10 Questions Your Partner Still Needs to Answer
You've covered the hot-button topics: child-rearing philosophies, the true meaning of Christmas, your feelings about cilantro. But at a certain point, every couple needs to have the really tricky conversations.
8. Can you smell this peanut butter?
Sounds strange, but a loss of the ability to smell may signal a larger health issue. Surely I don't have to remind you that the ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve (all right, I only learned that two seconds ago). This explains why that guy I knew in college lost his ability to smell in a car wreck—apparently head trauma often damages this first cranial nerve. This also explains why smell is one of the first senses affected by cognitive decline. In fact, graduate students at the University of Florida McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste have found a link between a patient's ability to smell and early-onset Alzheimer's disease. (They used peanut butter because it is an easy-to-access "pure odorant.") While we don't recommend self-diagnosing based on this early study, sniffing some PB with your S.O. may pave the way for some important conversations about health—yours, his, individual family histories and potential future shared histories.
9. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
We all have our moments of career malaise. But when it's not your own career, not your own malaise, it's difficult to know what to say, other than, "Oh...Yeah...Man. That stinks. Sorry." A more manageable way to discuss this is to start with specifics: What does your partner wish were different at work right now? What doesn't your partner like? This avoids that big question: Do you want to quit and find a totally new career path? But it still gets him thinking, helps him list the things he actually wants to do and offers you insights into your partner's unspoken life.
10. What's the one (doable) thing you wish I'd stop doing?
Considering all the ways in which you might be annoying the bejesus out of your partner can be a little terrifying. Certainly, we could all be better people, better partners. I would like to be a kinder, more patient and giving person who is about 5 inches taller. There are other smaller things I do actually have control over, however, that I could actually change. For example, the tea bags. I am perpetually leaving old tea bags on the counter. My husband finds the resulting slimy counter-slugs to be most repellent, and is constantly saying, in a pointed, exaggeratedly patient way, "Are you done with this tea bag?" Perhaps, as a kind of gift to him, I could give him a weeklong reprieve. Tea bags will be doomed to immediate interment in the trash the moment they have finished steeping. This wild, new habit would not ever become my new state of being, we both know me too well by now to expect that. (After all, dunk that shriveled, secondhand tea bag in boiled water and you've got a perfectly acceptable cup of tea, and I mean, what, does he think tea grows on trees?) But it's something I could do for a week, if it would make him happy. What's the one tiny week-shift that could relieve some pressure; show, if nothing else, that you're willing to try, willing to listen. You know whom to ask. Go, ask him.
Amy Shearn is the author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn: A Novel.
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