Sometimes both partners harden in their rectitude and only get back together when they can’t stand being apart. Too often it is only one of the partners who tries to get things back on track. That imbalance hurts the relationship over time.
- Great answer: “I do whatever it takes. I hate being separated from her for very long. When we fight, it’s usually over something trivial. I don’t believe in withholding love just because I’m angry.”
- Ok answer: “I need to make sure that he’s going to be open. I don’t like being rejected and I’m not likely to warm up to him unless he makes the first move even if I’m wrong.”
- Danger sign: “I always wait for her to make the move. I hate seeing it when guys just wimp out. When a woman comes to you, she’s much easier to handle during the make-up. You’re more likely to get what you need out of the deal when they come to you.”
“Are you honest about what you need in a relationship?”
In my office, I hear all too often, “I can’t tell him or her that. They’d never open up to me again.” Or, “She’s way too oversensitive to hear what I have to say. She’ll just get pissed, and then she’ll cry. I usually end up saying what she wants to hear.”
New lovers generally perceive what the other wants. They only ask for what they feel will be perceived by the other as appropriate or has the best chance of being given. That is what gives them that magical halo of the perfect match. Over time, their true desires are bound to appear. If people can’t be honest in the beginning with what they want from an intimate partner, they will show only what they feel is ok. That lack of authenticity creates a weak foundation for the relationship. Honesty does not show up as meanness or an attack. It’s a way to convey a person’s desires and what makes them happy. Without that kind of information, no partner can know how to give appropriately.
- Great answer: “Yeah, I’m honest pretty much about anything. I’m a little uncomfortable if I think it’s going to hurt her for no reason and I do like to keep my thoughts private when I’m trying to figure myself out. But anything she needs to vote on that’s going to affect her, or us, I absolutely want to hear her thoughts.”
- Ok answer: “Most of the time. I think guys really don’t want to know what women do to orchestrate the outcome. They just want the prize at the end. Besides, I like guys to care enough about me to figure me out.”
- Danger sign: “Heck, no. Well, not what goes on in my mind anyway. I tell her what she needs to know so I can get what I want, but the rest of me is off limits. I’m a guy. Women don’t like it if we’re too open.”
“Are you trustworthy?”
Most people jump straight to infidelity with this one, but infidelity is only a subgroup of breaking an agreement that two people have made. Those agreements are always open to negotiation, but never open to intentional violation of the deal. In great relationships, both partners honor an agreement of their own creation. Together they create something greater than themselves that they both willingly adhere to. The agreement is the core of their relationship, a place with behavior and thought that both honor. If either partner “breaks that faith,” they are being unfaithful to that agreement.
Passive aggressive actions, promise breaking, repeated excuses over failed compliancy, or secret behaviors where the other partner doesn’t get a vote, are all violations of trust. There are special circumstances, but they are neither planned nor frequent. Trust is the foundation of any friendship, business partnership, or intimate relationship.
- Great answer: “I’ve made some mistakes in my life by thinking I could get around things but it always backfires. I’ve learned along the way that keeping promises and being true to myself are inescapable truths in any good relationship. My partner deserves the best of me straight up.”
- Ok answer: “I’ve never understood what that word really means. I’m not ever going to tell him stuff that might make him question his love for me unless there’s just no way out of it. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him as long as I’m straight on the important stuff.”
- Danger sign: “She doesn’t need to know everything about me. I like my independence and my freedom too much. I’m great to her and what I do on my own is my own business. I don’t lie outright, but it’s pretty clear that she takes what she sees, or I’m gone.”
“Do you hold on to resentments?”
We all know how important it is to not get behind on our emotional credit cards in relationships. If we store up resentments without resolution, we will eventually have all the evidence we need to hold out on love and wait for the other to “pay back” before opening up again. Resentments pile up and feed upon themselves. They can grow until there’s no way home again. Most people who keep and nurture a stockpile of old hurts have learned that behavior in childhood. It can be changed, but only with commitment and hard work.
- Great answer: “I try to let go of negative stuff between us as soon as I can. I’ve learned that people hate rehashing or nagging. I want some resolution so the same stuff doesn’t come up over and over, but keeping a backlog of anger just leads to being miserable inside and mean to him.”
- Ok answer: “Sometimes. You know, like when she blows up and attacks and then expects me to just be there whenever she’s over it. I don’t like being pushed around, and just give in easily when it’s convenient for her.
- Danger sign: “When guys are mean, you have to let them know that your price just went up. That is what you do when they don’t do what they’re supposed to. Heck, I stay mad until he clearly gets that he owes me one. I like the power.”
“How do you usually express your love for someone?”
This one is easy at first glance. Men often express their love sexually and by behavioral caretaking, and women by emotional tracking and anticipation of their lover’s needs. If each agrees that those expressions are welcomed and appreciated, there isn’t a problem. But when one of them is more sexual, more in need of emotional sustenance, more affectionate, or more interested in just hanging out than the other, those differences can result in disappointment and disillusionment.
It is often just a matter of teaching each other what you mean by certain behaviors, or asking more specifically for what works for you or them. Other times, each of you will have to translate what you say or do to appreciate love expressed differently that might feel more fulfilling.
Try and remember that showing love in a way that the other doesn’t feel or need it may not have the positive results you hope for. Many times partners show love in ways they like and not take the time to translate their words and behaviors into ones their partners will experience as loving. Open communication is never more important than in the ways love is expressed and experienced.
- Great answer: “In whatever way they feel it. I know that loving someone takes a lot of learning and patience. Getting to know what is meaningful to them, not just to me, is the thing. I’m pretty innovative. I always tell my partner that I want her to be open and real in telling me what makes her happy.”
- Ok answer: “I’m a really affectionate woman. I touch and caress a lot. It’s important to me that my partner appreciates how nice I am and tells me just that. I need that kind of caring back and I won’t be happy long if he doesn’t do that.”
- Danger sign: “I like sex, period. I can do all the other things women say they want, but if there’s no gold at the end, there’s no rainbow. Cuddling is for kids and animals. Humans need to get it on and just do it.”
Think about these questions and answers. As you present the questions and hear the answers, they can open the floodgates for the many other questions. I know you might feel bit awkward or at risk asking them up front. You will be surprised at how successful the results will be and isn’t it better to know now, rather than discovering one thing at a time to avoid heartbreak after it is too late?
Want to talk a little more about things to consider before you commit? Schedule a time so we can talk.
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