A man I worked with described his relationship as shaky.
He’d been with his partner for eight years but they were now considering spending time apart. Their disagreements over parenting — he was a step-dad to her 15-year-old daughter — had escalated.
The constant bickering over the daughter’s behaviour had led to several blow outs. Each had said things they regretted — but they couldn’t take them back. “I’m not sure love’s enough anymore,” he said.
I asked him how he felt each evening as he approached the front door of their home.
“Anxious,” he said quickly. “I dread going inside, I never know what I’m going to get. Lately, it’s never good.”
I’ve asked the “front door” question of a lot of people, especially when they’re in conflictual relationships which are beginning to affect their mental health.
Obviously this is not a diagnostic measure of relationship health— but it’s a reliable indicator of your daily state of mind in relation to your partner. [Note: this is a general test — not one to run only after you’ve had a fight!]
Is Your Relationship Healthy: A 5-Step Psychological Test
You’re done with work for the day and approaching home. (If you’re at home during the day you’ll have to do this metaphorically). Assume whoever you share the place with (your partner/kids/others) is inside. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Scan your body.
Do you feel calm and pleased to be home? Happy to see your partner/the kids? Or only the kids? Do you feel tense and jumpy? Do you fear what will greet you?
Signs of anxiety or low mood will often show up physiologically as you enter a stressful environment. So scan your body and take a read on what’s going on. Better still, name the feeling: that will make it real.
2. Monitor how long the feeling lasts.
Just a few moments? All evening until you’re in bed? Is the way you feel entirely dependent on your partner’s mood on whatever dynamics have been going on before you arrived? Have you begun to shape your behaviour to deal with the domestic mood? Is this in a good way?
3. What’s the vibe of your evenings?
Let’s say there’s just the two of you. Is the atmosphere light, enjoyable? Are you able to have fun together or sit in compatible silence (not just on your devices)? Do you LIKE being there (or are there other people who energise you more?) Can you get through the whole evening without bickering?
4. What’s one thing that would improve things?
Even if your relationship is okay it’s good to keep an eye on how to make it better. Could you quit checking emails? Turn off your phones at an agreed time? Agree on a movie to watch together? Not fall asleep with your mouth open after too many glasses of wine?
If things are a little rocky, is it possible to change that? For example, if your step-parenting is the main source of conflict, talk with your partner about what’s going on and how it could be better.
Don’t avoid difficult topics — because they gain momentum. Even if you don’t want to hear the answer, it’s information you need for whatever choice you both make.
5. Take the weekend away test.
Time away together should be fun. Or restful. But sometimes couples have become so deadlocked in their issues that even a planned break (that once would have been fun) goes belly up. If you can’t achieve goodwill or a sense of peace when you’ve put aside time for it, take note. You’re in the red light zone.
How’d you go? Hopefully you got a pass mark.
People often think relationship happiness is founded on great, grand, money-fuelled gestures. It’s not. True contentment is buried in the dust and dirt of daily domestic life. So keep an eye on how you feel AND how your partner feels when you’re at home.
The truth lies behind the front door.
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