Open-ended questions leave lots of space for the person replying to do so in their own way. A good example of an open-ended question is “What would you like me to cook for dinner?”, whereas “Do you want chicken for supper?” is an example of a closed-ended question.
In the first example, there is a space to express preferences and even enter into a conversation, while the closed-ended question just requires a “yes” or “no”. Sometimes closed-ended questions are useful when you want quick and limited information, but they are not very helpful when you want to communicate more fully, learn more about your partner’s world, and develop intimacy.
Knowing the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions can greatly impact your relationship satisfaction.
When you’ve been together long enough it can be challenging to keep the conversations with your partner as stimulating as when you first got together. Although it can be comforting to enjoy natural silences without feeling awkward, open-ended questions are the key to connecting with your partner on a deeper level.
As relationships develop, it’s not uncommon to lose your curiosity about your partner. To illustrate this, let’s consider a couple — Tamsin and David — who came to see me after Tamsin had a brief affair with a work colleague. She didn’t want to split up with David but said that her colleague had made her feel attractive and worthwhile, while David no longer found her interesting.
Open-ended questions are a great way to find out more about your partner and convey the important message that their experience is important to you and you want to hear about it. They are also an “invitation to dance”, that is, to enter into a conversation.
Attachment theory explains how important it is for each partner in a relationship to be seen and known by the other as this helps them to feel close and safe. The good news is that just by asking your partner more open-ended questions you can develop a greater interest in each other.
I invited Tamsin and David to practice open-ended questions by going on a date night and pretending that they knew very little about each other. I reminded them to avoid the kind of questions that could be answered by yes or no, and instead leave space for their partner to respond.
Not only did they learn new and interesting things about each other, but they also enjoyed the sense of intimacy that the conversation had brought.
Lead with curiosity. Good open-ended questions usually start with "why," "how," and “what" and are motivated by a desire to get to know each other better.
Keep it light. The best open-ended questions are enjoyable for both sides. Try to make it enjoyable and playful, and avoid topics that are highly charged. The aim is simply to learn more about your partner’s world.
Find the right time. It can be difficult to squeeze in time to give our partner our complete attention, especially when we have so many things on our minds each day.
Make time. Try to find a time when both of you are calm and not distracted, stressed, or in a rush. Sit down quietly with your partner, at a time when interruptions are unlikely. If you're both busy working from home, this might mean setting aside a dedicated lunch break to spend together or getting up early to talk over breakfast.
Listen actively. When you chat, don't just listen with your ears, listen with your body. Make eye contact and lean into the conversation and try to eliminate all distractions that may influence the ability to focus on your partner — turn off the laptop, put your phone away, switch off the TV, and settle any little ones.
Enjoy it! Couples who spend time getting to know each other build love and closeness and are proven to be better at coping with stressful events or conflicts.
Don’t know where to start? Below are a few examples of relationship-building questions to ask your partner.
If you could design a perfect holiday for yourself what would it look like?
What have been your proudest achievements in your job?
What kind of films do you like?
What does romance mean to you?
What would you love to do when you retire?
What hobbies have you always wanted to try?
What’s your favorite memory of us as a couple?
What would a perfect Saturday morning look like to you?
What’s your funniest travel experience?
How important do you think self-improvement is?
Why do you think we get on so well together as a couple?
Want more examples of open-ended questions to ask in a relationship? Download the Paired app for daily questions to answer with your partner.