Heather Gray thinks we tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
One of the most popular relationship articles on The Good Men Project also happens to be my least favorite. At last count, 15 Honest Questions The Person You Marry Should Be Able to Answer has over 4 million page views. Paul Hudson’s message has clearly connected and resonated with many. Our partners should be able to answer questions like “Will you do your best to keep the romance alive?” or “Can you promise to put us ahead of everything else?” I don’t disagree with Paul. We all deserve these things in our relationships.
However, this article, to me, represents everything that is wrong with so many relationships articles today.
There’s an air of entitlement these days when it comes to relationships and articles like this contribute to the problem. The focus has shifted away from the relationship to the individuals in the relationship. Advice has become about what we deserve, what we’re getting, what we’re not getting, and what to do if our needs are not getting met.
This kind of focus takes the “we” out of relationships and puts the focus on the two individuals in the relationship. I’m not getting…. I deserve…. Of course it’s necessary to come to relationships with needs and expectations and yes, we should all be clear with our partners about what those needs are. However, as soon as we focus on the individuals, we run the risk of creating unnecessary conflict in the relationship.
These questions create adversaries, conflict, and a power struggle rather than teamwork and partnership right from the start: “Until you can answer this, I’m not budging. I’m not moving toward you or with you, unless…” Two well intentioned partners can quickly find themselves on opposite sides when they likely want the same things.
Relationships at their core are about a partnership—a connection, agreement, or bond between two people. That connection is the essence of relationship and advice aimed to improve the health of relationships should support that ideal.
What Hudson’s article, and others like it, is trying to address and speak to is the inarguable truth that healthy relationships require boundaries. There has to be a clear understanding between both partners of what each person needs and expects within the relationship. It’s hard to talk about boundaries without sounding adversarial because boundaries are the lines and limits that exist between us and our partners.
I like where Hudson goes with his 6th question because he starts it differently: “Are you willing….”. I don’t even care what words come next after that phrase because they don’t matter. The idea that we ask our partners “Are you willing to…” changes everything. It gives our partners a choice. It acknowledges the idea that they may not want to do x,y, or z but would they be willing to if it were important to us.
However, if Hudson’s 14 other questions started with “Are you willing….” Instead of “Will you….”, he likely would have lost out on a few million page views.
It’s so much safer to sit on some high horse ask “Will you…”. If the answer is no, they look like the ass and we can walk away with our heads held high, feeling good that we have our boundaries in place and we can stand behind what we deserve.
Good on us.
However, if we ask “Are you willing….” and the answer is no, well then, shit. We’re the ones who might walk away looking or feeling foolish. There’s so much more vulnerability in that one small shift from “will you” to “are you willing”. We’re putting ourselves out there more and risking more when we include the idea that our partner actually has a choice and that they might not choose us.
As soon as we start talking about the vulnerability that comes with being in a relationship, people want to look away and stop reading. They’re certainly less likely to hit that like or share button that comes at the bottom of posts. After all, the possibility of rejection and leaving a conversation with unmet needs is decidedly less sexy and feels anything but empowering.
However, vulnerability lives inside every relationship. If we’re going love freely, openly, and with our whole hearts, we’re going to get hurt. We’re going to get our hearts broken. We’re going to hear “no” from time to time. It’s inevitable. No one is perfect and we’re going to be hurt by our partner’s imperfections.
How then, can couples find the balance between boundaries and vulnerability?
They can do so by pushing through the risk and focusing more on the reward. What does it feel like when we’ve pushed through the vulnerability and have actually gotten our need met?
I’d argue that there is greater reward when a partner says “Yes, I am willing to….” than “Yes, I will….” Being with someone who sees and respects our vulnerability builds intimacy and intensifies our bond and connection. We’ll likely feel closer and our love will be felt on a deeper level. When couples feel stronger and more united, they are more empowered and believe in their ability to work through and conquer things together.
We don’t need 15 questions answered before we marry someone. Honestly, there should be more than 15 if we’re really going to make a lifetime commitment to someone. If we start with “Are you willing…”, we can have as many questions as we want, as long as we’re willing to work through the answers together.