Relationship Help: The First Step in Creating a Healthy Relationship

Strengthen Your Marriage/Relationship through the Power of Reflection

When you reflect on your behavior (e.g., “I can’t believe I just said that” or “I did a great job!”), you are creating moments of self-reflection—you momentarily suspend your experience to observe what’s happening. “Self-conscious” people do this all the time, usually to such an overwhelming degree that they become frozen with self-doubt. On the other end of the continuum are people who never self-monitor or reflect and because of this omission lack the awareness of how their behavior impacts others.

Think of self-reflection as a kind of self-check in, a way to monitor your experience, behavior and reactions. Reflecting on your experience gives you a way to gather information about yourself and your performance.

It’s vital to reflect on your marriage/relationship from time to time.

A Healthy Relationship Starts with Observation

When was the last time you and your spouse/partner observed your relationship?

You can periodically “step out” of your relationship and hold it up to the light to see how it’s working. To accomplish this, you must put your own issues aside (as much as this is possible) so you can be objective about what’s working and not working.

Are you ready to take stock of your relationship?

It’s helpful to have a roadmap when you begin to take stock of the overall health of your relationship. You need to know where to look. Imagine going into a vast warehouse, not knowing how things are organized and where items are placed, yet you’re in charge of determining what needs to be ordered.  You wouldn’t know where to start and you’d probably only see the major problem areas (the shelves that are completely empty).

This is what often happens to couples. Without the guidance of an observational map, you’ll only notice when there are major problems in your relationship that demand attention. When this occurs, your energies will always get pulled toward what isn’t working, and as these negatives become more prominent, they can overshadow the larger picture of your relationship. This can lead you to lose sight of the strong areas of your relationship, the shelves that are already well-stocked.

The Relationship Observation challenge:

For the Relationship Observation to be helpful, it’s vital that you and your partner respect and accept each other’s different views about your marriage/relationship.

You will ultimately use this information to create a stronger union.

Let’s begin:

Develop Your Relationship Observation Map

Pick at least 5 areas/categories of your relationship that you (and your partner) feel are important (e.g., communication, physical intimacy, shared spirituality, socializing with other couples, parenting, etc.) and write these categories across the top of the paper (making columns for each relationship category).

Now rate each category on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 means that you’re very satisfied with this part of your relationship, 1 signifies immediate attention is needed) and have your partner do the same. Make sure you do not influence each other’s ratings.

You may want to start with the areas of your relationship that work well and acknowledge these with your partner.

Next step: Fill in the Gaps

Let’s say that you created a “communication” category and rated it an 8 (very good) and your partner rated communication a 5 (needs some improvement).

Discrepancies between each of your ratings are opportunities that will allow you to work together and create a stronger union and deepen intimacy.

The person who gives the higher rating takes responsibility to find out how to improve this area of the relationship. In the example above, you would take the lead in helping improve communication in your relationship (and raising your partner’s lower communication score).

In this example, you might ask your partner, “What can I do to increase your rating”; “Is there something you need me to do to help?”

If you both rate a category very low (e.g., 2), it is your shared responsibility to develop a mutual plan and work as a team to increase each other’s ratings.

If these very low ratings are causing you both significant distress,  it can be helpful to work with a marriage or couples counselor.

Remember, it is perfectly normal to have different ratings at times.

These differences are an important source of information that can help invigorate your marriage or relationship. Try to stay optimistic about these inevitable differences.

Marriage/Relationship Resource:

I created a simple-to-use, comprehensive relationship assessment tool to help couples examine the overall health of their union.

Check out the Marriage/Relationship Checkup.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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