Originally posted on Bustle
Communication in a relationship comes easier to some couples than others. While some people may stay up late sharing every detail about themselves, others let information about their past come out in dribs and drabs. But, at some point, it’s crucial to get those lines of communication open. “Healthy communication in a relationship is important because it is the foundation of any partnership,” dating expert and matchmaker Sarah Patt tells Bustle. “Having the confidence to talk openly with your partner, regardless of whether the subject matter is positive or negative, is one of the true signs that you and your partner are practicing healthy communication. Listening, actually hearing what your partner is saying, and processing and responding without reacting overly emotionally is a sign that you are truly understanding what your partner has to say to you.”
But what if you can’t get your partner to open up? Well, it’s all about asking them the right questions. If someone has a hard time discussing their past and you jump right in and demand they start sharing, there’s a good chance they’ll feel uncomfortable and shut down. If you want to find out more about your partner and their past, you can ease into it through subtle questions. Here are some questions that experts say can help them to open up.
1. “Are You Close With Your Family?”
Family is an important — but often tricky — topic. “Asking someone about their family and whether they’re close can build trust and emotional intimacy,” board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman tells Bustle.
Saying, “Tell me about your past,” can be a bit too much, so try asking about their family and growing up more generally. You’ll have a better shot at getting through to them.
2. “What Would You Do?”
“You could ask them, ‘How would you handle this problem?’ and get their advice on a current situation when you don’t know what to do,” says Dr. Edelman.
By seeing how they would handle a problem you’re going through, you can learn more about similar difficult situations they’ve dealt with. Use it as a jumping off point for deeper conversation.
3. “How Do You Handle Your Money?”
It’s important to learn about how your partner deals with money — and finding out about how their habits developed can very telling. “Talk about how your families dealt with money, and what you liked and didn’t like about their style,” Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together, tells Bustle. “Share your observations about how various friends handle money, and what you think.” This can be a sensitive topic, so be sure to approach it gently.
4. “How Did Your Childhood Impact You?”
“I feel that discussing each other’s childhoods can really build an intimate bond between partners,” Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. “Expressing how you felt as a child and things that hurt you when you were young gives your partner a real insight into what shaped you as a adult.” If you can get them talking, there’s a wealth of information here.
5. “What Makes You The Most Fulfilled?”
It seems like a big question — and it is. “What gives you meaning?” Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist, tells Bustle. “It’s heavy, but if a person can’t answer that, then it is not likely to be that deep a ride.”
What fulfills us is something that we’ve learned throughout our lives, so there’s lots to be learned if you get into the discussion.
6. “What Makes You Feel Loved/Respected/Appreciated?”
“While we all want to feel loved, we often have different criteria,” Chad Elliot, communication coach, tells Bustle. “You may need to hear your partner say they love you; they may need you to really listen to them share their thoughts. Other possibilities: getting small gifts or handwritten notes, enjoying time together, or cuddling. You can also change the word love in this question to words like respected, appreciated, supported, or important.”
Whatever way you want to approach to question, you’ll find out a lot about how they have interacted with other people throughout their lives.
7. “Which Fictional Or Historical Character Are You Really Like?”
“When I was doing the research for my book, I asked couples what they wanted to know — but were afraid to ask,” Licensed clinical psychotherapist Dr. LeslieBeth Wish tells Bustle. And one of the most popular questions was: “Which actor, fictional character, or real person (living or dead), or combinations of these, are you most really like?”
It seems like a simple question, but it’ll give you some real insight into how they view their own backstory.
8. “How Do You Think You’re Different From Your Parents?”
Another question that Dr. Wish found was useful for couples was: “How do you think you are different from your parents?” It’s something that a lot of people want to know and is an easy question that could reveal a lot about their family and upbringing.
9. “What Was Your Favorite Subject In School?”
Our favorite subject in school tells us a lot about who we were before life got complicated. “It’s important to be on the same page with each other, and to know what the other finds important,” Elliot says. “This can help you unite your goals and dreams.” From there, you can start talking about school, then ambitions, and then life paths.
10. “What’s One Thing I Don’t Know About You?”
Finally, you can just put it out there and see what happens. Asking someone to represent themselves is always interesting, because you’ll see what they choose to share. You may be asking generally, but what they present may just be a window into learning more about them.
Some people are always going to open up easier than others, and if your partner has trouble talking about their past, make sure you’re asking about their families or childhood in a respectful way. It’s about being gentle, compassionate, and of course, asking the right questions.