My husband and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary this weekend. This also roughly coincides with our ninth anniversary as a couple. We have made a ritual out of going to Las Vegas, where we have as much fun as possible, while also doing a life review and making plans for the next year. Most of this is done while hanging out in the pool and listening to pop music. A very solemn occasion, I can assure you.
One of the things we talk about is the great mystery of why, whenever we go on vacation, we encounter so many couples in the midst of bickering or nasty fights. One would think all parties concerned would be happy to have some time off, at least. No cooking, no chores, no commute, plenty of time to sleep in… What’s not to like? You can almost spot the married couples by how much they seem to irritate each other. We call it “getting sloppy.” It’s like there is a tacit agreement that the basic manners, courtesy, and kindness we would show to a stranger off the street can be suspended around the person with whom we spend the most time. That, and we slide down the slippery slope of selfishness, ceasing to realize how mean we can sound.
Example: A young couple in a changing room. She tells him, “You haven’t looked good in anything all day.” Neither of them may have taken it in the peevish tone we heard. There had to have been a more complimentary way to express the idea that ‘a better shirt is possible for you.’ She might have been sweet to him if he was a generic customer and she was the clerk.
But I digress. Part of the reason we enjoy each other’s company is that we take this marriage business very seriously. Marriage is many things. One of those things is a set of responsibilities. Another of those things is a highly personal and intimate contract between people who answer only to each other. That’s where the 100 Questions come in.
If you hadn’t yet realized that I am a Questioner, you will now. The 100 Questions were my idea, although we devised them together. We had been together for two years and we were feeling pretty serious about each other, yet we were both bitter divorcees and thus wary of the whole prospect of legal/financial commitment. We agreed that we would make a list of questions we wanted to know before we took things to the next level. This took a week or two. Our list has an edge to it. Another couple might choose different questions, or make a longer or shorter list, but after reviewing it, I’d do it again the same way.
The trick to going through the 100 Questions was that we each had to do two sets of answers: Our own answers, and what we guessed our partner would answer. Then we went through the list one at a time, sharing our answers and our guesses. That was extremely revealing. We probably got roughly 80-90% correct, but some of the inaccurate guesses were unflattering and a little depressing. “Like, why would you think I would think that?” The positive side of this practice was that we were able to correct each other’s flawed impressions to our mutual benefit.
We’ve always talked about everything, from gossip to deep philosophical questions. It takes trust. It also takes a sense of humor. Nobody really wants to talk about issues like living wills or what to do if one of us becomes maimed or disfigured. It seems like a good idea to discuss them at least once, though, during the course of what is meant to be a lifetime partnership.
This weekend, we went through a different list of questions. These are 36 questions that are supposed to facilitate intimacy. According to legend, various couples have started out as total strangers and wound up marrying each other after participating in this study. We blew off the suggested time limit and wound up spending closer to three hours on them over the course of the day. We did not do the four-minute eye contact exercise. The other thing we did was to think about five things we want more of and five things we want less of. This included a discussion about kitchen appliances and their accompanying malfunctions. Because, you know, a lot of intimacy looks like that: boring quotidian details that are the mortar between the bricks of life.
Here are our 100 Questions in all their intimidating glory.
1. Why did you get married last time?
2. What did you like about your previous marriage?
3. What did you dislike about your previous marriage?
4. What was the worst thing about your divorce?
5. What would your friends at work say if you announced you were getting engaged?
6. What would your family say?
7. Can you think of anyone who would have objections if you married again?
8. What problems do you think getting married would solve?
9. What problems do you think getting married would cause?
10. What problems do you think “shacking up” would solve?
11. What problems do you think “shacking up” would cause?
12. What regrets would you have if you got married again?
13. What regrets would you have if you never got married again?
14. What is your biggest fear about aging?
15. What are the compromises you think you would have to make if you “shacked up” with someone?
16. What are the compromises you think you would have to make if you got married again?
17. What do you feel you have to offer as a marriage partner?
18. What do you think are the flaws that make you hardest to live with?
19. What are your biggest pet peeves?
20. What are your deal breakers?
21. How do you prefer to resolve conflict?
22. What would you do if you began to feel dissatisfied in your relationship?
23. Under what circumstances do you think therapy is appropriate?
24. How often do you think is appropriate to have sex?
25. What would you do if you and your partner wanted different amounts of sex?
26. What would you do if you had sexual desires for things your partner did not find exciting?
27. What are your expectations about your partner’s physical appearance?
28. What are your expectations about your partner’s fitness level?
29. Is there anything you think you would do as a married person that you don’t do now?
30. Is there anything you do now that you wouldn’t do if you were married?
31. Is there anything you haven’t yet done that you would regret if you got married?
32. List the benefits of “shacking up.”
33. List the benefits of getting married.
34. What does ‘engagement’ look like to you?
35. What does a ‘wedding’ look like to you?
36. What kind of dwelling do you want to live in?
37. What kind of dwelling are you willing to live in, assuming sometime in the future you will live somewhere else?
38. Where do you ultimately want to live?
39. Is there any living situation you would refuse?
40. What type of décor do you prefer? Furniture, colors, art, etc?
41. Is there anything that should not be allowed in the house?
42. How do you think household chores should be divided up?
43. What is your least favorite household chore?
44. How would you solve the problem of people living together with different standards for cleanliness?
45. Do you plan on making changes in your career?
46. Do you plan on making a significantly different amount of money in the future?
47. Under what circumstances do you think one partner could quit working?
48. What would you do if your partner could no longer work?
49. What do you think is the best way to divide household expenses?
50. What do you think is the best way to manage household expenses?
51. What is the appropriate amount to save, both by percentage and as a gross total?
52. What is the appropriate amount of consumer debt for a household?
53. What is an appropriate credit card purchase?
54. How do you think debt should be managed?
55. When is it appropriate to lend money to a family member?
56. When is it appropriate to lend money to a friend?
57. How much do you think is appropriate to give to charity?
58. What are your opinions on step-parenting?
59. How do you think discipline issues should be resolved with children?
60. Do you think children should receive an allowance?
61. How would you plan to pay for a child’s college education?
62. What do you think is an appropriate amount of time to spend with extended family?
63. How do you think holidays should be spent or divided?
64. How do you believe vacations should be spent?
65. What do you think of separate vacations?
66. How do you resolve issues with an extended family member?
67. What are your opinions on appropriate gift-giving, amount to spend, etc?
68. Which extended family members do you think should receive cards or gifts?
69. Whose weddings and funerals do you feel obligated to attend?
70. How long do you think a family visit should be at their home?
71. How long do you think a family visit should be at your home?
72. How much time in a given week or month would you like to spend with friends?
73. How much time do you think your partner should spend in a given week or month with friends?
74. Under what circumstances would you want to let a troubled friend stay in your home?
75. How long would you be willing to put a friend up in time of trouble?
76. How do you think conflicts with neighbors should be resolved?
77. What is your opinion on having friends of the opposite sex?
78. What is your opinion on your partner having friends of the opposite sex?
79. What would you do if you didn’t like one of your partner’s friends?
80. What would you do if your partner didn’t like one of your friends?
81. How much time do you want to spend on your hobbies?
82. How much time do you think your partner should spend on hobbies?
83. How much money do you think is appropriate to spend on hobbies, as a percentage and in a year?
84. Are there activities you expect your partner to attend with you?
85. How do you think partners should decide what entertainment to choose, i.e. what music to play or which movie to see?
86. How many pets and of what kind would you like?
87. Whose duty is it to care for and clean up after pets?
88. How do you think discipline issues should be resolved with pets?
89. How to decide when to euthanize a pet?
90. What are your plans for retirement?
91. What do you see yourself doing between now and retirement?
92. Is there anything you absolutely must do before you die?
93. How would you communicate concerns about any health issue you thought your partner was not resolving appropriately?
94. How do you expect your partner to behave if you become ill?
95. What would you do if your partner developed a long-term serious illness?
96. What would you do if your partner became physically disabled?
97. What would you do if your partner became mentally disabled?
98. What would you do if your partner became disfigured?
99. Who has the right to end your life if you are incapacitated?
100. What kind of funeral arrangements do you want?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.