Published:  07:44 PM, 25 July 2017 Last Update: 09:37 PM, 25 July 2017

The 20 questions that will save your relationship

The 20 questions that will save your relationship
Tash Bell and her husband Mat 


Everyone in a long-term relationship knows there’s a price to be paid for security. All-night sex sessions are traded for a good night’s sleep, and “lovey-dovey” chats cede to logistical briefings. (When did you last have a conversation that didn’t end with: “You forgot to buy BIN BAGS?!”) As the years pass, it’s too easy for partners to take each other for granted – and then a matter of time before one takes themselves off altogether. Fail to connect, and it could be you begging: “Can We Start Again Please?”

A married mother of three, I mostly get my “buzz” from sticking a knife in the toaster
This is the name of the new book by Andrew G Marshall, a marital therapist with 30 years’ experience. Packed with tools for communication, and tips for re-kindling the spark, Can We Start Again Please? claims to help couples keen to improve a good relationship – but also promises aid to unluckier lovers fighting a more rearguard action: how do you battle for your marriage when your spouse is in full retreat?

The 20 questions

Andrew explains: “Each comes with an explanation of what I’m trying to achieve and how to explore the topic further. I have divided them up into three sections so they get progressively more intimate. Once you’ve read this section, discuss the idea of doing them with your partner, but try not to think about your answers until you get together as I’d like you to be spontaneous and say what feels right in the moment – looking into your partner’s eyes.”

Section one: General

1. If you were stranded with someone in the jungle who, beyond me, would you like it to be?

Why?

A simple warm-up question.

Take it further

How do you think each other would cope in the jungle? How well would your two choices of companion get on together?

2. In what period in history would you like to have lived and why?

Why?

Shines a light into your interests and dreams.

Take it further

What do your choices reveal about each other?

Old couple on beach
A long and happy marriage takes work CREDIT: GETTY CREATIVE

3. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Why?

It’s a graphic way of revealing what we find hard.

Take it further

I’ve had clients who wanted to be invisible because they always felt in the wrong as a child, or who wanted to be made of rubber so they could bend in the ways people expected. So why is your – and your partner’s – chosen superpower so appealing?

4. What would be your perfect day, from waking up in the morning to falling asleep at night?

Why?

We think we know what our partner likes, but do we really?

Take it further

At this point, I’d like you to simply imagine the day – but you could actually do it later. 

British couple become first to marry in Antarctic
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5. If you could ask one of your grandparents or your parents one thing, who would you choose and what would it be?

Why?

To examine your relationship with key people in your life through fresh eyes.

Take it further

What families don’t talk about is always interesting, and shines a light into ways you were made to conform as children to rules of which you were only half aware.

6. For what in your life – beyond marriage and children – do you feel most grateful?

Why?

We seldom stop and count our blessings; this is a good opportunity.

Take it further

People are often more focused on what they don’t have than what they do. Consider if you fall into this trap and, if so, what the impact is on those around you.

Tash and Mat
'It's too easy for couples to take each other for granted', says Tash CREDIT: JAY WILLIAMS
Section two: Personal

7. What do you consider your greatest strength and weakness?

Why?

A chance to hear your partner’s internal chatter.

Take it further

I’m always interested to know which part of the question – whether it’s their greatest strength or weakness – my clients find hardest to answer and why.

8. What ambitions have you yet to achieve?

Why?

Looks into the future.

Take it further

I believe it’s important to review your life every so often, or you will be living on autopilot and when you turn round 10 years have gone by – and that leads to resentment or even a midlife crisis. A good follow-up question to ask yourself or your partner is: why haven’t you achieved them yet?

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9. Tell your life story from childhood to today in about five minutes.

Why?

The stories we tell ourselves shape many of our choices and reactions to adversity. This is a chance to get your core narrative out in the open and really hear it yourself (and maybe for the first time admit it to yourself).

Take it further

Look at the recurrent themes. Is it an ascending narrative (everything getting better) or a descending one (getting worse) or does it have ups and downs (which is probably more realistic)? What surprised you about your own story and what did you feel while listening to your partner’s?

10. What is the most terrible memory from your childhood?

Why?

This is perhaps the most personally revealing question as our childhood shapes our adult selves.

Take it further

Look at how and why this moment still resonates today.

Children
Childhood is the most formative stage of life CREDIT: E+

11. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Why?

It introduces the fact that we’re not going to live forever and need to make every second count together rather than settling for an OK or even disappointing relationship.

Take it further

A chance to examine your fears and anxieties. Does it help to look ahead or is it better to live in blissful ignorance? If a fortune-teller could predict when you’d die, would you like to know?

12. What gives meaning to your life?

Why?

A question that everybody should ask themselves, especially in middle age when we look back at the first half of our life and forward into the second half, otherwise we get bogged down doing things that drain rather than feed us.

Take it further

Knowing what drives your partner allows you to tell the difference between simple wants and fundamental needs, and to be a team to help each other live more meaningfully. Have you thought about this question before? What feelings does it elicit?

Section three: your relationship

In this section, take turns to ask the question first, and try not to duplicate your partner’s answers.

13. What qualities did I possess that made you think I was someone special?

Why?

It’s a question I often ask my clients in the first session to remind them of their special bond.

Take it further 

How do you feel about those qualities now? Has what first attracted you at the beginning become an issue today? For example, did you like your partner’s outgoing personality but today feel he or she is not focused enough on home and family?

14. What was, for you, the most memorable moment of our wedding day or our first date?

Why?

It’s a landmark day and a happy memory from which to draw strength.

Take it further

Share other anecdotes from your wedding or when you first met. 

handsome young man giving his girlfriend a piggyback at the beach
Marriage isn't all wine and roses CREDIT: E+

15. What three things do we have in common?

Why?

A warm-up question to start talking about your relationship today.

Take it further

How have the things we share in common changed over the years? Is this good or bad?

16. When have you been made to feel small and ashamed? Please give an example where I didn’t cause the shame and one where I did.

Why?

Shame is the most difficult emotion to cope with. This is because rather than challenging one particular behaviour (“You have left the bathroom in a mess”), it can often seem as if it is about our whole personality (“You’re lazy” or “a slob”). That’s why I describe shame as the opposite of love (which is about accepting us, warts and all).

Take it further

Thank your partner for being so honest. Sympathise with the pain of the event for which you were not responsible and apologise for pain caused by the one that you triggered. Maintain good eye contact and be certain to hold hands at this point: it will help lessen the pain.

17. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about in our relationship?

Why?

It encourages you both to acknowledge the potential no-go areas.

Take it further

What we don’t talk about gathers power in the shadows and becomes more frightening. I’m not asking you to discuss these issues now but please ask each other: How could we address these topics in the future? What would make it easier?

18. Complete this sentence: I wish I had someone with whom I could share...

Why?

Begins to look into the future.

Take it further

I should stress that the someone does not have to be your partner. It is good to have separate interests. Please also discuss how you feel about your partner having close friends and if and when each of you feels excluded. What new shared activity might you like to do together?

19. If there was one small thing about my behaviour that you’d like me to change, what would it be?

Why?

Leaves you both invested in carrying on the conversation.

Take it further

Try to make these complaints similar in severity, so that it feels like a fair trade. For example, when they got married, my mother agreed to stop reading at bedtime and my father to stop dunking his biscuits in his tea.

20. Which question was hardest to answer and why?

Why? An opportunity to look back on the exercise together.

Take it further 

If you had tried to guess which your partner found hardest, would you have been correct? What surprised you about your partner’s answers? What about your own?




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