The Relationship Check-Up
Jason Wasser, MS
The Mechanics of a Successful Relationship
It’s been there the whole time, slowly growing, bubbling, marinating but who wants to say something now. You know it will just bring up a heated debate that you have been trying to avoid with every fiber of your being. Things aren’t perfect you say to yourself but I defiantly don’t want to rock the boat. Who knows how much longer we can both swim for?
No matter how many self-help books exist, how many episodes of Oprah we watch, we still can’t seem to get it right! How many times have you gotten the phone call about friends and family who have recently separated or divorced? Was there any that seemed to come as a complete surprise? “I wonder how long all there issues were going on for, the seemed so happy to me” you may remark. “I wonder if anything could have been done to avoid their divorce” as you hope that this most current outbreak doesn’t effect your own relationship.
Many couples have struggled with the question of when did their relationship take a turn for the worst and end up on life support. They find it hard to remember what was working for each of them in the relationship and some even start to ponder what they saw in their significant other in the first place. Instead of turning to each other to deal with this new or not so new struggle, they turn away and isolate themselves from each other creating a newer and perhaps bigger rift in their relationship.
One of the most challenging areas of a couple’s relationship is communication.
Although it could be argued that no one has ever really reached the level of perfect communication with their spouse, there is ways that they much turmoil can be avoided before it becomes to late.
During the time I was in graduate school, a colleague of mine and I was talking about our relationships with our spouse. We lamented on how challenging it was to be working studying and attending classes each week and still make time for our true full time job which was our relationships at home. She shared with me a technique I won’t soon forget. We all remember that old that says “the simpler, the better” right? Who would have that this idea would be so powerful but is something we pretty much do a few times a year already.
Upon buying a car, we are told about the manufacturers recommended maintenance for our vehicle. On average, one should bring their car in for an oil-change and check up every 3 months or so. During that time, the mechanics do an inspection of the various parts that can become damaged. At first glance, nothing may seem wrong with your car but these professionals are trained to help you avoid the costly and annoying repairs down the road that may appear if not taking care of at first glance.
We can imagine what would happen if we ignored these recommendations or didn’t bring our car in as often as we should or even at all. It’s a recipe for disaster and for sure a wasted investment.
If we are able to view our car as an important part of our daily lives, how much more important is the time and effort that we should be investing into our relationships?
So what is it that you should be looking for? With time comes the ability to see things that are apparent that need to be improved or worked on. It may take some more effort than you are accustomed at first but the rewards will come in at the end.
Kicking the Tires
The first step is to find a quiet time where you and your significant other can sit down and not be interrupted for the minimum of a half hour. This means turn off your cell phone, PDA and if your home phone rings, let the answering machine pick up the call (that’s what they were created for remember) or even schedule a baby-sitter for an hour or so, ( even if you just lock yourselves in the bedroom).
Step two is to take out a paper and a pen and start to jot down the areas of your marriage that each of you feel is going well. This part can be done individually but make sure to share what you are writing down for your partner to see. Remember, it is easy for us to forget the things that are going smoothly due to the fact that you really don’t have to pay any attention to them!
Once you complete your list of the things that are going well, discuss your answers and decide on one or two things that you think can be improved even better. For example, Joey has been really trying hard to make time each evening for his wife to share her day with him. He knows that even though he is tired, that it is important for her to tell him about something that happened that day. Or perhaps, Michelle picked up a pizza pie with her husbands favorite toppings on it last week on her way home from work. Find something that has been going well and make sure you stress why it made you happy, excited, etc and ponder ways that both of you can do more of that more often!
Looking Under the Hood
Possibly the most difficult area to approach is to address the areas that need work. Unfortunately, many couples go right for the throat and start off their conversations about relationship issues with this subject instead of utilizing their strengths. By following these steps, it can allow the couple to connect on shared strengths and reaffirm their desire to continue to allow things to work!
Remember that in order for this experience to be a positive one, you should try as hard as possible to refrain from making the “when you” or “you always” statements. This isn’t the time to be critical or attack our partner, but a chance to explore possible areas of shared growth. Be specific and be concrete. If it helps, use examples of what challenged you and what you thought would have been useful if it was done differently.
Example: “How could you dare to ask me to clean up the trash when you were the one who made the mess in the first place”. This is a perfect example of what to avoid.
Perhaps trying “I cannot help but to get angry and frustrated on certain occasions where the chores are split evenly amongst the two of us, what do you suggest we try in order for this to change?”
When we are driving along the highway and all of the sudden start to hear an unfamiliar sound coming from the engine, most people commonly do one of the two following things:
- Pull over and give the car a look over to see if they can spot anything out of place and then continue to drive. Even though they hear the noise, the shrug it off as something that is a minor issue and think that it probably wouldn’t be worth the money to fix it.
- Continue driving while assuming the sound although annoying is not harmful or dangerous to the car.
I have seen many couples who have committed to one of the above dangerous choices in their relationships. One may be hoping that their current issue will either go away or is a one time problem or concern. It could be 6 months or even a few years before they realize they damage that was done by not dealing with the problem right away.
The Break Down
In one situation, I once had a couple who have been together for eighteen years and a handful of children. Their marriage and their entire family were on the brink of collapse and it was common for them to be screaming at each other at home. During one of our initial sessions, I asked the list all the qualities that attracted each one to the other when they were dating as well as what they expected the other would be like once they got married.
Over the next few weeks, we discussed all their expectations and subsequent disappointments that they dealt with over the years because they never took the time to have these discussions with each other. It wasn’t until they realized how much time was misspend fighting against each other instead of working together they we were able to get through a session without a yelling match and I even started to see some affections being shared between the two.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation but the outcomes sometimes end up in a painful and messy breakup or divorce. I wonder how much of this could actually be avoided by just taking a little bit of time away from the constants patterns of such relationships to go through the fixing process above.
Now that you are ready to continue on your path, remember that approximately every few months when you bring your car in, make the time to perform a Marital Oil Change by working on the areas that may have become a challenge and on the other hand, do more of the things that have been working well for both of you in creating a more intimate and loving relationship. If you continue to get stuck in any of these or other areas, perhaps search out a local licensed marriage and family therapist to help guide you through the process and towards the goals that you and your partner have set before you.