The honeymoon can last five days or five years, but at some point the heat and hormones subside. Susan Piver, author of the New York Times bestseller The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do“ believes that’s when “the real fun begins.”
Oh, yeah? “Romance can never last, but intimacy can never end,” explains Piver, who created 20 new “phase two” questions exclusively for YourTango. She talks with us about her eye-opening exercise for anyone who has made a commitment—and is committed to making it last.
Does romance really have to die?
Susan Piver: Yes, sadly. I’ve tried to think of a softer way to say that, but all I come up with are new-age platitudes. The Hard Questions first occurred to me when I was thinking about getting married. I was scared. Most of the couples I knew were either getting a divorce or, even worse, in some kind of lifeless relationship. Sure, I loved my boyfriend, but all these other people were in love when they got married, too. So what would make us different?
I realized that none of my past relationships ended due to lack of love—they ended because one of us (OK, me) didn’t love our life together. I didn’t know enough about the life Duncan (now my husband) and I would be sharing. Initially, we asked things like “Will we keep our money together, or separate?” or “Do we have a religion?” or “How comfortable are we with each other’s level of ambition?” When we began to answer, something wonderful happened. We started to get to know each other beyond love and sex.
Now, after six years of marriage, our questions are different, but it’s part of the same process: Figuring out how to translate our love for each other into a life we both love.
Whenever I read “relationships take work,” I always thought, “Uh, no thanks.” To me, that meant things like scheduling time for sex, “date nights,” and pretending to be nice even when I wanted to shriek. Things that felt really fake.
With the Questions, the “work” of being truthful with each other was hard, but it certainly wasn’t phony. It has given our relationship a very healthy edginess—not the kind that comes from jealousy and fights, but the kind that comes from trying to meet every circumstance with awareness and skillful honesty.
Read: 7 Traits Of Irresistible Men
Well, except when we’re just tired of trying and ignore each other. Sometimes we retreat to our corners. But the questions help us to reconnect, when we’re ready.
When is the best time to ask these questions?
For some, a crisis may precipitate the conversation. For others, it may be a feeling of taking each other for granted, even a tiny bit. Anniversaries are a great time to reflect and take a pulse.
If you try to have this conversation too early, you’ll know—the questions will sound silly. And there’s no such thing as “too late,” but the longer you let troublesome issues stew, the harder it will be. Wait until you both have the time and ability to focus. You may want to sit down at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine and run through every question. Or you can take one or two questions at a time, see how that goes.
Long drives, quiet walks, a dinner date, chilling on the couch (TV off)—all these are good settings. Answer only those questions that seem interesting or important to you. But note those that don’t; perhaps they’ll become relevant in the future.
Is it vital to reach agreement?
Absolutely not. You don’t need a laundry list of perfectly synchronized answers. If you happen to agree, that’s wonderful. If you don’t, fine. Knowing your partner’s thoughts and feelings is always good.
And if discussion is just too uncomfortable, each partner can write down his or her answers, and then swap (or not), or the willing partner can simply keep a journal of answers. Giving language to these feelings in any form can be beneficial.
Isn’t this a little scary? What if these questions uncover something we don’t want to hear?
Let’s face it: Our partner is going to disappoint us, make us mad, even bore us! It pays to find a way to discuss our feelings with both honesty and kindness. Better to talk now than to wait until someone gets really mad or becomes numb. The point is to create an atmosphere where differences and fears surface in a way that creates more intimacy instead of less. Be brave.