The One Question Experiment

Could asking your spouse just one question every day for one month transform your marriage?

Tim and I would both readily admit that communication isn’t a strong suit in our marriage. A goal? Yes. A strength? Not so much. I was tired of letting conflict and misunderstandings be the impetus for improvement, so I decided to get intentional about bettering our communication. And I decided to do it without telling Tim. (The irony of that is not lost on me…)

I’m easily overwhelmed these days, and I also have a tendency to make a production out of the smallest project. With that in mind, I dismissed grand ideas like finding a communication curriculum of some sort or forcing Tim into deep, emotionally driven conversations every evening after James went to sleep.

Instead, I opted for a simple addition to our daily routine – one question. One question seemed doable. It was intentional, but not overwhelming. It was small, but had the potential to make a big impact. For me, one of the hardest parts about communication is opening the dialogue. Tim and I talk throughout the day of course, but I often feel silly and awkward starting a conversation about my feelings, whether it’s a relationship frustration that’s been niggling or a spiritual insight I had that morning. Asking questions seemed like a good means of practicing “the start” of communication in a non-threatening way.

One Question Experiment

Here’s how I organized this little One Question Experiment:

  • I created a master list of 31 open-ended questions.
  • The list remained hidden from Tim. I would refer to the list every morning to familiarize myself with that day’s question.
  • I would ask the question during dinner, except for Wednesdays when Tim generally eats dinner on the fly before youth group.

I culled various blog posts to curate my list of questions, which ran the gamut of lighthearted and random to serious and introspective. I added extra questions as I thought of them because sometimes I couldn’t help but ask the next day’s question, too. It was challenging for me to be inconspicuous about my question asking. I’m sure those with more skill in the art of conversation would find a better question segue than, “So…”

The goal was for Tim to remain in the dark about my intentional question asking until the experiment was over. I had visions of a big reveal at the end of the month. Something that involved shock, dimmed lights, communication breakthroughs, and a few tears of admiration. However, like you’ll find out in my recap, Tim caught on to my question experiment pretty early. (Probably all those so’s.)

The similarities between my One Question Experiment and a spiritual discipline struck me as I was preparing to add this new habit to our daily lives. Spiritual disciplines are practices that help us connect with God. They take time and effort but result in deeper, stronger faith. Communication is a practice, a marriage discipline if you will, that helps us connect with our spouse. It takes time and effort but results in a deeper, stronger marriage.

The One Question Experiment is over, and I can’t make any “become a master communicator in 31 days” claims. One question doesn’t make a great communicator, but one question might lead to another question or might make you feel more comfortable talking about that tough situation going on at work or might just give you good old fashioned practice in the art of conversation.

Did asking Tim one question every day for a month transform our marriage? Yes, I think it did. Not in the splashy, snap your fingers and we’re a whole new couple kind of way. Our transformation was a matter of habit and ease. We were reminded how fun it is to get to know each other like when we were dating. We were reminded to talk about the small stuff as well as the big things. We were reminded that communication gets easier the more you do it.

The One Question Experiment Questions

  1. What makes you most fulfilled or happiest as a father?
  2. What is your dream destination and why?
  3. What area of your spiritual walk do you want to improve?
  4. Bungee jump or jump out of a plane?
  5. Who’s one person in your life who inspires you to be a better person?
  6. If you could have witnessed one biblical event, what would it be and why?
  7. Are you more like Fred or Ricky? (We’ve been watching I Love Lucy…)
  8. What’s one personal quality you’d like to improve? How can I help?
  9. What are your top five favorite foods? (Bonus: Put one on next week’s menu.)
  10. What was your very first impression of me?
  11. What makes you the most fulfilled or happiest as a husband?
  12. What is the best way to encourage you when you’re down?
  13. What kind of gifts do you like?
  14. If you could only go on one ride at Disneyland, what would it be?
  15. What makes you the most fulfilled or happiest as a man?
  16. What’s your favorite hymn and why?
  17. How would you like to celebrate our tenth anniversary?
  18. What do you fear the most?
  19. How have you changed since we got married?
  20. Judging from my actions and words, what are my priorities?
  21. What’s the best way to communicate respect?
  22. What’s your favorite memory of our wedding day?
  23. What is one thing you must do before you die?
  24. What have you been learning about God lately?
  25. What’s the best part of each season?
  26. What are the strengths of our marriage?
  27. What 3 things would you tell your 16 year old self?
  28. How would you spend a day without your phone?
  29. What are 3 of your favorite things about our family?
  30. What have you learned this week?
  31. If you weren’t a youth pastor (insert your spouse’s job here), what would you be?
  32. Who’s a couple you admire and why? (Bonus: If they live close, invite the over for dinner!)
  33. What big award would you like to win?
  34. How should we celebrate getting out of debt?

The One Question Experiment Recap

“What’s with all these questions?” says Tim on day ONE. I got that a lot before Tim figured out what I was up to, which happened on day twelve. Even though I had to come clean about my purposeful question asking, it was fun to have Tim in on the project as well. There was a new sense of expectation for the day’s question.

Be prepared to give your own answer. Tim never let me off the hook.

Involve dinner guests in the One Question Experiment. One of my favorite days was discussing question 27 with my siblings-in-law.

Curb your expectations. Some questions won’t turn into the scintillating conversation you were hoping for. That’s okay. Keep plugging along.

Questions can lead to healthy changes. My answer to question 3 led to a change in our prayer patterns.

Are you a good communicator? Give us some tips/encouragement/advice in the comments!

Other posts you’d probably be into:

The Marriage Disciplines

There were definitely a few things I was apprehensive about when Tim and I got married (thank you, pre-marital counseling), but communication wasn’t one of them. I quickly discovered that the intensity of my desire to be a good communicator did not necessarily match my actual communication skills.

My ability to craft a winning speech or talk for hours on a date weren’t the tools I needed in the face of conflict and day-to-day life with another person. I may have a rich, complex internal dialogue, but that didn’t really translate within a marriage relationship.

The type of transparent communication I coveted wasn’t going to grow from complacency. I knew I needed to practice – practice voicing my feelings, articulating my thoughts, and encouraging Tim to do the same. But it’s easy to grow comfortable when your relationship is going smoothly. My commitment to bettering our communication would fade until the provocation of an argument or a misunderstanding brought the need to light again. My concern would reappear until our conflict was resolved and the business of life and our daily routine buried any urgency.

Bettering our communication would require intentional practice, patience, and discipline.

Discipline isn’t something I generally associate with marriage. Discipline makes me think of parenting and meeting personal fitness goals. But I also think of discipline as it relates to our spiritual lives. Spiritual disciplines are practices that put us in a better posture to connect with God. They don’t always come naturally and require intentional practice, patience, and, as the name implies, discipline.

Marriage Disciplines

In the same way, I believe there are marriage disciplines – practices that put us in a better posture to connect with our spouse. These practices don’t always come naturally, but through intentional practice, patience, and discipline they help our marriages grow deep and strong.

The marriage discipline concept sprung to life in my mind and heart as I considered ways Tim and I could work on our communication. Framing the challenging aspects of growing in that area as a marriage discipline made the effort seem worthwhile because I know how much spiritual disciplines like simplicity, lectio divina, and journaling have transformed my relationship with Christ. Wouldn’t investing in disciplines like couples prayer, love languages, and communication be equally transformative in a marriage relationship?

I’m convinced that they would. And I’m acting on that conviction. Stay tuned for how I’ve been practicing the marriage discipline of communication and how you can, too!

What Quinoa Taught Me About Marriage


Sitting back in my chair after a pleasant dinner, I watched our friend’s 8-month old twins scarf down their dessert – delicious looking, homemade energy bites. After inquiring about the recipe, I was informed that the chocolatey, peanut buttery Pinterest find was partially healthy because quinoa was the main ingredient.

“Have you ever had quinoa?” she asked. No sooner had, “I haven’t, but I’ve always wanted to try it” came out of my mouth did Tim pipe up with an enthusiastic, “I have!”.

For a guy who doesn’t like mushrooms, I was rather shocked. I’m sure the surprise was written all over my expression. As a culinary enthusiast and avid eater, I consider my palette well informed, so I was surprised Tim had tried a food I hadn’t. The surprise didn’t stop there. When I wondered out loud what restaurant he had tried quinoa at, Tim informed our little gathering that he had made it at home once or twice. I was so impressed that, as a bachelor, my husband had cooked quinoa, a fairly obscure grain, for dinner more than once.

That casual conversation around the table led to a fun discovery and an important reminder: [pullquote position=”right”]getting to know your spouse isn’t a one-time accomplishment. Husbands and wives should be life-long learners[/pullquote] – about each other!

Once the basics are out of the way – family, hobbies, goals, personality type – it’s easy to let learning take a back seat. You know you love the person, so much so that you chose to spend the rest of your life with them, but in the long run, that love isn’t a substitute for intimate knowledge.

My dating relationship with Tim started with hours and hours of conversation. Now, more than 18 months into our marriage and endless conversations later, I’m still learning new things about him. Some are fun facts, like his cooking habits; others are serious, like fears and past pain. All are worthwhile new discoveries.

Sometimes I feel bad when I find out I didn’t know something about Tim, but I’m realizing there’s no reason to feel like a bad spouse when you discover new things about the person you married. People change and there will always be more to discover about your bride or groom. That’s part of what makes relationships exciting.

life-long learner

Life-long learning can be passive, a la my quinoa discovery, but the benefits will be richer and more meaningful if the pursuit of knowledge is purposeful. Build time into your schedule to ask questions, try new things, and dig deeper into the person you married. Actively listen and engage when they speak. Study. Notice. Don’t forget to share the fun things you discover. It’s affirming to know someone appreciates your nuances and is excited to learn these new factoids.

All the new things I learn about Tim (the good, the bad, and the ugly) make me love and admire the man I married even more. So, why would I not continue to actively pursue learning about one of my favorite topics?

Life-long learning requires communication and conversation. If, like myself, those things don’t always come easy to you, check out these resources for jumpstarting your path to new discoveries:

  • The Joy Project – A long list of good Conversation Kick Starters for Couples
  • (affiliate link) Table Topics – Makes get to know you questions seem more like a game than an interrogation. Great for families too. (My family has used them for new significant others and to stimulate good dinner conversation).

What are some fun things you’ve learned about your spouse lately? How are you a life-long learner in your marriage?

P.S. I finally made quinoa for the first time last week! (I used this recipe for Broccoli Quinoa Casserole and it was delicious.)

photo credit: Bioversity International via photopin cc

The Reluctant Communicator

reluctant communicator

Once upon a time, there was a girl who created a list.  This list wasn’t any ordinary list. This list was full of future perfect thinking.

Every line on this list described the qualities she wanted in her husband.  She described absolutes, hopes, and day dreams of what her husband would be like.  Some things were necessities like having a growing relationship with God, actively serving in some ministry, and being full of integrity.  Others were more sigh-inducing like having strong hands and being taller than her six-foot frame.

This girl had spent 24 years waiting on her future husband so she was confident about the things on her list.  She was also certain about the qualities she wanted to avoid. One of those things was a bad communicator.  She had witnessed the pitfalls and pain of mis communication in relationships and deeply wanted to avoid those trials.

When she met her tall youth pastor (with strong hands!), she was pleased at his communication skills.  He didn’t shy away from tough topics and was willing to spend a date night talking over coffee instead of hitting the movie theatre.  Her heart was swollen with delight that God had given her a communicative man who fit her list.

The girl and her man got married. Soon the girl realized that even with a good communicator boyfriend/fiance/husband, the two weren’t immune to communication issues.  What this girl hadn’t anticipated was her own struggles with communication and what effects they would have on the beginnings of her marriage.


Yup, that girl is me.

One of the most oft repeated pieces of marital advice I received was to “communicate, communicate, communicate!”. Despite being an English major who felt pretty confident in my ability to articulate opinions and beliefs, being single had left my relationship communication skills untested for a quarter century. In my focus on someone else’s qualities, I neglected to examine if I had some of those qualities.  Turns out, my communication skills had much room for improvement.

While Tim and I don’t have trouble talking, communicating is a different creature – one that I seemed to shy away from entirely.

I’m what you would call a reluctant communicator.

When faced with uncomfortable feelings, I withdraw. I don’t like to verbalize embarrassing emotions or express needs. Those things may create conflict and I have an extreme aversion to conflict. Not a realistic or healthy attitude for any relationship…

My sorry tactic for conflict avoidance is to have conversations with myself, processing internally. As a result, I leave Tim in the dust wondering why I’m upset or how I’ve arrived at certain conclusions. My journal gets more conversation time than my husband sometimes.

Here are two habits I’ve tried to adopt to combat my communication reluctance:

  1. Include your husband when you process. I will always be an internal processor, but that doesn’t mean I have to exclude my husband.  Once I’ve had some time to think, I try to reiterate my train of thought to Tim.  Not only does Tim gives valuable feedback, often hearing my thoughts out loud brings a whole new dimension to my though processes.  Even if you’re processing something potentially conflict producing, sharing where you’re at and how you arrived at those thoughts and feelings does more for a relationship than resolving the issue internally.
  2. Share your heart with your husband first. As a blogger who values transparency, my posts are very real and very indicative of what’s currently in my heart.  It’s easier for me to articulate with pen and paper so writing is my communication style of choice and is often where I turn first.  I need to share the inner workings of Emily Gardner with Tim before I share it with the blogosphere.  Husbands commit their lives, hearts, and bodies to us, and we should show that commitment respect by giving them first dibs on our hearts, lives, and bodies.


Those two habits are habits – they don’t come naturally to me and I don’t always succeed. However, the fruit born from these habits is oh so sweet. Important details of doing life with someone can easily be glazed over when you’re a reluctant communicator.  I don’t want to miss out on sharing myself with Tim because I was reluctant to speak up and let him into my life.


Don’t miss out on what Kayse, Monica, Jamie, and Kelly have to say about communication!

Check out the other posts in this series: ServiceLaughter. Sex

How To Maintain A High-Maintenance Marriage

Is your marriage high-maintenance?

My initial reaction to that question was an indignant, “of course not!”.

I definitely have Miss Piggy qualities, but Tim’s Kermit temperament keeps our relationship fairly even keel.  To me, high-maintenance is demanding, troublesome, and exhausting. I certainly wouldn’t describe my marriage with those words.

But, what if high-maintenance is more universal than personalities?

Marriage is a rich and rewarding relationship, but developing a healthy marriage takes effort.  Growth is not passive. I’m discovering just how important it is for both Tim and I to take an active role in making our marriage thrive. Carrying on in marriage maintenance mode will barely scratch the surface of God’s purpose for our lives together.

Developing a thriving marriage requires our attention. It takes work to keep a marriage in good condition. Isn’t that what being high-maintenance is really about?

If a high-maintenance marriage is about working hard, being intentional, and having a grace-filled attitude, then I want a high-maintenance marriage.

Please join me and a few friends as we look at a few aspects of marriage that really need to be high-maintenance. Every Monday in the month of February we will take on one of these topics.

Kayse Pratt, the brain child of this collaborative series, Monica Steely, Kelly, and I are looking forward to this marriage conversation, starting with communication on February 4th!