Oh, the early days of our relationship.
I couldn’t wait to see my then-boyfriend after a day—or even a few hours—spent apart. Everything felt new, electric, painted with possibility. We were long stories waiting to be unwound, planets who had been barely ventured into.
Fast forward a decade and a half and a couple of kids—life looks a whole lot different.
Those planets waiting to be explored? We’ve been orbiting each other for years. We’ve even created new little planets, who are beautiful and amazing and who also bring with them a constant stream of demands: “I want a snack!” “Mom, watch this!” “Mom! He just hit me!”
While our children twine my husband and me to each other more tightly, they also distract from our attention to one another. They bring with them a rushing stream of negotiation and labor to be divided.
Long-term relationships, when not carefully tended to, can become more like a business arrangement than a story waiting to be unwound. They can easily become a stew of resentments, unmet needs and scorekeeping.
To get back on track, my husband and I started doing a nightly check-in with each other after we put the kids to bed. It’s helped us restore and grow our connection during this chaotic season of life.
The format of this check-in is adapted from one developed by Drs. Ginger and Bill Bercaw.
The rules are simple: One of us goes first, moving through the topics below while the other silently listens. Often, our check-in provides a jumping off point for a more thorough conversation later, but the check-in itself is a time for intensely listening to one other.
- Appreciation. Our check-ins always begin with a thank you. “Thank you for doing preschool drop-off and pickup today,” I might say. Or simply, “Thank you for working hard to take care of our family.” By starting our check-ins with gratitude, it reminds us that we are valuable and contribute to each other.
- Sharing about our day. This is often the meat of the check-in, where we tell the other what stands out for us about our day. It could be a stressful event with work, or the highlights—and lowlights—of a day spent with the kids. Through this segment of the check-in, we get a window into what each other’s day was like.
- What’s on our horizon. What am I excited or concerned about? Here, we glean insight about what’s on our partner’s radar. It gives us a glimpse into what might be preoccupying our partner, or what they’re looking forward to in the coming days.
- Acknowledgment. A friend recently introduced me to this concept, which we sometimes add on to the end of our check-in. While the appreciation at the beginning is something our partner thanks us for, with the acknowledgement, we identify something we’d like to be affirmed for. It could be that I’ve been really consistent about decluttering lately, or that I’ve been working hard to be more patient with my kids. I tell my husband what I want to be acknowledged for, and he reflects back to me what I’ve just said: “I want to acknowledge you for the work you’re doing in being more patient with the kids. I see that it’s working, and I appreciate it.”
For me, this has been a radical addition. In a stage of life that doesn’t come with grades, supervision or feedback about how we’re doing with this whole life thing, being acknowledged feels like a much-needed hug.
When we first started this process, it felt awkward. Listening to each other in this deep way and sharing vulnerably about what was going on beneath the surface was uncomfortable, and the format felt a little stilted because it was new. After practicing it for a while, it began to feel more natural, and we noticed that we felt more connected to each other.
This check-in usually takes 10 minutes or less, making it manageable and attainable. And transformative. By appreciating and listening deeply to one another, we reestablish closeness. We soften toward one another.
We say, “I see you, you dusty old planet, you. I see you, and I still choose you.”
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock