When we meet with couples for marriage counseling it is often apparent that they are not or have not been managing their relationship in a healthy way. That may seem obvious – but what isn’t so obvious is what to do about it.

With addiction counseling one of the tools we use is called a “Personal Craziness Index” – it’s a list of the “early indicators” that things (life) are starting to get out of control. When you have a few things to take note of, you see the “crazy” happening sooner and you can make corrections before something bad happens, like a relapse.

Using a simliar tool for managing your relationship is a good idea! Having a way to recognize when your relationship is veering off course and make course corrections can’t be a bad thing. Let’s explore this a little more and see if you can create something and put it into practice.

Here’s the key question:

  • What are the little things that might indicate distance growing in your relationship?

You might think of things like, “We didn’t greet each other with a hug when we got home from work for two days.” Or, “It’s been 5 days since we had sex and that’s unusual for us.” Or, “He used to say ‘I love you’ first, but I haven’t heard it in a few days.” Or, “We haven’t done anything spontaneous in days and we used to do those things all the time.” Or, “We skipped date night the past two weeks.”

These may not seem like big things, but if they are indicators that the relationship is getting off track then the key is to recognize them and take action as soon as possible. So, what action should you take?

This is where it’s helpful to come up with the “early indicators” that things aren’t going as usual. The next step is to know what things are important for you to feel close and stay connected. Knowing these and discussing them with your partner is a great way to manage your relationship and stay on the same page.

So think about the top 4 or 5 early indicators that occur when you start feeling distant from your partner. Write them on a list and check them every day or so. First, it keeps them top of mind for you and second, you’ll never be more than a day or so away from being connected.

Next, have the “remedies” listed next to each of the early indicators. For example, if the early indicator is, “No date night this week.” The remedy might be, “Call the sitter, check the calendar and schedule date night.” Maybe find a fun way to let your partner know you’ve planned a date. This can be via text, a phone call, a note on his/her pillow – something fun to create a little romance and mystery. It’s a way to change distancing to even more fun and connection.

There are lots of things people will come up with as the early indicators for managing your relationship. Be careful not to use this as a way to blame or shame you or your partner. Know that “life happens” and other things will get in the way of your relationship. Recognizing this and moving your relationship back to top priority is what this exercise is all about.