- Because needs change over time, it's helpful to periodically step back and take stock of your relationship.
- Here are 10 questions to help you see what's good and what needs to change most.
- The keys are solving problems, having the same priorities, and feeling safe enough to be honest.
You’ve met them—those folks who avoid going to a doctor until they’re at death's door and, even then, they need to be prodded. Of course, when they finally show up in some doctor’s office or emergency room, someone in a white coat will say, “If you only had come in sooner, much of this could have been avoided.”
The same avoidance—wait till the shipping is sinking—can apply even more strongly when it comes to relationships. When I often see couples in my practice, I feel and probably sometimes sound like those ER docs:
It sounds like you’ve had these problems for years. One (or usually both of you) have been unhappy for a long time, have years ago given up on being a couple, and have downshifted into only being mom and dad or are living parallel lives—if only you had come in sooner.
The antidote to all this is what your doctor has probably been pushing for years: Be proactive and come in for a regular check-up helps so we can take stock of your everyday functioning and catch and treat problems before they get out of control.
Here are 10 questions to help you do exactly that—take stock of the health of your relationship:
1. How would you rate an average day on a 10-point scale, with 10 being blissful and 1 being ready to bail?
The key word here is average—don’t focus on the day the car broke down, the kids got sick, and you were fired from your job—pick average, an ordinary Tuesday in October.
2, What would it take to bump it up a point or two?
Forget bliss; we’re looking at smaller changes—a 6 to a 7, a 7 to a 8. And if you’re hovering at the 1 or 2, think bigger: What do you need to bump it up to a 4 or 5 to get out of the potential I’m-out-of-here mindset?
Don’t focus on the numbers but on concrete change. What would it take to change the overall relationship climate—more couple time, fewer of the same arguments, more sex, ways to better manage everyday house tasks—what?
3. What is one thing your partner could do in a concrete way that would make the relationship feel better?
Not bringing work home at night, so you have some couple time; controlling his temper; initiating sex; finding the house cleaner; or her helping out more. The key here is to pick one thing, not ten, and to make it concrete so your partner knows precisely what you’d like them to do.
4. What gets in the way of having these conversations?
We avoid talking about us. I’m always waiting for the right time. I don’t think that saying something will actually change it. I somehow hope that things will get better. I don’t want to argue.
Whatever your response, there’s an emotional problem blocking progress, some source of anxiety, sometimes irrational and rooted in the past, or rational and a core problem in your relationship—that you don’t feel safe and are walking on eggshells. The challenge is to step up despite how you feel or get the support to do so.
5. What do you think your partner wants you to change most?
This is about balancing relationships; it is not all about you. If you don’t know, that in itself is a problem—you’re both not talking enough and being honest. If you do know, what gets in the way of your stepping up? Often this is about an overall resignation—"They’re not changing, so why should I? “or “This is what relationships are like.” You’ve given up or are telling yourself a story that likely isn’t true.
6. Overall, can you solve problems together when they arise?
Life and relationships are filled with problems; the challenge is getting them off your plate, rather than sweeping them under the rug or constantly arguing about them with no change. In my experience, many couples ignore hot topics.
They won’t go away but become landmines they constantly have to walk around or continuously argue about, especially under stress. They are never resolved, or one person takes up the slack, does the heavy lifting, and gets resentful or burned out—time to tackle them.
7. Do you have the same goals, priorities, and visions?
This is about compatibility, about imagining the same future. Do we have the same values, and overall view of what is important in life in terms of purpose, spending time, and what the future holds? This is not about managing everyday life—who does the laundry—but about what we want to accomplish as individuals and together before we die.
8. Are there any regrets or wounds that need to be put to rest?
The past can haunt you and color the present. Are there lingering issues that you or both of you need closure on—the way you treated my parents at that wedding ten years ago, that relationship you had with a coworker, that comment you made about my not getting that promotion? Often, little comments or big behaviors of the past stay because they are still alive as scabs of wounds too easily scraped away in the present. Time to get closure, have a conversation, say what you need to say, or hear what you need to hear.
9. Describe your relationship in 10 words.
Putting you on the spot, summary statement. Don’t say what’s right or what you should, but how would you honestly describe your relationship to your closest friend?
10. Out of all of the above, what one thing needs to change the most?
Pick one though you might have several. But that one is the key that will probably unlock any of the others.
Time for a check-up? Can you schedule a time today?