How Asking Just *One* Question Can Save Your Relationship

It’s easy to fall into a rut with your partner, to let things get stale, boring, monotonous, routine, to take each other for granted.

But that’s not Love.  That’s not what Real Love does.  Genuine Love is about cherishing the person you love, treating that person as best as you can, treating that person with kindness, goodness, humor, warmth, affection, patience.

The feelings that most people thrill to when an intimate relationship starts out fade (for most people) over time.  It’s nearly inevitable.  And for some people those feelings evolve into a much deeper and more abiding and stable love for the other person–the two people no longer are merely infatuated with each other and mistakenly thinking that that’s love, instead they actually both truly like and appreciate each other, are friends to each other, care deeply about one another, have asked “What would become of me without you and what would become of you without me?” of each other.  They genuinely Love each other and *show* it to each other.  (Love is as love does.)

However, some couple don’t evolve into this deeper and richer Love for one another.  Instead, they fall out of love–and keep on falling . . . back into themselves, into their own unhappiness, bitterness, resentment, disappointment, they criticize and blame, then up dealing with a lot of ennui and experiencing a sort of buyer’s remorse (or a desire for a new and improved model).  And above all they fall prey to focusing more on what they’re not getting instead of what they’re not giving.  They end up taking their partner for granted.  Conversations cease or become only about the logistics of the relationship.  The two exist not as friends or lovers, but more and more as strangers or roommates merely coexisting under the same roof.

And from there it’s just a small step or two to divorce, breaking apart the family, or an affair “happening.”

Unless . . . unless . . . one of the person’s involved in the relationship happens to ask one very important question:  How much love have I been showing to my spouse lately?

Asking this question–and answering it honestly–and then if need be shifting one’s focus from one’s partner and what he or she is not doing or giving to you and instead focusing on what you haven’t been giving, on how you’ve been showing up to the relationship, your attitude, how nice or not nice you’ve been, and on what you can do better, how you can show more love and appreciation and kindness to your partner.

It just might change everything.

Apparently it did for this woman–

Relationship on the rocks? How one woman saved her marriage – just by being NICE to her husband

Just be nice: Lauren Libbert decided to save her marriage by being kind to her husband

By Lauren Libbert

PUBLISHED:18:44 EST, 24 October 2012| UPDATED: 19:34 EST, 24 October 2012–just-NICE-husband.html

WHO KNEW?  Eight out of ten couples no longer kiss before going to sleep, a survey found.

Two events signalled that my marriage was in trouble. The first was forgetting our sixth wedding anniversary, when neither my husband nor I sent flowers, a gift or even a card.

Colin mentioned this about three days later, and we laughed nervously about how silly and forgetful we were, grateful we were as bad as each other.

The second was coming home from a night out with friends and slipping into bed next to Colin, flat on his back and snoring.

As I lay there, counting the grey hairs on his chest to lull myself to sleep, I struggled to recall the last time we’d gone to bed at the same time, let alone snuggled up.

Naturally, we talked, but our conversations were more practical than meaningful or romantic, and there was a fair bit of sniping, too.

Sneers and mutters punctuated most of our conversations, and a vague feeling of discord seemed to follow us around.

Yet, not so long ago, I’d adored this man. In our courting days, I’d go giddy with excitement after every phone call and surprise him with expensive dinners at top restaurants just because he appreciated good food. I once drove 50 miles to Kent, where he lived, just to kiss him goodnight.

Somehow, over six years of marriage, work, two young sons, iPhones, chores and exhaustion had driven a wedge between us.

My job as a freelance writer meant I was used to asking psychotherapists and authors for their secrets on how to conduct a successful relationship. One piece of advice ran like a seam through every interview: be nice to your other half.

Recently, psychologist Oliver James told me: ‘Lauren, the amount of love you give is equal to the amount of love you receive.’

It struck me. What love had I given to Colin of late? I recalled my teenage years, watching my mother serve my father dinner every evening at 6pm, after taking his jacket as he walked in from work, pouring him a drink and asking about his day.

By contrast, I often seemed to greet Colin by barking at him for being late, then insisting he take out the bins and recycling before he sat down for dinner.

Of course, things were different in our parents’ time. But being nice to Colin, though easy in theory, would take effort and, like many women up to their eyes in work and children, it was down there with ‘cleaning out the goldfish bowl’ on my to-do list.

And yet . . . our holiday was looming. Ten days in Cornwall was the perfect opportunity to try it. So, two hours into the drive from our home in London, I started my ‘Be Nice’ mission and did something very out of character: I reached over and put my hand on Colin’s knee.

He jumped and the car swerved. Undeterred, and with the car steadied, I tried again. He didn’t say anything, but kept looking at me quizzically and, dare I say it, happily.

What could have been a long, tense drive ended up with the whole family singing a medley of songs, arriving at our holiday cottage wailing Ten Green Bottles like the Von Trapps. So far, so nice.

That night, with the children in bed, I opened a bottle of wine, poured Colin a glass (a first as he was usually the one to open and pour for me) and asked him how things were at work, making a silent promise not to judge or interrupt, which I often did thanks to his habit of going into far too much detail.

He talked a little, then paused, waiting for my usual verbal assault. Instead I clamped my jaw tight.

Afterwards, he thanked me for listening.

Later, in bed, I soldiered on with my campaign, putting my arm lovingly across his chest despite feeling so exhausted that all I wanted was to sleep. It wasn’t a hug, more of a body flop, but it didn’t go unnoticed.

‘Are you OK?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said sweetly, when all I really wanted was for him to be quiet so I could sleep.

The next morning I gave Colin a whole-hearted embrace. He stirred and smiled (a first for the mornings), but then two excitable little boys came bounding into our room and that was the end of that.

The atmosphere at breakfast was joyful. I made Colin coffee, after which he gave me a kiss and a hug.

Be nice! It’s all you need for a happy marriage

With a free day ahead, he suggested we go to the beach and take the boys crabbing. I wanted to say ‘No’ — we had a pile of brochures advertising everything there was to do in the area, which was my usual way of doing things.

But I squeezed out a weak ‘Great idea!’ to which the boys — all three of them — whooped with delight.

Colin was suspicious about the changed me, especially when we lost reception on the sat-nav and drove round in circles in dark lanes without me losing my temper and blaming him.

It was an effort on my part, which required chewing gum with such ferocity my jaw throbbed, but it was worth it for the ‘I love you’ he whispered that night in bed.

Yet he never asked what I was doing. Perhaps he didn’t want to break the spell, happy to enjoy it while it lasted.

He was smiling more, showing me affection, running my bath, cooking dinner and taking the children off my hands. With effort came reward, I realised: this niceness was catching.

The children, too, seemed to be basking in the glow of our happiness. With fewer arguments, there were fewer reasons for them to play up. Being with them became an unbridled pleasure.

The true test came when we arrived home and I had to pick up all the balls and start juggling again. Would my mean, intolerant streak resurface faced with piles of unpaid bills and dirty washing?

I was determined to keep my niceness going. After all, what had felt like a rather clinical social experiment seemed to have put my marriage back on track.

I didn’t want to go back to being in an empty bed at night for hours before my husband joined me. I wanted Colin’s arms around me.

It hasn’t been easy. Holidays are an escape and being nice comes easy when you don’t have to wrestle with work deadlines.

But one thing’s for sure. It’s our seventh wedding anniversary on December 18: I’ll be buying Colin a card — and probably even a gift.

. . . . . .

Related article: How to Fall in Love Again (

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in Immature Love, Intimate Relationships, Love, Love is a Choice, Love is a Decision, Love is Not a Feeling, Mature Love, Real Love and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to How Asking Just *One* Question Can Save Your Relationship

  1. John this is a great post. All of what you say rings too true. Couples often fall into this rut. I especially slip into this resentment mode especially when I feel I am to fix, solve, and clean up my wife’s messes. Frustrating. Everything becomes so much more complicated and entangled. But I will keep striving for a higher level. Thanks for the reminder.

    • John says:

      Hello Jonathan,

      Thank you for reading and for the kind comment. I will definitely read the two posts you linked in the comment below, and then write more to you. In the meantime, here is a response I left for someone else who left a comment for me on one of my posts. . . ( . . . I think this comment plus the post I just posted today (10-26-2012; plus my upcoming response to that post, will all circle around the same ideas regarding love and gratitude and cherishing another and connecting deeply with another.

      The question is what to do if one person is willing to think and act in this way, and the other person doesn’t seem to want to come on board? Will one person acting this (loving) way consistently enough to eventually win the other (MLK’s “soul force”) or improve the situation.

      More later.

      Kindest regards,


  2. I really enjoyed reading that. we often underestimate the effect our negative behaviour can have on others. A simple change made the sun come out. Lovely

    • John says:

      Hello CountingDucks,

      A much belated thank you for reading this post and for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Kindest regards to you, and Merry Christmas!


  3. Pingback: How to Fall in Love Again | What Is Real True Love?

  4. Pingback: The Marriage Box. (Relationships Are About What We Put Into Them, Not What We Get Out of Them) | What Is Real True Love?

  5. guest says:

    Hi, Can I get your email address please. I want to share an experience and get your advice on that. Thanks in advance

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