Relationship Checklist for Couples – Part I

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Relationships are like a Greenhouse:
You have especially chosen your flowers and plants because they are appealing to you and they give you joy. But just like a greenhouse relationships need loving care. They need to be nourished in order to grow. You need to care for them in ways that are healthy and promote growth. And like a greenhouse they require a lot of work and maintenance in order to flourish. And this maintenance never stops. If it does……you get weeds!

What attracted you to the person to begin with?
Most often we are attracted to those qualities we don’t have in ourselves. Living with those qualities can be challenging sometimes but to remember you chose that person because of those qualities you admire.

When are things good between you?
You want to be aware and keep those things that already work, and learn others ways to deal with those dynamics and moments that don’t work as well.

The Checklist
These are the ingredients I have assembled over the years for a healthy garden. It takes practice and the willingness to be vulnerable with the person you love.

1. EXPLICIT COMMUNICATION: Explicit communication versus “implied” or an assumption that the other person “should” know what the other person wants. In other words they are misunderstanding each other from the beginning.

  • I find this to be the cause of a “disconnect” in a relationship about 85% of the time.
  • We assume the other person knows what we want or what we mean. Never assume – check things out.
  • We need to ask for what we want. It’s not a guessing game. This increases the chances of getting it, and makes it easier for the other person to make you happy and express what’s in their heart.

2. CONNECTION: How we feel emotionally close to the other person.

  • In our society, it is very easy to feel disconnected in primary relationships
  • When do you feel connected to this person?
    • Examples: greeting the person at the door…..a love note on their pillow….a call to check in with the person during the day “just cuz”.
    • Example of greeting the person at the door: Embrace each other for about 10 seconds which can result in more fully reconnecting after a long day apart.
    • For women especially, physical intimacy usually comes out of a feeling of emotional intimacy or connection.
  • Sometimes people “pick a fight” to connect with the other person because of not knowing how else to feel connected, or they learned this from their parents. There are still feelings there for the other person, or they would feel “apathetic” which means no feelings because they no longer care.

3. DISTANCE NEEDS: ……Everyone has different needs…..

  • Need to negotiate to meet both individual’s needs
  • Some couples will create an argument subconsciously or will seek time away from the mate to create “emotional space” in the relationship if feeling suffocated or feeling loss of Self in the relationship. Most likely they need more “me time”than the other person which is absolutely normal.
  • Loss of Self in the relationship: This is more common if the couple married very young. We don’t develop our full identity until our late twenties or early thirties. So couples who married very young are still finding themselves and sometimes do not grow together. They often develop differently from each other…..not having enough in common.

4. BALANCE: A healthy balance in each individual between “down time”, fun time and rejuvenating activities.

  • Ideally, it is two whole individuals, both in balance individually and as a couple. Remember it is about asking for what you want and negotiating each person’s needs.
  • Down time: reading a book….watching TV….window shopping for fun with no time limitation
  • Fun time: having lunch with a friend…..going to the movies…..going out to dinner
  • Rejuvenating time: feeling better emotionally or physically after the event than you did before the event. Examples: doing an art project….running…..going for a walk along the beach

5. TIME TOGETHER: carving out time just for the two of you and making this a priority.

  • If we don’t carve this time out, it won’t happen!
  • Date time no less than every two weeks. Preferably once weekly. If it is less frequent than two weeks, then most often the couple has lost some or all of their connection. They are in the “red zone” and must try harder to reconnect rather than just nourish the connection already there.
  • Date time is when you tune out “the rest of the world”, including the kids. Family time is not the same as couples time. The point is to reconnect as a couple…not as Mom and Dad.

Action Plan:  Where are you strong in these categories?  Where do you need to improve as a couple?  Give specific examples for each and discuss this together.  Determine an action plan for those areas needing improvement.  Celebrate your strengths.  Don’t be afraid to seek short term couples counseling to help with this process.

Next time: Relationship Checklist Part IIConflict resolution, feeling like a team, language of love, building emotional safety with each other, and common pitfalls of couples

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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