A Weekly Check-In for a Healthier Relationship
Utilizing rituals in our daily lives—whether morning, bedtime, or otherwise—keeps us grounded and on track for a life of success. While having a killer morning ritual of meditation or journaling might keep us grounded in our daily goals, and while self-care is imperative (you can’t pour out to others if you’re feeling empty!), we also need to be caring for the most important person in our lives—our partner. I believe wholeheartedly that relationship-care is an extension of self-care, that it is absolutely necessary for living a life of connectedness, meaning, vulnerability, and understanding with the one person who has vowed to be by your side not just forever, but five-ever.
Let me introduce you to a relational ritual for a healthier relationship with you partner: the weekly check-in.
My husband and I began this ritual while we were engaged, so we could openly discuss what was going on in our lives and hearts each week, and to set up a routine for when we were legally bound to each other for life. Every Sunday, we set aside time to cuddle on our couch and intentionally connect over the following six questions. Even when he was out in the field for Army training for a month at a time, we would have our weekly Sunday chat over the phone so we would never miss a week of touching base. The result has been amazing. Integrating this ritual into our weekly schedules has set the stage for open lines of communication and trust. It’s also brought us a whole lot closer on an emotional level in a way I never thought would ever happen with my not-always-emotional husband. And I believe that in starting off our marriage with this practice, we’re equipping ourselves with the space and tools for success when life and marriage get tough.
The golden rule to the relational check-in is to listen actively. Because the entire point of this ritual is to seek to understand your partner—and how to serve him/her—better, listening is imperative. Second, this conversation needs to happen in a safe space. Sometimes, when we’re pressed for time or end up driving home from dinner at a friend’s house later than anticipated, we talk in the car. But ideally, the conversation should happen in a space where both partners feel safe to connect and discuss vulnerable topics. That’s why we cuddle on the couch—it makes us feel more connected and reminds us that no matter what comes up during the discussion, we’re in it together. Find what works for you and go for it!
1. How did you feel loved this week? What could I have done better? How full is your love tank?
While technically a three-part question, this question really sets the tone for our weekly check-ins. It allows us to first recognize how the other has made us feel loved and served in the past week, air our grievances, and zip it up neatly with an honest evaluation of where we stand.
First, we discuss all the ways we felt supported in the past week. No matter how big or small the act, it’s beautiful to give a long list of shout-outs to each other, starting our conversation off on a positive and encouraging note. It allows your partner to know what he/she is doing well and how their actions impact you on a daily basis. And, for those of you who, like me, can’t remember a thing before Friday on the appointed Sunday night chat time, I suggest keeping a note on your phone to jot down at the end of each day. (Double whammy: this is also a great gratitude ritual, too!)
But, of course, we recognize that we’re not perfect partners—in fact, we’re far from it. And so we openly ask about and discuss how our actions or behaviors negatively affected our partner using I statements instead of you/blaming statements. It’s important here to listen actively, reserve defensiveness, and be open to all feedback—after all, you asked for how you could have served your partner better, didn’t you? Receiving weekly feedback helps us become more attuned to our proclivities for conflict in our relationship, helps us notice our triggers, and gives us the insight to react differently in future situations. We’ve noticed that the ways we didn’t feel loved each week almost always stem from the same hurts or misperceptions. Knowing that my tendency for impatience shuts Nathan down guides my decisions for actions. So now when I’m feeling particularly impatient, I notice my reaction and can take a deep breath and correct myself before I make any actions—or address it before I say something stupid that will hurt both of us. Win-win.
I want to note here that this question doesn’t negate opportunities to address conflict throughout the week. You still owe it to your partner to talk through your conflicts when they arise. For people that need more time to process, having an appointed time to discuss their grievances in more depth can be more helpful than tackling them in the moment. It allows both partners to come prepared to openly and calmly explain their viewpoints without judgment. This is not about racking up all your complaints and having a brawl. That’s totally counterproductive to the entire exercise.
Finally, we summarize our week by describing how full our love tank is. Having gone through Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages test and knowing how we both experience love the most, we can use evidence from the past week to support how full our love tank is feeling. Sometimes it’s at a 4 and sometimes it’s a perfect 10. This allows our partner to know where we stand going into the new week.
2. What does your schedule look like this week?
This 👏🏻 is 👏🏻 so 👏🏻 important 👏🏻. Have you ever had to call or text your partner asking where they are, only to find out they’re at some function that you never knew about? Ummm, excuuuuuse me why didn’t you tell me??? This question is a great way to avoid that mess. Not to dampen the thrill of spontaneity, but it’s nice to know what’s going on before the week begins. This question helps manage expectations of time and plans so everyone is on board. For example, if you know work is going to be hectic because of a deadline and you might be clocking out around 8 p.m. most nights, that’s a great thing to discuss with your partner so they’re not waiting for you to come home before eating dinner. (Been there, and let me tell you, hungry, out-of-the-loop partner does not make for a happy partner.) Other events, like a weekly date night or group outings with friends, lets you know what to expect with your own schedule, and furthermore allows you to follow up with your partner when he/she arrives home and ask some great questions to learn more about your partner’s day. How was the networking event? Did you meet anyone interesting?
3. What did you struggle with this week? How can I help support you through this struggle?
Let’s get vulnerable here. Because this is a safe space with your partner, this is a space to openly discuss the inner workings of your inner worlds that might not get addressed over dinner or Netflix on a weekday night. This is an opportunity to bring to light what’s been challenging you throughout the week and process through it all—together. This requires vulnerability of both parties, as well as an open heart to listen and support your partner as needed. While none of these questions should be rushed, that holds especially true for this question. It is your responsibility as a committed partner to be present as long as necessary, even if the question takes hours to work through.
Asking how you can support your partner not only shows them you’re on their side, but also shows your dedication through thick and thin. Not to mention, carrying out your supportive tasks builds trust, intimacy, and vulnerability with your partner. All this is essential in building and maintaining a healthy relationship.
4. How did you see God in your life this week? How did you connect with your spirituality this week?
While my husband and I are Christians, this question can be applied to whatever you identify as spiritually or religiously. Like our struggles, faith and spirituality can be wrought with trials as we journey along finding meaning in this world. Asking this question allows you to get a fuller picture of your partner’s inner life experienced through spirituality. It also allows each partner to vocalize issues or triumphs that might otherwise not be addressed with other people. You can use this knowledge to follow up with or encourage your partner throughout the week, if they are comfortable with the external encouragement.
5. How was intimacy this week?
Bow-chicka-wow-wow, the fun part is here! First off, intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean sex! When my husband and I ask this question, we’re truly asking about the moments throughout the past week that made us feel particularly intimate with each other. Intimacy could be emotional, physical, spiritual, or a whole host of other things, so I encourage you to be mindful of the plethora of ways you can feel intimate with your partner. Most often, our answers revolve around cuddling before bed or while watching Netflix, because physical touch is high on both of our love language lists. And sometimes our answers are something like, “I felt intimate with you when we defused our conflict the other night by listening to each other and understanding each other’s perspectives.” Because effectively solving conflict together is a great way to feel more intimately connected as a team.
But, yes, intimacy is also about sex. And what’s a healthy marriage without talking about sex? This is your opportunity to address any- and everything sex-related. Are we having enough sex? (Note: it’s also extremely important to know what your partner constitutes as “enough” sex. So, if you don’t know, now’s your opportunity to ask!) Do we feel stagnant in our sex lives? Do we want to try new things? You will never know what your partner is thinking unless your lines of communication are wide open here. And, really, I believe great sex is about being vulnerable and asking for what works for you. If you don’t know what you want or how to ask, the Gottmans’ Card Decks App is not only great for giving you amazing questions to ask your partner about your relationship, but also has several categories with many ideas for spicing it up in the bedroom, based on the spice level (mild, medium, hot) you want.
If you’re getting naked and putting your most vulnerable self forward sexually, you should be able to talk about it openly and without judgment. And if you’re not comfortable with discussing it on the spot, consider asking your partner if you can set aside time to talk about what it means to be intimate and their expectations with intimacy. I know it’s awkward at first, because I’m the queen of everything awkward, but your ability to communicate with your partner about such a vulnerable thing will come out so much stronger in the long haul.
6. What was the highlight of your entire week?
Gratitude-practice-meets-memory-preservation (especially for those who can’t remember a darn thing about years past), asking about—and writing down—your weekly highlights, whether they have anything to do with your relationship or not, is a great way to end your weekly check-in. Though we only started asking this question this year as a New Years resolution framed as a connection strategy (because we don’t really do the whole resolution thing), this is a practice we hope to continue for the rest of our lives, to remember the 52 greatest highlights of each year. If you’re anything like me, you have no issue remembering all the bad things that happened in a given year. This practice reframes your memory to dwell on the good things that have happened to you and your partner, even if some of the bad stuff still lingers. Some weeks it will be more difficult to find the good, and some weeks the highlight will be nothing more glamorous than having a quick, 30-minute coffee date with your partner before work. But, as the Army taught my husband to do, we have to hunt the good in even the worst of situations in order to press on and create a more joyful life.
For this, I suggest purchasing a special notebook (like the one below!) to write all your best memories in. It makes the practice all the more fun, and is another reason to splurge on cute notebooks. You can never have too many, right?
Even if you’ve been happily married for many years or if you’re starting to move toward a more serious relationship with your partner, most of these questions, if not the entire set, are still great to integrate into your weekly conversations. It may take some convincing to begin at first, but a committed partner will be open to strengthening your relationship for all the days to come. And that’s really what this practice is about: investing in your relationship with the most important person in your life.
Are there any other questions you would ask your partner? If so, write them down in the comments below!