What is the current state of your relationship? Here are important questions to ask yourself to diagnose your current problems and find out how serious they are.
Every relationship has problems, even the most happy and healthy couple is going to have occasional hiccups, mistakes, and obstacles to work through and move past.
The goal of a healthy relationship isn’t to pretend everything is “perfect,” but to be honest about our problems and learn to confront them in a constructive way.
If we try to avoid all negativity, or just tell ourselves “everything is fine,” then problems will often build up and things will only become worse and worse in the long-term. Perhaps this is a product of magical thinking or having a false impression of how relationships are supposed to work: they usually don’t look like fairy tales in the real world.
This is why it’s important to be able to acknowledge and diagnose your current relationship problems to see how serious they are.
While every relationship has problems, it matters what those exact problems are, how big they are in the grand scheme of things, and whether or not they can be fixed (or managed).
In the heat of the moment, no one knows better than me that nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.
While that may sound like an obvious thought, it touches on an important truth: we can often get caught up in the present moment and forget to look at the bigger picture.
For example, imagine you’re having a wonderful outdoor brunch with your loved one during a nice summer afternoon. Everything is going smoothly… until it starts raining.
Instantly this puts you and your date in a bad mood. You start yelling at each other, “Quick grab the food you idiot and let’s grab a table inside!” “How did this happen…didn’t I tell you to check the weather before we left?!” “You can’t do anything right! And worse yet you ALWAYS think you know everything!”
The pleasant afternoon is ruined; you both go home angry and upset, then spend the rest of the day avoiding each other.
A rational response? Definitely not, but situations like this unfold frequently in certain types of relationships. Sometimes they can even be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back depending on how far they escalate.
One question to ask yourself during any relationship problem (big or small) is “How will I feel in one year about this current conflict in my relationship?”
By zooming out and thinking about the problem from a “future self” perspective, you can get a clearer idea of how important it really is.
How will the “rainy brunch” memory look in a year from now? Perhaps it will become something to laugh at and reminisce about, even though in the moment it felt like the end of the world.
That’s not to say all relationship problems are as harmless as a “rainy brunch,” but research shows thinking from a long-term perspective can help put temporary problems into perspective.
In my practice, when. i treat couples, I have found that this future-oriented thinking (or “prospective thinking”) can be a powerful tool for improving their relationship satisfaction and well-being.
When I ask one person in the couple to reflect on a current relationship problem, and then ask themselves, “How will I feel about this a year from now?” they are almost always more adaptive to relationship conflict, including lower partner blame, greater forgiveness and insight, and greater expectations that the relationship will grow and improve.
Another essential question when someone hurts or disappoints you is, “Will I be able to forgive them for this?”
Unforgiven mistakes can linger in a relationship for months, years, or even decades. When left unresolved, they can slowly corrupt a relationship from the inside. A person may say out-loud, “I forgive you,” but if they don’t really mean it then it will continue to eat away at them.
In future conversations, they may even bring up the mistake again and use it as a weapon. One second you’re arguing about what to eat for dinner, then the next thing you know your partner yells, “Well you cheated on me on that vacation 10 years ago, so who is the real bad guy?”
A past mistake can become the ultimate “trump card” that someone pulls out when they are feeling threatened and trying to win an argument. It can become something they constantly hold over your head and judge you for because they haven’t fully forgiven you for it.
You think to yourself, “I thought we resolved and moved past this, but they keep bringing it back up?”
This resembles the psychological game known as “keeping the score,” where you are constantly measuring everything a person did and seeing how it adds up in the end – a game that is impossible to win from both sides.
If a mistake is truly unforgivable in your eyes, then the relationship is probably not going to work out. It will keep rearing its ugly head again and again.
This is also true if the roles are reversed and your partner is unable to forgive you for something. It’ll inevitably become a topic of conversation that you both will continue to revisit. There’s still a chance for healing and growth, but it would take serious effort and commitment.
While some actions are truly unforgivable (or at least unforgettable), a healthy relationship requires the ability to let bygones be bygones.
In every relationship, a person is going to hurt you or disappoint you at some point, the question is if it’s something you can genuinely move past or not. Does the relationship outweigh the mistake, or is it unsalvageable?
The last important question when it comes to diagnosing your current relationship problems is a much more practical and simpler one.
The single most important question in any relationship is, “What are you thinking and feeling right now?”
Every relationship requires us to empathize and understand where a person is coming from. You won’t know how to properly act or respond to someone if you don’t first know what’s going on in their heads.
This is equally true for family, friends, coworkers, bosses, neighbors, or loved ones, and this is why simply checking in on a person’s thoughts and feelings is essential if you want to improve the quality of your relationships.
One of the biggest traps in most relationships is mind-reading, which is wrongly believing we know what is going on in someone’s mind without asking them. Instead of checking in with a person, we assume we know what they want and act according to that false impression.
We often believe empathy is just trusting our gut instincts, but research shows we often overestimate our ability to read people accurately. The best way to increase empathy is to sometimes use your “rational brain,” and actually ask questions to better understand their perspective.
“What are you thinking and feeling?” is just the beginning of becoming a more empathetic and caring person, but there are many other mind-dissecting questions that can help us gain greater insight into what’s going on in a person’s head and where they are really coming from.
At the end of the day, asking questions is always better than assuming you already have all the answers. Are you willing to ask the difficult questions in your relationships?
My Key Takeaway’s
- Every relationship goes through problems, so it is important that we are honest about them.
- Important questions to ask yourself during relationship troubles include:
- “How will I feel in one year about this current conflict in my relationship?”
- “Will I be able to forgive them for this (or will they be able to forgive me)?”
- “Do I think I’ll still be together with this person one year, five years, or ten years into the future?
We have to be willing to ask the tough questions to accurately diagnose the state of our current relationships. One of the most important questions in any relationship is, “What are you thinking and feeling right now?” to improve empathy and understanding. The answers to these questions can give you greater clarity on where your relationship stands and a clearer idea on how to best move forward.