At the end of yesterday’s post on the 3 Skills (and 1 Rule!) of Intimate Conversation, we promised to follow-up with your Weekend Homework Assignment. Here it is:

Set aside time this weekend to work on what you learned in Friday’s blog. Try initiating an intimate conversation with an open-ended question. 

Examples of such questions are: “What kinds of changes can we make together in the coming year to make it our best year ever?,” “What do you feel is going well for you these days?,” and “What do you feel is not going so well?” 

You can also begin a conversation by simply asking, “How are you doing, baby?” or “How is life treating you? Talk to me. I’m listening.” 

Putting Your Feelings into Words 

If you find yourself struggling to put your feelings into words in the course of your conversation, you can use the list below as an aid. You might need to use more than one word or phrase, and you may experience emotions not covered in this list. If this happens, don’t panic! It’s totally normal! The list is just a starting point. Improvisation is encouraged.

I feel… 

  • uncomfortable
  • like a failure
  • unappreciated
  • distant from you
  • alone
  • insulted
  • like I am not accepted
  • comfortable
  • misunderstood
  • special
  • affectionate

Asking Open-Ended Questions 

Explore your partner’s feelings and thoughts by asking questions that open the heart. Here are some examples you can try:

  • Do you think this has affected our relationship? If so, how? 
  • What do your values tell you about this? 
  • What would you really like to ask me? 
  • What specifically is upsetting you in this situation? 
  • Think of someone you really admire. What would he/she do and how would he/she view this situation?

 Expressing Empathy

To deepen intimacy in a conversation, it really helps to show your partner understanding and empathy. First, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and comprehend what they are saying or feeling. Then, communicate to your partner that their thoughts or feelings really make sense to you. Below are some great statements for conveying understanding and empathy. Look them over and use any that ring true as a follow-up to your partner’s words:

  • I wish I would have known that earlier. I’m sorry. 
  • You’re making total sense. 
  • That would have annoyed me too. 
  • I’m on your side here. 
  • That must make you feel so helpless. 

Remember, in an intimate conversation, your job is to understand and validate, not to argue for your perception. Both partners take turns being understood. In the early years of a relationship, questions of trust are paramount: “Will you be there for me when I’m upset?” “Do I come first in your life?” “Can I count on you to earn money for our family?” and so on. 

Once you start practicing these skills, you may be surprised by how naturally they work their way into your daily interactions with loved ones… and by the positive changes they quickly effect in the relationships that matter most. Good luck!

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Weekend Homework Assignment: Intimate Conversation

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.