The last two years or so have been universally tumultuous, and couples therapists say they have been dealing with the fallout in their practices every day.
Even now, with the pandemic no longer dominating daily life, many Americans continue to work, shop and do so much online that they count on their partners to meet their social and emotional needs.
“In my office, I see the burden this trend places on primary romantic relationships,” said Laura Silverstein, a licensed clinical social worker and author of “Love Is an Action Verb.” She is the co-owner of a practice in Pennsylvania that has had a hard time keeping up with the demand.
Many of Ms. Silverstein’s partners are stuck in “isolated survival mode,” she said. Their relationships have to do with managing household chores, nothing more. Other couples have forgotten how to have fun, she said, or how important it is to have spontaneous interactions with the outside world. Some are still processing the trauma.
The seven questions here will help you check in, whether you’re in a relationship that’s still reeling from the pandemic, or have long since fallen back into your old routines without pausing to get in touch.
The couples counselors and sex therapists who suggested these questions said they should spark interesting conversation, whether you’re in a decades-long relationship or a relatively new one, and that with practice they get easier to ask and answer.
1. What do we like to do together for fun?
A key theory about why couples get divorced or become dissatisfied with each other is that the sense of joy, passion and general positivity they had in the beginning erodes over time, said Sarah Whitton, a psychologist and director of the Today’s Couples research program. and Families at the University of Cincinnati.
Physical attraction and hormones aren’t the only reasons relationships are exciting in the early days. “We spend our time doing fun activities,” said Dr. Whitton.
She encourages couples to pull out a calendar and look back over the last week or month and ask, “How many minutes did we actually spend doing something fun or enjoyable together?” So they can try to build on it.
2. Who takes out the garbage now?
The pandemic has shaken the way couples share housework, and while some facts about heterosexual couples suggests that things became more egalitarian in the household, in many other households the lockdowns exacerbated existing gender disparities.
Galena Rhoades, a clinical psychologist and research professor at the University of Denver, believes all couples should spend some time deliberately discussing how they’ve divided up childcare and housework and whether that’s working logistically and emotionally.
“Set aside a specific time to talk about who does what and what roles you want to have in the future,” he said. Plan as you would for a business meeting, Dr. Rhoades said. Know what you want to talk about and minimize distractions. Be as explicit as possible about who is going to do what, then establish the new routine a few weeks before you re-register.
3. What do we like about our sexual life?
If couples are in a sexual rut, and there is evidence that Americans had less partner sex and even masturbated less often. even before the pandemic, they tend to focus on the negatives, said Tammy Nelson, a sex therapist and author of “Open Monogamy: A Guide to Co-Creating Your Ideal Relationship Agreement.”
But she believes it’s far more effective to focus on what works. “You don’t change your sex life by saying, ‘I hate it when you go left.’ You say, ‘I love it when you go to the right,’” argued Dr. Nelson.
She encourages people in relationships to name one thing they appreciate about their sex life. It could be something you did together 20 years ago, or it could be a subtle gesture, like when one of you touches the other’s face. Focusing on those moments, and openly discussing them together, can help rekindle “erotic energy,” Dr. Nelson said.
4. How have we helped each other in difficult times?
Any time you go through a difficult time together, it’s important to take time afterward to report, Ms. Silverstein said. What worked? No? Even if the last few years have been traumatic for you and her partner for various reasons, most couples can identify what she called micro-moments when they found each other.
Another way to think about it is, “How do we trust each other and how does that feel to each of us?” suggested Jesse Kahn, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Therapy in New York City.
5. Are we still on the same page about monogamy?
Monogamy means a lot of things to a lot of people, Dr. Nelson said, and that’s not just true for those in open relationships. She encourages her clients to regularly update their “monogamy agreements” by discussing the details of what forms of attachment they find acceptable outside of their primary relationship and asking if they have changed.
Be specific. Perhaps you and your partner agreed on sexual fidelity a long time ago. But what about online conversations? “What about things like porn?” Dr. Nelson asked. “What about flirting with a friend? What about having lunch with an ex?
6. What is something that worries you that you haven’t told me yet?
Rafaella Smith-Fiallo, a licensed clinical social worker and couples and sex therapist, thinks this is a good question for people to ask their partners on a regular basis (daily or weekly), but it can also be helpful to ask at more important moments. . transition You’re opening the door for your partner to be vulnerable with you, she said, and reminding both of you that you’re a team.
Resist the temptation to try to solve problems right away. Instead, practice active listening, Ms. Smith-Fiallo said. “It can be uncomfortable. It can be messy. It can be awkward,” she said. “But make room for that, knowing they’re in this together.”
7. How can I help you feel more loved?
“I just think this is a beautiful question,” said Silverstein, who credits well-known marriage researcher John Gottman. People looking to strengthen their romantic relationship often focus on asking what they I want and what they need, which is important, said Ms. Silverstein. But asking this question is a clear way of communicating how much you care about your partner.
“We want to create a culture in our conversations with our partners that is equally asking for what we need, but also being generous and offering to meet the needs of our partners,” said Ms. Silverstein.
How to Address Relationship Checks
These questions can be tricky, which is why experts said couples need to plan ahead and really try to use their best communication skills. Don’t ask them when you’re busy feeding your kids breakfast or when your partner is half asleep. Be careful and considerate in finding a time that works for both of you.
It can be helpful to use I-statements when talking about your relationship, Ms. Smith-Fiallo added. So instead of saying something like “You made me feel,” she tries something like “When this happened, I felt XYZ,” she explained. (All the experts mentioned that some couples would find these conversations much easier and more constructive with the help of a therapist.)
So, practice, practice, practice. The goal is not just to have these kinds of state of the union records after periods of big changes and transitions, but to create a culture of communication in your relationship where you have a daily, weekly, monthly ongoing relationship peak. and annually, Ms. Smith-Fiallo said.
“It can be really helpful to remind each other that you are a team,” he said. “They are in this together.”