Dinner with your spouse is a great time to deepen your connection. Here are some tips for making those conversations more engaging.
- Respond positively whenever your spouse seeks your attention the rest of the day through comments like “Look at that bird!” (“Ooh, wow” is plenty, as long as you look in the bird’s direction) or “I can’t find my keys” (“I hope they show up soon” or “Do you want help looking” will work just fine). Make sure your spouse knows it’s worth bringing something to your attention at dinner.
- Start your dinner conversation with a spot of gratitude. If your spouse cooked, try something as simple as “Thanks, this food looks great.” Or thank your spouse for something done for you earlier in the day. You could also try this: “I feel grateful to be able to spend this dinnertime with you.”
- Don’t bring your dirty laundry to the table. This is not the time for complaints about your mother-in-law, your inconsiderate neighbor, or who done you wrong today. It is especially not a time for complaints about your spouse. There are 23 other hours in the day for that stuff.
- Put leading an interesting life on your to-do list. Show up with something new to share. Did you connect with a friend or relative today and get a story to share with your spouse? Did you take a moment to find new flowers blooming in your neighborhood or to check which birds are at the bird sanctuary this week? Did you find a vintage car show or an air show you two might enjoy together? Novelty matters in a long-term relationship.
- Leave your phone, the mail, and the television in the other room. If you want conversation and relationship, make room for them at your table.
- You know those books of questions to ask before you marry? They make good questions long after you marry, too. People change, and our beliefs about them need to change, too.
- If a topic isn’t working, switch topics. Remember your goal: a deeper, more loving relationship, not an in-depth interview you could air on TV.
- Some people are planners, while other value spontaneity. If you two differ, act like you know who you’re married to. You can ask a planner “What do you think of going to Sedona in March?” but please ask a spontaneity lover “Have you ever wanted to see Sedona?” and follow up with seasonal aspects that might entice them. And if you have a trial balloon to launch with someone who can’t imagine announcing a plan that’s not rock solid yet., be sure to start any talk about it with a big “If.”
- Here’s a wonderful question you could probably use more than once: “What was a time when you were at your best as a child?” or “since college?” or “this year?” or “this month?” Oh, the wonderful things you’ll learn. You could fall in love all over again with this one.
- Remember to tell your stories, too: “I think my very best birthday was the one…” or “Did I ever tell you that my high school art teacher owned a goat and sold watermelon slices from a panel truck in the summers?”
If your dinners have been quiet or contentious lately, remember that it may take time to change this. As Harriet Lerner describes in her classic book, The Dance of Anger, a partner will often interpret the first couple of attempts at changing a pattern as missteps. After all, you are the only one making any deliberate steps; the rest are ingrained pattern by now. It will take a few nudges to lead a change in the dance. And it will be well worth your persistence.