Is it about how you compare with their previous relationships? Nope.
Previously unmentioned children from a previous relationship? Uh-uh. (This actually happened to me - a woman I was dating claimed to have one child, and then...months later...acknowledged the existence of a second one. Weird.)
How about online shopping? Nah.
Here it is...
If you had it to do over, would you marry me again?
On the face of it, if we have reasonably healthy marriages, it seems pretty innocuous. At its best, it represents an unspoken "I'm glad we're married, aren't you?".
At its worst, it's a plea for reassurance, and we all need reassurance sometimes, that our contributions to another's life have been worthwhile.
That our love has been worth the trip.
So, why not ask? There are some pretty good reasons...
- The question can come across as 'weak'. Some people need strength from their partner, more than they need honest vulnerability, and by asking you can erode a basis of confidence...their confidence in your self-confidence. This isn't the mark of a bad marriage, or a red flag that your mate is hopelessly shallow - but we're all human, and do we really need to probe our mate for their own weaknesses?
- You may force your mate into a dishonest answer. We don't always look back on our marriages with unalloyed joy, and there are moments in every marriage when it can feel like it wasn't worth the trip. If you ask "the question" at one of these moments...you may get a "yes, of course", but it may be, in that moment, a lie. The Ten Commandments say we shouldn't lie; and by extension there is a problem in eliciting a lie from others.
- Your mate may hesitate too long before answering - and that hesitation can cost you dearly, because the natural reaction is to assume the worst, that the answer's really No but they're saying Yes, and trying to work up to being convincing.
- Your mate may avoid the question - which will come across as a No.
- And, finally, you may really hear a No.
This question cuts to the very core of our own self-worth - if we have the slightest thought that our company really wasn't worthwhile, the feelings of loss and devastation are immense.
And they don't go away. You can't go back and un-ask the question, nor can you forget the answer you got - or that you assumed you got.
It's kind of like a medical checkup. You go to the doctor, and you can come out 'fine', or 'sick'. You ask this question, and the best you can get is a confirmation of an assumed status quo.
Why not continue to live in the assumption, and don't ask? Your spouse is still there, right? Still talking to you, still sleeping in the same bed? Still laughing - or smiling...well, or groaning - at your jokes?
Why not go on that evidence?
Accept the love that's given, return it with all your strength, and leave the analysis to people who write books...or blogs...on marriage.