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Questions to Improve Communication and Build Relationships

Much of what takes place in couples, families, and other close relationships lies buried beneath layers of unspoken desire, expectation, anxiety, hope, fear, anger, shame, guilt, jealousy, and similar emotions, that can easily be stirred up by a combination of caring, uncertainty, attachment to outcomes, dysfunctional responses to conflict, and lack of skill, all of which lead to an accumulation of unasked and unanswered questions that diminish the capacity for authentic loving relationships.

Here are several questions that couples, families, and friends, or others in close and intimate relationships, can ask one another to cut through these layers and surface unspoken concerns with the goal of strengthening their communication and relationship, or that mediators can ask in joint sessions:

  • What qualities initially attracted you to each other?
  • What do you love or appreciate about each other now that you know each other better?
  • Why are you interested in being in a relationship with each other?
  • What words or phrases would you use to describe the kind of relationship you most want to have with each other? 
  • Do either of you disagree with any of those words?  If not, what can each of you do to help make them happen?
  • What do you hope to achieve through this conversation that could strengthen your relationship?
  • Do you have any fears, anxieties, or concerns about talking about your relationship? What are they?
  • What is one thing the other person could say or do that could help you reduce your fears, anxieties, or concerns?  Would you like to know one thing you could say or do to reduce their fears, anxieties, and concerns?
  • What is one thing about you that you haven’t yet communicated to each other, but would like to?
  • What is one argument or conflict you have had in your relationship?
  • What happens when you argue that you wish would happen differently?
  • What is one thing the other person could say or do that could help you communicate better when we have a disagreement?  Would you like to know one thing you could do or say that would help the other person communicate better?
  • What is one thing you would like the other person not to do or say the next time you have an argument or conflict?  What does it mean to you when the other person does that? Why does that matter to you?
  • How did people in your family of origin argue or behave when they disagreed or had conflicts?
  • What issues did your parents argue about? Were those the real issues?  If not, what were they? 
  • How did they finally stop arguing, overcome their differences, or resolve their conflicts?
  • Would you like to do the same, or something different?  What would you want to do differently?
  • What are some of the patterns you slip into when you argue that you would like to break?  How can you help each other break them?
  • Are there any ground rules or protocols you would like to propose to help resolve your future conflicts and disagreements with each other?
  • What were the patterns in your family regarding money? Physical intimacy?  Emotional issues?  Illness? Time or space?  Food?  (etc.)
  • Which of these patterns would you like to change?  Why?
  • What does money or property mean to you? Why do you want them? What are you afraid will happen if you don’t have them, or can’t agree about them?
  • What does the word “relationship” mean to you? The word “love”? The word “conflict”?
  • What other issues would you like to discuss that we haven’t talked about but you feel are important to your relationship?
  • If you were to write a “Constitution” for your relationship, what would you want to include? What would the Preamble say? The Bill of Rights? Etc.
  • What do you most want for your future? 
  • How would you like to make decisions regarding difficult issues that arise in the future?
  • How could you sabotage your own happiness?  What can you do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
  • What questions would you most like to ask each other that you haven’t yet been able to ask?
  • What issues, concerns or fears have you been holding on to that you still haven’t mentioned?  Why have you been holding on to them?
  • What question would you most like me to ask each other right now?  Why is that question important to you?
  • What would you like to say to each other right now, as a reassurance that, in spite of talking together about these difficult issues, you want to be in a relationship with each other? 
  • If this were the last conversation you were ever to have with each other, what is the very last thing you would want to say?

Kenneth Cloke

Kenneth Cloke is Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and a mediator, arbitrator, consultant and trainer, specializing in resolving complex multi-party conflicts internationally and in designing conflict resolution systems for organizations. Ken is a nationally recognized speaker and leader in the field of conflict resolution, and a published author… MORE

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