Stuck in a relationship rut? Get to the root of the problem before the breakup happens by bringing up these relationship questions
Have you ever talked to your guy, or even just stood in his presence, and had this nagging feeling that something was a little bit off? Call it a sixth sense or an unspoken undercurrent, but sometimes you just know when the train is beginning to run off the tracks. "There aren't usually flashing red warning lights to tell us when something needs attention," says LA-based couples therapist Ellen Bradley-Windell. "[We need to] embrace the idea of creating an effective maintenance plan for relationships."
It's up to you to gauge the health of your relationship periodically. With that in mind, here are some checkups you should make each time that sixth sense tingles.
Windell says that the most important question in a relationship is often the simplest: How are we doing? "Every so often, take the 'emotional temperature' of your relationship. Ask each other, 'Do you feel like we are treating each other like best friends?' 'Are we treating each other with respect?' 'Can we communicate openly?'" she says. "If you use this temperature gauge for your relationship, the reward is that you may be picking up the beginning of a problem early, and solve it before it deepens into a bigger issue." (Bringing up those big topics of conversation helps out in the bedroom, too. Have an Amazing Orgasm: Talk it Out.)
Marriage and relationship therapist Carin Goldstein says many couples bring complaints to the table instead of instructions. "Very, very often, I will have women say, 'You're not paying enough attention to me!' Men are very specific and concrete, so I always tell them: 'You need to tell him what that looks like.'" Does he need to hold your hand more in public? Ask more questions about your day? Men aim to please, and they like it when you give them a roadmap to success.
While it may not echo the early days of dating exactly, committed coupledom does not mean a lifelong sentence of drudgery and obligations. "Things may be fine day today, but the mood of your relationship may need to be revitalized," says Windell. "Take time to remind each other about fond memories you have shared together. Ask each other, 'Are we using our weekends together just taking care of business, or are we setting time aside to have fun and laugh and be silly?'" Keep telling those silly inside jokes that only your guy would get, and carve out quality time. "Make sure you keep the joy and laughter in your relationship, as it will strengthen the bond that you both deserve," says Windell.
Goldstein says that one of the most common hiccups in relationships is forgetting to take care of the physical connection. Let's face it: It's one of the first things to go when you're really busy. "I'm not saying, 'You need to take care of your man,' or anything like that," she explains. "But it's something to be aware of—without physical contact, he can get grumpy. Men connect better emotionally when they're more connected to their significant other physically." Goldstein says that if it's been two weeks and you sense your guy's a little glum, you can often put two-and-two together—and it's a pretty simple fix. (Feeling uninspired in the bedroom? Try one of 9 Ways to Sex Up Your Relationship.)
Especially when couples are in a transitional phase, or one is traveling a lot, Goldstein says it's important to have a "sweat equity" checkup. "If one person is shouldering more of the burden at home, it can turn into a prickly dynamic between a couple," she says, saying women especially can become a little resentful. Oftentimes, the fix is just getting your partner to understand life from your shoes. "We all just want to be seen and heard," says Goldstein. Again, she says this comes down to being specific. Tell him his absence has you feeling disconnected, and you need more frequent phone calls or date nights—and he'll likely be on the phone asking about your day at the office, or go to work planning your next Friday night.
Sometimes, couples can get too close, causing one or both parties to feel suffocated and nit-picky. Space is especially important for men, who are wired to connect—and then step out for a moment to reclaim their independence. "That's how men regenerate," says Goldstein. "They need to go into the dark cave, and come back—but women often think, 'Oh no, he doesn't love me.'" Not the case. If you feel yourselves getting a little antsy and irritated with each other, it's time schedule healthy, respective girls' and guys' nights. "The only time it's a problem is when it becomes habitual," Goldstein says. "When it becomes 'the solution' to every problem, instead of a timeout to reenter the relationship from a better place." If it's just an occasional way to keep your cool? All good!
Ruts. In established relationships, it's easy to have a routine; you can't remember your last vacation, every Friday night is takeout/movie/sleep, and you're growing all-too familiar with your S.O.'s habits. "Put effort into trying something new together," says Windell. "Join a gym and workout together, learn a new sport together, try a new restaurant once a month, take turns planning a 'mystery date' from beginning to end—you get the idea." Old habits, places, and paths that were once fun and exciting can take a turn into boring, causing your relationship to feel stagnant. Always work to mix it up, says Windell. (Plus, wow your man on date night with 7 Beauty Tweaks Guys Love.)
Keeping your love on track is something that needs to happen everyday, so you don't have to rebound from an entire season of relationship dissatisfaction. How, exactly? Come with an attitude of gratitude and giving—both verbal and nonverbal. "Loving couples thrive when the relationship is based on reciprocity. Instead of always asking for more, try giving more unconditionally," Windell says. "Make it a point to thank each other on a daily basis for something that was meaningful to you. Research has shown that we can change the chemistry in our brains to choose happiness in a matter of 21 days—that's being grateful, having meaningful moments, smiling, writing love notes and positive thinking." Even a smile or a kiss can show him how much he means...so do the little things. Right now. Today.