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 20 Essential questions that could save your marriage

20 Essential questions that could save your marriage

When you glance across the breakfast table every morning to see the same crumpled face, and crawl into bed every night beside the same snoring body, it can be so easy to accept your long-term lot and shuffle into amiable companionship a million miles from the heady passion of when you and your partner first met.


The truth is that the fresh thrill of love simply can’t burn as brightly as it did at the start of a relationship after decades of marriage, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept the descent into tetchy boredom.

I’ve spent more than 30 years as a marital therapist and I’ve written 18 books about love, and I’m convinced that any couple, however long they’ve been together, can fall giddily back in love just by asking 20 simple questions.

Think of it as essential maintenance for your relationship — it will protect your love from the grind of daily living, deepen your bond and liven things up a little in the bedroom, too.

First, you need to understand the six stages of love, how it changes over time and why. Then take my quiz to assess your marriage. Finally, schedule time to ask one another my 20 carefully chosen questions — and you’ll soon reignite that first-date spark.

Six stages of a relationship

Every relationship goes through six stages. Understanding them is key because for love to last it needs something different at each stage.

1: Six to 18 months — Blending phase

This is the magical time when it feels like you’re walking on air and you can’t think of anything but your beloved. Any differences between the two of you are overlooked as you fuse into one.

2: 18 months to three years — Nesting phase

Sexual desire settles and creating a home together becomes the way to express your love.

3: Three to four years — Self-affirming phase

You’re confident enough about the relationship to enjoy separate activities again, and you’ve begun to knock off each other’s rough edges.

4: Five to 14 years — Collaborating phase

USING the security and self-esteem from your relationship, you take on a big project — a career change, new interests or starting a family. This is often exciting but can be the hardest stage for couples if one gets wrapped up in a project and neglects their partner.

5: 15 to 25 years — Adapting phase

You have to adapt to the challenges thrown at you, such as children leaving home or ageing parents, which can leave you feeling self-absorbed with little space for your partner or for fun.

6: More than 25 years — Renewing phase

You might share a sense of achievement for having come through so much together, but it is easy to be overwhelmed by other people’s demands and you must be sure to keep back enough energy for one another.

How deep is your love?

Answer these key questions to find out if your relationship is healthy or hanging by a thread.

When you see each other after a short time apart, how do you feel?

A) Anxious about how things will go.B) Generally stressed because I’m busy doing other things.
C) Not much, until I’ve had time to unwind.
D) A small surge of happiness.

How happy are you both with the amount of sex you’re having?

A) It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about.B) One of us feels pressured, the other feels turned down.
C) More would be nice but things are generally OK when we get round to it.
D) Sex is good for us and we are both committed to making it a priority.

When your partner is distant, how do you react?

A) Let them get on with it.

(B) I worry that I have done something wrong.
C) I’m concerned, but if I say anything I’ll probably be fobbed off.
D) I ask what’s the matter.

How much does your partner believe in you and support your projects?


A) Sometimes I feel really alone.
B) They’re supportive until I ask for something, such as time away.
C) My partner can sometimes be dismissive or can tease me about my projects.
D) Really supportive. I can talk over any concerns.

How do the two of you handle a disagreement?

A) One of us gets upset and cries, shouts or goes off in a huff.
B) We go round in circles until one of us brokers peace — but often things aren’t resolved.
C) We don’t have disagreements.
D) We can talk through our differences, listen and find a solution together.

What happens when there is a big decision to be made, such as buying something expensive?

A) Arguments and resentment.
B) The person who’s on the spot or who knows most about the topic makes the call.
C) One of us does the necessary research but consults the other before making a decision.
D) We’re a team and everything is done jointly.


How has your relationship been over the past 12 months?

A) Difficult. We have been prickly, dismissive or doing our own thing more than usual.
B) Incredibly busy, we’ve barely had time to talk beyond functional everyday conversations.
C) The usual ups and downs.
D) We’ve been really close.

If you scored mostly A: Your relationship could be in need of intensive care. You probably know your marriage is in a dark place right now, so you might need outside help, but first try my strategies to help improve the situation and even turn your relationship around.

Mostly B: It’s looking peaky. You might love each other but that’s unlikely to be enough to support your relationship long term. You both need to learn new skills to forge a stronger connection.


Mostly C: Your relationship is fine. You have good communication skills that are vital for relationship health, but there’s nothing to be lost by brushing up on them.

Mostly D: Your relationship is strong and healthy. You know how to communicate effectively and sort problems before they become serious, but it’s always good to take a deeper look at your relationship and search for (and talk through) any tricky subjects you might be avoiding.

Five habits that kill a marriage

It’s not just big things that can destroy a relationship; petty little things can chip away, too . . .

Always having to be right

If you tend to respond to criticism with defensiveness or an excuse, you can turn around your whole relationship simply by learning to apologise when you slip up. There’s no need to explain why, just say ‘I’m sorry about . . .’ and leave it at that.

Zoning out

It’s so easy to keep one eye on the TV or to idly flick through your phone while your partner is talking, but this gives the damaging message that you’re not interested.

Look at each other when you’re speaking and have phone-free places (the bedroom) and times (when you’re having a meal together). It takes five nice things (smiling, compliments, flirty texts, saying thank you, hugs) to combat a single nasty one (being short, a sarcastic comment, not looking up from your phone), but a ratio of ten to one helps love to thrive.

Tiptoeing round each other

If you regularly swallow your annoyance to keep the peace you could be shutting feelings down. This could eventually extend to positive feelings, including love.

It’s important to learn to disagree, argue and make up, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Start with a small irritant (chewing noisily, for example), then tell your partner — when it’s happening — that it irritates you. If it’s a small issue, they are unlikely to be upset and you should feel empowered to tackle bigger issues.

Putting the children and grandchildren first (whatever their age)

Very often life continues to revolve around children even when they’ve grown up and left home. Make a point of putting your partner first occasionally and make time to have fun together.

Keeping score

Everyone has a secret score card in their head that keeps a mental tally of which of you is making more of an effort than the other, whether it’s earning money, doing the housework, or organising the summer holiday.

Periodically look at the division of tasks with fresh eyes. Sit down together and write a list, then discuss what makes you feel overloaded and listen to your partner’s problem areas. Look for win-win situations where you can both get something you want. Do a trade: I will sort this if you will do that.

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