Relationship work starts the moment you walk through the door.
The One Question You Must Ask
Do you have things that stay with you for a long time? Like a tune that keeps running through your head, or a whiff of cinnamon that reminds you of Sunday morning sweet rolls? Perhaps it's words of wisdom from someone you trust. I have a key question that stays with me from a graduate course on Family Systems I took with Dr. Ray Becvar at St. Louis University. Dr. Ray had been a bachelor for most of his adult life, devoting himself to research, teaching and mentoring doctoral candidates. But finally, a charming younger colleague caught his eye and he married Dorothy.
I like to think that becoming a husband softened him and expanded his understanding of the challenges marriage brings. What I know for sure is this: he posed a pivotal question that still helps my marriage today! I have also shared this questionwith hundreds of client couples. Dr. Ray taught us to ask ourselves, "What am I like to come home to?"
It's such an important question because it shifts our attention to our own attitudes and behaviors — and how those affect our primary relationships. Take this mini-quiz and ask yourself what you're like to come home to. Am I:
B. indifferent/can't be bothered/caught up in other tasks?
C. warm/affectionate/happy-to-see-you/how-was-your-day/let's catch up?
What it means if your answer is typically:
A. You are playing out emotional drama too often. Your partner probably finds it (and you) draining and exhausting. These behaviors create a home full of stress and tension. You may notice that your mate starts coming home later and later, or finds more outside activities to do without you. Make a real effort to drop the drama and restore the connection. Maybe it's time to seek help and learn more constructive communication and conflict-resolution skills.
B. The life energy is being sucked out of your relationship. A plant cannot survive without water and your marriage cannot survive without an infusion of caring attention. Indifference and low energy can feel like rejection to your partner. I would guess you seem more like roommates than soulmates. This pattern often occurs with busy, kid-focused parents who don't make time to nurture each other and their marriage. It also shows up when you have a soft addiction to work or social media. You need some high-energy fun, laughs together, shared activities (kid and family free) and a regular date night. And every day, you need to drop what you're doing and hurry over to welcome them home with a hug and a smile.
C. Yes! Good answer! "I'll have what he or she's having." You get it, and you're practicing good partner care and nourishment. Keep up the good work.
This applies equally to the person who is arriving home. Then the question becomes, "Who is coming home?" Think about it: are you dragging in the worries and frustrations of your day or annoying traffic? Do you have a coming-home ritual that excludes your spouse, like playing with the dog, checking mail, changing your clothes? Did you just run over a skateboard and trip over three pairs of shoes, so you are ready to let someone have it?
Of course that will get your evening off to a bad start. The best answer is still "C". Take a deep breath, sit in the car a moment to decompress and then bring your best self through that door. Start with a few minutes of good positive connection. Say "Hi honey; I'm home." And then make them truly glad to see you.
By Janna Becherer, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Imago Relationship Therapist
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