Can an Assessment Change and Improve My Relationship?


Can an Assessment Change and Improve My Relationship?

By Leah Travis MS, LMFT

No matter where you are in the world, having a map won’t do you much good if you don’t know where you are. Today, we’re asking a seemingly simple question: Where are you in your relationship?

Maybe you’re in a relationship and wondering whether it’s a good idea to take the next step of commitment (e.g. moving in, getting married, etc.). Deepening a commitment is often a scary and exciting time, partly because life doesn’t come with any guarantees. You might be wondering if your relationship can stand the test of time? How long is this happiness going to last? No one knows the future, but you can get a clear picture of the areas in your relationship that are already strong, and those that could benefit from building more effective skills. Taking the next step is usually a lot less scary when you know what to expect, and can help you avoid predictable pitfalls along the way.

Maybe you’ve been in a committed relationship for a while and you’re beginning to notice that things don’t feel quite right, or your connection seems a bit ‘off.’ It’s common to wonder at this stage whether the challenges you’re facing are temporary, or a sign of something more serious. What are we doing wrong? The earlier you make a course correction, the easier it is to get back on track. Getting a clear picture of where the breakdown is can give you the opportunity to target that problem area specifically, building skills to protect your relationship from negative external influences, and restore harmony in areas that have weakened over time.

Maybe you’ve been struggling in your relationship for a long time, and you just don’t know where to begin setting things straight. You might be feeling desperate for something to change, and just not sure how much energy you have left in the tank to give a relationship that isn’t satisfying anymore. Many people know that they need help, but they’re afraid to take the step to ask for it, or they don’t know if their partner will agree, or they don’t know if therapy can really help. Starting with a thorough assessment of the status of your relationship can provide valuable insight, showing you resources in the relationship that you didn’t know (or forgot) were there. It can also give you targeted direction on where to begin making changes, helping you divert the time, energy, and motivation that you have left to the places it is likely to make the biggest difference.

No matter where you are in your relationship, there are ways that a thorough evaluation can help you understand the specific strengths and challenges that this relationship faces, and set you on a positive path toward your future together. Imagine having expert guidance: clear directions telling you what you need to do to build the relationship you and your partner both want.

So, how does a relationship assessment actually work?

GPSS is so pleased to offer couples tools for assessing relationships using John and Julie Gottman’s research-based relationship assessments. These are thorough assessments intended to give you a snap-shot of your relationship status and functioning, with detailed feedback about your interactions, skills, strengths, and areas where your relationship would likely benefit from some improvement or bolstering.

A complete assessment starts with a 90-minute meeting together with your partner and a trained clinician, who will ask questions about the history of your relationship and even observe you and your partner discussing an area of conflict, all the while taking note of how you relate to one another for clues about your connection.

After this, the therapist will get you set up with the Gottman’s web-based questionnaires (“The Gottman Relationship Checkup”), which allow you and your partner to each provide detailed information about how you experience your relationship. These questionnaires are well researched measures of emotional, behavioral, and relationship functioning, that provide a clear, reliable measure of how stable your relationship is.

Next, the clinician will have an individual session with each of you (about 45-minutes each), to explore your individual hopes, expectations, and concerns for the relationship.

Finally, after gathering information from hours of observations of you and your partner together and individually, as well as your own self-reported experiences, your clinician will compile detailed, targeted feedback about what is working well, and what is likely not working so well, in your relationship. Your clinician will meet with you for a 60-90 minute session to review this feedback, and help you develop a plan to get (or stay!) on the path to a satisfying, healthy relationship.

Whew! That’s a lot, isn’t it?

Actually, it is! Doing a thorough evaluation of your relationship does require investing some time, and it brings with it some pretty remarkable benefits. This is an assessment that can answer vital questions about where you are in your relationship.

Are we doing what we need to do to protect and grow our friendship and connection over the long haul?

The Gottmans’ 40+ years of research on couple relationships tells us that a strong foundation of friendship, trust, and commitment are vital to maintaining a positive connection over a lifetime. This assessment can help you understand how strong that foundation is today, and your feedback session can provide tips on ways that you can reinforce that foundation to keep it strong and healthy over time.

Are the things we fight about today going to get worse or better over time?

Gottman’s research is famous for being able to actually predict divorce, based on observed interactions and physiological responses, especially those that occur around an area of conflict. This assessment allows the clinician to directly gather this information and assess whether those reliable predictors of divorce are present in your relationship. The good news? Recognizing that those predictors are present in the relationship gives you and your clinician an opportunity to develop a plan to change course, and point you and your partner toward a more connected, healthier future.

Are we compatible in the ways that are most important?

A shared sense of meaning and purpose acts like a lighthouse for a relationship: it’s the beacon on the hilltop that catches your eye and keeps you both focused on moving together as a team in the right direction. That beacon insulates your relationship from distractions and outside stressors that might otherwise leave you both feeling lost. This assessment can help clarify and articulate what your shared meaning, goals, dreams, and purpose are, so that you know what to look for and build on. If you feel that your shared direction has already been lost, it can provide guidance on how to come together and find a new destination.

Investing in a Relationship Assessment gives you the building blocks you need to better understand where your relationship is, and where it is likely going. It might help you clarify areas you want your relationship to grow before taking the next step, or give you a road map for how to maintain the romance and connection you’re enjoying today. If you’re struggling with the bumps and turns life has already thrown at you, or perhaps you’re planning to begin couple’s therapy together, this assessment can provide your clinician will valuable information to direct your treatment, saving time and frustration in the therapy room.

Everyone feels a little lost from time to time. Sometimes, we end up wasting time or doing more damage trying to figure out where we are. Sometimes, even when we have good directions to start with, we get a bit turned around. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is pause, look around, and take the time to evaluate where we are, decide where we want to go, and maybe even ask for directions. A Relationship Assessment might be just the pause you need to find your new direction.

Barbara Lowe