This article explains the concepts behind the Relationship Checklist that I introduced in a previous article (Link). Relationships are like a Greenhouse: You have especially chosen your flowers and plants because they are appealing to you and give you joy. But just like a greenhouse, relationships need loving care and a lot of work and maintenance to flourish. They need to be nourished in order to grow. Stop this maintenance and you get weeds!
The Relationship Checklist assembles the ingredients I have discovered over the years for a healthy garden. It takes practice and the willingness to be vulnerable with the person you love. If you haven’t done the Checklist yet, here is the Link.
If you are a couple, you both take the Checklist Exercise and review your answers together. Decide what changes you both want to make.
If you are single, review your answers and determine the positive changes you want to make.
The Relationship Checklist Explained
1. Explicit Communication vs. Implied
- Explicit communication is clear and transparent. “Implied” communication is an assumption that the other person “should” know what the other person wants.
- Never assume the other person knows what we want or what we mean. Ask for what you want. It’s not a guessing game.
- Never assume you know what your partner wants – check things out.
- This is how emotionally close we feel to our partner. When do you feel connected to this person?
- Examples: greeting the person at the door, or a love note on their pillow….a call to check in with the person during the day “just cuz.”
- For women especially, feeling connected often leads to physical intimacy. For most men, physical intimacy leads to feeling connected.
- Sometimes people “pick a fight” to connect with the other person because of not knowing how else to feel connected. The love is still there, but usually, the person doesn’t know how to ask for it.
3. Distance Needs. Everyone Has Different Needs.
- You need to negotiate to meet both individual’s needs
- Some couples will create an argument subconsciously to give themselves some room. Distance allows them to have some healthy “me space.” Instead, ask for what you need. It’s normal for couples not to have the same needs.
- Loss of Self in the relationship: This is more common when couples marry young and don’t fully have their own identity. A healthy relationship is about two people, each honoring what individually fills them up inside.
- This Relationship Checklist will help you explicitly identify those needs.
4. A healthy balance in each individual
- Includes “downtime” for each individual: a fun time, and rejuvenating activities.
- Ideally, it is two whole individuals, in balance individually and as a couple.
- Downtime: reading a book….watching TV….window shopping for fun with no time limitation
- Fun time: having lunch with a friend, going to the movies or out to dinner
- Rejuvenating time: feeling better emotionally or physically after the event than you did before. For example, going for a run or a walk on the beach
5. Spending Time Together
- Carving out time just for the two of you and making this a priority.
- If you don’t carve this time out, it won’t happen!
- Go on a date no less than every two weeks. If it’s less frequent than two weeks, you lose most of your connection.
- 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.
- Items 3, 4 and 5 are inter-related. This Relationship Checklist will help you strike a healthy and mutually acceptable balance between alone time, individual fun time, and couples time.
6. Feeling Like a Team
- Being on the same page together in terms of both daily activities and common goals.
- Making sure you both are on the same page does not come out of power or control.
- You have each other’s best interests in mind. Examples: helping one parent pick up the kids for soccer games, or you helping your mate get tasks done. You can help with house projects or meeting life challenges together.
- Supporting the other parent in terms of the parental unit and presenting a United Front to the kids
7. Language of Love
Each of us prefers a particular method to express our love for the other person. Usually, we will only register “feeling loved” if that person employs the same way of expressing their love for us. However, the other person may have a totally different love language, which could create a disconnect.
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Ph.D.: This is one of the two best relationship books I have used in my private practice with couples. The Love Languages are: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation or Appreciation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Quality Time. Dr. Chapman has a free test at http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/.
- According to Dr. Chapman, statistically, men tend to want to feel appreciated and that they can make the woman happy. Women want to feel understood and valued.
- We need to express our love in the language of our partner, rather than our love language.
8. Signs of an Emotionally Safe and Secure Relationship
- Feeling emotionally safe and secure in the relationship.
- Each partner demonstrates mutual respect, dignity, and trust.
- You have each other’s “back.”
- There is no betrayal, nor emotional, verbal or physical abuse.
- Learning about the other person and respecting them – not using blame.
- If one partner feels hurt, the other immediately apologizes even if they don’t agree that the act was hurtful.
- It is not about being right or wrong. It’s about demonstrating mutual respect for one another.
- It’s essential to try to understand the perspective of the other person. It’s not about agreement.
9. Common Pitfalls – What Erodes Emotional Safety and Security?
- For example, each partner waits for the other partner to change first.
- Another pitfall is not demonstrating a positive intention and effort so each can feel safe. Solution: Each partner needs to make an effort that doesn’t depend upon the effort of the other person.
- Attributing a negative intention in general to what the other partner says and does. This intention becomes a filter through which we experience our partner and can negatively color what is occurring. Solution: Be sure that you are not confusing a past event with the present regarding an unresolved issue. Focus on what is right, rather than what is wrong.
- Not making time for Date Night. Solution:
- A couple needs to play together.
- Focus on each other. No talking about the kids!
- Do some of the things you did when you were dating. Those activities can work again.
- Notice if you feel any more connected to your mate by the end of the date.
- And by the way, family activities don’t count as a date!!!
10. Relationships Are Like A Garden
- If you don’t water the garden…..your relationship will begin to grow WEEDS!!!
What To Do Next With Your Completed Relationship Checklist
Each partner can look at all of these items of the Checklist. Determine where your strengths lie, and where you can improve.
- What would you like from your partner? Remember, it is not about being right or wrong. Avoid blaming.
- Finally, sit down together and discuss your results. Come up with a plan of action on how to utilize some of these concepts and activities.
Action Plan: Where are you the strongest in these categories?
- Where do you need to improve as a couple and an individual?
- Give specific examples for each and discuss this together.
- Determine an action plan for those areas needing improvement.
- Celebrate your strengths and improvements!
- Don’t be afraid to seek short term couples counseling to help with this process.
A favorite book of mine is Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, Ph.D. It’s about feeling connected and how it keeps a couples’ garden watered. Connection helps us want to move towards our partner…. to understand them better and to make them happy.
Feeling connected to one another also makes it easier to reconnect after an argument.