As an annual check-up, it may be time to take stock of your relationship.
While different therapists will approach a couple’s problems in their own way depending on their clinical approach and personality, some basic questions can still be useful in assessing the state of a relationship.
Reflecting on these questions can help you deepen and test your own relationship:
- General state
On an average day, what is your emotional quality in the relationship – are you happy, depressed, well, or anxious? If you had this average day repeatedly, would it be a “pretty good” life or relationship?
Obviously, you can’t expect ecstatic joy every day of your life – because other aspects of your life take over, because your partner, like everyone else, has moods. But take a step back. Is an average day a good day?
- Safety: Do you feel safe to talk?
That probably should have been questioning #1 because it’s the most important part of any relationship. Of course, old childhood stuff will come into play and make you feel like a 6-year-old, but overall, do you feel safe enough to be honest when you need to be, or do you walk on eggshells too often? Are you internalizing your emotions – holding them back or blaming yourself for problems – rather than seeing them as arising from the reactions of both people?
- Disputes: Can you contain them so they are not emotionally or physically destructive?
Can you tell when your arguments turn into power struggles over who has the last word, who is right, or when the conversation goes nowhere? Occasional arguments are fine – it’s all about stress, problem-solving, and adjusting the relationship. But the biggest problem is emotional regulation – the ability to control your strong emotions, the ability to realize that arguments don’t lead anywhere and that both people are focused on winning. Although there may be differences – it takes longer for one of you to calm down – is this happening? If it doesn’t, if it’s always exploring, if it’s always about who wins, you’ve got a big problem.
- Problem-solving: can you go back and solve the problem?
Going back isn’t just about having the right argument, knowing how to turn off the other person’s anger, or using the silent treatment for hours or days and then going back to “normal” and pretending nothing happened. This is called sweeping under the rug. It’s not about making it up either – I’m sorry, I’m sorry, big hug – but avoiding the subject because you don’t want to start another fight. Instead, can you really go back, have a productive conversation – where you talk about the problem and come up with a workable plan – so it doesn’t just get added to a pile of unresolved problems?
- Compromise: Can you reach win-win compromises?
After an argument or disagreement, one of you invariably gives in – “I get it, I’m sorry, I’ll do better. Of course, let’s do it your way.” That’s not problem-solving, that’s a compromise – giving in to avoid conflict because you feel you can’t win, because you’re afraid.
Instead, can the two of you have compromises where each of you feels you have been heard, that you have achieved something important to you rather than just giving in?
- Good or bad: are there enough good times to outweigh the bad?
Question #1 is about the emotional climate; it is about experiences. Yes, relationships have difficulties, but overall, looking back, are there enough good experiences? The trick to solving this question is to focus only on you and your relationship. What’s easy to do instead is rationalize, compensate: yes, the good times outweigh the bad because my kids are happy (and that’s what matters), or because I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and not get into it, or because it’s much better than my last relationship. It’s rationalizing, compromising, and easing the pain, getting through the day. It’s sweeping your true feelings under the rug. Don’t do that.
- Teamwork: Do you think you work well as a team, support each other, and care about each other’s happiness?
If the relationship seems unbalanced, if it’s every man for him, there’s only resentment and loneliness.
- The big question
For you and only you: do you feel that you can be yourself, that you feel loved and supported, that if problems arise, they can be solved, that life is more than just coping and accepting, that the relationship has rewards that you can’t get anywhere else and that you don’t want to lose it?
- Keep or change
Overall, would you want to keep the relationship and the life that goes with it … or not? What would you change the most?
If you feel that your relationship is not in good shape, that it is ending or that you want to give it a second chance, our couple therapists are here to listen to you.
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