Is Your Relationship Thriving or Just Surviving?
Eight fun and effective ways to evaluate your intimate relationship
Posted Feb 18, 2011
There are many ways to check out how your intimate relationship is doing but the following eight areas are the most important markers. If you and your partner go through them carefully, you'll end up with an informative and concise evaluation of where your relationship stands.
As you read the interpretation of each area, you may want to ask questions of each other to clarify and make certain you're on the same page. Then each of you will give that area of your relationship a score of 1 to 10 based on the following guidelines:
All of the time = 5
Most of the time = 4
Some of the time = 3
Hardly ever = 2
Rarely any more = 1
Area One: Can you let go and just have fun together?
Whether you're out for an impulsive midnight run, driving a hour to see a funky movie, getting twin haircuts, or trying a weird food that neither of you have ever tasted before, this area is about breaking out of routine behaviors.
Ask each other when was the last time you were laughing so hard you cried or wet your pants. Fun is not so much what you are doing, but how lighthearted you feel when you are doing it together. It's that proverbial glint in your eye that is infectious. You look at each other mischievously and silently communicate, "Let's go do something crazy just to have a good time."
Area Two: Can you dream together?
This isn't about visiting each other when you're asleep. It's about sharing ideas, feelings, and desires while you're wrapped around each others minds and hearts. It can be as simple as talking about what you want to be when you grow up, or pretending you were a character in a movie you just saw together and sharing how you would have felt. Fantasizing about a dream vacation is good, but so is sharing a wonderful memory or helping each other through a hard rehearsal.
Dreaming together often starts with statements like, "What are you thinking about right now?," or "If you didn't have to go to work today, what would you really love to be doing instead?" The sharing can be sad, beautiful, crazy, joyful, or anything else, but is the joining of two imaginary states brought together by the desire to share possibilities.
Area Three: Are you able to engage in productive combat?
Notice the wording. Every couple fights, and unfortunately those battles are more destructive than helpful. Sometimes they have become a sad substitute for intimacy. Because you're looking for a 5, this isn't about those kind of fights. It's about how you settle your disagreements when they occur. Great fights are about establishing different ways of seeing the world so that the reconnect includes new truths not seen before. They increase intimacy, not diminish it.
When you begin to challenge each other around any issues, can you play each others parts if you were asked to? Are you in touch with your partners fears and needs when you are temporarily at odds? Can you come to compromises or common truths that you didn't know existed when you began disagreeing? Do both of you feel better when the process is completed?
Area Four: Can you share your most vulnerable feelings with each other?
"He's got my back."
"When things are really bad, I turn to her. She's my best friend."
"I can share anything with him. He never puts me down, even when I'm wrong."
"She doesn't pull any punches, but I know she's got my best interests at heart."
This is a crucial area for trust to stay alive. It is not a mandate that every feeling must be shared and every embarrassing moment revealed. But no one in a great relationship should ever feel alone when they are frightened, hopeless, or hurting. One of the benefits of genuine love is the sense of knowing your best friend is on the other end of you, especially when you don't feel at your best or are feeling self-critical. Your not looking for automatic indulgence, or a pat on the back when it isn't authentic, but you must know that you're never going to be kicked when you're down or forced into justifying your actions. Your partner is your safe haven. The only exception is when you've intentionally or inadvertently hurt him or her. But, even then, you want to be able to work it out, knowing you'll be listened to and understood.
Area Five: Can you work together on something that is important to both of you?
This is where power struggles can tip a relationship in the wrong direction. Ideally, whoever of you is the most competent in any area should symbolically fly left seat with a cooperative co-pilot. Problems or effective solutions are not served well when there is automatic entitlement to direct or lead. The productivity of the relationship has to be uppermost. Each partner must be willing to give up control to the other if a they agree as to who is better to lead in that moment.
Mutual solutions or the creation of new ways of being together should feel effortless. Your competitors are not each other and only an ego-centric need to be automatically in charge will keep you from appreciating each others contribution. You also must have total confidence that your partner can, and will, take over if you face unexpected barriers. You'll be much more likely to be a successful team if you don't blame or invalidate if things go wrong.
Area Six: Can you reach together for something greater than each other when you are both overwhelmed?
Even great couples can become overwhelmed by life's demands or their own inadequacies. It is wonderful for them to find solace, solutions, and greater love when they solve problems together, but it is equally important for them to know when they can't. Whether it is a religious god, a commitment to nature, a metaphysical belief, or a revered guru, the partners in successful relationships know when they must reach for outside help. In addition, each partner must support the other if it is only one's need at the time. It doesn't mean that their partners are inadequate, only that they are seeking a greater perspective.
Major losses are one area where that may apply. At the same time, a partner or couple who needs that solace can also benefit from the love and support within the relationship. Terminal illnesses, the loss of a loved one, or financial disasters may overwhelm a relationship that could otherwise survive on its own. Couples who are open about their internal resources, or lack of them, aren't afraid to share those fears with each other.
Area Seven: Can you be a loving parent to your partner when he or she needs it?
There will always be a child in each of us that needs unconditional love and support at crucial times. This does not mean you are an actual parent or that you must sacrifice your own needs or integrity to give your partner that place of absolute comfort.
No one should be embarrassed needing to crawl into the arms of a symbolic parent/partner when life is hard. Can you put aside your own needs when your partner reaches out for that kind of support? Can you make it easy for him or her to be childlike without humiliation or obligation? Are you able to keep that place sacred so that it will never be sullied?
Area Eight: Can you be a safe child within the arms of your partner?
This may seem a hard thing to imagine doing, especially for males. Being sometimes able to drop life-long walls of defensiveness or self-care to let someone else have total power over you is a requirement for true intimacy. It is important to remember that giving yourself completely to someone requires trusting that you will not be made to feel inadequate in your helplessness. Don't be too critical. If your partner is totally willing to hold you in your times of need, he or she may not follow your internal script perfectly. Just accept the intent and willingness to be there in that way. It's only part of you and only for that time, but you must be able to let it happen.
Your highest possible score would be 40, but the final score is not as important as how you and your partner use the information. It is very possible, and even likely, that each of your scores may not be the same. That's not necessarily a problem and could actually be an opportunity to understand each other better and to get things back on track. You may also have other crucial areas not listed here. They can simply be added using the same scoring system. You might also ask each other what scores you would give yourselves in your other important relationships to evaluate the contrast.
Interestingly enough, you may have not had a high score even when your love was new. It can be deliciously fascinating to compare your present score to what it would have been then, or what you'd like it to become in the future. Your relationship is likely to improve just by going over the evaluation together.