What Is A Relationship Check-In And How Can It Improve Connection?

A relationship is like a plant — it needs water, sunshine, and good soil to grow. A neglected plant will likely die, and the same can be said of a romantic partnership. 

Whether you consider yourself lucky to have a solid union with your partner or not, it's almost impossible to not be affected by the busyness of life. In fact, when life gets in the way, it becomes challenging to find time to go on dates and have conversations that improve your connection. You might think that coming home exhausted after work and winding down next to your partner with Netflix is all you need for a relationship that can last a lifetime, but relationship experts will tell you otherwise. 

One of the common mishaps of allowing the bustle of life steer a relationship is that we start thinking that we know all there is to know about our partner. We make assumptions about their thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Another thing that happens is that important discussions only come up during conflict. Trying to talk about whether you are happy with the amount of quality time you're spending with your significant other in the throes of an argument won't end well — in fact, it can be a recipe for disaster. This is why a relationship check-in can be useful. 

Defining a relationship check-in: What can it do for you?

As couples and family therapist Marisa T. Cohen told Cosmopolitan, a relationship check-in is "a time in which you and your partner set aside all other responsibilities and are intentional about focusing on one another and your relationship." No kids, no TV, no chores, and no arguments — just you and your spouse giving each other undivided attention as you ask one another meaningful questions about the relationship. Am I meeting your emotional needs? Is there something on your mind that's bothering you? Have I done anything lately that upset you? Are you happy with how our relationship is? These are some of the questions you can ask your spouse and vice versa. The idea is for you both to feel the pulse of your union with the goal of improving your relationship satisfaction. 

For relationship coaches Reece Stockhausen and Jodie Milton of Practical Intimacy, taking the time to regularly check in with one another has dramatically reduced conflict in their relationship. It's also built more trust, appreciation, and connection between them. "When done right, this foundational relationship practice allows you to address underlying issues, capitalize on what's working, and plan for your future together," they shared.

For some couples, a relationship check-in might sound daunting. Isn't talking about your relationship a dangerous idea? Won't it spark arguments that aren't necessary? If done incorrectly, it might. Here's the right way to do it. 

Leave defensiveness and blame out of relationship check-ins

Since the nature of the conversation can be heavy, it is important to approach relationship check-ins with an open mind. If your partner has something negative to share, listen to them without judgment or defensiveness. The point is not to argue about who is right, but to understand where your partner is coming from. "Your relationship needs to grow just as much as you do," therapist Cecilia Mannella of Eterna Counseling & Wellness explained. Relationship check-ins allow you to form a dynamic connection with one another. 

Reece Stockhausen and Jodie Milton of Practical Intimacy advise finding a regular (whether that's once a week or once a month) and relaxing time to talk. Avoid stressful hours like right before work or a busy weekend — try and make it something you look forward to. Perhaps you can incorporate food and drink into the mix, although you may want to limit alcohol if you're worried about arguments. It might also help to start and end the conversation on positive notes, according to Stockhausen and Milton. "Appreciation is the secret sauce of a great relationship," they note on their website. Setting a timer on the conversation is a good idea, too, per the couple. 

Don't wait for signs that your relationship might be in trouble to begin relationship check-ins. Start practicing the habit when things are going well so that it becomes a normal part of your life together.