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.

Announcing an incredibly great, really short sale:

There’s a super-sweet deal going on—it’s only till this Monday, April 28! Learn more about the bundle full of digital resources, worth $900, currently available for $30—head here.

top photo source
Sarah Markley

Sarah Markley speaks regularly for conferences, MOPs meetings and church groups. She also writes for (in)courage and A Deeper Story. Sarah has two daughters, a husband, a dog, and a cat, and lives in Southern California. You can find her on her blog, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

Encouragement for living simpler, right in your inbox.

We share our stories as we simplify our lives - no guilt-trips, just love.

(no spam, promise. we hate it, too.)


  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?

Add Your Thoughts