The best question

This June marks 18 years for us.

When I got married I could have never foreseen the hills and valleys of the next nearly two decades of living and breathing daily life with someone. In fact, I could have never even foreseen being almost forty and living this life that I live.

Life surprises us most of the time, I’ve learned.

In one of those valleys, a particularly dark one, my husband and I sought out marriage counseling. Over the years we’ve been in and out, both together and by ourselves and it took me a long time to understand that having a third party speak objectively into our lives did not signify weakness. In fact, it signified strength and a willingness to work through things and steward this love well.

During that time, we were simply trying to live day to day, we were working through hurt, grief and forgiveness and we were clueless about how to rebuild a good, solid relationship that was fresh and whole.

Mary, our therapist, gave us the single tool in our marriage that we utilized then, we have counted on since and still go back to it from time to time in less official ways.

“At the end of the day,” she said. “Sit face to face on the bed and ask one another this simple question: ‘What do you need from me?’”

She went on to explain that the other person was to listen and maybe ask clarifying questions, but for the most part, it was time for each partner to speak about personal need in a way that they didn’t need to fear anything from the other person.

It could be as easy as, “I’d love your help with the dishes in the evening,” or as deep as “I need to be seen by you and heard by you.”

It’s possible that the other person can’t fill the needs we have. In fact, many of our needs can’t be met by someone else. But to have a few minutes at the end of the day where together, we talked about both simple and complex daily needs and feelings came to be a very valuable time.

I’d like to say we continued that to this day, over ten years later but we haven’t. At least not in the same deliberate way. Kids and life sometimes make us too busy. But now we’ve settled into a rhythm where we ask it as needed, and we do our best to listen.

“What do you need from me?”

The question requires quiet. It means we have to listen. It requires humility and a giving up of our self-serving notions we too often fall into in marriage. But those things are good to revisit if we’ve forgotten and they are good to practice if we are out of practice.

The other night I texted it to my husband on his way home from work.

“Actually, could you just give me a neck rub when I get home?” he answered. And I did. I would have never known had I not asked.

So try it tonight. Ask, “what do you need from me?” and see what happens.

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