You tune up your car. You have yearly physicals. You even have the furnace serviced to be sure it won’t die on you in the dead of winter. 

What about your marriage or relationship? 

It is that time of year. The kids are back in school, and you are returning to the routine of life. Routine is a necessary thing, but what part of your routine serves your primary relationship? After seeing couples for several years, I am convinced that complacency wrecks more relationship than infidelity. 

Relationships change over time. What your partner wants from you today may not be what they wanted when you got together or even what they wanted a year ago.

The bad news is that problems don’t go away because you ignore them. The good news is that talking about them is not as hard as it may seem. Here is a simple process for tuning up your relationship. Give yourselves about a week to prepare and think about the following questions:

1. What are three things I especially like about how my partner treats me?

2. What are three things that I would like my partner to do differently in our relationship?

3. What are three things I think would make me a better partner?

Write one item from the topics above on a 3 x 5 note card. Here are the starting words for each topic:

One thing I love about the way you treat me or what you do for me is …

One thing I would love for you to do more of is …

One thing I think I could do to be a better partner to you is …

Each of you now has nine note cards. Plan a time together when you are alone and will not be interrupted. Doing this away from home is a good idea if possible.

When you are both relaxed and well rested (a glass of wine may help but remember that while spirits may loosen the tongue, they do not increase the intellect), shuffle your deck and place it in front of your partner. Take turns turning over a card and reading aloud what your partner has written there. 

Here is the important part: 

The purpose of this exercise is not to demand that your partner change. It is to get new information about your relationship out on the table, literally. Change takes time; if you focus on that, you are likely to get into arguments. Acknowledge what your partner has written. If you don’t understand it, ask questions. Be curious rather than judgmental. 

If you feel defensive or attacked by something your partner has written, ask questions. Get more information about what they mean. Remind yourself that your partner is participating in this exercise to better your relationship. 

Spend about 90 minutes at this; about five minutes per topic. Keep each other’s cards so you can ask more questions later if you need to. Thank your partner for letting you know these things. 

Charles Hughes is a couples counselor in Oak Park.

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