Taking Time for Relationship Checkups

Talk therapy, especially psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy, is a naturally reflective process; it’s one of the most important aspects of sitting down every week with a therapist and talking about anything and everything that comes up. It forces us to reflect on our most prominent thoughts and feelings, life events and relationships – especially our relationships because they are so foundational to helping us understand who we are, and just importantly, who we want to be moving forward.

The danger of ignoring this critical reflective process is that we don’t grow because, let’s be honest, when we don’t take the time to reflect, we’re basically operating on “autopilot”. For some, this is not a serious problem: their lives are operating smoothly enough already. Their autopilot setting is properly calibrated. They have healthy, happy relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners, and are already on a path that, for now anyway, is working well (although even people who are thriving can benefit from reflecting on what is working, but that’s the subject for another day).

Everyone else, however, can benefit greatly from a reflective pause: an intentional mental and emotional process during which we evaluate, as objectively as possible, the health of our relationships. Think of this as a yearly emotional checkup; we seem to accept this as natural and normal for our physical health so why not for our emotional and psychological health as well?

Some questions to consider during this evaluation process are:

  • Who are the most important people in my life, and how much time do I spend with each?
  • What are the measures of success upon which I should evaluate the health of my relationships?
  • How do I feel when I’m around each person?
    • Do I feel energized or do I feel drained?
    • Do I feel relaxed or anxious?
    • Do they lift me up or drag me down?
    • Do I feel guilty or anxious or otherwise uncomfortable?
    • And by comparison, how do I feel when I’m not around them?
  • Does each person reciprocate the time and energy that I invest in the relationship, and similarly, do I reciprocate theirs?
  • What do I gain from this relationship, and at what cost?
  • What do I give to this relationship, and at what cost?
  • Does this relationship add to the richness of my life or detract from it?
  • Does this relationship help me grow or keep me stuck in old, unhelpful patterns of behavior?

One way to keep track of these reflections is to record them in a journal. Writing down our thoughts and feelings can be extremely beneficial, not just for the sake of remembering them, but also because the act of writing them makes our brain work in ways that promote reflection and understanding.

If you’re in the market for a journal, one of my favorite resources is Therapy Notebooks.

Another way to facilitate the process of reflecting on our relationships is, of course, talk therapy. It is incredibly difficult to evaluate objectively through the lens of our biases, distortions, and emotional blinders. A good therapist can ask the right questions and help you better understand the context and conditions that impact the quality of your relationships so that your solitary reflections can make more sense.

Finally, what makes for the most successful and meaningful outcomes is when these two processes are combined. Talk therapy is the catalyst for getting our psychological and emotional juices flowing and journaling is the product in which our verbalized reflections are crystallized and captured for examining both in the current moment and in the future.

So use this time now, as the Winter doldrums drag on in anticipation of Spring, to begin your journey of reflection and evaluation. Take inventory of your current relationships and evaluate their health, and yours as well.

I’m ready to help you with this process when you are ready to begin it.

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