The best question

A therapist once gave my husband and I a surprising tool that proved useful: a question.

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

She said that each partner should listen and perhaps ask clarifying questions, but it was mostly a time to share a personal need without fear.

It could be something like, “I’d love your help with the dishes tonight,” or a bit deeper, like, “I need to be better seen 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 when, together, we would talk about both simple and complex daily needs came to be valuable.

“What do you need from me?”

This question requires quiet. It means listening well. It requires humility, and a giving up of our too-often self-serving notions. But those things are good to revisit if we’ve gotten rusty.

The other night, I texted this question 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.

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

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Sarah Markley

Sarah Markley is a mother of two daughters and lives in Southern California.

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  1. Such a great way to start a productive dialogue. This is going straight to my back pocket of marriage tools. Thanks you.

  2. I love the simplicity of just asking rather than assuming. 🙂 It sounds like a good habit to get in.

  3. I love this! I am definitely going to try it. I would also love to link this post on my blog for my weekend links. I hope that is okay! 🙂

  4. This is such great advice! Thanks for sharing what you learned and congratulations on 18 years!

  5. As Anthony Robbins says, “Quality questions get quality answers.” This definitely is another of those quality questions that will go into my relationship toolbox. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for writing this…my husband and I are in counseling and have been feeling like “How will we ever fix this?” At times it’s so hard to keep going We can’t speak without fighting. This sounds like a great idea for us to start with. Thanks again!

  7. Sarah, thanks for sharing your experience. As a person who’s seen your video story and gone down a similar path, this is definitely something I want to incorporate into our day.

    I’d rather ask Shelly “what do you need from me?” too soon, rather than when it’s too late.

  8. One of the most thrown-for-a-loop events in our almost nineteen years has been my husband’s diagnosis of Parkinson ‘s a year and a half ago. He has had such a sensible, upbeat attitude and has set the tone beautifully for our family. I’ve learned so much from him.

  9. Sharing without fear. You wouldn’t have known if you didn’t ask. Yes, to all of this. So real and practical and full of hope. Thank you, Sarah.

  10. This is awesome. Love the idea, and will use it! 🙂 (and my husband and I just celebrated 18 years of marriage as well.) Much aloha!

  11. This is such great advice going to give it a try and then also morph into a question for my kids. I am very curious to what they would say.


  12. Love this, so easy to forget connecting in our busy lived

  13. Great idea! And we’ll be celebrating 18 years in June too!

  14. It’s often so hard to tell someone what you need. I hate feeling “needy.” I think that asking this question gives your spouse the opportunity to answer honestly without feeling as demanding. I like it!

  15. Cheyenne says:

    Congrats on 18 years! That’s awesome! Your advice is so good and so needed! My husband and I started intense counseling 3 years ago to save our broken marriage. By the grace of God, an amazing counselor, life giving support groups, and our caring mentors, we are in a much healthier place. One bit of advice we were given was to have regular check-ins where we would follow this acronym: FANO. F- how are you Feeling? A- I Affirm you in (fill in the blank) N- what do you Need? O- I Own that I did (fill in the blank…can be ownership of good things or things that need work). Doing this on a regular basis keeps us accountable and connected with each other.

  16. Congrats on 18 years! I will celebrate 31 next week…this is great advice, not only for your marriage partner, but when dealing my a lot of situations where I want to say (or yell) “what do you WANT from me!” The fact is, there may be a NEED that I am totally unaware of!

    This is great advice, Sarah, thank you for sharing your story.

  17. This advice applies to all relationships, not just marriages. Great advice!


  18. Great question. It’s so easy to lose connection with your spouse over the course of years of marriage. Thanks for sharing this. :0)

  19. Great post – thank you. Any advice on finding a good counselor and/or making time for counseling sessions in a busy life with kids?

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