New Year’s Love Check-In
When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, we all turn to one another for a kiss and we celebrate. But New Year’s Eve rarely goes by without most of us taking stock of how the year has been, and thinking about what we hope the new year will be.
We review the events that made the news, rate the best songs and movies, and then we inevitably turn to our own lives. We think about the joys and sorrows of the past year, who has left us through death or breakups, who has arrived in our lives, and we take stock of our health status. We haul out our list of goals and resolutions made in the past and measure our status against them, and we set new goals for our lives in the coming year. Most people pursue this kind of self-examination ritual at year’s end.
But very few of us sit down with our partner, the most important one in our life, to have a love check-in. In this article, the Center for Relationship Wellness will make suggestions on creating a positive process to bring you closer to your partner and address difficult issues in a constructive way. We’ll present some helpful questions to ask and topics to explore, and bring you some checklists to make the process easier for you. Finally, we’ll make some recommendations for resolutions to ensure that next year is the best one yet for your relationship.
Let’s Get Started
It’s no secret that successful relationships take work. Everyone has misunderstandings, distractions, and conflicts, and it takes commitment to bridge the gaps between us when they occur. One gift the holidays give us is the time for one or more intimate conversations to check the vitals in our love nest. But where do you start?
The most logical place to start is to share your reflections about your own life with your partner. Under ideal relationship conditions, you would already be fully aware of one another’s current status, goals and most important, life dreams. But the rush of every day always seems to get in the way, what with jobs, kids, extended family and other challenges life throws our way. So instead of plunging into an intense conversation, how about preparing yourself by just sticking a toe in first?
The perfect way to start would be a more lighthearted warm-up question and answer session like this one from Psychology Today that will let you deepen your ties. So pop some popcorn, brew up a pot of coffee or hot cocoa, get cozy with your partner, and have at it:
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a perfect day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell you partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…”
- Complete this sentence “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
- If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
- Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
- Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
- Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
- Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
As you dig into a check-up of your relationship, you’ll find it’s much easier to target the areas that are working well. But if you can address the issues that need attention without getting agitated, it’s entirely possible you and your partner can unite to generate new understandings.
To help you both in this process, we’ve found a questionnaire called The Relationship Checkup to give you lots of fodder for discussion:
The Relationship Checkup is a list of 11 points that will help you evaluate your relationship. These points are based on recent research completed separately by psychologists Judith Wallerstein and Dr. John Gottman (see Suggested Reading, last page). Check off the statements that apply to your relationship, and you will quickly gain a sense of the strengths and the opportunities for improvement.
1. People in successful, long-lasting relationships invested themselves fully in the relationship. While they have positive relationships with their parents, siblings, and other relatives, they are not overly involved with them. Some signs that you have a healthy relationship with your family (not too close, not too distant) include:
__ Your families visit when invited.
__ Their visits are short but satisfying.
__ You speak with family members by phone, but not too often.
__ Family members give advice when they are asked.
The following are some signs that your family may be too involved in your life. This can create problems in your relationship over time.
__ Your family members visit too often.
__ They stay too long.
__ They telephone frequently.
__ They give unsolicited advice.
__ They drop in unannounced.
2. People in successful relationships have their own identity as a couple. There is a feeling of both togetherness and independence in the relationship. If you have developed an identity as a couple, the following things are most likely true:
__ You feel loyal toward each other.
__ You listen carefully to each other.
__ You know each other’s histories.
__ You pay attention to each other’s moods and body language.
__ You share your thoughts and feelings.
__ You allow each other a private space and don’t intrude on it.
__ You respect each other as separate, autonomous people.
If you have not fully developed your sense of identity as a couple, you will recognize signs like these:
__ You are sometimes disloyal toward each other.
__ You don’t listen carefully to each other.
__ You don’t know very much about each other’s pasts.
__ You ignore each other’s moods and body language.
__ You keep your thoughts and feelings to yourselves.
__ You sometimes invade each other’s private space.
__ Even though you may live in the same house, it sometimes seems like you are living parallel lives.
3. Bringing children into a relationship changes it radically. Couples with children learn to successfully integrate them into their relationship. Positive signs include:
__ You accept that there are times when you must place your own needs after the needs of your child.
__ You do your best to stay in touch with each other emotionally and nurture your relationship.
__ You set aside time every week for the two of you to spend time alone together.
The following signs indicate that you have not fully integrated children into your relationship:
__ You resent the times when you must put your child’s needs ahead of your own.
__ You are overly focused on your child.
__ You have lost touch with each other emotionally.
__ You hardly ever find time to be alone with your partner.
4. Every relationship is challenged by crises and life transitions. Losing a job, a death in the family, a serious accident, or other significant event can test any relationship. If your relationship has successfully navigated life’s crises and transitions, the following statements are most likely true:
__ You never blame each other for the stress that comes with the crisis.
__ You face difficult times as a team.
__ You look for ways to support each other emotionally.
__ You help each other keep your perspective when there is a crisis.
__ You seek outside support during times of crisis (talking to friends and family, seeing a counselor, etc.).
If the crises and life transitions have done harm to your relationship, you have probably experienced the following during the difficult times:
__ One partner seems to emotionally abandon the other.
__ One partner blames the other.
__ One partner becomes extremely angry, worried, or anxious.
__ You don’t seek support from people who could help you.
5. Successful relationships are safe places where anger, conflict, and differences may safely be expressed. Each partner is allowed to have and express their own views. The following signs point to this being true:
__ You have had serious conflicts, but you have not allowed them to damage your relationship.
__ You respect the other person’s right to stand his or her ground.
__ You may find anger uncomfortable, but you accept that it is a part of life.
In relationships where it is not safe to express conflict, the following things are true:
__ Your conflicts have harmed your relationship.
__ You disagree about many things but never talk about them.
__ You both try to intimidate the other into agreeing with your point of view.
__ Anger is so uncomfortable that you avoid it.
__ There are no limits to what you will do when you become angry.
6. Successful long-term relationships have a positive sexual component. The partners take care to protect their sexual relationship from the demands of work and family. The signs of such a relationship are:
__ You sometimes have different levels of sexual need, but you make room for each other’s changing levels of desire.
__ You are honest with each other about your changing sexual desires and feelings.
__ You set aside time for your sexual relationship and protect your privacy.
__ If a sexual relationship is less than satisfying, the following statements are true:
__ You find it hard to talk about sex.
__ Sex is like a battlefield.
__ You never have time for sex.
7. Successful partners share laughter and fun times, and work to maintain their mutual interests. For example:
__ You have fun together.
__ You make each other laugh.
__ You find each other interesting.
__ You each have your own interests that you pursue on your own.
If your relationship is becoming stale, you will tend to describe it like this:
__ You rarely have fun together anymore.
__ You don’t laugh much when you are together.
__ You are bored with each other.
__ You avoid spending time together.
__ You have few shared interests.
8. Relationships that last are safe places where you can let down your guard and be vulnerable. You know you can count on the other to comfort and encourage you. If this is true, you might describe it as follows:
__ It is okay to be vulnerable when you are with your partner.
__ You understand each other.
__ You encourage each other.
__ You pay attention to each other’s moods and respond when the other seems needy.
If your relationship is not a very safe place, the following is probably true:
__ It is not safe to be needy and vulnerable in your relationship.
__ You exhaust each other’s emotional reserves.
__ You don’t pay attention to each other’s moods.
__ When you are worried about something, you avoid telling your partner.
__ You feel worse about yourself when you are with your partner.
9. People who have successful long-term relationships stay romantic and idealistic about each other, even though they are growing older. These are some of the signs of such a relationship:
You have good memories of when you fell in love with your partner.
You are glad to be growing older with your partner.
If you have lost some of the romance of your relationship, you are likely to agree with these statements:
You can hardly remember the days when the two of you first fell in
Seeing your partner grow older makes you feel badly because it reminds you that you are growing older.
10. You have far more positive moments in your relationship than negative ones. Some signs of positive moments include:
__ You show affection for each other.
__ You apologize for the hurtful things you may say or do.
__ You show each other empathy.
__ You are polite to each other.
Examples of negative moments include:
__ Your discussions often leave you feeling frustrated.
__ You often pick on each other.
__ Many of your conversations turn into arguments.
__ You behave disrespectfully toward each other.
__ You are physically violent with each other.
11. People in successful relationships are able to manage conflict productively. They are skilled at keeping times of discord from getting out of control. For example:
__ You call a time-out when your emotions escalate.
__ You know how to calm yourselves down.
__ You take care to speak and listen nondefensively.
__ You take care to validate the other person’s point of view, even when you disagree with it.
Couples in less successful relationships allow conflict to become damaging in the following
__ You blame each other.
__ You treat each other disrespectfully.
__ You deny responsibility for your own actions.
__ You become so angry that you leave or emotionally withdraw.
Number of items you checked in the [positive] areas:
Number of items you checked in the [negative] areas:
Ideally, you checked no items in the [negative] areas. If you checked more than five, you have some opportunities to improve your relationship.