Is Your Relationship Working?

Keep a daily tally of both positive and negative occurrences.

One of the most common questions that people ask when they are entering or are about to enter a long term, committed relationship is, “How do I know it will work?” At some point, every couple with whom I have worked has asked this question, or some variation of it. Well, at least one of the people involved would ask. In the spirit of full disclosure, that used to be me. The short answer to that question is, YOU DON’T!

The reality that most people don’t want to hear is that there is no way of predicting how one will feel tomorrow, let alone 20 years down the road. “I will ALWAYS love you” is a sweet sentiment and in truth, is an exclamation that can be made without running the risk of giving false hope – if the statement is taking literally and without assumption. “I will always love you”, does not mean “I will always be with you.” What it means is that, for what ever reason, there is something between the two of you that holds significant value to the proprietor of that statement. A value that will never diminish in his or her eyes. While there is no way to guarantee the outcome of the relationship, that value is something that can be used to determine if the relationship is working for you right now.

To sum it up, you need to see more positive than you do negative within the relationship. In other words:

NET POSITIVE > NET NEGATIVE

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Reason being that each person holds a different point system for the values that mean the most to them. You can refer to the article on core values by reading an article on arguing. It’s not enough to make a pros and cons list and simply list the things about your relationship into their respective category. This is a part of it, but first, you have to sit down and assign a point value to the issues in your relationship, be them positive or negative. For example, I firmly believe in the love language philosophy. Simply put, the book by Gary Chapman explains that every person has their own language which depicts the manner in which they give and receive love. For me, physical contact and terms of endearment are my top two languages. These are the most common ways that I express that I love someone and the best way for me to feel loved by someone. Therefore, I place a higher value on these occurrences within my relationship than someone who likes to give and receive gifts as one of their primary languages.

To help determine if the current status of the relationship works for me, I use a five point scale, ranging from (+2) – (-2). It is easy for me to sit back and think about the daily interactions that I have in my current relationship. Actually, my girlfriend makes it pretty easy for me because we happen to speak the same two languages. She is never shy with telling me how much she loves me and she is not stingy with walking up and giving me a hug and kiss for no reason at all. I’m a lucky guy! But getting back to the point, I realize that most couples do not speak the same language. More importantly, even if they do, it is a scientific fact that negative occurrences far outweigh positive occurrences. It takes (on average) five positive occurrences to equal one negative occurrence. Looking at things in an objective manner is difficult for anyone to do.

The suggestion I give is to carry a pocket sized notebook with you at all times. Write down each occurrence with your partner and tally the results at the end of the week. By occurrence, I am saying refer to the list that you make yourself of the things that hold the most and least value to you. Below is a sample list of positive and negative occurrences.

POSITIVE

  • Tells me she loves me – +2

  • Physical contact – +2

  • Gifts – +1

  • Honesty – +2

  • Spend time together – +2

  • Wants Kids +1

NEGATIVE

  • Lies -2

  • More time at work -1

  • More time with friends -1

  • Abusive (any kind) -2

  • Cleanliness -1

NEUTRAL

  • Politics -0

  • Religion -0

  • Similar family structure -0

Notice how some of the list is generalized and won’t change, (eg Wants Kids). Others are ever changing and the number of occurrences can greatly impact the results. This list is just an example of some things that can go toward your own list of the overall determination if the relationship is working for you. For the sake of the exercise, keep track of things that can fluctuate, such as physical contact. You can be as detailed about some of the list as you want. For example, in your notes about contact, you can put that you spent 20 minutes sitting on the couch holding hands or you can simply put a check mark indicating that there was physical contact in a positive way.

You can also determine how long you keep track of these occurrences, however I suggest that you spend at least a month doing so. Every couple goes through ups and downs, so observing things under a microscope will need to occur for a length of time for an accurate picture. Here’s the other thing to keep in mind; if you end up with results that yield more of a net negative than a net positive, that does not mean that you should end the relationship right then and there. If you want to see the relationship work, then share your results with your partner. Put the ball in their court, but do so tactfully. I strongly caution against giving ultimatums unless it is absolutely necessary. Saying “If you don’t change this, then I will leave,” is an extreme step to take and in most cases, will result in you having to enforce your statement.

Instead try eliminating finger pointing words when addressing occurrences that hold negative values. Only spend a little time addressing the negative aspects of the relationship by mentioning it once, then following up with positive occurrences, giving praise where praise is due. Begin the next item with something positive again before addressing something negative, followed by another positive. In other words, two positives for every negative.

This brings me to the issue of honesty. I have been told on more than one occasion that I am “too honest” at times. I believe in sharing everything with my partner, even when I know it will be difficult or even cause tension. But I forge ahead regardless to show her that I have the utmost faith in our ability to work through anything and come out the other side stronger than ever. I am curious to hear your thoughts about the level of honesty you feel should be present in your relationship and why. Please leave a comment on here or you can contact me at Always Opening Doors.

Advertisements