As Eleanor Roosevelt said, great minds talk about ideas; small minds talk about people. What do you and your significant other talk about? If you constantly hit the heavy stuff, you’re probably happier than if you spend time gossiping about your neighbors or coworkers.
A recent study published in Psychological Science says that people are happier when they spend more time discussing meaningful topics than engaging in small talk. Seventy-nine college students had their conversations recorded and analyzed by researchers, who distinguished between chit-chat about the food or the weather and discussions about philosophy, education, or religion. Subjects who reported the greatest amount of satisfaction spent only 10 percent of their conversation on small talk, while the unhappiest subjects kept 28.3 percent of their talking time in the shallow end.
Among the scores of substantive topics people discuss, we’ve come up with nine that we believe couples should relish during heart-to-hearts:
1. Embarrassing moments. If you can’t share the awkward, “American Pie”-worthy moments that occurred throughout high school with your partner, who can you tell them to? Don’t be afraid to broach the subject, if you haven’t already. We wouldn’t be surprised if their stories are more horrifying than yours.
2. Political viewpoints. How do you feel about the new healthcare bill? You don’t have to agree with each other, but you do need to keep an open mind. A good relationship allows both parties to discuss their own philosophies without taking the opposition personally.
3. Fears and insecurities. By fears, we don’t mean your phobia of earthworms. We’re talking about things that make you wake up with gray hairs. What worries you? What do you want to improve in yourself? What skeletons are in your closet? In being vulnerable, you risk judgment, but more importantly, you chance being understood.
4. Childhood. Ask your partner what he or she was like as a kid. Did she make friends easily? What kind of games did he like to play? Did he have trouble in school? Childhood memories make for fun conversations, but they can also lend insight into how your main squeeze became the person he or she is today.
5. Past relationships. This is a touchy one because no one wants to hear the person they’re with spouting sonnets about an ex. There is, of course, a difference between longing for (or being bitter over) the past and simply acknowledging what happened. With enough practice, seasoned, happy couples learn how to address why past relationships ended without inadvertently comparing their current partner to an old flame.
6. Family life. Knowing a person’s upbringing and relationship with his or her parents is paramount to understanding his current attitude toward family. If you’re even slightly contemplating a future with this person, it might help to ask how well they get along with their parents. Why does she resent her mother? Why is he closer to his sisters than to his brothers? How does she handle family gatherings?
7. Current events. Thanks to the overflow of information, it’s nearly impossible to stay up-to-date on everything going on around us. Here’s where teamwork comes into play: Ask your partner about his interests, be they economics or regional politics, and see if you can’t learn a thing or two. Who knows, maybe you’ll help him develop an interest in international affairs or science news.
8. TV and movies. Compared to politics and personal fears, entertainment might seem pretty shallow, but discussions about movies can fall into the “deep” category if you focus on character motivations and plots rather than on, say, the cute leading actors.
9. The future. Talking about the future can be nerve-wracking. While we’re not saying you should pressure your partner into talking about plans for marriage and children, we do believe that you should know their dreams, goals, and aspirations. What is he working toward? What drives her to succeed? Where does he see himself in five years? Someone who desires growth and is not afraid of the unknown is surely dynamic enough to deserve you.