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Carolyn Hax: What to do when you’re out of things to talk about with your spouse

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: What do you talk to your spouse about? I don’t mean “you” specifically, but it’s starting to feel like we’re running out of things to talk about. We’re pretty much down to news from the occasional check-in with friends and then, “What do you want to watch on Netflix tonight?” Once the kids go to bed, there’s not much left to talk about. The silences are starting to feel less companionable and more awkward, and I’m worried this is going to start straining our relationship.

— Running Out

Running Out: You can accept some silences as normal, since they can be, companionably so.

Or tell stories about your past, or about the family history. No doubt there’s more to know about each other and pass along to the kids.

Or stream more interesting content.

Or join book groups, or just read the same book together.

Or start a little project. Home improvement, culinary, artistic, competitive — training for a road race, for example. Joint projects are a known method for bringing people together and breaking down silences.

Raising children is a project in itself, but spread out across two decades or so. A smaller effort with a nearer-term outcome could bring you immediate relief and connection, even if it’s just making dinner as a team tonight.

Readers’ many suggestions:

· Just beware of the joint project you pick, as any couple will attest whose first step to divorce court came while wallpapering the dining room together. (Pick a project where the outcome is not particularly important to either party, for example.)

· Go for walks solo or jointly, or listen in your backyard, and talk about what the dogs, flowers, and birds were doing. As old things fall away, we can shift and invite new ways of connecting in with each other and with the parts of the earth that have always been there, waiting for us to say hi.

· There’s an infinite number of books, websites, blogs and other things you could be reading and then talking about instead of Netflix.

· Perhaps start a conversation about the fact that it’s becoming difficult to find things to talk about. Granted, it could lead any number of places, not all of them pleasant. But it beats ignoring the elephant in the room.

· Advice columns are great conversation prompts. One of us reads a letter out loud, then we stop there and we each respond to it in turn and keep discussing as long as we’re both interested. It’s a great way to understand each other, as well as practice in articulating our own beliefs and values.

· David Sedaris wrote about frantically collecting conversation topics. He didn’t want to become like the elderly couples he’d frequently see silently munching away across the table from each other. [“Old Faithful”]

· Udemy and edX classes (many free to audit) watched together have been conversational lifesavers and enriching experiences.

· Games — a nice time-filler, light chat, just don’t over-compete.

· Ask each other for the “highlight” or “lowlight” of each day. Also, “Hey, would you tell me the story of ____?" For example, the coldest, hungriest, most nervous, excited, satisfied, anxious, you have ever been.

· I purchased a couple of “conversation cubes,” cards that ask different questions.

· AITA on Reddit! Entertaining and definitely gives you things to discuss.

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