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!