I had an epiphany the other night: we focus on succeeding at our careers a lot more than we focus on succeeding at our relationships.
Career development is something almost every employer and employee I know thinks about a lot, myself included. All the companies I’ve worked at — startup to enterprise — proactively manage employee retention rate and overall employee satisfaction. At my current job, I use designated tools for goal tracking, responding to employee pulse surveys, manager check-ins, collecting real-time peer feedback, and for my annual performance reviews. On top of all that, I have to have monthly development conversations with my manager.
Why aren’t we applying that much rigor to improving our relationship satisfaction and partner retention?.. Most of us just go with the flow, let our relationships progress organically, and don’t spend too much time, if any, on collecting our partners’ feedback or discussing their performance.
Wouldn’t it make sense to check-in with our partners regularly to see how they were doing and to find out if there was anything we could be doing to support them better?.. “Of course we do that already,” you might say, “I ask my partners how their day was every night!”
Well, I’d like to challenge you to go deeper than the superficial “how are you?” and “how was your day?” conversations that you may be having already. I believe that three critical components needed for a happy and fulfilling relationship are self-love, emotional safety, and complete acceptance of and by our partners. By regularly asking each other about how we feel in those three areas, we can gauge how secure and satisfying our relationships are.
When we did our first check-in with my boyfriend, we came up with a ton of ideas for what we could be doing differently and how we could be supporting each other better. It was not only an enlightening conversation but also exciting and fun. Having that check-in made me feel more connected to him and gave me peace of mind about how things stand.
Here is how we did it.
First, we decided when would be a good time to do it. We knew we’d need at least a couple of hours of uninterrupted time in a comfortable setting with some means of taking notes. Creating space for it at home seemed the easiest, especially since indoor dining is still mostly closed and the days are still rather cold for a picnic.
When the scheduled day came, we first created the atmosphere by lighting our favorite scented candle, dimming the lights, and turning on some lyrics-free music in the background. We agreed that during our conversation, there would be no judgment — only love and empathy. We got comfortable on the couch, took turns answering the questions, and took notes about the most important ideas and things we didn’t want to forget.
This list of questions was something we created beforehand — using a mix of our own ideas, the internet wisdom, therapists’, and relationship coaches’ recommendations. We wanted the questions to help us see how both of us felt about ourselves, our relationship, and life in general.
Here are the ten questions to ask your partner every three months:
Tell me about a time when you didn’t like yourself in the past three months.
Tell me about a time when you didn’t feel accepted by me in the past three months.
Tell me if there was a time when you didn’t feel emotionally safe in the last three months.
What is your best and worst memory of the last three months?
When did you feel most loved by me since the last check-in?
What is it like to be you right now?
Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing but haven’t yet? Why not?
What can I do to make your life easier?
What can we do to improve our relationship, feel more connected?
How can we make our sex life even better?
Bonus question for parents: How can we support each other in the relationships with our kids?
When we went through these questions, we tried to answer them as honestly and thoroughly as possible. Some things came up that were quite eye-opening. For example, I noticed a trend: it was difficult for me to accept anger in myself and others. Now that I’ve become aware of it, I have more control over how I respond to anger.
Also, during our check-in conversation, we came up with a few ideas for how to make each other feel more loved and appreciated. We even set some goals and made some plans for specific activities we’ll do to keep our relationship exciting.
We realized that unless we set aside time to focus on our dreams, they wouldn’t come true. Now we have a block of time every week to work on our own side projects and some shared ones.
By the end of the conversation, we both felt a lot more attuned to what was going on in each other’s lives. We came out of it excited about the future and all the things we would do differently moving forward. We also scheduled our next check-in in twelve weeks. I can’t wait to see how things progress till then!
If you haven’t tried a relationship development conversation — I highly recommend it. You don’t need to use our questions — you can certainly modify the list and ask the questions that make the most sense for you.