Updated: Jan 26
You know, it’s not all that productive to worry about whether your relationship is “healthy” or about exactly how “healthy” it is. It would be like asking your doctor, “Am I healthy?” Most of the time you’ll get an answer that begins, “Well,...” What’s important is that the parts of your body that need attention get attention.
It’s the same with your relationship. Why don’t we all just accept that we all have an imperfect relationship? Good. That’s over.
The huge and scary issue is one that couples therapists all over the world see: it’s that couples come for help way, way after things have gotten very bad. Which means they are seeing patients where the risk of successful treatment being too late is too high.
It’s the same as with cancer. The earlier people come in to get diagnosed, the more likely treatment will be successful.
So! How can you tell if you should seek treatment? In our new book, Why Couples Fight (release date: Jan. 26), we have questions that point to the need for help. But for now here are some ways you can tell yourself it’s time to seek help. These tests are valuable because other people have told us how clearly and accurately they pointed out the need for help.
One thing though. This freakin’ pandemic and lockdown we’re all dealing with is making things both harder and more confusing for all of us. We dealt with this in our very first blog posts when we had our new website up in a two-part series here and here. So as you take the tests below, we’d just caution you to ask yourself if the problem that’s causing your test result is something that was going on before the two of you were stuck in the same house 24/7 or is just about life under lockdown.
Test 1. The “D” test. This is simplicity itself:
Do you find yourself thinking about the “D” word—divorce—pretty frequently?
That is, thinking about divorce or break up in the sense of thinking you might be wanting it OR in the sense of worrying that you’re headed in that direction. And what is “frequently”? There’s no hard-and-fast rule. Let’s just say that if thoughts about divorce become a theme in your life, something more than what you’d call occasional, then that’s frequent. And if you do think about divorce frequently, you are telling yourself that your relationship needs help.
Test 2. The needs test. Here’s how this works:
Do you believe that too many of your most important needs are not being met in your
relationship (or get met only after a costly struggle) because of the dynamics between
you and your partner?
Let’s look at what we’re asking here. Most of us have needs that aren’t met or are imperfectly met in our relationships. My husband forgets things and I need him not to! Very frustrating. But the question here is, Are your most important needs not being met? I can’t tell you what those needs are for you right now. Often we only realize what they are when they’re not being met. So, for example, affection—however you define it for yourself—would be an important need for a lot of people, and a lot of those people would say it’s a need that’s not being met.
It’s almost as bad if our needs get met only after a struggle or fight as it is for them not to get met at all. Usually, after enough fighting, people give up.
And we’re asking about the needs that aren’t being met because of the dynamics in your relationship. If you’ve both been laid off recently and there’s a lot of financial stress, there are going to be needs that don’t have anything to do with your relationship dynamics. The needs test is only about what happens when the two of you bring your needs to one another and it turns out the process of trying to work things out is miserable and unproductive. And if you think that’s why you can’t get your important needs met, you’re telling yourself that your relationship needs help.
Test 3. The check or X test. This test takes a bit of time but it can make things stunningly clear.
Every day for the next month ask yourself the following question: What if every day with
my partner for the rest of my life felt like yesterday? Would that be okay with me? Or
would it not be okay with me? If okay, put down a checkmark next to the date on a
piece of paper. If not okay, put down an X.
Now here “okay” doesn’t mean wonderful or “the relationship of my dreams.” It means good enough. Good enough for you to be content with it if every day felt like that day for the rest of your life. And “not okay” doesn't mean horrible. It just means that if you knew that the rest of your life was going to feel like that day, you wouldn’t sign up for that. If you add it all up and get more X’s than checkmarks, then you are telling yourself that for the rest of your life you are going to be in a relationship that, on balance, is not okay. Are you okay with that? If not, your relationship needs help.
Those are the tests. They’re all easy, and two of them are quick. Best of all, you’re the judge.
But please, I beg of you. You can’t screw around with this stuff. Relationships don’t magically heal themselves. Your answers prove you need the kind of help our new book offers.