BY EMILY REKSTIS
How many times have you inadvertently started a big fight just by asking a little question? It’s a natural part of healthy, fulfilling, progressing relationships. In fact, topics ranging from serious to mundane are often approached by asking questions. But sometimes, what you think is a simple question can instill fear in the heart of the man you’re asking. That doesn’t mean these topics are off limits, just that you need to approach them in a more delicate way. I asked the experts what questions tend to set men off the most — and how you can still get your answers.
“Are we exclusive?”
It’s no secret that commitment is a scary topic, but it’s also important to note that men and women are conditioned to think and act differently about it. “Women are ubiquitously taught about marriage, family, happily ever after,” explains Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais. “And men are taught to be strong and independent, that they do not need anyone, that they do not cry, to be stoic.” However, it is important for any relationship that you both remain on the same page, whatever that page may be. So while the question must be asked, anything about exclusivity could easily create a fear in a man.
Dr. Bais believes approaching this topic can in fact be done, carefully and productively. “Often, it’s not so much what you say but how you say it,” she said. She explains that if you ask something like “What are we?” with grounded confidence and assurance, the question feels less negative and needy, but instead constructive and positive. “The best space to be mentally when asking this question is one in which the woman knows she is awesome with or without said man,” says Dr. Bais. “Again, it’s a vibe.”
Start off the conversation by owning statements such as “I love spending time together,” or “It’s great talking to you,” and “I feel no desire or urge to see or be with anyone else.” This will put a man’s mind, somewhat, at ease. And with this approach, it sounds like he’s about it have a fabulous independent girl by his side. So, go him.
“What’s your credit score?”
In a less direct way than straight up asking, “How much do you make?” this question introduces the topic of money. Which, while important, can always be a slippery slope in any stage of the relationship. At the beginning, it could lead to differences in standards. And further along, it could surface concerns about affording your future together. “It’s very important to talk about money early because money pervades so much of all relationships,” explains relationship expert April Masini. “And when someone is settling down or wanting to think about real estate or pregnancy, they’re concerned about the financial viability of a partner.”
While you can come to certain conclusions on your own by observing basic lifestyle choices — such as where they live, if they live alone and any spending habits — Masini explains discussing money really can be a simple conversation. But instead of being direct and aggressive about it, she suggests tweaking the focus. “You can say something like ‘I would love to travel to Portugal — I just can’t afford it right now. How do you manage to travel so much?’ When you ask an innocent question like that, it’s much easier to get into conversations about money.”
Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais also says approaching it as a team effort can be a good way to talk money with a long-term partner. She suggests something like “How can I contribute to our shared financial goals?” as a good and fair place to start.
“What’s your ex like?”
This is a risky one to be asking. While it may seem unnecessary, it’s natural to be curious — and it may even be important if the past relationship(s) were serious. However, jealously can easily be triggered by discussing this topic. So first, you’ll want to analyze where you are in your relationship and why it is you want to know. If you feel comfortable with the fact that he, of course, had a life before you, ask away.
Relationship expert Samantha Daniels suggests avoiding tension by asking about specific past events in his life. “If you know he and his ex went to Italy together, you can ask easy questions about Italian culture or favorite vacation memories,” she explains. “He will be more likely to share his stories with you and will inadvertently share details about his past at the same time.”
“Where do you see us in five years?”
This isn’t really a question you’d ask someone in a new relationship, because… intense. But this is a question you’d be likely to ask a long-term partner when things feel like they’re at a stand still. “While having a plan for the future is an important step, it is also an intimidating topic for many guys,” explains relationship expert Samantha Daniels. “Not only does it mean having a vision for the future, but it also means having a vision with you in it.”
She explains that rephrasing and introducing it casually within a series of other questions takes a bit of the stress off. Ask him about his own goals, such as where he wants to live, where he wants to be in his career. This is a great way to find out about his bigger life plans and how you can fit into it, together.
“When can I meet your parents?”
“This is an important question in any relationship,” explains Samantha Daniels. “Yet it is also one that he might put off answering for a variety of reasons.”
This question has to do with not just your relationship, but his relationship with his family, as well. Daniels explains the key to approaching this question is to first discover more about his family dynamics and relationships. If he has a volatile relationship with his family, don’t get your hopes up on meeting them anytime soon. But if he has a great relationship with them, you should feel comfortable enough to ask. “Bring up having him meet your family first,” says Daniels. “Once he realizes how open you are to family introductions, he will be more willing to have you meet his relatives.”
“What do you want to do/eat tonight?”
This question seems both simple and logical right? But we’ve all seen how quickly it can blow up and create unnecessary tension. “Partners can be critical, bossy and aggressive unconsciously,” explains Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais. “And if a man has had a long day, these questions force him to think when he may be mentally exhausted.”
She explains that when a man is feeling fatigued he is unable to think creatively but still doesn’t want to let his partner down. And with the clash of style and opinions, he doesn’t want to be shot down. So what’s the solution? Dr. Bais recommends planning to take turns and sticking with it. For instance, one week one partner decides the meals and activities and the next week, the other. This takes the pressure off everyone and creates a healthy balance.
“Do you want to have kids?”
At a certain point in a relationship, this is an inevitable question that needs to be asked. Just to make sure, once again, you both are on the same page. It doesn’t have to mean you want to have kids tomorrow, but if the relationship is serious and long-term, this is a good topic to touch base on. However, it can be a scary one. “Guys who fear this question do so because they hear it as a part of the ‘Where is this relationship going?’ question and ‘How serious are you?'” explains relationship expert April Masini.
“Like anything else, I advise women to know themselves, their goals, values, aspirations and be unapologetic,” Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais explains, saying the question isn’t inappropriate, it’s just a matter of how you ask. First, she wants to warn women against a “Let’s talk” introduction as it could cause a man to become insecure and shut down. She suggests you ease into it, take a walk around a park. “Does he have nieces or nephews? What was the best and hardest part of his childhood?” says Dr. Bais. “All this will give clues to the answer you seek.”
“Do you think she’s pretty?”
This type of question is no one-size-fits-all problem or solution. While the response may make one woman jealous, it may have no effect on another.
“There are all types in the world and it’s natural to feel attraction to others,” explains Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais. “[The response] shouldn’t shake the foundations of an already secure relationship.” While Dr. Bais typically leans towards not asking this question, she says there are certain situations where this type of direct, vulnerable and open communication is necessary. “In the aftermath of an affair, partners should come clean about what they found attractive in others or what caused them to take steps outside the relationship.”
However, unless you ask this for just pure, people-watching fun where both of you are observing solely “the artistic aesthetic form of people,” it could signal other issues within yourself or the relationship. Dr. Bais recommends individuals take a look inward, examining why, before asking — instead of just reacting to external stimuli.
Just know the basics
Before asking any of the above, Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais recommends keeping a few things in mind that will make it a little easier for both parties. First, choose a good time to talk, “Not after their favorite team lost or a rough day at work.” Also, pick your battles carefully. “Do not take things personally is my number one mantra,” she explains. “If you can actually let it go, let it go.” And most importantly, have compassion and understanding for the person you chose as your partner. “People can pick up this and subconsciously they respond in kind.”