The Questions Esther Perel Says To Ask Your Partner
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Relationships

The Questions You Need To Ask Your Partner

How to gain fresh insight into a person you assume you know very well.

My husband and I have been married for over 30 years. Before that, we dated for three years. And this past year, we have spent over 365 days together (and counting), with both of us working from home.

So, what I am saying is, I know A LOT about my husband, and he knows a lot about me. I wasn't sure either of us might have had anything else to learn about the other.

Portrait of Esther Perel, creator of game "Where Should We Begin"
Esther Perel, creator of card game Where Should We Begin.
Leeor Wild

But Belgian psychotherapist and best-selling author Esther Perel disagrees. Perel believes that there are still stories to tell one another, whether you are on a third date or have been together for years. Her belief in the value of story sharing is one of the reasons she created a new card game called Where Should We Begin (the same title as the popular podcast she hosts).

Steve Tam joined Perel’s team more than two years ago to help create the game. Tam says, “The idea was to create a game that would be insightful for couples as well as friends, people that have just met and those who have been in a relationship for a long time.”

While there are similar card games for adults, most use a question-and-answer format, while Perel chose to make hers a game of storytelling. Tam explains, “When you pose a question, there is an assumption that there is one correct answer. The elicited response tends to be binary rather than subject to interpretation.”

Being asked to answer questions can sometimes feel like you are a witness at a deposition. But being asked to share a story sets a different tone. “While the answer to a question is usually binary, there are infinite ways to tell a story,” explains Tam. “Stories are more playful and when we play, we tend to be lighter, funnier, more comfortable being intimate.”

After spending over a year and a half “podded” together, longtime partners may feel like the last thing they need is to talk to each other more. But Perel argues, “The pandemic left us missing intimacy and play. The game is designed to help us connect and reconnect in a time of social atrophy.”

When Perel says that people have experienced a lack of intimacy this past year, she may not necessarily mean what you think she means. Tam says, “Esther’s view is that intimacy and eroticism are not solely about sex, but about partners truly seeing each other.”

In the early phases of coupling, partners do this instinctually. They are insatiable about getting to know more and truly see each other. But as years pass, partners may assume that they know all there to know about each other. In longtime relationships we can become complacent rather than continuing on a quest to get to know a partner, even though they are evolving, changing and growing through the years.

Another issue is that the longer you know someone, the more you tend to repeat the same stories over and over. “We all have those stories we tell by default,” says Tam. “But what would happen if, instead of telling the initial story that comes to mind, you look past that one to the second story — the one you may not have ever shared? A fresh story can add fresh insight, even into a person you assume you know very well.”

Close up image of hands playing game "Where Should We Begin"
Leeor Wild

Here’s how the card game works: It contains two types of cards. The prompt cards (examples are “say something risky” or “say something no one knows”) set the mood. The story cards give the opening line to a unique story.

Examples of story cards include:

- When I hear the word forbidden, the first thing that comes to mind is …

- The person that taught me the most about love …

- The part of my parents that I am most afraid of becoming …

- The most unexpected compliment I ever received …

- A lie I am tempted to tell about myself is …

- My most irrational fear …

- A dream I’ve never shared …

My husband and I decided to forgo our usual after dinner TV date for a game night using Perel’s story cards for inspiration. Although we were a little skeptical, Tam’s suggestion to move on the initial story we would share to something new worked really well. Even after 30 years together and the countless stories we shared, there was still more to tell. Unlocking these hidden gems that we hadn’t yet shared reminded me of the magic of stories — especially love stories, and that there are still more chapters to write in ours.

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