Every night, for many months, after Carly and I had put our girls down for bed, we asked each other some versions of the following three questions:
- What was the best part of your day?
- What was the worst part of your day?
- Is there anything you need from me?
It's not rocket science, by any stretch, but it made a tremendous difference in our relationship. See, despite the best of intentions and desires, distance-creating behaviors are the default human setting. Free time is begging to be filled in modern society, and there's always a rationale for what you fill it with that isn't the people you love.
And when you throw social media, mobile phones, and binge-watching into the mix, it gets even worse. Hours upon hours can be lost checking Facebook, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush or Words with Friends, or catching up on Stranger Things 2 or Game of Thrones. Now, there is NOTHING inherently wrong with enjoying television, or social media, or games. Nothing wrong with work, or fantasy football, or being responsible and feeding your family pets, or probably most of the things that fill up our time. The problem is that, quite often, these things can fill up our time without us noticing or without our meaning for them to - and when that happens, our loved ones often get missed in the shuffle.
This simple exercise of checking in with these three questions ensures a few important things.
1. One person gets the specifics they want.
There's this interesting phenomenon in a lot of relationships, where one person wants to get a ton of information out of their spouse or partner about their day, and their spouse or partner is reluctant to offer. It's not often secretive, it's just that when Person A asks Person B, "How was your day?," Person B thinks, that's a whole lot of day to scale down into an answer to that question. What is it he/she is even asking about, anyway? So they just say, "Oh, you know, good." Now Person A looks frustrated and dissatisfied, and Person B doesn't know what more to say, and so it just feels awkward. But asking more specific questions, like the best and worst part of the day, allows Person A to get some of the better details that they want and need from their partner.
2. The other person doesn't have to break their brain.
For whatever reason, some of us just struggle with condensing a day down to a couple of sentences. It feels superfluous. Most people's days aren't so uniformly thematic that you can say, "Well, my whole day revolved around my desire to travel more, and I made progress, so that was satisfying." Our days are more disparate than that. We deal with our families in the morning, then work, which might involve a handful of different tasks and people that have nothing to do with one another, then we come home and have chores to do and tv to watch and kids' extracurriculars to chaperone and chauffeur, then comes bedtime, which for the average parent often feels like a tiny World War III in your house, and by the end of the day the only way to generally describe all of that is generally and generically good or bad. But sifting through all of that and picking out one high point and one low point is a lot easier, faster, and simpler than synthesizing all of it.
3. You both stay connected.
Like we said at the beginning, distance is the default human setting. There's no neutral when it comes to intimacy, unfortunately. Relationships decay if they're not maintained. Doing this nightly check-in makes a point for you and your spouse/fiance/partner to plug into one another at the end of every single day. It's also kind of amazing how much cue our sleep takes from the last things we do/think/feel before we slip away into our dreams. Many mornings you'll find yourself feeling even more connected to your partner than you did the night before, your sleep having reinforced and affirmed the intimacy established during your nightly check-in.
4. You become each other's safe places.
The distance that's created when you're not checking in regularly can have more dramatic effects than just the loss of connection and intimacy. You can actually begin to feel strange about sharing your feelings with your partner. Maybe they won't understand, maybe they'll take it the wrong way. Distance can make us less inclined to be patient, gracious, understanding, and forgiving. In short, it can make us both seem and be an unsafe place for our partners. Consistent, regular check-ins, while they may feel oddly formal at first, stimulate the perception that our partners are interested in our thoughts and feelings, that they want to know us and understand us, that they're invested in us. Without making a big deal about it, our partners can quickly become our safest havens.
And these nightly check-ins don't have to be particularly long. In fact, the more you do them, the more of a shorthand they become, and the quicker the conversations go. This isn't necessarily a sign that they're becoming less effective, or that their effects are less intense. In fact, quite to the contrary, it can be and often is a sign that intimacy is a skill that you're developing, and you're getting better at it! Eventually, you can reach a point where the questions become unnecessary, because sharing about your day and seeking out intimacy and connection have replaced distance as the default setting of your relationship. You have created safe places.