When you’re a writer, it’s kind of an occupational hazard to be on-10 when it comes to communication. That’s why I’m all about asking questions in order to gain clarity (check out “7 Questions You And Your Spouse Should Ask Each Other Four Times A Year”, “10 Questions To Ask Your Close Friends Before The New Year Begins”, “The 'Pre-Commitment Interview' Every Dating Couple Should Have” and “7 Questions You Should Definitely Ask Yourself At The End Of Each Week”). And so, in the spirit of being just a few days away from a brand spanking new calendar year and also in the honor of following along with the questioning theme, I wanted to share something that I advise a lot of my clients to do with one another — participate in, what I call, relationship inventory.
Because inventory is basically about taking out the time to see what assets are readily available, why wouldn’t this be an important thing to evaluate when it comes to our interaction with our significant other? So, one day (or night), instead of watching a Christmas movie, pour a couple of glasses of wine (or hot chocolate) and ask each other the following six questions instead. The answers you hear just might surprise you; either way, it can help you both know where you currently stand…which is always a good thing.
1. Did We Bring More Peace or Confusion to Each Other’s Worlds?
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for the site entitled, “An Extremely Underestimated Sign That You're With The Right Person.” Basically, what it touches on, are different words that define peace. I’ve shared before that something an ex of mine once said is, “A woman should be a man’s sanctuary” — and yes, before some of y’all jump in with “What about the men?”, I agree that this should go both ways. Anyway, I’ve always liked that line of thinking because not only is a sanctuary a sacred space, it’s also a place of refuge. And refuge is exactly why I’m not big on the word “vulnerable” being used when it comes to intimate relationships.
Vulnerable means “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon,” “open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.” and “difficult to defend.” If your partner is truly your place of refuge (shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.), why would you be vulnerable in their space? If anything, you would be dependent (relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.). And in that space of interdependence, there is safety, which is a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately, a lot of couples are anything but in a sanctuary space for one another. Instead, they mistake drama for loyalty, craziness for passion, and lust for love. And because of this, all they’ve got is mass confusion going on. Listen, the world is intense enough, especially for our people, to be in a relationship that is just as extreme as it is all of the time. If you and yours — BOTH — are not bringing peace to each other, more times than not, don’t ignore that. While it may not be a red flag, it is most definitely a bright and blaring yellow one.
2. Did We Become More Fluent in Each Other’s Love Languages?
Hands down, a top faux pas in romantic relationships (any relationship, really) is that people are far more interested in giving people what they want to receive rather than what their partner actually needs. Case in point. I am a big "words of affirmation" person while one of my male friends is more into acts of service. We used to clash, quite a bit because I would give him cards and compliments only to receive barely above an Elmo shrug yet when he would ask me to do minor things for him, if I didn’t have the time, at the time, he felt like I was flippantly brushing him off. After we both talked it through, he got that I felt rejected when he didn’t really care about my “word efforts” while he felt the same when I didn’t prioritize a request — especially since making requests are sometimes really hard for him to do. And so, we both learned that I was the one who needed cards and he was the one who needed me to hold him down on the “services” tip. We’re good now.
Listen, you can love someone all day long, but just like the “Does the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it?” question, folks need to feel that we love them in the way that they need to feel it; it’s not up to us to make the call on what that way is. With all of this on record, far too many people assume they know their partner’s love language. Even more, couldn’t really care less what it is. Both are problematic, so definitely discuss with your partner if each other’s top-two primary love languages were fluently spoken throughout the year. If not, a good practice for next year comes in the article, “15 Date Ideas Based On Your Love Language”. It can help to get the two of you speaking in a way that you both can be heard.
3. Are We Each Becoming Better People? Together.
I’m gonna be honest, the rap artist Fabolous continues to give me a reason to give him major side-eye (I think a lot of y’all know why). Still, I’ve gotta credit the source when I’m speaking on it and when it comes to this particular point, “Make Me Better” by him and Ne-Yo definitely comes to mind.
I'm a movement by myself
But I'm a force when we're together
Mami I'm good all by myself
But baby you, you make me better
There is a friend that I’ve got right now who, in all honesty, he was doing much better before he got involved with the woman he’s currently with. She’s manipulative. She’s controlling. And she weaponizes sex to get her own way. As a result, his other relationships are suffering and it’s even starting to infect his relationship with his kids. Yet all he tells me is they vibe well and the sex is good. Chile, please.
There really is no point in being in a relationship with someone who is only going to make you a shell of the person you were with prior to getting with them. That said, definitely, if there is one thing you and your boo should be able to say, as a direct result of being together, it’s that you make each other better as individuals. To be better is to be improved in quality, to become more complete, and to surpass who you were prior to getting involved. If you and/or he can’t say that about each other, why is that? And more importantly, why would you want to remain in something that isn’t making you greater as a direct result of its influence?
4. Where’s the Growth in the Relationship?
A quote that I really like as it pertains to personal growth is, “Real growth is when you start checking and correcting yourself.” To me, this rolls over into meaning, “Grown people hold themselves accountable.” You know what else does — partners in a relationship. Not too long ago, I was asked in an interview what I think is one of the main reasons why there is conflict in relationships. I said, “Because a lot of people think they should be coddled more than held accountable” and I will stand firm on that. This notion that someone only loves you if they tell you what you want to hear or if they don’t call you out on your ish in order to spare your feelings is so self-manipulative and honestly, pretty childish.
You can’t grow without being held accountable and the people who truly care about you will do just that. They will do it lovingly. They will do it with grace attached. They will make sure it’s delivered in a way that it can be received yet they will still do it. And when two people are able to grow as individuals, it leads to growth in the relationship overall.
That’s why, when people tell me that they have been feeling stuck and stagnant with their partner for months (or years) at a time, I encourage them to address that as soon as possible. If both of you are helping each other to thrive, the relationship should be showing clear evidence of that. No, I don’t necessarily or automatically mean marriage (that is not always the ultimate sign of relational growth; look at the divorce rate which is still holding at around 50 percent) — I mean that both people have gotten closer, both people have maintained similar values and both people want the same kind of relational future…whatever that may be.
Stagnation stinks and just about everything in life is designed to move forward. Has your relationship done that in 2021? If you can’t verbally express how your relationship has been, something is…off.
5. Have We Evolved As Friends AND Lovers?
I’m about to age myself (IDC, IDC) but there is a song from way back in the day called “Friends and Lovers”. It’s by Carl Anderson and Gloria Loring (Robin Thicke’s mama). The chorus goes like this:
So, I'll be your friend and I'll be your lover
'Cause I know in our hearts we agree
We don't have to be one or the other
Oh no, we could be both to each other
A hill that I will die on with absolutely no apologies or regrets is, if you don’t see your partner as your best friend, you should ask yourself why? I’m word-literal, so I know that best means (among other things) “of the highest quality, excellence, or standing.” If you can’t say this about the one you are sharing so much of your time, effort, and energy with if you’ve got five other people who rank over them in this area, what exactly are you doing with them? Lawd, it can’t be said enough that one of the reasons why a lot of relationships — especially marriages — fail to go the distance is because people act like their partner isn’t supposed to be one of their very closest — if not THE closest — friend (check out “Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?”).
When two people are friends, they like each other, they trust each other and they have a type of loyalty to one another that is truly unmatched. And yes, over the course of several months, when a relationship is truly healthy, both people should be able to say that the friendship has only gotten that much stronger. And what about the lover part? While I do think that physical intimacy should definitely get more fulfilling as a relationship evolves (if the intimacy is wack, something about the relationship is too; straight up), I’m gonna throw a plot twist into this.
One definition of lover is “a person who has a strong enjoyment or liking for something, as specified.” As two people become closer friends, they should only enjoy one another more and more as well. It’s not about making obligatory calls or going out on dates because that’s what couples are “supposed to do.” Because you and yours are such huge fans of one another, because you dig each other just that much, spending time together (whether in or outside of the bedroom) comes very naturally because you are lovers of each other just that much. Are you?
6. Are We Still on the Same Page?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Lost time is never found again.” A Greek botanist by the name of Theophrastus once said, “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” A Greek general by the name of Pericles once said one of my (current) favorite quotes on time — “Time is the wisest counselor of all.” When it comes to your relationship, something that time is gonna sho ‘nuf do is reveal to you and yours if you’re both, shoot, not just on the same page but even in the same chapter and book. The thing you’ve got to do is make sure that you don’t allow your feelings to overpower the facts that may be standing right before you.
What do I mean by that? Sometimes two people can love and like each other. Still, because they want totally different things out of life (one may want kids while the other doesn’t; one may want to wait a few more years to settle down while the other doesn’t; one may want to live overseas while the other doesn’t), they aren’t the best fit. Unfortunately, because of emotions, many will ignore this reality and try and “force things” which typically leads to bitterness and resentment — if not immediately, eventually.
I will never find taking relational inventory to not be essential because what you and yours thought about what you ultimately wanted out of life last year may be very different now and just because you’re together, that doesn’t mean that either of you should make assumptions. ASK. Also, listen for not what you want to hear but what is being said. Then be honest with each other about where to go…from here.
A healthy and beneficial relationship is going to complement you (check out “If He's Right For You, He Will COMPLEMENT Your Life”). Take some time out to take relationship inventory, so that the both of you can go into 2022 saying that that is indeed the case. If it is, awesome! If it’s not, making some shifts so that you both can get to who and what is right is always best.
There really is no time like the present to figure out which side of the coin you and yours are on. Before going into January, please honor each other and what you share by making sure that you do.
Featured image by Getty Images