Keeping a relationship healthy means performing routine checkups. Here's how.
Every smart woman knows that making time for an annual physical is a commonsense priority for optimal health. If we were to do the same thing for our marriage this important relationship would stay healthy and strong too. So, if you've never thought about it, I encourage you to think about it. What would your relationship checkup include?
I think about it around the end of the year, as opposed to the first of the year when others are making resolutions for this, that, or the other. The end of the year really works well for me because I'm pensive, and very goal-oriented. Having specific goals for all of the important relationships in my life helps me to manage myself in these relationships — especially my marriage. Now, these aren't engraved in stone, but serve more as guides that help me in my desire to be intentional in my behavior rather than reactionary.
A relational checkup is really nothing more than your intentional effort to stay positively connected in your relationship. And, one of the things you can do is to attend to how you talk together as a couple. This is a very powerful and protective strategy for your relationship. Including it in your relationship checkup process can yield big short and long-term results.
In the Couple Communication seminar I teach, couples learn that there are four ways to talk with each other:
1. You talk mainly about topics outside yourself, "Don't forget to pick up some dog food on your way back."
2. You talk about yourself, "I think I'm coming down with something."
3. You talk about your partner, "You look tired why don't you go to bed?"
4. You talk about your relationship, "I'm glad you're home early — I really need your support right now."
Which do you think best describes the kind of conversations couples tend to have most of the time? Least? Now, which of the four would you say you engage in most? Least? How you answer depends on the quality of your relationship.
If a couple is not as close as they'd like to be, for example, they may limit their conversation to topical or personal issues rather than venture out into the unsettling waters of "you and me" talk, which—by the way, would improve their relationship.
Here's another possibility.
If a couple enjoys friendship and emotional closeness they're more likely to engage more readily in relational-focused, "you and me" conversations, which strengthens their relationship. Generally speaking, healthy conversations are varied and include a combination of:
- topics of interest to one or both of you
- revealing personal disclosures
- and, relationship messages that are about the two of you together
If you find yourself increasingly avoiding "you and me" talk it may be time for a relationship checkup. With the dizzying pace at which many of us live it doesn't take a lot to get off tract with each other from one day to the next. Especially if little things go ignored, undone, or unaddressed. Let your conversations be a barometer to help you gauge what's really going on between you and listen up!
Then, when you decide it's time for a relationship checkup start with three small simple steps.
1. Be aware of the kinds of conversation you tend to have with your partner. Tune in and pay attention to how you talk together most of the time. If you focus exclusively on topics your marriage can start to feel like something is missing, and it is. If you talk primarily about yourself…well, I think you get the picture on that one, and it's not that good.
2. Personally reflect on your reasons for limiting your conversations to topical or personal discussions. Explore how you feel about going beyond that, and what your deepest thoughts are about having "you and me" or "us and we" talks. What have your experiences with it been?
3. Be honest about what you want for yourself and your partner in your marriage. Be careful with this one. Sometimes what is expressed as a want for the other can actually be a thinly veiled want for self: "I would like for you to go see a specialist about the snoring because I don't think I can survive another night!" That's clearly a want for self. However, "I'm worried about your health especially your breathing difficulties. I'd be relieved if you went to see a specialist about the snoring" is more about the partner's wellbeing. See the difference? Wants are tricky.
One effective way to explore what you want for yourself and your partner is simply to imagine the marriage relationship you want. What would stay the same? What would change? How would you feel? Your partner? How would it change your family life?
If you take some time to seriously ponder these questions you'll be surprised at where it takes you. Go ahead, give it a try.