Let's Talk: Conversation Topics to Improve Your Relationship
How partners can talk their way into relational success and satisfaction
Posted Mar 26, 2020
When it comes to deciding how to spend time together, couples have a multitude of options. Newer pairings might grab their dancing shoes for a night out on the town; more established couples might grab their bathrobes and the television remote to hunker down. Like-minded adrenaline enthusiasts might take out their bikes for a ride, or their scuba equipment for a dive.
Interestingly, although probably not surprisingly, research reveals one common activity that is an excellent way to ensure a couple stays together long enough to continue to enjoy all of the others; and it does not cost anything to enjoy. That activity is talking. But as you might imagine, topics matter.
The Comfort of Conversation
Judith A. Nelson et al. discussed ways in which couples could maintain healthy, monogamous relationships in a piece entitled “Antidotes for Infidelity and Prescriptions for Long Lasting Relationships: Four Couples’ Activities.”[i]
They examined the emotional experience of infidelity using medical metaphors, with the goal of assisting couples in preventing engaging in unfaithful behaviors. Searching to find antidotes for infidelity, they examined self-assessment activities that permit couples to share their own experiences and perceptions with commitment throughout their lifetimes. They describe this sharing as “booster shots to build antibodies counter to unfaithful behaviors in long-term relationships.”
They describe four activities to “build immunity” to infidelity, that can be used by married couples with concerns about infidelity, or by couples who are considering marriage.
Relationships and Role Models
They describe the first activity as “Childhood Role Models.” The authors suggest couples ask each other about early memories regarding infidelity and commitment, role models, messaging about the importance of relationships, breaches of trust and the resulting outcome, and whether a family member had an affair—including how it was resolved.
Flexibility Creates Intimacy
The authors describe the second activity as “Flexibility and Intimacy.” Within this activity, they emphasize the importance of remaining flexible over the course of a relationship, and being willing to change. They note that this type of adaptability will keep a couple together, even when other circumstances might not. They also recognize that as couples age, separating intimacy from sex can result in experiencing the “best intimacy of a lifetime.”
They note the importance of partners turning towards each other when they are feeling depressed, sad, or overwhelmed—an exercise that increases intimacy. They suggest couples discuss, among related topics, respective perceptions of intimacy and how they might change over time, examples of shared intimacy that did not involve sex, and relational areas involving shared intimacy and connection stemming from trust.
The Centrality of Commitment
The third activity Nelson et al. suggest is “Assessing Commitment.” Proposing that commitment is “the string that securely tethers the balloon of infidelity,” they cite survey results indicating respondents value commitment as “foundational” to fidelity. Regarding contributing factors, they note that over half of respondents had perceptions of commitment that were tied to spirituality. Consequently, they note that couples should discuss the role that religion and spirituality should have in their relationship.
Nelson et al. suggest couples talk with each other about their beliefs about commitment, including sharing ideas about commitment, early experiences with commitment, experiences with commitment outside of relationships, examples of high and low commitment in previous relationships, and the definition of commitment within one’s current relationship.
The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Activity number four is “Trust and Forgiveness.” Nelson et al. note that breaking agreements is one of the most common ways in which couples break trust. They also recognize what most couples realize instinctively: the importance of forgiveness. In their words: “Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision. Feelings follow as the healing process is worked out. Forgiveness is not a process; healing is a process.”
With respect to discussion in this area, they suggest, among other things, that couples explore relational areas where trust is strong and where it is weaker, areas of jealousy, willingness to forgive, knowledge of other couples who have survived infidelity, ways in which to build immunity against infidelity, and how to discuss attraction to relational alternatives.
Conversation for Commitment
The underlying theme in research studies such as this one, is the power of good communication. It also underscores the importance of taking the time to have good old-fashioned conversation, particularly when it involves nonjudgmental sharing about the issues that matter most to couples.
Approaching sensitive topics such as issues that occurred in past relationships with an eye towards building commitment, is very different than bringing up past experiences for purposes of condemnation. As with all topics broached with significant others, motive matters. Whether a couple is already married, or considering tying the knot, loving conversation can heighten intimacy and build trust.
So for a healthy, rewarding couples’ activity, consider scheduling a date night to enjoy not only a good meal or great coffee, but the value of excellent company, and commitment-building conversation.
[i] Nelson, Judith A., Chi-sing Li, Daniel G. Eckstein, Pedra Ane, and William Mullener. 2008. “Antidotes for Infidelity and Prescriptions for Long Lasting Relationships: Four Couples’ Activities.” The Family Journal 16 (4): 375–78. doi:10.1177/1066480708323082.