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Jan Anderson, PSYD, LPPC

The Relationship Pulse Check: A Ridiculously Easy Way to Reconnect and Recharge

The Relationship Pulse Check is more than a “date night” Band-Aid approach to reconnecting with your partner. Think of it as a way to supercharge and safeguard your relationship connection.

Amidst the natural ebb and flow of relationships, how can you tell you’re seriously losing touch? Some types of “relationship disconnect” are slow and corrosive. Sometimes losing the connection is so subtle that the relationship seems to evaporate into thin air. It’s a little scary!

Here are some signs that always get my attention in counseling sessions:

Are your interactions mostly superficial and have a “roommate” feel?
Have your interactions become way too volatile? With no makeup sex — or making up, period?
Has the relationship taken on an airless quality, like there’s little room to move or breathe?
Are you politely living parallel lives?

The Relationship Pulse Check is a quick, easy way to keep track of relationship stress sneaking up on you, so you can snuff it out before it becomes combustible. Think of it as an early warning system that alerts you to slow, subtle relationship corrosion and gives you a way to quickly reconnect and recharge.

BTW: If your partner isn’t willing to participate, no worries. There’s a saying, “It only takes one person to change a relationship,” and I’ve found it to be true. Doing your own work will not only help you. It will also give you tools to better connect with your partner. From there, the relationship has a chance to go where it naturally needs to go.

Here’s how to jump-start the process, depending on the degree of relationship disconnect you’re experiencing:

1. Work on your own.

If you’re one of those rare couples with a high degree of emotional intelligence, just a few simple tools and a commitment to a regular schedule may be all you need. I recommend you begin the journey with an evidence-based questionnaire designed by marriage researcher John Gottman. If your partner is willing to participate, you can each take what Dr. Gottman calls his “Relationship Poop Detector” questionnaire. Use this link to spot areas of relationship stress:

Make it quick, easy, and automatic to check in on your relationship regularly. Plug in the Marital Poop Detector as a recurring monthly appointment on your calendar, just like you schedule all your other regular couple activities. Share your answers and discuss them with your partner once a month. Rinse and repeat.

If you find yourself backsliding, getting stuck, or simply forgetting to do it, consider moving on to Option #2.

2. Work on your own and kick it up a notch.

Keep doing your own work with the Relationship Poop Detector and supplement it with a couples counseling session. This is the option my husband and I have landed on. Whether we think we need it or not, we regularly show up for a monthly marriage counseling session.

Here’s why:

Like most regular people, my marriage is important to me. As a professional, I know how and why couples therapy works, so why wouldn’t I use an evidence-based approach to make my own marriage (consisting of two radically different human beings who happen to love each other) the best it can be? NOTE: If you’re reluctant to seek professional help with your relationship, you’re not alone. A sad statistic is that unhappy couples suffer for an average of 6 years before seeking professional help. At this stage of my life, I don’t have that kind of time to waste.
It makes me a better therapist. It’s vulnerable to show up for counseling! Putting myself in the same vulnerable position as my clients gives me plenty of empathy and an appreciation of how the process works from their perspective.

That perspective has helped me come up with ways to meet couples where they are as individuals, as well as relationship partners. Sometimes the traditional approach of both partners showing up together from the get-go for couples counseling isn’t the best option.

3. What if starting with traditional couples counseling isn’t going to happen … or isn’t even a good idea?

Here are some creative strategies that can work surprisingly well to get the relationship ball rolling:

• Start with doing your own individual work first. Let your own work on yourself be the primary driver to change how you interact with your partner. The crazy thing is this may be all you need to improve the reaction you get from your partner. It seems to have something to do with the saying I mentioned earlier, “It only takes one person to change a relationship.”

• Do your own individual work and occasionally request or allow your partner to share their perspective. Oftentimes the less interested partner is willing to at least share their perspective with me. I find this extremely valuable in two ways:

It helps me get up to speed much faster when I get the whole picture.
It allows your partner to subtly check me out and take a closer look at what I’m doing before possibly taking a step closer.

• Start with a “1-1-2” style of couples counseling that includes private individual time for each partner, followed by a session together.

As long as neither partner dumps a massive “secret” bomb on me, this approach can work very well. It allows each person to put their thoughts and feelings on the table, unfiltered, in their individual session. This approach can provide a safe starting point to:

Air your dissatisfactions without fear of hurting your partner.
Confide your needs and concerns without the risk of getting too vulnerable yourself.

Once I have the raw data, we can strategize how to communicate it in an emotionally intelligent way.

• Start with a “shuttle diplomacy” style of couples work. In other words, don’t even think about meeting together in the same room, at least not yet. You’d think this approach would be designed primarily for volatile couples, but I actually find it most helpful when one or both partners is highly conflict avoidant.

I originally thought of this approach as mediating separately as a way to prepare to sit down together as a couple. But after working with a few couples who successfully reconciled and never met with me together in the same room, my attitude has become, “Who cares what approach we use, as long as it works?”

4. Set Up Automatic Refills.

Regardless of the approach, I find the Gottman Relationship Poop Detector a helpful tool. It’s a quick, easy way to take the pulse of your relationship on a regular basis. It also gives us a concrete way to start or focus a couples session, which (as you can imagine) is not always an easy thing to do.

Since every couple has their own unique relationship dynamic, I started creating a customized version for couples I call Your Relationship Pulse Check. Based on what I learn about a couple’s unique interests, concerns, and priorities for their relationship, this tool can supercharge your relationship connection by targeting what matters most to you.

Here’s the most important part: How do you create a simple, easy way to keep track of your relationship connection regularly? I call my version Your Relationship Pulse Check Monthly Tracker. However you keep track, think of it as a way to safeguard your relationship with “overdraft protection,” just like you regularly monitor your bank account.

Suppose either you or your partner checks four or more items on the Relationship Poop Detector or Your Relationship Pulse Check. Think of it as a reminder to check the balance of your relationship connection account. It may be time to make a deposit!