Many relationships were pushed to the edge over the past year. While some couples were abruptly separated for the foreseeable future, others were forced to spend every moment of every day together as they both worked from home.
Understandably, this created a lot of new obstacles to overcome in relationships. While some people have seen their relationship go into hyperdrive after spending so much time together, others used this time to realize that they were better off apart.
Now you may be wondering where your relationship falls on this spectrum. Maybe you were separated for a while, but were able to join each other’s “bubble.” You may feel that your relationship isn’t in imminent danger of ending, but there are some things you’d like to work on.
If you’re wondering how to start that conversation, read on for some ways to gauge the health of your relationship.
Do you feel like you can talk about anything?
In a truly transparent relationship, no topics should feel taboo or off-limits. Do you feel this is true about your relationship?
Can you talk about politics without one of your getting defensive or storming off? Can you discuss religion and what each of you is looking for (or not looking for) in a faith practice?
Can you discuss finances openly, without feeling guilty or awkward? Have you discussed both of your opinions on having children? And a general idea of how you want to raise them?
What about if there is something troubling you about your partner? Do you feel you can bring it up to them?
For example, say you think your significant other may be struggling with depression. Maybe your sibling struggled with depression growing up, and you know the signs to look for.
Or maybe your partner has been drinking far more than is recommended, and you’re starting to become concerned that they may have developed an addiction.
Do you feel comfortable enough to bring this to your loved one’s attention? Could you bring up options of treatment – like seeing a therapist or going to an addiction treatment center like The Exclusive Hawaii – without them getting defensive?
How they respond to you bringing up these sensitive topics is equally as telling. If they respect your concern and open up a conversation around the issue, your relationship looks like it’s in a good place. However, if they shut down or become angry or begin blaming you, you may want to reevaluate your communication style (and potentially seek other ways to help them get support).
Do you still have your own separate interests?
In 2023, many couples had no choice but to take on each other’s interests. If pre-pandemic you went to your weekly spin class and they went to their weekly Dungeons and Dragons game, you were naturally having some of your leisure time apart.
But those options quickly became unavailable, and you might have found yourself joining in on your partner’s hobbies (and vice versa). What’s the plan now that everything is opening back up?
Are you going to pick your workout classes back up? Are they going back to their game nights?
If not, consider finding something new that you can each do separately to spend some time on your own or with your own friend group.
How do you handle conflict?
Imagine that your partner leaves an empty toilet paper roll on the holder again after you’ve asked them not to do that ten times.
How do you respond to your partner? Do you yell? Hurl accusations? Or do you calmly bring it up to them and explain that by them not respecting what you’ve been saying, you feel like they don’t listen to you.
Let’s throw out another scenario. Maybe you had said you’d be free to meet up with your partner at 5:30 pm, but you lose track of time at work and don’t arrive until 6:00 pm. What would they say to you? What would you say back?
Working through examples like this allows us to take a step back and really evaluate our typical response patterns. If you automatically know that your partner would ignore you for the evening if you showed up late, there’s likely a conversation that can be had around their communication (or lack thereof).
Do you both support each other equally? (one more so)
In many relationships, one partner takes on more of the “caregiver” role. This can show up as a physical caregiver or emotional caregiver.
For a physical caregiver, this person is the one who cleans more often around the house, handles the majority of the laundry, does the dishes more regularly, and so on. Society typically designates these tasks as more of a “woman’s” role, but that idea is fading away as more and more women are working up to positions of power. It’s up to you to discuss this dynamic in your relationship.
For an emotional caregiver, they simply are more “there” for their partner. So they may often listen to their partner’s complaints about their work, or act as a metaphorical punching bag as their partner unloads their struggles.
However, when the emotional caregiver looks for support, sometimes their partner isn’t as receptive to the role, and the emotional caregiver can feel taken advantage of or unappreciated.
Do either of these sounds like you? Or your partner? Consider having a conversation about how you support one another, and if you’d like anything to change.
Don’t Disregard Your Gut
If I ask you about your relationship, what’s the very first emotion you feel? Don’t think about it, just experience it.
If it’s joy or love or gratitude, you’re probably doing okay. Sure, you may have some things to work on, but at least the foundation of your relationship is in a good place.
However, if you first feel frustration or sadness or guilt, there may be some deeper issues at play. Start by having a discussion around what you think is the issue. See what you can work through on your own.
If you’re still finding you’re both struggling, consider going to a couple’s therapist. They can act as the unbiased witness to your relationship dynamic, and offer honest feedback and ways you can grow together.