The holiday of love is just around the corner. Even though I have a personal thing against overpriced flowers and big boxes of subpar quality chocolate, I love celebrating love. And not just love in a romantic relationship, but love in all relational capacities.
One way to honor our relationships is by deepening them. Our relationships usually deepen naturally, gradually over time through the trust that we build with one another, the care, concern and support we show each other and the likeness we have in just being in each other’s company.
Even so, it’s easy to become complacent in our relationships. We know we are in relationship with our spouse, our children, our parents, siblings, friends, and sometimes the comfort of knowing they’re always there makes it easy to take those relationships for granted. We may talk regularly with any of those individuals, but over time, things happen and change before our very eyes and yet we don’t even see it. If years of this go by, we suddenly realize that we don’t really know our child anymore or understand their actions, decisions or behaviors. We see our spouse but are surprised by how different they are from the person we married. We meet for coffee with a friend and feel out of touch with their life’s happenings.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, consider fostering love in your relationships. Choose a few of your most important relationships and intentionally spend some time deepening them.
How? Focused quality time. Leave the TV off, put the phones down and just talk and be with each other. You might enjoy a meal together, or coffee, or you might go for a walk or hike outside. Just be sure to choose a setting that won’t cause too much distraction or interruption to your time together. If the person lives far away, then a phone or video call will work as well.
Then, personally make a commitment to listen and learn as much as you can about that other person. This means you need to ask some questions!
Here are examples of questions you could ask depending on who the relationship is with. And be prepared to answer the questions back if they ask you in return!
Conversation Starters: Spouse
- What are you most proud of yourself for in the last year? What about the last 5 years?
- What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to try or do but haven’t yet? How come? What sparked your interest in that?
- If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?
- When you were growing up?
- What are your favorite memories in our marriage/relationship/family?
- What are some things you’d like to do in the next few years?
Conversation Starters: Child
- What is your favorite thing about school right now? Least favorite? How come (to both)?
- Who is your favorite teacher? How come?
- What do you love most about yourself?
- What is something you’ve always wanted to do or learn or see?
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Conversation Starters: Parent
- What’s a project on your list that you’ve been wanting to do?
- Where is someplace you’ve always wanted to go but haven’t?
- If we could relive one memory from my childhood, what would that be for you?
- If you could relive one memory from YOUR childhood, what would that be?
- What were your biggest fears about being a parent?
- What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, learn or see?
- How did you become interested in (insert hobby/passion/skill)?
- How did you decide to pursue your career path?
Conversation Starters: Sibling or friend
- Are you working toward any goals? What are they and why did you choose them?
- What’s your favorite thing about work right now? Least favorite? How come?
- What are you most looking forward to in the next 6 months? 12 months?
- What kinds of things are you doing for you right now (health/fitness, hobbies, etc.)?
- What is your favorite memory of our relationship/friendship?
These questions are meant to elicit deeper thinking. Many of them are also intended to draw out positive feelings (although some may do the opposite and you should be prepared for that, too!). You’ll hopefully learn something new or be curious by part of their response and can ask follow up questions to learn more.
You wouldn’t ask all of them, but you could ask one or two the next time you’re with the person. If it feels weird to ask one of the questions because it isn’t something you would normally talk about, start the conversation by referring to yourself. For example, if the question is about their favorite memory of your relationship, you could pose this question by saying something like, “I happened to think about that one time when we did X and… [insert some details]. I think that might be my favorite memory with you! What’s your favorite memory of us?”
If you’re asking about something the person has already told you about in prior conversations, but you don’t remember all the details, you can always start your question by saying, “Remind me…” or “If I remember right…” or “I know you’ve shared this with me before and I’m sorry I don’t remember all of the details, so do you mind telling me about ______ again? I would love to hear it.”
Another idea is to gamify this idea by purchasing conversation starter activities like this one. There are all kinds of themes, from focusing on general topics for anyone, to ones specifically focused on couples, to ones for kids. You might enjoy asking a round of questions from one of those decks instead of coming up with your own.
Also, as you’re having these conversations, it’s a good idea to express gratitude about the person when appropriate. This can simply be sharing your appreciation for having them in your life, or it can be complimenting them on a skill, strength or value that you admire in them. For example, when your child answers what they love most about themself, you can agree with them and then add the other things you love about them. This act of showing gratitude supports the caring aspect of relationships and it also helps the other person feel great about themselves!
Lastly, there are always opportunities to deepen any relationship by focusing on just a few things:
- Being present in the conversation when the person is talking to you. This means looking in their eyes if you’re face-to-face or on video, avoiding multitasking and avoiding thinking about other things while they’re talking. It also means responding to what they say and usually asking questions that will have them share more and really feel heard.
- Asking open-ended questions. Notice that, “Did you have a good day?” “How was your day?” and “What did you do today at work/school?” will each garner vastly different responses from the person you’re asking. In addition, you can learn more about what a person is sharing by asking follow up questions. “How come?” works well in many conversations. “How did you decide to do that/choose that?” or “How did you get involved with that?” are examples of questions that will get the person talking about their thought process or interest about the given subject, which usually tells you some cool things about them you may not have known!
- Paying attention to opportunities to help them. For example, if your spouse complains about a certain item on their to-do list, is there a way for you to do it for them, for someone else to do it for them, or for you to take another task off their list so they can get that other thing done? If your parent is planning to work on their garden on an upcoming weekend, could you help them out? If your sibling or friend is going through a rough patch, can you send them a gift card for a coffee, or flowers, and call to check in on them more than you would have otherwise?
- Expressing gratitude. Telling them when you appreciate or admire something about them or something they did. Extending compliments as you think of them.
I hope you’ll focus on deepening one or a few of your relationships in the coming weeks, using these ideas as inspiration. If you do, let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear from you!
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