Things were going well. No, they were going great. Magical, even.
You and your partner were happy — really happy. There was no tension, no jealousy and only small arguments that ended quickly and usually with laughter. Life and love just seemed smooth, calm and easy. Your happily ever after had begun.
But now it has come to an abrupt stop.
Your partnership has fallen apart, and it has left you feeling defeated, confused and demoralized. You had worked so hard to get your relationship on the fast track to perfection — and now it is messy and complicated.
There is nothing more I would like to do than to give you a big hug and tell you that everything is going to be OK. But I am not going to do that. Here is why: Relationships are hard. They take work. The only way everything will be OK is if you put in some serious effort to overcome challenges.
So let’s get to work.
Just imagine if your relationship is a car and it’s been awhile since your last oil change, and you can’t remember the last time you took it into the shop. There are clanking noises, your left turn signal does not work and when the air conditioning is on the radio doesn’t work. It’s only getting worse, and things are not fixing themselves. What would you do? You would call your nearest automotive shop and schedule an appointment.
And what about your relationship? What if your once-working marriage begins to suffer from wear and tear — aka life, children, work, family, stress and finances? These challenges have weighed down your relationship, and you and your partner are slowly disconnecting. Because of that, communication, sex, parenting, intimacy (not the same as sex!) and alone time are all suffering. What would you do? It’s sad to say, but many people would keep going until their relationship is nearly impossible to save.
But there is a much better way to keep your relationship engine revving. It is time to sit down, check-in and start your tune-up.
You know you need a tune-up when you start feeling alone in your relationship. You may feel alone when your partner is not listening to you, when you are not connecting in or out of the bedroom or when your partner is critical of how you parent the kids.
To have a successful tune-up conversation, you can’t just bombard your partner and start listing all the issues in your relationship that need to be fixed! No one responds well to a surprise attack, so slow it down. Let’s do this calmly and cooly.
First, start with a disclaimer like, “Hey sweetie, when is a good time for us to talk? I feel we haven’t connected in a while, and I would love some alone time with you.” By doing this, you have softened the mood, you have set a foundation for a positive discussion and you have prepared your partner. And remember, the appropriate time to talk is always when you two are alone. There should be no distractions and no public shaming.
Also before your tune-up, you need to know what you want to say. Think about it. What parts of your relationship need to be tuned up? A tune-up isn’t an excuse to vent about how he needs to straighten his mom out because she’s always criticizes your cooking or about how she needs to give you more time to hang out with the guys.
Instead, a tune-up is there to tackle the major problems that are keeping your relationship from functioning smoothly: communication, parenting, sex, intimacy and finances. If you tune-up correctly then it’s easier to fix the smaller issues, which are often symptoms of the bigger problems.
So, you have thought about your relationship challenges, and you have thought about the things you need to say. Now I want you to pick one thing — just one! — that is your most important issue. That’s right, you will only bring up one issue during this first conversation. I know, you may have a long list of woes that you are just dying to get off your chest. But I do not want you to overwhelm your partner, and I need you to give him or her time to talk about their feelings. You need to offer them an opportunity to talk about something they want to tune-up themselves.
You may ask, “How long will this tune-up take?” My answer is “How long is your list?”
See, this is where couples get it twisted. You can’t have a healthy relationship without constantly tuning up your relationship. This is an ongoing process, and if your last tune-up was two years ago when you got married, then it is going to take time to get back on the right track. Don’t think you can just say everything that is wrong, and it will be fixed overnight.
This is why we take one issue at a time and then we check in with our partner to see how he or she feels. You both need to be on the same page before you can move on to the next problem. This slow, steady process makes you conscious about your relationship, aware of what you are saying and aware of what your partner is feeling. This allows us to slow down and tune-up one area before jumping to another.
Whether it’s one conversation or 10, I want you to put in place check-ins after your tune-up. Check-ins help you to stay on track, so tune-ups do not become something you dread. Instead, tune-ups should be fun and full of intimacy like taking a vacation or going to a live concert, something that you both enjoy that puts the icing on the cake. Tune-ups are suppose to be something that takes your connection to another level.
OK, I am going to tell you a little secret. It’s probably going to rock your world a bit, so steady yourself. You ready?
You should be checking in with your partner at least 30 minutes a day and then at least 1 hour a week.
Uh huh, sounds like a lot time doesn’t it? Well, like I said, happily-ever-after-worthy relationships take time and effort. If you want to make sure your check engine stays off — keeping your intimacy levels up and your communication above par — you need to put in some time. We need to be proactive in our relationships, not reactive. Personally, if something is going on with my partner, I want to know about it as soon as possible. If they are not happy with something that I said or did, I want to know. I definitely do not want to let it fly under the radar undetected.
You see, it is not just them. It is you. It’s both of you.
Think about tune-ups and check-ins as your relationship maintenance. They are helping form a solid, healthy relationship that can endure the hills and valleys of life. If you are spending time daily and weekly with your partner, making sure you discuss those smaller issues — his mom’s attitude and her issues with your friends — then it will be easier to overcome those bigger challenges in your relationship.
And if you are still sighing about spending at least 30 minutes a day undistracted with your partner, I wonder if you are ready for a relationship. Ask yourself, do you have what it takes to create a healthy and happy relationship not only for you but for your partner? I think you do. You just need to show your unconditional love by putting in the time and effort.
If you need assistance in tuning-up your relationship or if you fear your partnership is beyond the tune-up phase, a counselor like myself can offer plenty of support in rebuilding. You can contact me at (864) 559-8181 to schedule an appointment. I can help people in Greenville, SC, and surrounding areas.