How do you "check in" on a relationship?
February 17, 2012 2:43 PM   Subscribe

BF and I (straight mid-twenties lady) have a happy, loving relationship (2 years+). But, this is my first long-term relationship and I have an anxiety disorder. I want to "check in" with him and make sure we're still on the same page about us and the future, but this is my pattern and it has been unhealthy for me. To the healthy couples - do you "check in" with your partner? Should I? Snowflake details inside.

A psychiatrist diagnosed me with OCD last summer, of the primarily "obsessive" type. My general pattern in the relationship (which was what prompted me to seek therapy) was that I would obsess about a relationship issue until it consumed me, then I would try to talk about it. The problem is that in my "talks", I would become frustratingly passive aggressive. Then I would follow up with an apology for being a pain-in-the-ass, worried that he would stop liking me because I was being a nag/jerk/other negative thing, which would in effect nullify my initial complaint. Sometimes my complaints were reasonable, and sometimes they weren't. I'm working through a lot of this in therapy and through reading/meditating: CBT, mindfulness approaches, etc. I'm trying hard and it's helping, but it's hard to break some of the patterns. And I find directly communicating my concerns difficult and a bit scary, hence the passive-aggression.

My behaviour was pretty crappy for a while, and BF was good about most of my weirdness and reassured me that I shouldn't worry so much (that's mostly in response to my apologies/checking to see if he's not irritated). He's also been helpful by pointing out when I'm being vague or passive aggressive in my complaints, and by addressing problems he's had in a direct way (something I'm getting better at too). The best is that when I have communicated a problem to him effectively, we've been able to compromise and he's really made an effort (Example: he used to be bad about returning my texts/calls. He's not big on his phone and often forgets to look at it. Now, he tries to check his phone once every couple of hours, and I don't expect an immediate response). It's been a big learning experience for me, especially since he has been my first and only long-term relationship.

Anyway, we're approaching a new stage in life (finishing school) and I was thinking it might be good to "check in" about the relationship. Are we both still happy? Are there things we need to work on together or independently? Do we still see ourselves together in a few years? Could our relationship handle long-distance for a while? (a possibility, since both of us are contemplating temporary international work). Is living together something we would want? Marriage? I don't want to terrify him with a heavy conversation or worry him into thinking I want to marry him ASAP, and some of the other plans are so up-in-the-air right now that it doesn't serve well to get panicked over anything. More worryingly for me, this fits into my pattern of compulsively checking to make sure everything is okay with our relationship. But on the other hand, it seems like a fair thing to communicate, especially since we've only talked vaguely on some of the topics.

So, my questions to people (particularly those who are good at communication, and those who have (and have had) strong long-term relationships): do you regularly "check-in" with your partner about your relationship? How exactly do you do this? Would this be a good idea for me, given my tendencies to suck at communication?
posted by Paper rabies to Human Relations (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Having a "hey, let's check in with each other" conversation is a good idea when you're finishing school, but it's possible to take it overboard. I'll try to show what I mean visually.

Everything above the line is a topic I'd consider on the table for this conversation because it's about actual situations you are actually facing right now. Everything below the line starts to feel pushy and too hypothetical, which can lead to a lot of vagueness and confusion and unnecessary emotional sturm und drang.

- Are we both still happy?
- Are there things we need to work on together or independently?
- Could our relationship handle long-distance for a while?


- Do we still see ourselves together in a few years? (you will need to rein this one in a bit)
- Is living together something we would want? (unless either of you actually wants to do it right now)
- Marriage?
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 3:07 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

> Having a "hey, let's check in with each other" conversation is a good idea when you're finishing school

Maybe theoretically, but in this case "this fits into my pattern of compulsively checking to make sure everything is okay with our relationship," and my advice would be not to do it. I think you should assume everything is okay between you (as it sounds like it is) and force yourself to stay away from the checking your anxiety disorder is prompting you to do. I think it's safe to say that if something goes wrong between you, you'll both notice it. And of course if there's something specific you need to talk about ("I love you, but if you stack dirty dishes on clean ones again I'll go berserk"), do so. It's just the general "let's talk about our relationship and where it's going" thing that (in my opinion) needs to be avoided.
posted by languagehat at 3:15 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It might help to think about what concrete steps you will take after the conversation you're proposing.

For example, about marriage:
Will you break up if your current ideas about marriage are not aligned? Or will you have the conversation, not break up, but proceed to worry yourself crazy over whatever he says?

When you're older or when life presents you with a big decision (international job, eg), those conversations are more pressing and more obviously action-oriented rather than drive-yourself-crazy oriented.

Another thing about those big-picture conversations. The most important thing is to figure out, on your own, what you yourself want. Then you're ready to have those kinds of talks. It's a bad idea to start a conversation like that just to make the other person fess up to what they want, without having a firm sense of what one wants oneself.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:15 PM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: ...I was thinking it might be good to "check in" about the relationship. Are we both still happy? Are there things we need to work on together or independently? Do we still see ourselves together in a few years? Could our relationship handle long-distance for a while? (a possibility, since both of us are contemplating temporary international work). Is living together something we would want? Marriage?

You're in your mid-20s, you've been together 2+ years, and you're reaching a "next stage" in your lives. I think, given all these, it is perfectly appropriate to discuss the issues you're bringing up here.

You're also saying both of you have been able to communicate effectively, honestly, and work on issues brought up together, even through some rough patches. I think this makes for a healthy relationship. Every relationship is a learning experience and this all sounds quite positive despite your particular issues - you realized how you were handling things was causing problems, you sought help with that, and he is tolerant of, helpful with, and honest to you about your issues without being negative. This is all great. You are self-aware and are trying not to go overboard. This is also good.

I feel a strong relationship is built on trust and honesty. Trust and honesty are established in open communication. I check-in with my spouse frequently to these ends. We communicate very well and have a strong, long-term, lifetime relationship.

I think it is just fine, given everything you've said in your question, to tell him straight out like you did here, "I don't want to make this a heavy conversation, or have you think I want to get married ASAP - some of our plans are so up-in-the-air we don't need to get panicked over anything. And of course I'm aware I have a pattern of compulsively checking to make sure everything is okay with our relationship. But it seems fair to me to discuss these topics since we've only talked vaguely about this stuff so far."
posted by flex at 3:27 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, next stage in life, a good time to check that everyone's all on board.
posted by mleigh at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2012

I do it once in a while in a "joking but not" manner.

I figure it would open the door if something was awry.

Relationship is about ten years old.
posted by davey_darling at 4:39 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know, I think you should share with your partner that you have an anxiety disorder, and you should mention how it manifests itself. The key here is that you recognize (and express to your partner that you recognize) that certain behaviours are counterproductive to a lasting relationship. After that, perhaps the two of you can come to some sort of agreement about how he should respond. This would actually serve as the checking in convo you desire.

What do you think?

The challenge with this approach is that you may give up the right to communicate genuine frustrations, so you had better address this.

However, whatever you do in life, you're going to have to find someone who understands and supports you as you live with an anxiety disorder.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:05 PM on February 17, 2012

Like several people have said, nearing a big milestone like graduation - accompanied by the possibility of moving into the next phase of your life - is a great time to talk about The Future in broad strokes. You need to go into it knowing what you want, because then the discussion can be about your shared desires and how to achieve what you both want.

Good ways to lead into these kinds of thing is to have daydreaming sessions together, rather than approach it as a capital-D Discussion where you negotiate. "I'm excited to do X", "It would be really cool if K", or "I've always wanted to end up Y" are good places to start - it frames the discussion in a very positive light, rather than a "OMG what are we doing and when are we getting married already?" ball of anxiety.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:06 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I definitely understand the first part of your question because I used to apologize endlessly over so many things and would ask people if we were cool. It was a huge insecurity, but that didn't stop my social anxiety from taking over that part of me.

I don't think you need to view check ups as something that regularly has to be done because that would affect the relationship and the dynamics in the relationship. But, once you face changes that either one of you has to deal with at work or school or whatever THEN address your relationship and figure out where you stand.

But, don't make this a regular thing otherwise your obsessive part of the OCD will take over and you will constantly use these check ups to determine how valuable the relationship is and how valuable each one of you are to the relationship.
posted by livinglearning at 5:36 PM on February 17, 2012

I think it's totally fair to have this kind of conversation when you're approaching a big life change that will necessarily affect your relationship. I mean, you can only have so many conversations about maybe working in Zambia for a year or whatever before the What About Us? question becomes an elephant in the room. Ultimately, putting off the conversation until the last possible minute is going to be way more stressful than just checking in before things get too complicated.

I'd also second making sure you're clear in what you want before you start this conversation, and to be realistic about what the outcome might be, and how you'd handle it if things don't go according to plan. This shouldn't be a conversation where you feel like you're trying hard to sell him on something he doesn't really want, or feel like he's trying hard to sway you away from what you really want. I'd also suggest sticking to things that are real, proximal issues, and not spiral upward into "Well do you ever see us getting married? Do you think we'll be together in five years? What about ten? How many kids do you want and when?" Focus on the future you can know with some kind of accuracy, not the hazy forever.
posted by MadamM at 6:16 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hmm. So, I think I'm a pretty good relationship communicator (and have received plaudits from exes on the same after the relationships have ended and we've stayed friends). I am currently in a long term relationship that is the kind of obnoxiously happy thing that irritates a lot of our cynic friends.

We definitely got there by checking in frequently, but I don't think either of us ever called it checking in. So I think maybe the framework on how you address this may be key.

"Do you still love me?" "Are we still happy?" These are questions I'd avoid. They're somewhat accusatory questions-as though there were a chance that he, and he alone, had stopped, or that you were happy but he were secretly unhappy and not telling you. Accusatory questions do lead to relationship problems. You can recognize an accusatory question by: if he answers a specific way to it, has he done something wrong?

Better questions would be speculatory ones. "If you could have everything you wanted, what would you be doing/see us doing in a few years?" "If you ever got married, would you want to have kids?" "If one of us took a job overseas, what would we want to do about our relationship?" "Where would you want to be in your life before you moved in with someone?"

This way, it's "I am learning about you and the things you are likely to want, so we can figure out our lives".

I would definitely not do it as one big conversation. That makes it way too heavy. Space it out. Make it a lying-cuddled-up dreamy conversation. Don't get mad, no matter what the answer. Make it a safe space.

And good luck! This is very hard stuff, and it sounds like you're doing your best to be proactive at working on it.
posted by corb at 5:15 AM on February 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

Check in with yourself. When you want to check in, just say to yourself, "to this point we are on the same page, I have no new data, and it may damage my relationship to ask continually about it."
posted by Ironmouth at 7:41 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help guys. You all nailed it on the head with the "figure out what YOU want first" comments; I tend to get hung up on needing to know how other people feel without being terribly sure of my own feelings (you know, except for being sure that I'm anxious about it, ha). And focusing the conversation is helpful for me... clearly, everyone caught on my predisposition to escalate the issue beyond immediate needs.

Oh yeah, and just to clarify, BF knows about the anxiety and knows my patterns. He was good at identifying them even before I started with therapy.

Also, I started marking "best answers" but you all provided helpful insight. Thanks again.
posted by Paper rabies at 9:07 AM on February 18, 2012

No. Communication is one long continuous task. There is no check-in event. There is only the journey.
posted by Area Control at 10:48 AM on February 18, 2012

This doesn't have to be a big talk. If he has a big issue or problem, it's his responsibility to bring it up. If you are happy with things the way they are, all you need to do is say so: "I'm so lucky to be with you. I'm really happy to be your girlfriend." That's it. You've given him a status update.
You should also absolutely talk about real problems: "Hey, if you move to Egypt for a year, I'm going to miss you a lot. I might not be able to deal with that."
If you want to, also feel free to propose moving in together or getting married. I wouldn't propose marriage in the middle of a "We Need To Talk" scenario, just because it's not very romantic.
posted by steinwald at 3:02 PM on February 18, 2012

I have been in one LTR before, and communication on heavy subjects went smoothly, most of the times.

So from my perspective, it seems you and your boyfriend have a pretty solid relationship and you shouldn't be afraid to ask valid questions, such as where are we headed, how do we want to handle the post-school era, etc. These concerns are real, and tackling them right now, in a gentle, non aggressive way, is a good thing to do, if not mandatory. Unless you guys want to play everything by ear, but I doubt you're in this mindset!
posted by peterf12 at 7:36 PM on April 14, 2012

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