There’s a thing I say when met with an objection to the formality I suggest people use when communicating with their spouses. “How is shooting from the hip as an overall approach working out for you?” If you can honestly respond that by not having any agreements with your partner for using structures or methods in your communication, the way in which you speak to one another does not create unnecessary conflict, distance, and pain, then read no further.
But don’t be too quick to say that you know there is no unnecessary conflict, distance, or pain resulting from the way that you talk to and with your partner. The sad truth is that most couples unconsciously create pain inside each person – invisible, mostly, because people don’t talk about this stuff, which is the problem – that can be avoided by bringing a bit more formality – structure – to the communication in the relationship.
Over the years, I’ve seen that the couples who report that, in between sessions, they actually used the tools I taught them are the ones who get the best results improving the quality of their connection and their enjoyment of each other. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Structure creates safety.
And, there can be too much structure, too much safety. Parenting is a good realm for these analogies. The anxiously hovering, rigidly strict parent has been proven to increase nervousness, defiance, and a host of other problems in children, as well as the adults they later become. But that’s one end of the spectrum. The overly hippie-dippy, free-range childhood, loose boundaries parent creates some serious developmental problems in their children, too.
In couplehood, there can also be too much safeguarding, and too much free-wheeling. We all want to enjoy moments of blissful, effortless connection; it is a gift of life. Maintaining and sustaining enjoyable connection, however, is not just an ever-flowing gift; it is a responsibility, a discipline, and it requires some safeguarding of the space between two people.
Sustainable, enjoyable connection is very rewarding. An important point, however, is that it is also voluntary. We don’t have to have truly reliably and safely enjoyable connection in our relationships. But if we actually want peace, love and joy in relationships and life, it is necessary for most of us to do a little work.
Sustaining lowest-level-as-possible pain in long-term relationships is all about consciousness of boundaries and taking personal responsibility for how we talk, especially in the moments of day-to-day life.
In that vein, I will introduce a common moment, a question we humans often ask each other: “How are you?” Seems so innocent, yet, it often creates problems – disconnects, disappointments, communication breakdowns, reactive triggers. Remember, I said that the pain is mostly invisible. People don’t show it or share it most of the time, and truly, we are not often even aware of our own feelings in the moment.
These unacknowledged, unexpressed, un-dealt-with moments build up inside of ourselves and our partner. They create a divide, a crevasse, that the connection all-too-quickly dives back into the next time a disappointing moment occurs. So it’s crucial to learn about how to identify these moments, how to do something directly to change them, and to avoid them in the first place.
Studies show that couples fight most often around daily transitions – waking up, parting for the day, re-entry (coming into the same space again after being apart – a few hours, all day, or more), and going to sleep. To create a ritual, a structure, an agreement, of how to connect and re-connect in these moments is to put a safety structure around one of the most frequent times couples have disasters. Doesn’t that sound smart?
The tool I want to discuss from the HeartMind Toolkit is called the “1-10 Scale.” It’s deeper than it sounds. Formal love feels good. I suggest the 1-10 Scale, or 1-10 Reality Check-In, mostly for couples upon the time of re-entry after periods of separateness, and text/phone/email when couples interact during the course of a day.
Instead of just saying (texting) “How are you?,” I train my clients to define and use a 1-10 Scale Reality Check-In.
“How are you?,” in the context of a stressed-out relationship and lifestyle, is wide open, open-ended, with no clear communication of what type or volume of information you are in the headspace to receive, nor inquiry about the other’s headspace to report on that question. It does not acknowledge any known facts about chronic struggles the other partner is dealing with on a daily basis, etc. All of this is asking for trouble, namely, bad feelings.
This 1-10 Scale is used for being super clear about what they want to know when they routinely ask that question upon re-entry, or in a text or phone call.
Are you checking in about energy level? Emotional condition? If there is a chronic issue – health, job stress, overwhelm, fill-in-the-blank – I suggest that my couples name it, and define the 1-10 Reality Check-In about that. For example, if a couple is going through a health crisis with a child, yet life goes on and they have to go to work and function, when they check in at the end of the day, 1-10 can mean, how are you doing with “The Big S” (the big struggle), “Our Health Journey”/”OHJ”, or whatever makes sense and feels connecting for them.
Note: The 1-10 Scale can be modified to 1-5 or 1-3 for variety, simplicity, and personal preference.
So, instead of just “How are you?”, the 1-10 Reality Check-In gives them a chance to get a reading on each other before they go deeper into conversation. It can sound like, “Hi, Love. Are you available for our 1-10?” Or, “Hi, Babe. Do you want to do 1-10 Check-In on OHJ now or in a few minutes?” The response can be very brief. For example, “I am available briefly right now. I’m at an eight. How about you?”
If I’m your partner, and I just found out you are at an eight right now, and I happen to be feeling a bit better today, and I’m at a four, that’s important to know before I start chatting away about something that happened to me this afternoon. It communicates a lot without having to think too hard and use many words or much energy. It’s tremendously helpful for couples to know more about where the other person is on the inside, and how to proceed with care, compassion, and accuracy for a better connection.
Using this type of formality actually opens the door to feeling safer, more seen, valued, and loved by a partner. This makes it more likely that an intimate, loving connection can happen. When we feel safe and seen, especially when in the midst of stress, our self-protective, defensive guard comes down, and our heart opens. This feels good.
HeartMind Toolkit: 1-10 Scale Reality Check-In
• 1-10 Scale Reality Check-In
• Define what it is for the couple, and name it
(The Big S, Our Journey, Stress Check, etc.)
• Negotiate if you do it right away upon someone’s re-entry physically, or to wait until both people have made it clear that they are ready (transition time)
• Let it inform how you proceed with communication and conversation after the responses.
• Always remember to ask, “Do you know what you need?”, “How can I support you right now?” or, “Is there anything specific you would like to ask me to do right now?”
I wish you a good effort at this. Please contact me with any questions. May you journey with clarity, conscious communication, and formally feeling good love.