You have 17 meetings this week, all scattered throughout your calendar. But what about a scheduled check-in with your spouse? Many couples in therapy ask about the best ways to keep working on things at home. The desire for at-home practice is such a great signal — you and your partner are motivated to improve your relationship and are committed to the work you’re doing in therapy. While couples can make significant headway in a 50-80 minute therapy session, you and your partner must practice the skills you learned.  Of all the books, resources, and articles, there’s one practice that we recommend to every couple: the relationship check-in.

What is a relationship check-in? 

A check-in is a regular conversation between partners to “check in” on the relationship status from each partner’s perspective. Some couples may only need 10 minutes to check in, while others may take up to 1 hour. Relationship check-ins allow you and your partner to ask, “How are we doing?” in a structured and thoughtful way. Check-ins create intentional space to discuss what you’re doing well as a couple and what you want to continue working on within your relationship.

Check-ins prompt couples to share appreciation, positive moments, or “wins” in their relationship and discuss areas of improvement or challenges they face as a couple or family. Relationship check-ins are not just for those in couples therapy — a check-in is an excellent practice for any couple.

How often should you check in with your partner? 

A weekly check-in is ideal. A weekly relationship check-in ensures you and your partner can address issues before they pile up and take advantage of timely opportunities to give praise and express appreciation.  Why weekly? Well, a lot can happen in a week. Take a moment to think about all the highs and lows you may experience in a week’s time. Now think about why it may be important to clue your partner in.

Couples researcher Dr. John Gottman, says “When couples meet once a week for an hour (give or take), it drastically improves their relationship because it gives the relationship space to have constructive conflict and the partners an opportunity to get on the same team.”  Whether it’s to shine a light on something you overcame that week or a struggle that you are having individually or jointly. If weeks turn to months, the opportunity to get your partner’s support or work through a problem could pass you by. Even if some weeks feel mundane or typical, check-ins can be a bright spot and a motivator to continue working toward goals or to simply put a smile on your partner’s face.

Tips for successful relationship check-ins

Let’s face it — life is busy. And often, our relationship health takes a backseat. Most couples acknowledge that these check-ins could benefit their relationship but admit that many other things can get in the way. It can feel challenging to prioritize even the smallest slice of time to check in with your partner when juggling schedules, kids’ activities, volunteer roles, travel, plans with friends, etc. Nonetheless, a consistent and prioritized check-in is critical. Like fostering other positive habits like workout routines or helping your kids with homework, creating new and positive habits takes time, adjustment, and flexibility. Here are a few tips on making your relationship check-in worth your while:

  1. Set a date and time and stick to it: A standing meeting can help with consistency and convey that your check-in is important enough to hold time in your calendars. 
  2. Eliminate distraction: Put the phones and laptops away and make sure your kids are occupied. Try to give each other your undivided attention. 
  3. Be curious, not critical: If your partner is struggling with something, ask open-ended questions and get to know their struggle rather than judge it. Tip: Avoid “Why” questions – those tend to come across as critical. 
  4. Use reflective listening: This skill allows you the opportunity to slow down and understand what your partner is trying to express.. “So I hear you saying you would like to spend more time together, is that right?” 
  5. Try to limit argumentative language:  Be careful not to launch into any of the Four Horsemen (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling). These behaviors have proven to be the most destructive to relationships. 
  6. If flooding happens, take a break: Feeling emotionally overwhelmed can derail the conversation and any attempts to work together successfully. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take at least a 20-minute break and return to the conversation with an open mind- and try to repair it. 
  7. Be aware of off-limits topics: If you or your partner keep avoiding difficult or “off-limits” topics, table them for your check-in, but do not ignore them altogether. Instead, seek out the assistance of a couples therapist to help you talk through these tougher topics more effectively. 

Ready to check in with your partner? Try this simple prompt each week and see how it supports an open dialogue and provides balance for discussing both positive and challenging areas in your relationship.

Weekly couples check-in framework and questions  

Whether it’s your first time formally checking in with your partner or your 500th, just remember “CPR.” Even though we typically associate this acronym with a life-saving skill, it’s also a quick way to remember how to structure your check-in conversations. CPR helps you and your partner discuss both positive experiences and challenge areas you’ve experienced lately. You’ll use CPR to take turns sharing and listening.

C (Compliment): Take a few minutes to compliment your partner and yourself on something that happened this past week. 

  • “You did an excellent job planning and making all the dinners this week. “
  • “You handled that fight between the kids yesterday really well. I liked how you got them laughing and back to reading in just a few minutes.” 
  • “I am happy with how I managed my work stress this week. I did not let it leak in our family time together.” 
  • “I am proud that I made time to get my massage. I needed that.”

P (Problem): Try using a soft start-up to express a challenge you’re facing. 

  • “I recognize that I feel really overwhelmed on Wednesday nights when the kids have all their sports activities. I’d like to talk through how we can make that feel less stressful for me and us.” 
  • “I have been feeling really disconnected lately and miss hanging out, just the two of us. Can we make this a priority this week? 
  • “I am a little worried about our finances going into the holidays. Can we sit down this week and talk about a gift budget?”

R (Resolution): Share at least one thing you can each try to meet your partner’s need(s). Also, it helps to acknowledge and validate their feelings to start. 

  • “I know there is a lot that goes into preparing for all the weekly practices. I can get all the kids’ gear together and put it in the car before we eat dinner. Will that help?” 
  • “I know I have been really consumed with work and miss you too. II can definitely block some time off my calendar on Fridays to finish up earlier or for us to go have lunch or something- How’s Friday for you? 
  • “The holidays can be an expensive time of year, for sure. Yes, let’s talk about our budget on Sunday afternoon. How does that work for you?” 

Need some more help?

Relationship check-ins give couples predictable and constructive ways to communicate their concerns and celebrate their wins together. Yet, only some couples can incorporate a weekly relationship check-in effectively right away. Many couples can benefit from talking with a couples therapist to learn communication strategies to help them better approach their relationship check-ins. We can help you and your partner have more fruitful check-ins. Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started. 

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