Family Starts with Two
Alternatives to “How Was Your Day?”
Remember the 1990’s sitcom Seinfeld? There’s a memorable episode where the character Kramer mocks couples’ conversations. “How was your day?” he simpers. “Was it a good day or a bad day? What kind of a day was it?”
It’s a laughable moment, but one that can hit a bit too close to home; after all, the first question that comes to mind when you see your partner in the evening is the mundane “How was your day?” The problem with that question as a conversation opener is that it begs for a one-word answer. “Fine,” comes to mind. “Awful” is another alternative. “Great!” probably doesn’t come up too much, but hopefully it’s on the list of possible answers. And then what? Drawing out more information to deepen the conversation can be more challenging than it seems.
A better approach might be to ask more open-ended questions, like the ones that follow:
1. “What was the most interesting thing you did today?”
This question comes with the immediate benefit of giving your partner the chance to jump right into talking about something exciting, which always improves the odds that the conversation will naturally flow!
2. “I know you’ve been working on _______. what’s the next step?”
Most of us are tempted to ask “How’s that project going?”, but that’s another potential one-word answer trap. Specifically putting a name to something your significant other is engaged in at work shows you’ve been listening, and asking about next steps gives them an opportunity to thoroughly update you on their progress.
3. “Did you get to solve any problems/make anything cool/help anybody today?”
Depending on your spouse’s job functions and what typically makes him or her feel accomplished or engaged, asking one of these questions can help your partner open up. While theoretically they can stop the conversation with a simple “Yes” or “No,” it’s more likely that they’ll want to give a thorough answer when presented with the chance to talk about something they’re proud of.
4. “Is your work still challenging/rewarding to you?”
Checking in with your partner about whether or not their job fulfills them might seem a bit too deep for the average weeknight dinner conversation, but remembering to ask this kind of question every so often is a valuable exercise. Not only does it help the other person feel as though you really value their wellbeing, but it also helps keep you in tune with any issues that might affect your partner’s overall happiness so you can offer your support.
5. “If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?”
Everyone needs the chance to express negativity that might have come up during the day, but often people avoid talking about bothersome issues for fear of bringing the mood at the dinner table down. If your partner is reluctant to share challenges or negative interactions, this question could help open the dialogue in a non-threatening way.
6. “I thought of you today when…”
Letting your loved one know you were thinking about him or her while you were apart is a sweet gesture that also allows you to evoke a specific memory or segue into a topic you want to discuss. Telling the story of how the copier jammed (and reminded you of the day you met while fixing a similar jam), or how you took a lunch hour walk past the park where you shared your first picnic (and thought it would be nice to pack up another one and head there together soon) can get you both in the mood to reminisce.
7. “Have you learned anything new lately?”
Sometimes as adults, we get so stuck in the rut of our day-to-day job responsibilities that it can be hard to make time for skill building or picking up new hobbies. What’s nice about this conversation opener is that if your partner says no, it gives you the chance to follow up with a suggestion like, “I haven’t gotten to learn much lately, either. Why don’t we try something new together? I saw a listing in the paper for a couples cooking class at the grocery store this weekend.”
8. “How are you feeling about….?”
Take a moment to check in about tough relationships or challenging situations you know your partner has been facing. Opening with a question about feelings puts the focus on their emotional well-being and lets them know you care.
9. “What were the best and worst parts of your day?”
This opener is often known as “Roses and Thorns” — a conversation starter that’s popular among families with members of all ages. Asking specifically for the high and low points of your partner’s day is an easy way to switch up the “How was your day?” routine while still encouraging a deeper conversation.
10. “What’s something you wish we could do together?”
Catching up on the day is fine, but sometimes there really isn’t much to say. Shift the conversation to a fun one that’s just about the two of you, and initiate some daydreaming. You might find that the dreams turn into concrete plans fairly quickly — and give you two a new experience to share!