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We eliminated these five words from our daily conversations and it changed our marriage

After a day of swim lessons, baseball practice and a library play date — plus outlining a new project I was working on, feeding the dog, unloading clean dishes from the dishwasher, making lunches, loading up dirty dishes, and prepping for dinner, I was tired. When my husband walked in, ready to help carry the load, he innocently asked, “How was your day?”

The question seemed too big to answer. How was my day? Wonderful. Exhausting. Frustrating. Beautiful. And I craved a few minutes of quiet.

When I didn’t respond right away, my husband, who sat across from me on the kitchen stool drinking a Coke and munching on dill pickle chips, asked me these five words: “Are you mad at me?”

I became self-conscious. A swirl of thoughts flooded my mind that went something like this: I’m-super-grateful-for-this-life-and-wouldn’t-change-it-for-anything. BREATHE. But-sometimes-I-need-to-be-quiet. Sometimes-I-need-to-be-still.

I need to give my extroverted self a break and just be — and not feel pressure or judgement to be chatty or energized or happy.

Now, to be fair, I’ve done the same thing to my husband. After a long or stressful meeting, he’ll return home quieter than normal. And I’ll start internalizing, wondering if I did something “wrong.”

In an attempt to feel more connected and yet 86 small talk, we created a rule. We outlawed those five words (are you made at me). Instead, we’ve worked harder to articulate when we are truly upset — and why.

But, we both came to the realization that sometimes we are quiet. Or content. Or at peace. Because of that, a question like, 'how are you' can seem overwhelming. It often garners a response that lacks depth and vulnerability. So, we’ve made space for other questions that spark discussion, curiosity and connection. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • What made you laugh today?

  • What are you grateful for?

  • What made you frustrated?

  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?

  • What’s a goal you have for this week?

Through these questions, something amazing happened. Our communication completely changed. In the midst of searching for matching socks, untying and retying shoes, and washing the dog’s muddy paws before letting him in the house, we found space to converse. We did more than just converse, we began to really communicate.

Once we got rid of one incredibly, vague (and exhausting) question, eliminated a tired, assumptive phrase, neither of us felt the need to fabricate happiness or throw imaginary confetti in the air signaling we survived another day. We could just…be.

And, in the case of a packed evening schedule or a night sprinkled with tantrums that doesn’t allow for much conversation, we’ll exchange a look that says, “We can do this!” or, “We’re a team, remember?”

And maybe, later that night when the kids are tucked into bed, we’ll take a few minutes to unpack our day. Or, maybe we’ll just watch a show on Netflix and say nothing at all. And that’s just fine too.

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