You’re in an intimate relationship yet something isn’t quite right. You’re finding it hard to put your finger on the issue or issues because it’s complex. Maybe some things are good and others less so. Maybe it’s a trade off to accept the good with the bad. Not so. For a relationship to flourish there has to be a good foundation and respect between the couple.
Use this 20-item checklist to help with your focus. Some of the issues overlap and you may find you cover some of them simply by attempting any one of the items on the checklist. That’s fine. The checklist is simply a vehicle to promote honest and open discussion. Hopefully you’ll be able to work these issues through as a couple:
- The Current Situation
How do you see the current situation between you both? Is there a gap between the real state of affairs and the ideal? Is it a big gap? Are you heading in broadly the same direction so far as your relationship is concerned?
- Responsibility Ratio
Do you feel you take more responsibility for the relationship? What responsibilities do you assume? What responsibilities do they assume? Do you find yourself responsible for issues you feel shouldn’t be yours? What give-and-take is there in terms of joint responsibilities?
There is often a level of competition in developing relationships. It may be over time spent with his/her friends, financial issues, social issues, child-care, etc. If there is competition is it easy to manage? Is it friendly or acrimonious? Are there hot spots that need to be talked about?
Everyone has secrets but failures in communication occur when we don’t know what’s on someone else’s mind and it’s causing disharmony. Work out exactly what you need to know and strive for the answer. Ask your partner if they feel the same and try to give them a satisfactory answer.
Did your relationship start when you met them or is it being overshadowed by history? We all have a history and we can’t use this as a weapon. If history is seems to be intruding you can only help if you know.
- Lost Sparks
There was a time when you couldn’t wait to see one another. What has happened to the spark? Talk about what it was like when you first got together. Remember what you saw in one another. What were the feelings? Both of you close your eyes. Arrange things so that your partner is the first thing you see when you open your eyes. Now verbalize your memories and especially your feelings. Try to bring everything into the present.
Establish all the things you still agree on, all the issues you have the same feelings about, the things you see the same way. These were some of the foundations your relationship was built upon and others you’ve established along the way.
No relationship stays the same but for it to last and become a jointly supportive and enriching one it has to be reframed. This means learning from each other. Be gentle. What things have improved? What things have been lost or worsened? What have you learned from each other?
The fact that you’ve reached this point in your relationship probably means you’ve been sitting on things you feel really should have been said some time ago. What has been holding you back? Is it their assumed reaction? Is it your own fears of their response or the repercussions. Try saying it to yourself out loud. How did it sound? How is it likely to be received? If it needs to be said perhaps it can be broken down or approached at a time when you are both receptive to speaking and listening.
- Setting the Bar
Assuming you like your partner more than you dislike them, what has changed? Could it be that the standards you were once happy with have begun to change? Have you, or they, set the bar differently as to what’s expected within the relationship?
- Give and Take
Take it in turns to establish what is needed and what is wanted from your relationship. Try your hardest not to react negatively. Give yourselves a fair hearing and try to see things from your various perspectives. Agree on at least one thing each that you will try to accommodate in order too meet needs.
- Honesty and Respect
Perhaps this is more a ground rule than anything else but the point of this item is that you reveal how you feel and empower your partner to do the same. No finger pointing is allowed. Talk about your own feelings rather than highlighting perceived problems or issues in them. If their actions do affect you deeply frame it in terms of how what they do makes you feel.
Avoidance is probably the easiest and most common thing to do in order to avoid anxiety or tension. The problem with avoidance is that the ‘issues’ are never confronted and they tend to build. The more you avoid, the more you keep quiet and allow things to pass, the more likely it is that you’ll start to pull apart. People often fear approaching issues previously avoided precisely because they fear the consequences. But you’re already in a situation where things are feeling strained for precisely these reasons. Do you continue to ignore until things become irreversible or do you act?
Relationships are built on common ground, shared understanding and appreciation. In the early stages of a relationship it isn’t uncommon for both parties to give up previous interests in order to focus on the relationship. Over time the old interests may rise to the surface and may even become something of a priority. It can lead to resentment. Giving up old friendships or hobbies and interests may be fine in the short term but these are the things that give us pleasure and say something about our identity as individuals. Becoming overly dependent on your partner to fulfill all these needs can be problematic. Look for compromise.
- Rights and Wrongs
Do you or your partner have firm ideas as to what is right or wrong about your relationship? Where do these beliefs come from? Do they clash and if so where? Is one of you always right because you make the other always wrong? Examine where these beliefs come from and whether there is scope for greater flexibility.
They say opposites attract. This may be true to the extent that the strengths of one sometimes complement the limitations of the other but if differences become extreme they tend to stand out. Take a look at your similarities and your differences. Is there a way to make the most out of the differences rather than find them annoying or frustrating?
- Look in the Mirror
A common feature of the human condition is to project the things we don’t like or fear about ourselves on to other people. Self-awareness is about looking in the mirror and seeing that part of others in yourself. It’s very common to criticize others for features we actually have ourselves but don’t see them. Looking in the mirror is less to do with trying to change other people and more to do with making changes in ourselves.
Change takes time. Nobody changes character overnight and you have to allow your partner the scope. There are two sides to this. Some people crave change in their partner whilst others fear it. Fearfulness comes when one party wants to grow and move in a certain direction while their partner wants them to stay the same. Flexibility in a relationship works both ways. If one wants to change and the other doesn’t are you both willing to allow this to happen? It can work if you remind yourselves about the underlying qualities you love and admire.
For a relationship to work you must nurture it. A positive relationship is one of the most valued assets we have so it must be valued. How much time are you giving each other? Is your time together spent looking at the television or staring at your laptops? Being in the same room isn’t the same as being together. Shared experiences that help foster conversation and laughter are essential. Spend time in the company of your partner in activities you collaborate in. It doesn’t matter whether it’s walking, gardening, cooking or sports.
How will your relationship develop? How will that happen based on the things you’ve discussed and agreed? Are there any things you’ve overlooked, anything unspoken or feared? If there is to be a healthy and positive tomorrow it’s best to iron things out sooner rather than later.