Relationship Check-Ins – Conversation to Connection || By Tristan (TJ) Dubovich, Affordable Counseling Intern for People House
One of the biggest struggles for couples can be finding the time or energy in sharing important information – whether this be simple, logistical communication like “Am I the one picking up our son from soccer practice this week?” to more complex and emotional communication like “I’m feeling like we’ve been becoming distant lately and I want to improve our intimacy”. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, these types of conversations can be strenuous to prioritize. It can become even more difficult to initiate if there has been chronic conflict in the relationship or if one or both partners tend to avoid tough conversations out of fear, discomfort, or as learned behavior from family and past relationships.
However, these conversations are necessary. The manner in how, when, and where these talks occur can be up to the couple to decide. The important factor is that communication is happening between partners and that there is a space provided in the relationship for topics that may be upsetting or uncomfortable to be brought to the surface. In my work with couples, I help partners figure out when it makes sense to have these conversations and for how long the conversations should generally last so that folks can have a shared expectation of the check-in. This can look like “We do a 10min check-in every Sunday”, “We have a 2-hour check-in every other week”, or “We spend the first 30min of our date night doing our check-in”. The structure is far less important in comparison to the content.
Prioritizing important conversations in a relationship is not a revolutionary idea of my own design. One common structure of this has been developed by Dr. Gottman, a premier couples therapist who has completed decades worth of research on positive attributes to successful relationships. His version, The State of the Union, “ensures that both partners are heard and understood before problem-solving together” (Benson, 2021). I find the title of “State of the Union” to be a bit daunting thus I refer to them as relationship check-ins. I have provided the structure of what could be beneficial in a relationship check-in below. This recommendation does not need to be set in stone – there are many iterations of how these conversations can look. You may find that some of the checklist items don’t need to be addressed at each check-in. Ultimately, it’s deciding together to take the time and chat, in a way that is meaningful to your expectations, roles, and needs of your unique partnership.
- Appreciation / Acknowledgement – it can be helpful to start these conversations with a positive. Each share something that you appreciate about your partner. Acknowledge a way your partner showed up for you or the household that made you feel happy or cared for. Also, if you feel you need it, ask to be appreciated for something. If there is an area of the relationship you may not feel seen, take this time to ask your partner to see you in it.
- Support – Similar to #1, each reflect on how you felt supported by your partner. Ask your partner if there are ways they may need to feel better supported.
- Point of Hurt/s – Open up to your partner about something that may be a source of hurt since the last check-in. Be sure to let the partner who is sharing have the “floor” and reflect back on what you are hearing to ensure shared understanding. If you are the listener, apologize and own up to your part in the hurt. Work towards not getting defensive or trying to “fix the issue”. It’s important to fully hear your partner before diving into potential solutions.
- Share something unshared – Similar to #3, bring up an issue that you may feel scared to bring up. This can be really hard but it’s important to share the underlying hurts or problems, as those tend to be the issues that will later develop into resentment and larger problems. If you are speaker, remember to utilize “I” statements and reframe from blaming and criticizing language. If you are listener, take in what your partner is telling you and work towards seeing it from their perspective.
- Intimacy Check-In – Tell one another things you liked since the last check-in and also if there were things you would like more of. Try to stay curious with your partner when they share their interests or desires and know that just listening, does not mean you are required to meet their need. Explore areas of compromise if you are coming up with roadblocks.
- Look to the future – Discuss and/or plan a future event or intentional time together. Provide space to get excited about an upcoming connection.
- Time Needs – Reflect with each other on upcoming time needs. Ask your partner if there is specific time they would like to spend together and if there is time they would like to be alone.
- Wrap–Up – This can be one of the most important aspects of the check-in. Reflect back on what you’ve heard and learned from your partner and thank each other for sharing. If it feels good to do so, have an intimate closing to the conversation such as a hug, handhold, or kiss. This can offer a bid of connection/repair, especially if there were topics that became heated or stressful.
Benson, K. (2021, February 3). State of the Union Meetings will strengthen your relationship: Here’s how to start yours. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/state-of-the-union-meeting-will-strengthen-your-relationship-heres-how-to-start-yours/