A priest once told the story of a little boy who wanted to talk to his newborn baby brother alone. As the parents watched from the doorway they heard the five-year-old say to his brother, “Tell me about God…I’m starting to forget.”
And that’s how I sometimes feel about marriage. Five years out of my 18-year marriage, I find I’m starting to forget. I suspect the good times were sweeter than I recall and I imagine the rough patches even more painful. But a part of me just doesn’t remember what it was like to “do life” with another person.
Conventional wisdom tells us that relationships take work. There is the natural ebb and flow to be expected in all relationships, yet many of us don’t invest the time and energy necessary to keep it thriving as we go.
Sometimes you see people just going through the motions of marriage, but not necessarily sharing a connective bond. Sometimes only half of the couple does the “heavy lifting,” or maybe one demands too much of the other partner (or of marriage itself). Sometimes there are burdens – both real and imagined – that get in the way.
And sometimes the daily life of living has a way of slowly engulfing us and, before we know it, it’s death by a thousand paper cuts.
We are made to get our cars inspected each year, receive performance reviews at work, and schedule annual exams to keep up with our physical health, yet there is no norm or process for ensuring relationship health. Why is that?
Dr. Sue Johnson introduced the acronym ARE (accessible, responsive, engaged) in her 2008 book Hold Me Tight. Asking a series of true/false questions, she has couples assess their emotional connectivity and the security of their bond. Using her questions, I added a fourth category of questions (inspired by pastoral counselor Ed Khouri’s relationship assessment) and came up with the assessment below.
The following 20 questions are grouped by category and assess four questions: Is my partner accessible? Is my partner responsive? Is my partner engaged? Am I content in my relationship?
While relationship health is highly subjective and every partnership has its own texture, I think this is a good jumping off point. If nothing, it makes you think about your bond. What you have, and also what you might want to rediscover. (Or cultivate, as the case may be.) It’s also a pretty decent litmus test for the re-singled among us as we venture into the waters of new relationships and subsequent marriages.
True or False?
I can get my partner’s attention easily.
My partner is easy to connect with emotionally.
My partner shows me that I come first with him/her.
I am not feeling lonely or shut out in this relationship.
I can share my deepest feelings with my partner. He/she will listen.
If I need connection and comfort, he/she will be there for me.
My partner responds to signals that I need him/her to come close.
I find I can lean on my partner when I am anxious or unsure.
Even when we fight or disagree, I know that I am important to my partner and we will find a way to come together.
I feel very comfortable being close to, trusting my partner.
I can confide in my partner about almost anything.
I feel confident, even when we are apart, that we are connected to each other.
I know that my partner cares about my joys, hurts, and fears.
I feel safe enough to take emotional risks with my partner.
My partner seems genuinely glad to be with me when we are together.
My partner supports my values and goals.
I feel a sense of harmony when we’re together.
My partner energizes me to think about a positive future.
This relationship brings me joy.
So, what’d you learn? I won’t attempt to “diagnose” from afar with some clever health ratio or prediction of longevity, but I will encourage you to offer gratitude for the statements you were able to label as true.
For the courageous among you, have your partner answer the questions as well. And then the hard part…share your results with each other.