Jan 162014

a caring question pin

When I was a mama of three very tiny, very messy, very beautiful rug rats, we had DAYS THAT WENT ON FOR LIFETIMES. Craig left at 6:00 am every morning and as I watched his showered, ironed self leave the house I felt incredibly blessed and thrilled to have so much time alone with my babies and incredibly terrified and bitter to have so much time alone with my babies. If you don’t believe that all of those feelings can exist at once- well, you’ve never been a parent to many tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats.

When Craig returned each day at 6:00 pm (he actually returned at 5:50 but took a STUNNINGLY LONG TIME TO GET THE MAIL) he’d walk through the door, smile, and say– “So! How was your day?”

This question was like a spotlight pointed directly at the  chasm between his experience of a “DAY” and my experience of a “DAY.”  How was my day?

The question would linger in the air for a moment while I stared at Craig and the baby shoved her hand in my mouth like they do –  while the oldest screamed MOMMY I NEED HELP POOING from the bathroom and the middle one cried in the corner because I NEVER EVER EVER let her drink the dishwasher detergent. NOT EVER EVEN ONCE, MOMMY!!! And I’d look down at my spaghetti stained pajama top, unwashed hair, and gorgeous baby on my hip – and my eyes would wander around the room, pausing to notice the toys peppering the floor and the kids’ stunning new art on the fridge . . .

And I’d want to say:

How was my day? Today has been a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode. I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone. I was saturated- just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst. At 3:30 today I decided that we should adopt four more children, and then at 3:35 I decided that we should give up the kids we already have for adoption. Husband – when your day is completely and totally dependent upon the moods and needs and schedules of tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats your day is ALL OF THE THINGS and NONE OF THE THINGS, sometimes within the same three minute period. But I’m not complaining. This is not a complaint, so don’t try to FIX IT. I wouldn’t have my day Any.Other.Way. I’m just saying- it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain- an entire day with lots of babies.

But I’d be too tired to say all of that. So I’d just cry, or yell, or smile and say “fine,” and then hand the baby over and run to Target to wander aisles aimlessly, because that’s all I ever really wanted. But I’d be a little sad because love is about really being seen and known and I wasn’t being seen or known then. Everything was really hard to explain. It made me lonely.

So we went went to therapy, like we do.

Through therapy, we learned to ask each other better questions. We learned that if we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them – we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers. We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.” If we don’t want throw away answers, we can’t ask throw away questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.

So Craig and I don’t ask “how was your day?” anymore.  After a few years of practicing increasingly intimate question asking, now we find ourselves asking each other questions like these:

When did you feel loved today?

When did you feel lonely?

What did I do today that made you feel appreciated?

What did I say that made you feel unnoticed?

What can I do to help you right now?

I know. WEEEEEIRRD at first. But not after a while. Not any weirder than asking the same damn empty questions you’ve always asked that illicit the same damn empty answers you’ve always gotten.

And so now when our kids get home from school, we don’t  say: “How was your day?” Because they don’t know. Their day was lots of things.

Instead we ask:

How did you feel during your spelling test?

What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?

Did you feel lonely at all today?

Where there any times you felt proud of yourself today?

 And I never ask my friends:  How are you? Because they don’t know either.

Instead I ask:

How is your mom’s chemo going?

How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?

What’s going really well with work right now?

Questions are like gifts – it’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question. Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It’s an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become.

Life is a conversation. Make it a good one.


Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  203 Responses to “Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions”

  1. I need your help plzz help me I m 20 yrs old I have a bf for 4 yrs he loves me alot in the beggning of reltionship bt den he ignored me alot and he broke the relationship but we are continously in touch with each other we also met he says that he didn’t luv me and say may b I will. Fall in love with you and want sex with me and talk to me only when he gets tym he even dont rply of my msz what should I should I trust I cant live without him I want his love I m want that he also luv me cares for me plzzz help me

  2. What a bunch of want! !!!

  3. Really helpful :-)

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  5. You hit this spot on. “Questions are like gifts – it’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question”

  6. I have a problem. My boy friend got engage without telling me. Just two weeks before his engagement we had a small fight over some thing but otherwise he loved me a lot. I still don’t know the reason why he did. I can’t forget him, please help

    • Hi,
      I think it REALLY really isn’t fair that your boyfriend did this, but I also think it’s important that you be true to yourself by facing certain things about your situation.

      1. If your boyfriend got engaged that soon after “really loving you”, then he is either a straight up sociopath (incapable of real emotion) or he was lying to you about his feelings. This behavior isn’t fair to you or to his new fiancé for that matter. It’s very likely that she wasn’t aware of you either.

      2. I don’t think your focus should be the fact that he got engaged without telling you , but that A: he got engaged at all, which means that B: it stands to reason that he was never yours to begin with.

      But do you know what this means? He didn’t deserve for you to be his either. You are far better off without a person who would be ok toying with the lives of multiple partners at once. Forgetting someone that hurt you that much is incredibly difficult because the level of betrayal, hurt, and shock that comes with it is hard to just put away. Don’t expect to have to get over it – but you do owe it to yourself to do your very best to move on.

      Tell yourself that he and she likely are not capable of being truly happy if their relationship is built on lies and the crushed happiness of others. Not because you want him back, but because you are better off not being involved with this person. He can and will do the same to her – and if you did manager to “get him back” he could and would do it to you too.

      It’s easy to sink into thinking “but I loved him so much!” when someone is telling you all these things. It is a natural knee-jerk reaction to being hurt. Facing reality takes time and sucks so very much. Give yourself time, and allow yourself to be sad, but don’t allow yourself to forget that he hurt you without caring. He likely didn’t hurt you intentionally so much as without giving it a second thought – which should tell you how highly he think of himself and you too.

      You may not feel like it now, but:
      – You got away easy (no kids, no house to figure out how to sell or be stuck with, no extra 5 years later just to be abandoned later)

      – You deserve sooo much better. You, my dear, deserve someone who respects and cherishes you for you and wouldn’t consider that type of behavior towards you or any other being with a pulse.

      Good luck – and be brave. You’re worth giving yourself a break on this one. You’re worth love and respect and time. Your top priority should be to start by being the first in line to give yourself these things: Love, Respect, Time, and attention. You be there for you. You take care of you and trust that the universe will unravel in whatever way makes sense. You do and always will have the most control over your own fate. Don’t let Sir Douche McGee take up more of your head-space than he deserves (which for the record, is zero head space).

      I personally send you love and hugs. Take care,

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  9. Hi I need an advice please:
    So my boyfriend and I have been together for a year and I feel like I truly love him and never cheated on him or even thought about it. I think he feels the same way since he’s almost every day with me and he says he loves me and that Im the love of his life, but I have to confess that sometimes I feel insecure over it, because he says it but doesn’t show much interest in if I believe it or not or even if I say that I love him back. We do have really good sex and frequently because he have told me how he loves it and I can notice too. However, everything have worked out for us but lately he’s feeling stressed about his future (hes 18 and im 17) and he needs to figure out what to do with his life now that he graduated HS, but what has me stressed out too is that he came up with this idea of getting a bartenders license and become a bartender for the rest of his life or while he gets enough money to open a business, he’s not so sure of what he wants yet but thats most likely his goal and he wants to accomplish it by my side, he wants to marry me in the future and be with me forever, but I don’t think it will work out for us if he becomes a bartender now, I haven’t told him how I feel about it because I don’t want to be an obstacle in his way or anything that might ruin his future, that’s why im giving him the opportunity to think better and maybe realize that is not a good idea knowing how I am but the thing is he hasn’t even ask me if that’s ok with me. He hasn’t ask me if i like that idea of becoming bartender but he keeps telling his friends that he’s seriously opting for that. So I don’t know what to do or what to tell him, I don’t want him to become a bartender because I just don’t like that lifestyle because it’s not appropriate for a good relationship or good lovers that want to spend the rest of their life together, and i dont want to spend the rest of my life with a man that has to be flirting at work because to be reallists that’s what bartenders do, otherwise im leaving him , but i dont want to tell him to choose between me and his job, what to do? How do I tell him that I rather him to go to college like I will or get another type of license, What to do?

  10. Oh my God, I’m so glad to tell everyone the real thing that
    happen to me…My name is JOAN. If i refuse to share this
    testimony it means i am selfish to my self and to people i love so
    much whom might have similar problems, March 16th about
    something 7:23pm after taken our dinner my husband got crazy
    started calling a lady name Melisa I love you, i was so mad and
    started crying like a baby…then my husband left home then for
    the idiot called Melisa, and never return back home then i
    believed when he understand his self he will surly come back to
    apology, but instead he left me So i complained to my friend she
    told me she was having such problems in her marriage until she
    was introduce to DR MUK who specializes in bringing back
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  11. I really appriciate this post, I finished my ND @ osun stste polytecnic iree but I’m look for work since last 2year I neva get a work, and I dnt have anybody expt God, even to eat is a problem for me, pls if you can help I will be very appriciate, I’m a single I neva promise anybody what I nees now is good work pls I need ur help

  12. i have this guy at my school he stares at me in school but whenever i look he looks away and he told me and my friends that he likes someone else but i think he likes me i like him too so what should i do? he also is always like flirting with me but the thing is we r in 4th grade i am very confused

  13. Hi I need help my marrige is in trouble n I can’t see to find help anywhere
    I love My husband so much n I’m so scare for everything
    I’m a mess I don’t know anything anymore I can’t not even talk to him with out get him upset ! I don’t know how to ask him for things I wanna ask I don’t know how to react nigther I keep trying to reach out n have a talk cus that’s what I think we need but keeps getting push away n I can’t take it anymore I know I’m not perfect n I don’t know how to improve those things I just know I have to he is been honest with me but every time I realize little things n I’m keep questioning the reason why he has change those things n I can’t help to wondering the worst! I love him with all my heart I really want this to work out but I don’t know how to help my self ! Please help me!

  14. Hi, I have a problem that you’ve probably seen a million times before. I was dating this girl for 10 months. I loved her and I think she felt the same way. Well in March, she wanted to break up, saying she wanted to be “friends”. In classic fashion, I freak out, it turns into a mud-slinging show on both sides. Both of us get angry. For the next week, I’m calling and texting trying to convince her that I want to get back together and that I love her. She says, “I broke up with you for a reason.”- Mainly that I was too messy among other things.

    The Monday after she ended it (6 days), I found out I didn’t get the job I thought I was going to get for about a year. I go into double-freak out mode, call her, we talked and it was cool. Two days later, I’m telling her my options, that I need her advice. She tells me we’re not together anymore. I don’t have to do anything!”- adding insult to injury.

    I told her “I love you very much. Thanks for being a friend. Goodbye.” That was on March 19. I haven’t called, texted, emailed her since then. It’s been 29 days.

    My job situation is taken care of at this point and I’ve fixed the problems that were bothering her, but she has no idea ofcourse. Cleaned up my car/apartment I even have a dog now, who she’s never met. I still love my ex and I’d like to at least have a shot at getting back with her. I regret how things turned out But I also don’t know about contacting her since I think really the ball is in her court. On top of it, one of my best friends works with her. About 1.5 weeks into the breakup, he asked her if she had talked to me at all about our situation or my job. He said that she appeared annoyed and said “nothing really, we haven’t talked at all. Advice at this point?

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  16. Thanks for this post. I had never really thought about the detail in the questions that make all the difference. Especially with the kids. I am no longer going to ask them just…how was your day? Awesome advice!

  17. Thank you for sharing this post.
    While I’m not a wife (yet) or a Mother, I think it is so valuable to learn how to ask meaningful questions early on in relationships! Communication is such a valuable tool if it is practiced well. This is great advice!

  18. Thank you for sharing your motherhood with us. My babies are all grown up now and having babies of their own, but when I had 5 under 3.5years I would not have been able to put into words my day, but you have coined it exactly how it was. I have a lump in my throat as I anticipate an 11pm Skype chat with my youngest who wants to share the Thai sunrise with me – surely my parenting was okay. Into my second marriage now and I will learn questioning in the evenings as you suggest. Bless you and your little ones. xx

  19. What a very excellent post. Thank you for sharing something so true.

  20. WOW, this was great to read this morning. I usually struggle with longer posts, but I hung on every word here. Thank you.

  21. This is really awesome, thanks for posting!

  22. that was simply amazing that was put the best that I could have ever thought of describing our day I am going to read this to my husband I am truly inspired thank you thank you thank you

  23. Wonderful article, thank you!

    When my children were young, we used to ask these questions at the dinner table: what was the best thing that happened to you today? Was the worst thing to happen to you today?

    It was important that we adults answered these questions honestly too, at a level they could understand.

    It made for much more interesting conversation, and honest responses than the generic “how was your day.”

  24. Wow I have a 4 year old, a two year old and my smallest rug rat is just 8 months old (but the biggest handful ever, though I wouldn’t have her any other way) and you have just put into words exactly how I feel about my days at the moment! You’ve put it so eloquently in a way my sleep deprived mind is just not capable of at the moment! How all those emotions can co-exist at the same time!

    My husband and I are very guilty of the standard questions and answers. And I worry life gets so busy with some many little ones that sometimes we get busy getting through things to stop and enjoy them. Will Definately try and ask better question from now on. Great advice. Thank you

  25. Growing up when my dad came home from work every day he’d ask my mom “what can I do to help you right now?” I think its great advice. I love the question prompts you gave. I’ll be putting some into practice today =)

  26. Wow! I think that’s it, just wow! And thank you, of course.

  27. You absolutely made me cry while Reading this blog.
    I am going to let my huisbrand read it as well. This is just
    the thing we need :-).
    THANK YOU for sharing this valuable information.
    I will pay it forward among other parents too ;-(

  28. turn down Mouth and turn up Ears etc…the sound of her feet on our hard fake wood floor, in the dark,new moon, fast and light or slow… left foot front arch needs to be rubbed again, d– that dirt on her right Ear… wax I hope She WAKES up about food. but with a whiskers softness keep taking it out and Ethen age 6 says FUN to touch Oma smell, look at, and just a small taste! Like the Go-Pro that fell to earth… pig says “like chicken…?” would you like to know more?

  29. Hi there mates, pleasant paragraph and nice urging commented here, I am in fact enjoying by these.

  30. Thank you for this thoughtful post and gentle reminder to relate to our loved ones individually and not generically.

  31. Anyone have suggestions of what questions to ask?

    I see my SO almost everyday but I feel we don’t know a lot about each other. This is a fairly new relationship and I want to start it out correctly. My past relationships have failed because of lack of communication or lack of the right communication.

    I guess I’m asking for specific questions to try. We don’t have kids and we both work.

    Thanks :)

    • Just ask questions about work. What was a funny thing that happened today? What stressed you out at work today?
      The more you know about his job and he yours, the better your questions will get.

      • Thanks :)
        I appreciate the suggestions! Like I said I want to start this relationship out on the right foot. He’s a pretty awesome guy.

  32. Just a question about the picture of you and your hubby…..
    Are the gemstones he’s wearing lavender and lapis lazuli?

  33. This is great for working moms too. (Kuddos and respect for moms who get to or have to stay home). Also like the idea of using these types of questions for my kids. And I love what Jennifer Weedon (@Slummy_Mummy) says:
    ” I would add that when my husband came home and asked “How was your day?” at that point, I would want to say, “It’s only half of my day. I still have to do dinner, baths, bedtime, and night feedings!!!” ”

    …Goes for working moms too. The “day” never really ends. ;-)

  34. As a (semi) work-from-home dad with two kids in homeschool, I found myself shaking my head in wonder at just how perfectly you nailed this. This parenting thing aint easy, especially when you begin to feel like you’re doing it yourself most of the time. And it’s so, so easy in the headlong rush of jobs, and school, and kids and everything else (like the 6 loads of clothes to wash, dry and fold; the breakfasts, lunches and dinners to prepare; the 14 combined lessons for the kids; and THEN the work I was supposed to do 5 hours ago) to shut our other halves out with the rest of the life stuff we’re trying to chug through and stay afloat. But these questions, and I’ll admit that they feel a little weird right now, seem to be a true key to rediscovering that person you share all of this with, and not just that person, but yourself as well. I say kudos to you! Kudos and take a trip to Target for me. Hahaha

  35. Great questions. My brother and I laughed and teased my mom for YEARS for always asking us, “What was the best thing about X? The worst?” and now I find myself doing the same with my 3.5 yo during our bedtime chats. These are great additions — I love the “When did you feel X today?” ones.

    Also, you totally describe a day at home with kids. Now I work from home, so mine are only home with me 2 days a week, and there’s a whole other layer of emotion there — freedom and intellectual purpose, the feeling of ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, coupled with wandering around the house and staring blankly out the window, checking the baby monitor, and then the feeling of OMG I’M OUT OF TIME, what have I DONE all day? Obviously, I’m still getting used to figuring out my schedule without my two little anchors.

  36. I absolutely love this post. It’s in being intentional that life change really happens. I’ve got to ask better questions, and use this to deepen my relationships. Brilliant. Great job. Thank you for sharing, and you nailed the feelings of being home all day with little ones. It’s remarkable and unremarkable and completely unexplainable!

  37. I tried asking some of the questions today, and ended up talking and listening and laughing for hours. Thank you for helping me improve a relationship.

  38. These questions are a great homework assignment for my book, The Piwer of the Zip. There is valuable synergy between your work and mine.

  39. I really liked that a friend shared this on Facebook.

    Asking the right questions is great. When I come home to my domestic diva I always want to make sure things are still fresh and interesting for her.

    We both want to feel loved and appreciated after-all and she is an equal in creating our happiness, lifestyle and home.

    The concept of asking better questions adds a new dimension to that coming home experience – and of course pretty much anytime and anywhere we are together.

  40. This is truly one of the best blog posts of all time! Such a good description of a mom’s day, too. I would add that when my husband came home and asked “How was your day?” at that point, I would want to say, “It’s only half of my day. I still have to do dinner, baths, bedtime, and night feedings!!!”

  41. I have actually been working on asking better questions myself. I really appreciate knowing that I am not the only other mom out there that feels all of that and learns as they go while trying to improve which is always easier said than done.
    To one of the above comments. …I personally never planned on beings a stay at home mom, not because I didn’t want to see my girls grow up, but because I want sure I could do it right. As moms we always find ourselves questioning how we are really doing and secretly wondering if we are screwing it all up at the same time. But, I knew that I was the best person for the job to give my girls the care they deserved. Both had major stomach issues and I had to give up dairy fir my youngest while breastfeeding. All of that wasn’t in my prefect cookie cute box dream of having a family. We have to re figure things out and keep moving forward to the best of our own abilities. A normal job is way easier than a stay at home mother’s job, because it never ends. It is 24/7 and even if a break is obtained you worry like crazy that something could go wrong.
    With that being said hopefully you can take some you time as well so you can handle all that craziness that can happen throughout the day, because if we can not take care of ourselves we can not take care of others.
    Best of luck to all of you on your journeys!

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