Questions Couples Can Ask To Improve Communication
You probably don’t need convincing that ongoing, open communication is vital to a healthy, growing relationship. If we’re honest, it’s a struggle to make it happen in our marriages.
We all have our own reasons for why quality (and quantity) communication is hard for us, but I want to encourage you. I’ve yet to meet a couple whose communication was all it could and should be. We’re all in this together.
Sometimes you just need a little help getting started. Questions can be a catalyst.
Productive answers come from provocative questions. These questions for couples’ communication can spark quality interactions. And they can draw you toward a deeper marriage connection. Buckle up.
Why work at communication?
Let’s face it: Honesty, transparency, and vulnerability can go sideways – and fast. So, what are you trying to do? What do you need to try to avoid?
- The goal is definitely not to be “right,” open healed wounds or hurt each other. This doesn’t mean you can’t be true to yourself or say hard things in a constructive way. Genuine intimacy-building conversations aren’t always comfy-cozy.
- The goal is to go deeper into each other and your relationship. It isn’t to exchange facts about each other. You’re seeking insights that move your relationship forward. You’re trying to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings so you can love better. Look for ideas and solutions that improve your life and marriage.
- Agree to take a break, refocus, or stop altogether if the conversation escalates, becomes destructive, or creates problems instead of solving them.
Check out these questions for couples’ communication and get closer as you speak!
Group 1. Communication. Talking About Talking.
- What’s a topic we don’t usually talk about that you think would be interesting, important, or fun to discuss? Let’s go there!
- When you were growing up, how did your parents talk to each other? How did they speak to you? Has that influenced the way you communicate with me?
- If you could adjust one way I communicate with you, what would it be? Why?
- What’s a topic or area that you’re kinda uncomfortable discussing with me? How do I contribute to your discomfort? How could I make you feel more comfortable?
- What do you think are the main obstacles to improving our communication? Let’s make a plan!
Group 2. Understanding. Seeing How You See Each Other.
- How do you see me differently than you think I see myself? What are my blind spots?
- What do you think I haven’t taken enough time to learn or understand about you?
- Where in my life do you think I’m settling for less than the best? Inspire me!
- What’s an area where you think I don’t give myself enough credit or am too hard on myself?
- What are three of my qualities or attributes that you’re grateful for? How do you see them in action?
Group 3. Relating. Bringing Out The Best In Each Other.
- What relationship problems are we solving together? And what issues are we avoiding?
- What do you think is the most crucial factor in making our relationship grow? Do you think we’re paying enough attention to it? How do you think we could lean into it more?
- Sure, marriage takes effort, but are we having fun and enjoying each other? How would you suggest we “relax and enjoy the ride” more? What’s a fun thing we could do? Let’s put it on the calendar!
- What’s a part of our life where you feel a little under-appreciated? What could I do today to make you feel more appreciated?
- Where in our relationship do you feel like we’re totally a team? Where do you feel alone? Help me help you to never ever feel alone.
Group 4. Wildcard Round! Oh, We’re Doing This!
- OkayOkayOkay! So I’m not perfect. I’m sure there’s some little thing I do that annoys you. (Thank you for overlooking it all this time.) If you tell me what it is, I won’t get defensive. And I promise to work on it.
- What’s something I do for you that I obviously think is sweet and romantic, but it does next to nothing for you? What could I do that would be meaningful?
- If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Explain in psychologically revealing detail. (Set a timer for 30 minutes. Take turns.)
- I’m just curious… if I suddenly died (after you eventually worked through the paralyzing, soul-crushing grief), which of our single friends, co-workers, or acquaintances do you think you could have a high-quality, meaningful relationship with? Listen, it’s okay. Really. It’s just a hypothetical question. I mean, I’d want you to be happy. So, tell me: Who?*
*The only acceptable answer is: I would be in mourning for the rest of my empty life. Nobody could ever fill the hole in the meaningless existence I would have to sadly wander through, alone, until the end of time. I love you so much. ❤️
About these questions for couples’ communication: How do you know if all this talk is helping?
- You understand your spouse better, and you feel better understood.
- You’re taking action. You’re setting goals to improve your relationship and create deeper connections. Follow through!
- You feel a little uncomfortable with the process but still safe and secure.
- You discover things you have in commonalities, compromises, opportunities, and maybe even fun or forgiveness.
8 STEPS TO BETTER COMMUNICATION TODAY
17 TACTICS TO DRASTICALLY IMPROVE COMMUNICATION IN RELATIONSHIPS
8 SIMPLE WAYS YOU CAN HAVE MORE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS
5 TOOLS FOR HEALTHY COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE
WHAT GREAT LISTENERS ACTUALLY DO
HOW TO VALIDATE YOUR SPOUSE’S FEELINGS
6 Ways to Keep a Conversation From Getting Derailed
Holidays are supposed to be a time of love and joy when you gather and celebrate family, friends, and traditions. Those celebrations can easily be derailed when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or controversial conversation.
There’s no shortage of hot topics to navigate around if you want to have a peaceful gathering with friends and family. But try as you may, you just might find yourself discussing a divisive issue. You know you and a loved one aren’t on the same page about this topic, and you’re ok with that, but you probably don’t want a conversation to hurt the relationship. So, how do you stop the conversation before it goes too far?
Kathleen Kelley Reardon, a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, notes that “conversations are building blocks of relationships.” They have the power to build up or tear down relationships.
Here are six of Reardon’s strategies to help you get a negative conversation back on track (just in time for the holidays):
1. Shine a different light on what’s being said.
If the other person says, “I don’t want to fight about this,” you can reply with, “I don’t want to fight either. Let’s have a discussion.” A discussion is seen as more civil. A conversation that evolves into an argument causes both people to put their guard up. A discussion, on the other hand, invites more listening.
2. Rephrase what’s being said.
Instead of calling someone stubborn, call them persistent or determined. If they say, “You’ve got a lot to say,” you might respond, “I’m passionate about this subject and want to make sure every side is heard.” If offensive words are used, rephrase them positively.
3. Reflect on a positive past experience.
Relationships are full of positive and negative interactions. A present negative doesn’t have to tear down a mostly positive past. If you need to pump the brakes, you might say, “We’ve had such a good relationship, but something has us out of sync. I know we can work this out in a positive way.”
This shows the other person that you value and want to protect what you have with them.
4. Clarify what you heard by restating what the other person said.
We’re all guilty of speaking faster than our brain can work. I know I’ve said plenty of hurtful things that I wish I could take back. If you think they have mistakenly said something painful, ask them, “Did you mean what I think I heard?” Give them the benefit of reconsidering and rephrasing what they said.
5. Ask a question.
Maybe your friend or family member didn’t mean to intentionally hurt or insult you. Perhaps they chose words too quickly. Ask, “Would you clarify what you just said?” Try not to assume they are determined to cause you harm. Give the relationship the benefit of the doubt.
6. Revisit the conversation at a later time.
There’s nothing wrong with bluntly saying, “I don’t think either of us is at our best right now. Can we pause this conversation and revisit it another day? I don’t want this to hurt our relationship.” Your consideration for the person is more valuable than who wins the discussion. Choose to protect the relationship.
Remember, conversations are building blocks to help us get to know each other better. They are how we deepen and develop relationships. Do what you can to keep one heated exchange from destroying a lifelong relationship. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be correct, but do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? You can’t always have both.
What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics
What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love
How to Have a Disagreement with a Friend without Ending Your Friendship
5 Tools for Healthy Communication in Marriage
It’s not exactly news that healthy communication is the foundation of a happy and satisfying marriage. But let’s be honest: As you interact with the one you love the most, it’s easy to let healthy communication habits slip.
Marital communication is a skill. And like any other skill, you can learn and constantly improve upon it. Fortunately, it’s not super complex. Using a few good tools can keep communication heading in a healthy direction.
Here are a few communication tools you can try today:
1. Precision Timing
You probably know the frustration of trying to talk when one of you is in the middle of something (like a chore, or the game, or a nap).
Asking, Is this a good time (to ask a question or to tell you about such-and-such), cuts down on a ton of frustration and gives attention to your communication.
And if the time is not right, a better time needs to be scheduled. Let me finish this one thing, and then I’m all ears. Or, Can we wait until halftime, and then I’d love to hear about such-and-such? These are words that show respect and foster good communication.
One caveat: If your spouse urgently needs your attention, do what you can to drop what you’re doing and listen. They obviously have a need that takes priority over what you may be doing.
2. Laser Focus
Whether you’re speaking or listening to your spouse, eliminate distractions. Cut out the static as you tune in to them. Turn off the phone or the game. Send the kids to their rooms. Face your spouse and make eye contact. Listen as if they’re the only thing that matters at that moment. (Because, really, they are!)
3. Crystal Clarity
A stellar rule of thumb: Clarify, ask for clarification, and re-clarify. So what I’m hearing you say is… That must make you feel like… Am I understanding you correctly when I hear you say you need…
Make your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs as clear as possible. This is what I need right now… I’m feeling very strongly about… I’m thinking this, but I’m not sure I have it all thought out…
Be patient with your spouse as they try to understand; they aren’t you. It might take a fair amount of re-clarifying before you feel understood. That’s ok; the value of communication is in this process.
4. Controlled Tone
We often communicate much more through our vocal tone than actual words. Confusion happens when our words don’t match our tone.
It’s Fine. I’m Fine. Everything is just FINE!
This often indicates that our tone is truer to our feelings than the words coming out of our mouths.
Awareness is key.
Be clear in communicating your needs, and temper your tone to express those needs in a healthy way.
Sometimes, you get a more-desired response from your spouse using a calmer tone of voice rather than “letting it fly” just to be sure they know exactly how you feel. Perhaps emotions tend to get the best of you in a heated conversation. If so, it might be best to drop back and process your emotions first before you approach your spouse.
5. The Magic Question.
You probably know listening is critical. But understanding why your spouse wants you to listen is the golden ticket to excellent communication.
The Magic Question can help you understand exactly what your spouse wants from you. Here it is:
Is this something you’d like me to help you find a solution for, or would you like me to simply listen and understand?
It’s amazing what using a few good communication tools can do for your marriage. And you can easily implement any of these tools today. Give one or two of these a try this week. It’ll make a difference!
Vazhappilly, J. J., & Reyes, M. E. S. (2018). Efficacy of Emotion-Focused Couples Communication Program for Enhancing Couples’ Communication and Marital Satisfaction
How to Validate Your Spouse’s Feelings
20 Questions to Ask Your Family This Fall
The cool, crisp mornings. The crackle of a bonfire. The gooeyness of s’mores. The vibrant colors popping in the trees. Fall is upon us, and it’s oh so magical.
The dawn of any new season brings opportunities to intentionally connect with your kids. It’s a great time to talk about what makes fall unique and learn more about your traditions and traditions around the world.
Here are some questions to kick off fall conversations with your family.
As with any good questions, take the opportunity to dig a little deeper into your kids’ responses. Ask them why they answer a certain way. Have fun! You might find some new fall family traditions in your conversations.
1. What fall scent smells the best?
Pumpkin spice, apple cinnamon, apple cider, pecan pie, bonfire, just to name a few.
2. What’s your favorite fall activity?
Hayrides, trick or treating, pumpkin carving, the list goes on and on.
3. Where’s your favorite place to go in the fall?
Do you have a specific place you like to visit to see the leaves change? Is there an apple orchard or pumpkin patch that your family loves?
4. What’s your fondest fall memory from your childhood?
This could be a specific holiday, a fun trip, or just something that brings joy.
5. What fall holiday do you enjoy most?
6. What fall holiday from another culture would you like to learn more about?
To learn about more holidays around the world, check out 10 Autumn Traditions Around the World – Aberdeen.
7. What’s your favorite fall food?
Plan to make these as a family over the next week.
8. What are you thankful for?
And since gratefulness isn’t just limited to Thanksgiving, get our free download: 25 Family Activities to Increase Thankfulness and Joy
9. What’s your favorite thing to watch in the fall?
(Halloween classics, Thanksgiving specials, football, the World Series, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or are you prepping for Christmas already?)
Would you rather:
10. Enjoy a pumpkin spice drink or apple cider?
11. Get lost in a corn maze or spooked in a haunted house?
12. Eat caramel apples or candy corn?
13. Watch football or baseball? (It’s the playoffs!)
14. Jump in a pile of leaves or go on a hayride?
15. Have a cool, crisp, fall day or go back to the summer heat?
Trivia (Who doesn’t love good trivia?):
16. What makes leaves change their color?
(Answer: Sugar is trapped in the leaves, causing red and purple colors.)
17. What country did Halloween originate from?
(Answer: Ireland. Halloween originates from a Celtic festival celebrating the new year on November 1. Traditions were to light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.)
18. What is the most popular autumn tradition in the world?
(Answer: Halloween. It’s traditionally celebrated as All Hallows’ Eve in many countries (the day before All Saints’ Day).
Bonus: Thanksgiving comes in second, followed by Dia de Los Muertos. If you want to explore another culture’s celebrations, I strongly recommend learning more about Dia de Los Muertos. Sounds like a “Coco” movie night!
Finish this statement:
19. My favorite Halloween treat is:
20. My favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving is:
Use these conversation starters at the dinner table or in the car.
Fall is a great time to connect as a family. Take the time to slow down before the bustle of the holiday season. The weather is perfect for getting outdoors and exploring with your family.
DIY Date Night: Let’s Fall In Love!
25 Fall Activities For The Whole Family To Enjoy
When You Don’t Like Your Friend’s Friend
What do you do when you don’t like your friend’s friend? This is a tricky but common situation.
And for the record, we aren’t talking about someone in your friend’s life who just rubs you the wrong way. This goes considerably deeper than personality. Still, let’s leave no room for misunderstanding.
First, let’s ask some clarifying questions.
- Could it be you? Are you the jealous type? Prone to overreacting? (Sorry. Had to ask.)
- Could this person be awful at first impressions? How much have you been around them? (Without being all gossipy, is anyone else in your friend circle picking up on this?)
- Is this person truly toxic? A bad influence on your friend? Are you legitimately worried about your friend?
Okay, so number three is on the table. You’re worried about your friend. They seem to have a blind spot about this person, and this “friend” negatively influences them. This obviously isn’t cool.
Second, let’s wrap our heads around what’s going on.
- This person may be in a bad season of life, and their negativity is affecting your friend.
- This person may be making lifestyle choices that you know go against your friend’s values, and you see your friend heading that way.
- He or she may be in a bad relationship, divorcing, or divorced, and they are poisoning your friend’s relationship or view of marriage.
- This person might be vocal about their views on sex, faithfulness, integrity, and they’re encouraging your friend to move outside their boundaries and character.
- Your friend may be in a vulnerable position and highly susceptible to influence.
- You may have already seen changes in your friend that concern you.
If you see any of these things, or something similar, a conversation with your friend is in order.
Research shows that we are wired to catch and spread emotions and behaviors just like we catch and spread a cold or virus.
Psychologists use the term “social contagion” to describe how individuals or groups influence us. Simple examples include yawns and smiles, but they can also include infidelity and divorce. As much as we want to think we’re our own person, we are all susceptible to the influence of others — both positive and negative. It’s not uncommon to see it happening to our friends while they’re oblivious to it. We have blind spots.
What do you do when your friend has a toxic friend who is a bad influence on them?
Friends help friends see their blindspots. Sometimes our friend’s immediate response is gratitude. Sometimes it can be anger or resentment. Often, it depends on the rapport you have with your friend and the trust you’ve developed in that relationship.
Bottom line: You have to use your judgment. Do you have “relationship capital” built up with your friend to call them out on how they’re changing or being influenced? Has the “threat” risen to the level that you are willing to risk your friendship?
You’re a quality friend for caring. You gotta do something about this because that’s what quality friends do. But you’re also aware that this sort of thing can go sideways and, worst-case scenario, you could lose a friend over it.
Know this. Believe this. You’re responsible for bringing your concerns to your friend.
Be tactful, respectful, and direct. Your friend is responsible for how they respond. Truth. You have to know that you’re doing what good friends do. Your friend is responsible for their reaction, which is entirely out of your control. Are you prepared to lose a friend because of your sense of duty, responsibility, loyalty, and being a quality friend?
Sadly, this is what it often comes down to in the short term. Sometimes your friend will be grateful after they’ve processed what you’ve said, heard similar things from other friends, or experienced some negativity. But it’s hard on you to lose some standing with a friend or have to watch them learn something the hard way.
Keep your concern about your friend front and center rather than negativity about your friend’s friend who has you concerned. You won’t regret speaking the truth from a caring heart.
Other helpful blogs:
Valuable Relationships Make You a Better Person
My Friends Are Getting Divorced and It’s Affecting My Marriage
To the Husband Who Hurt His Wife
To the husband who hurt his wife:
Marriage is tough, and we all make mistakes. I’ve made some big ones in my marriage. I don’t know what mistake you made or what you did to hurt your wife, but I do know this: You have a chance to save your marriage. Choosing to do so is a huge first step.
I’ve been where you are. By our second year of marriage, I screwed up majorly and hurt the one person who matters more to me than anyone else. But, as I write this, we are celebrating our 17th anniversary. So I offer you hope IF you’re willing to invest the time and energy.
I’d like to tell you there’s a quick fix or three steps to healing a broken marriage, but there’s not. If you are committed to repairing the relationship, and your wife is open to it, all you can do is take it day by day.
Let’s start here. You have to own what you did.
Don’t pass the blame off on anyone else. You made a decision; you did something wrong. Own that. As I said, I made some big mistakes, and I own them. My wife isn’t at fault for my past decisions. I carry the burden of my mistakes, and it can be a heavy burden. But when she sees that you own your mistakes, she may be more willing to forgive you.
Show your wife that you desire to mend the relationship.
This takes effort. She needs to see that you want to make things right. Gifts and flowers won’t heal these wounds. Depending on the gravity of the mistake, there may be a massive break in trust. You have to rebuild it. You have to walk with her hand in hand. She may need space to process. You may need to seek out counseling. Ask her what she needs, not what you can do to make up for your mistake. What is required to heal both of you may take you out of your comfort zone, too. The best step for us was a fresh start. So five and a half years into our marriage, we relocated 1,000 miles from our hometown. The next five years were about reconnecting with each other and reestablishing who we were as a family. During this time, we decided to use our struggles to help other young couples. It may take years to repair the damage that’s been done, but it’s worth the wait. Your relationship can still move forward.
Wounds take time to heal.
Emotional wounds take significantly more time than physical wounds. The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal. Stay by her side. She isn’t the only one who needs healing either. The fact that you hurt her enough that you are questioning the security of your marriage means you need time to heal as well. Warning: Guilt is dangerous. Don’t let it consume you. Seek individual help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
And then there’s pride. For us men, it can be challenging to set our pride aside. If you’re honest, pride may have gotten you where you are. You have to humble yourself enough to own what you did. A healthy marriage takes sacrifice and putting each other’s needs first.
Your relationship can survive!
If you’re both willing to work together, you can move beyond this hurt. And you know what? Your relationship will come out stronger. I am still processing and healing from my mistakes. I don’t know that I will ever fully heal. But I do know that my wife has forgiven me. I know I am harder on myself than she is. We are healthier today than we’ve ever been. Our marriage is stronger, and we see our past issues as a way to help other marriages.
You’ve got this. Take it one day at a time. No matter how hard it seems, don’t give up. I’m rooting for you, and I’m here for you!
Other helpful resources:
How to Rebuild Trust in Marriage
7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage
Will My Spouse Ever Forgive Me?
Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?
Let’s face it — these two little words are packed with meaning, depending on the situation.
I’m sorry I screwed up.
I’m sorry you feel that way.
I am sorry, but it wasn’t my fault.
I’m sorry you’re a jerk.
Apologies matter in marriage. But we know all apologies aren’t equal. It’s not always whether we use the words, but how we use them that makes a difference.
Stuff happens in marriage.
Words get said. Feelings get hurt. Expectations aren’t met. Misunderstandings occur. Responsibilities fall by the wayside. Someone forgets an anniversary.
All the same, these things cause your marital connection to run off the rails. Even with minor instances, you want to get back on track with your spouse. But how do you do that? Well, research tells us apology is one of the most essential tools for reconciliation in the eyes of both the offender and the offended.1
Last night, my wife and I were going to sleep, and she decided to have a little fun. She put her hand up close to my face, thinking I was unaware of it in the dark. Unfortunately, she miscalculated my ninja-like sensibilities. I felt it, reacted on reflex, and accidentally poked her in the eye.
Was it my fault? No, not really. Was it on purpose? Absolutely not. It was a reaction. Did I apologize? Profusely! I would never intentionally harm my wife, and, taken the wrong way, she might think I wasn’t concerned for her well-being. My sincere apology smoothed out the situation. (Her eyesight is fully restored, by the way.)
Of course, there’s more to an apology than the words. Most of us were taught the formula: Say the words = everything is okay now.
Did you bite your teacher’s ankle again, Mikey? You need to go and apologize…
And for many of us, that formula got passed down to our marriage. Apology as words-only, at the least, is ineffective. And at the most, it does more damage.
Consider these times when you shouldn’t simply say I’m sorry to your spouse:
- To simply end the argument because it’s uncomfortable
- When you don’t know what you’re apologizing for, but you know you’re being blamed for something again
- To get something from your spouse, like an admittance of wrongdoing or a “return-apology”
- To manipulate someone into forgiving behavior you fully intend to keep doing
So then, why apologize? Say it with me:
I apologize when I recognize my contributions to our disconnect.
Apologizing isn’t always a matter of something that was “right” or “wrong.” Many times it’s simply a matter of contributing to an issue. There’s a difference.
Think of it like this:
- When I do something flat-out wrong. (Duh. That’s obvious.)
- Even when it was unintentional.
- When I didn’t do something morally wrong, but still, I didn’t consider your feelings.
- For miscommunication on my part.
Studies tell us that a genuine apology expresses ownership and remorse for something, seeks to empathize with how it affected the other person, and tries to compensate in some way for the offense. 2,3 In short, apology is about restoring the relationship rather than erasing the wrong.
So should you apologize to your spouse for something you didn’t do?
The bigger question is, What were your contributions to the disconnect? And how did that affect your spouse? And what can you do to restore the marital connection?
Talk about it together. Empathize. Consider your contribution. Take ownership of that. See it from your spouse’s point of view. And then ask, Do I need to apologize?
The result? You move further ahead in your relationship than where you were before the disconnect. There is a deeper right than being right.
I’m not going to share what happened with my spouse after the eye-poke incident. (That’s personal – but let’s just say we weren’t sleepy after that.) But I will tell you that what followed would not have happened without a wholehearted apology. Connection restored.
When conflicts are managed well and effective apologies are made, your marriage can come out even better on the other side.4 And that’s nothing to feel sorry about!
1Fehr, R., Gelfand, M. J., & Nag, M. (2010). The Road to Forgiveness: A Meta-Analytic
Synthesis of Its Situational and Dispositional Correlates. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 894–914. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019993
2Anderson, J. C., Linden, W., & Habra, M. E. (2006). Influence of Apologies and Trait Hostility on
Recovery from Anger. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29(4), 347–358. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10865-006-9062-7
3Kirchhoff, J., Wagner, U., & Strack, M. (2012). Apologies: Words of Magic? The Role of Verbal
Components, Anger Reduction, and Offence Severity. Peace and Conflict, 18(2), 109–130. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028092
4Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital Interaction and Satisfaction: A Longitudinal
View. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 47–52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.57.1.47
How to Teach Your Son About the Importance of Consent
It’s hard to miss the headlines about people taking advantage of others, sex trafficking and lives being changed forever because someone made a decision without asking for or giving consent. In today’s world, parents feel the need to understand and explain consent to their children, but how should you even start that conversation? Is it a different conversation for boys than it is for girls? Is it possible to take the need for consent too far, like when you’re changing your newborn’s diaper? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Here are a few answers to guide your way.
I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’ve had several conversations with them about what consent is and how to incorporate it into all parts of their lives. (If you have a daughter, check out this blog on How to Teach Your Daughters About Consent.)
For our purposes, consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” So, at its foundation, consent is about respecting the boundaries of the people you interact with. Especially when it comes to sex.
It’s essential for parents to not have just one conversation about sex and consent. You’ve got to have ongoing discussions.
More. Than. One. Many conversations.
Your son’s future, his reputation, and his relationships could be at stake.
Those conversations change as your son continues to change, grow, and have different experiences. The consent conversation I have with my 14-year-old is totally different from the one I have with my 18-year-old. When you have these conversations with your son(s), the key is to affirm, not shame them.
You may have a few questions about consent. Questions like:
Why is consent such a big deal now?
Why does it matter that I talk to my sons about consent?
How do I even begin this conversation?
Having a healthy relationship with your son can set you up for great conversations, and it can help you teach him about the importance of consent. Here’s how to get the conversation started.
Be approachable. Let him see how approachable you are.
As the mother of 3 sons, I’ve learned that they enjoy “body humor.” There was nothing better than talking about who let loose a “silent but deadly” fart or who in their class could burp the theme song to their favorite cartoon without vomiting. Despite being grossed out, I was open to them sharing. From that openness, they felt comfortable coming to me about any subject as they got older. Maybe your sons enjoy animé or sports. Whatever they like, show interest in it. Your interest is the fertilizer for the garden of communication that grows as they grow. Talk to them often about things that matter to them.
Times have changed.
It may be hard to understand why you need to talk about consent to your sons. There have been several cultural shifts regarding specific behaviors, which in the past some people may have seen as “boys being boys.” One example is “pantsing,” where someone pulls down another person’s pants as a practical joke. This behavior is now seen as problematic and can be considered “assault.”
It’s also helpful to talk about how to talk respectfully to or about other people. Sexual innuendo and objectification are topics you can bring up in everyday life (just look at the news for a springboard). Make sure they know what’s acceptable and what can be perceived as offensive to another person.
Talking about behaviors like these helps your son navigate the waters. It can also give them the courage to take a stand when someone is in danger, on the verge of making a terrible, life-altering choice, or making poor decisions.
Respect is essential.
Teaching your son to respect the people in his sphere of influence is paramount. Respect begets respect. Even as parents, we can demonstrate respect to and for our children. I’ve taught my sons to knock on my bedroom door and wait until I say come in before they enter my room. I also knock on their doors before I go in.
I also taught my sons to understand words like “NO” and “stop” from an early age. For example: When they were little, we played the “tickle game.” They knew when they said the password (Queen Mommy), I would immediately stop. This demonstrated to them that their words matter, and they can say “no” as well.
Reiterate that no means no. And make sure they know how alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s decision-making abilities.
It’s essential to ask permission and get a clear verbal response.
I remember that old saying about what happens when you “assume.” Assuming can be downright dangerous. Instead, ASK. If asking yields a nonverbal response such as a head nod or a shoulder shrug, ASK AGAIN. Asking and getting a clear verbal response helps both parties understand what’s ok and what isn’t. No matter the situation, even if consent has been given, I’ve told my sons, “If you have a doubt, DON’T.”
In other words, make sure they know that being invited into someone’s room or apartment is not an offer for sex. Taking someone on a date (or on a third date) doesn’t mean they owe you ANYTHING physical.
Consent is demonstrating respect for and listening to the people around you. Whether your son is 11 or 18, talk to him about consent, self-control, respect, and the potential consequences when those things are missing. Consequences could be legal, social, physical or financial. It could involve expulsion from school, losing a job, being arrested or being ostracized. Not getting consent is putting your life in someone else’s hands.
Additionally, your son has a right to voice his permission, too.
As I was talking to my college-bound son, he said, “Young men have the burden of doing the right thing in any given situation because consent is not just about dating. It’s about respecting people.”
I think he’s right.
Other helpful blogs:
When Should I Let My Child Date
How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids
Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents
Teaching Consent to Elementary Students (George Lucas Educational Foundation)