How Much Do You and Your Spouse Talk at Dinner?


Last week I watched an elderly couple at a restaurant. I sat down almost the same time they did and for an hour… I only saw them say maybe 10 words.

Is that you?

A small study involving 500 married couples revealed a startling pattern: the longer a couple was married, the fewer minutes they spent talking at the dinner table.

Unfortunately, this didn’t mean they were talking anywhere else instead. They just weren’t talking at all. Is your marriage experiencing something similar, with communication dwindling from the early years’ gusher to the now-familiar drip?

This form of neglect—and forgotten ability to talk—is actually a major issue that needs your attention. If the lack of interaction the elderly couple mentioned above experienced resembles you and your spouse, you’re about to learn how to turn that around—starting tonight at the dinner table. But read on for the surprising results of this little study.

Benign Neglect Can Destroy Your Marriage

Couples who had been married for various lengths of time (some married a year, others for over 50 years), were surveyed on how much time they averaged talking with one another during a typical dinner.

The following results show a correlation between how long a couple has been married and how much time was spent in conversation:

One year: 40 minutes

Ten years: 29 minutes

Twenty years: 21 minutes

Thirty years: 16 minutes

50 years: less than 3 minutes

What’s happening, or more accurately—not happening—here? And, why is it a problem?

The longer you’ve been married, the more likely you are to feel like you know everything there is to know about your spouse. You may think that you’ve already said everything there is to say.

This is a form of benign neglect: communication efforts become lax as the relationship settles into comfortable familiarity. But what begins as a relaxation in your communication efforts can quickly become malignant—compromising the very foundation of your marriage. This is when you start to think, “We no longer have anything in common,” and “We don’t connect anymore.”

You’re right: you don’t connect anymore. Three minutes at dinner does not make a connection. But, it’s not irreversible. You can learn how to spark up conversation with your spouse again. Let me explain …

When You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling…

If communication with your spouse has slowed to a trickle, the emotional connection between you may dissolve. You don’t feel connected to your husband or wife because one—or both—of you is no longer making the effort.

But if you want to affair-proof your marriage, you need to warm up the lines of communication.

Step 1: Take Stock of Your Conversational Content

Think about the last five verbal exchanges you’ve shared with your spouse. Categorize them as such:

A: Deep, meaningful exchanges about individual goals, mutual goals and sharing future plans; discussing news events, articles, movies, art and/or books.

B: Deciding what to have for dinner and who will clean up, and other chore-like topics.

No one is grading you, so be honest and see under which category your last five conversations fall.

Step 2: Decide to Boost Your “A” Game

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that if your last several conversations with your husband or wife ended up on the non-titillating “B” end of the spectrum, you have some work to do.

What would you be more likely to attend: a movie with meaning, or a movie about two people splitting up the chore list? Make the conscious decision as to which of these scenarios your marriage will resemble in the very near future. Give it some thought, and come prepared to surprise your spouse with the unexpected.

Step 3: Commit to More

Set high expectations for your marriage and the ability of you and your spouse to communicate at an “A” level. For your next several conversations, have some ideas prepared for topics you’d like to bring up with your spouse. Travel the unbeaten path here… to be a successful conversationalist with anyone—including your spouse—you have to work at being interesting.

Also, I recommend you bring up positive, or at least neutral, topics, rather than starting a conversation about the lawn care your spouse has been neglecting or the need for some more help with the household chores.

This may also be advice you will want to follow if you’re dealing with an affair. As you know, the details of an affair are a different conversation, one that Dr. Gunzburg recommends you prepare for and handle differently than you would any other conversation. And if you are living under the same roof as your spouse, you probably don’t want to talk about the affair every time a conversation strikes up.

You also might not want to channel your anger and pain into a conversation about mowing the grass. Finding topics outside of the mundane, that help to move your relationship past the affair, may help strengthen and repair your marriage by lessening the power of those affair details.

Here are a few conversation starters to launch your efforts:

  1. If you could live anywhere else, where would you go, and why?
  2. What would your “dream” job be?
  3. Who do you think is going to win the World Series (or anything specific to the interests of your spouse)?

Discussing topics like this with your spouse can dial the clock past the 3-minute mark. But even more important, these conversation starters dig deeper than the routine, “How was your day, honey?”

The study mentioned above focused on the length of time couples spend communicating at the dinner table, but what is more valuable to your relationship with your spouse is the quality of that communication. When you develop things to talk about that go beyond laundry, the time you spend talking will more than likely lengthen.

The true boost to your relationship is that you’ll ignite a closer connection between you. It’s never too late to take your marriage from ho-hum (or dead-on-arrival) to reinvigorated and thriving.

Now I’d love to hear from you.

What are your ideas for getting the conversation going in a positive direction tonight?

What topics have you successfully engaged in with your spouse recently that moved conversation from ho-hum to fascinating?

Are the two of you able to talk at all right now? If not, what’s holding you back?

If you are trying to work through your spouse’s affair, do you think it will help your efforts to steer the conversation a step beyond that period in time?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.