Want a Better Relationship? Ask Your Partner This Question



Four little words may be the perfect fix when your relationship needs a tune-up.

"How are you feeling?"

In eight years of marriage, it was the question Sunshine Spoils Milk blogger Kimberly Zapata never thought to ask her husband. The duo had been together since they were high school sweethearts clutching hands in the hallway. Then one day, in their early 30s, they found themselves sitting across from a marriage counselor. Zapata was convinced the marriage was over.

"We were very much two strangers living in the same house, but it really got bad in the last few years towards the end," Zapata tells NBC News Better.

Zapata says she suffered from anxiety and depression, while her husband had just overcome an alcohol addiction. Neither knew how to talk to the other. Their daughter, just a year old at the time, added to the stress.


"We had no communication between the two of us for probably a good seven to eight years," says Zapata. But making time for daily heartfelt discussions, or what their therapist called "checking in," helped them learn to talk to each other."It seems so basic, but it's something that's so often forgotten, especially when you throw kids in the mix or other struggles in the mix," Zapata says.


Focus on feelings


When the blogger and her husband check in with each other, they consciously talk about their feelings, Zapata says.

"We both always try to ask 'How are you feeling?'"says Zapata. She says they focus on asking questions that show regard for their personal struggles.

"Like for example, with my depression, if he knows I've been having a tough patch, he'll make it a point to ask me specifically about something that's been going on related to that," Zapata says.

It's also important to keep on top of unresolved issues, says the mom.

"We try and listen to each other and keep that conversation going if there's still unresolved issues on it," she says. "We'll keep touching base on that every conversation."

Reserve a time to talk


Between her husband's job and her own work schedule, going to the gym and taking care of their toddler, life gets hectic, Zapata says. That's why it's important to carve out a specific time to check in, she says. For the busy New York City couple, that time is usually right after they tuck their daughter in at night.

"If we don't have that slot on the calendar, it just kind of gets lost in the shuffle and the next thing you know it's 11 o'clock at night," she says. "At that point I'm shut down — I'm not really interested in talking."

Just listen


When couples check in, they should agree beforehand to let each other speak and not get defensive, advises Zapata. The key, she says, is to simply sit back and listen.

"A lot of our problems weren't just that we weren't communicating, but that if I told him something like 'I feel like you're not giving me the support I need,' or something like that, he took that as, 'Well, I'm being unsupportive, but I'm not being unsupportive.' And then the defenses get raised," she explains.

You should also understand that your partner might not want you to offer solutions, Zapata explains.

"There's plenty of problems that I have that my husband can't fix and vice versa, but sometimes I just need somebody to listen, someone to bounce that off of and then feel like, 'OK I got that out there.'"

Check in regularly


After two years of checking in, Zapata and her husband are in a happy, loving relationship.

"Our 10 year anniversary is in October," she says.

That's a day the writer didn't expect to make it to before she started checking in with her husband. "I had no hope we would be seeing our anniversary," she says.

The pair still have their disagreements, she admits, especially over how to raise their daughter. But that's just a reminder that it's time to check in.

"There's days that go by where we don't check in and we get tense around each other," Zapata says. "We're like 'Wait, we're missing something here.' Because it definitely [is] something we have to work at and remind ourselves to do."

How to 'Check In'



  • Focus on feelings. When you check in with your partner, consciously focus on feelings, personal struggles and unresolved issues.

  • Reserve a time to talk. When life gets busy, it's easy to lose track of time. Make sure you carve out a specific time each day when it's convenient for you and your partner to check in.

  • Just listen. Before you check in, agree not to become defensive or interrupt each other. Remember that your partner might not want solutions - he or she needs you to just sit back and listen.

  • Check in regularly. Even as you get better at talking to each other, it's important to continue checking in on a consistent basis.

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