This 1 Question Is A Communication Game-Changer.

couple appearing to argue with each other

This article originally appeared on and reflects their mission and beliefs.

I’ve been married for 15 years, and my husband is my happiest of happy places. He pulls me into dancing anytime our wedding song comes on, he rubs my feet while we watch Netflix, he makes up silly words and then weaves them into serious conversations. He puts a glass of ice water on my nightstand before bed every night, he orders ice cream with an Australian accent because he knows it makes me laugh, and he selflessly serves our family 365 days a year. All sunshine and rainbows, right?

Not necessarily. Happily ever after can quickly turn into a Greek tragedy with something as simple as a communication breakdown. Since we’re not born knowing exactly how to communicate in a healthy way, and it will likely take a lifetime to hone that skill, my husband and I have found one simple question that has been a communication game-changer.

“What’s your real question?”

That’s it. That’s the magic one-liner that has taught us how to say what we mean and mean what we say. Here’s a rundown of 3 times this simple question might help reroute a communication breakdown.

When Someone Is Hoping for a Specific Answer

“What are your thoughts for dinner tonight?” How many times have you asked that question when you already had thoughts for dinner? You’re in the mood for Thai takeout, but you ask an open-ended question that gets a closed answer—something other than Thai takeout. It’s not fair to get frustrated with the answer (or answerer) when you didn’t ask the real question: “Does Thai takeout sound OK for dinner tonight?”

When Someone Has an Uncommunicated Expectation

I wanted to hit the road at 9 a.m. for our long-awaited beach vacation. Apparently, my husband wanted to mow the lawn at that same exact time. When I asked him, “What’s your status?” he sensed my agitation and knew that I really meant, “When are you going to be done with the lawn and ready to leave?” When he quickly shot back with, “What’s your real question?” it forced me to reflect on the fact that I hadn’t clearly communicated my expectation of leaving the house at 9 a.m. I knew what I wanted, and he knew what he wanted, but we weren’t on the same page until the question required us to process our expectations together.

When Someone Needs Practice Being Assertive or Direct

We kind of take over my parents’ house when we visit every July. After a few days of settling in this past summer, my mom said something along the lines of, “Would it be helpful if I clean out some drawers so the boys have a place to put their clothes?” When I told her they were fine, I got the impression she actually wanted the boys to put their clothes in a drawer—but she didn’t want to say that directly. She wanted me to read between the lines. I should’ve said, “What’s your real question?” My response would’ve been different if the question had been, “Will you please make sure the boys put their clothes in the drawers?” We’ve all had similar conversations with our husbands, but practicing direct communication helps clear things up, and it prevents unnecessary conflict.

But be careful how you use the question.

It takes practice learning how to say what you mean, and it takes humility to respond to “What’s your real question?” without being defensive or snarky. Using this communication strategy also requires you to know your husband well enough to discern when he isn’t asking the real question—and why that might be (he fears the real answer, he wants to avoid tension, or perhaps the timing is wrong). But knowing yourself is ultimately the most important key to this equation. Many of our communication blunders have been resolved with this approach, and even more have been avoided since I’ve learned how to proactively work through my real question before addressing my husband. The combo of relational awareness, respectful assertiveness, and humble reactiveness is the communication sweet spot.

Where do you need the most practice saying what you mean?

This article originally appeared on and reflects their mission and beliefs.

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