How Strong is Your Marriage? A Checklist

His wife shakes her head back and forth with disbelief. “I’ve been telling you for five years that I’m not happy.”

“I didn’t know it was that serious,” he sighs.

Unfortunately, this exchange is not that unusual. I’ve seen it in my office more than once, and divorce statistics show that women are much more likely to initiate a divorce than men. When I’m counseling a couple with a deeply unhappy wife and a husband downplaying the seriousness of her concerns, I encourage the husband just to be empathetic. It can take a while for him to realize that her (or his) unhappiness is enough to bring down their marriage.

If you want to avoid a shock like this in your marriage, I suggest daily and weekly check-ins with your partner. While this structured approach to communication and connection might feel contrived at first, the initial awkwardness will pass. Over time, checking in can become a natural way of evaluating the health of your relationship.


The intent of the daily check-in is to give each partner space to be heard and feel important about their day. Spend about five minutes each sharing any highs, lows, challenges, and successes from your day. After each person has shared, end the conversation by exchanging some words of appreciation about and for each other.

Talking about your day facilitates support by ensuring you’re aware of your partner’s struggles and celebrating their successes. The moments of gratitude help retrain your mind to look for the positive aspects of your relationship. Vary the kinds of things you appreciate from day to day: these can be observations about physical appearance, qualities, joyful moments, strengths, kind gestures, and feelings of love. Even if one of you is traveling, you can still maintain a routine of checking-in and sharing moments of gratitude together.

Now, if you’re thinking you don’t have time for this on a daily basis, stop and consider that. Are all of the other responsibilities, tasks, and activities you do throughout the day really more important than your marriage? Is your strong, healthy marriage critical to your happiness in life? Keep this big picture in mind as you read about weekly check-ins.


Weekly check-ins are more in depth, and can focus specifically on whatever is important to your relationship. What are you struggling with or concerned about: communication, intimacy, happiness? If you find it difficult to measure concepts like happiness or to quantify how intimate you feel, use a ranking system from 1-10. For example, if clear communication has been a concern, keep a weekly log of how you each rank your communication for the preceding week, 1 meaning terrible and 10 meaning fabulous. Create a checklist of all relevant concepts and factors, and maintain an ongoing record of relationship statistics. This way, you can measure positive change and monitor for danger. This may sound like overkill or just plain nerdy, but I know some couples who thrive with this type of awareness.

Below I propose nine factors to consider in creating your weekly checklist. Some of these factors overlap, but each speaks to a different area for potential relationship problems. Weighing several factors at once can help you take an accurate pulse of your marriage.

1. Love (How loved did you feel?)

2. Intimacy (How strong was your emotional intimacy?)

3. Sexual Interaction (Did you experience enough sexual intimacy?)

4. Connection (Did you have an overall feeling of being on the same page with your partner?)

5. Communication (Did you communicate clearly as a couple?)

6. Respect (Did you feel respected in interactions with your partner?)

7. Teamwork (Did you feel like a team when planning and doing tasks?)

8. Nurturing (Did you feel cared for?)

9. Happiness (How much joy and happiness did you experience?)

The ground rules of the weekly check-in are to be open-minded, compassionate, and mindful. Also, agree ahead of time about the meaning of your scores. For example, a 5 isn’t comparable to a 50% grade on a test, indicating failure. It means that you felt average in that area—not great, but not bad either. Record your scores separately and then share them, one by one. Speak to what a 6 in intimacy means to you in the context of your week. Why wasn’t it a 3, and could it have been an 8? Be truthful yet kind, and take ownership that this is how YOU perceive your relationship. Recognize that your partner may perceive it in a different way. Indeed that’s the whole point—to voice these differences before they start breaking you apart.

It might seem surprising that a married couple living under the same roof could be so out of touch with each other’s happiness, but this happens more frequently than you’d expect. Daily and weekly check-ins have the potential to provide insights into your own motivations, learn what matters to your partner, and voice concerns in a timely manner. This is taking responsibility for the strength of your marriage.

(This was originally posted on The Good Men Project website, which you can view HERE.)

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker

Tell Your Partner Who ELSE You are Attracted To“You know, I thought that the person who waited on us at the restaurant last night was hot and I noticed I was attracted to them.”

How would you feel if your significant other said this to you? Would you feel insecure about yourself and freak out with jealousy? That is the likely response for many people.

We generally believe that it is not appropriate to talk with our current partner about how attracted we are to someone else. We learn that jealousy is the appropriate and justified response, since we have the romantic notion that our partner should never notice anyone else. If they do, our insecurities kick in, and we assume it means that we are not lovable enough, special enough, or good enough, and our partner might leave us. While this interpretation makes sense, it is not the only interpretation available.

It is natural to notice people you perceive as attractive, whether you are in a committed relationship or not.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen does not make those thoughts go away. I think it is important to keep the doors of communication open around topics like this. Otherwise, when natural occurrences like this become shameful or judged, they can become more powerful. What we resist, persists.

I am not suggesting that you should share every libidinous thought with your partner. It could be difficult and downright overwhelming to hear continual commentary about who arouses your partner. I think that tact is important in building comfort in sharing around potentially sensitive topics. It is also important to learn that when your partner finds someone else attractive, it is not a reflection on you.

Why am I even recommending this at all? Because I believe people would be less likely to cheat if they established a foundation of openness and trust in the beginning of their relationship by sharing such topics. When we admit that we feel attraction to others, share this with our partner, and then choose to remain committed in our partnership, it creates a bond of trust and honesty that can bring couples emotionally closer in the long run.

(This was originally posted as the Sex & Relationship Blog for Pacific San Diego Magazine.)

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexuality Speaker, Sexologist, Sociologist

Compassionate Communication

I can handle your telling me
what I did or didn't do.
And I can handle your interpretations
but please don't mix the two.

If you want to confuse any issue,
I can tell you how to do it:
Mix together what I do
with how you react to it.

Tell me that you're disappointed
with the unfinished chores you see,
But calling me "irresponsible"
is no way to motivate me.

And tell me that you're feeling hurt
when I say "no" to your advances,
But calling me a frigid man
won't increase your future chances.

Yes, I can handle your telling me
what I did or didn't do,
And I can handle your interpretations,
but please don't mix the two."

~Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Even with our best intentions when communicating in an intimate relationship, we often speak or listen from judgement and conflict. Social psychological research shows us that people do not like to feel attacked or blamed. They get defensive. They might lash back. And then we lash back. This can create a cycle of anger, self-righteousness, and irrationality. Marshall Rosenerg's quote above speaks to the value in separating observation from interpretation. This is a powerful first step to start breaking unhelpful cycles in a relationship.

When broaching a painful or upsetting topic, first state the facts you observed, without any other meaning attached. Be careful not to use any "loaded" language, but just state the objective facts. Then state how you interpreted it (i.e., what it meant to you) and how you felt about it. Although we often conflate observation and interpretation, they are quite separate entities. Making this separation allows you to own your emotions and reactions, without making them "facts" about what occurred. This gives your partner the space to hear you, with less chance of defensiveness.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling
~Healthy Sexuality & Happy Relationships in San Diego~
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Stop Talking! And Start Communicating...

“Have you mentioned this concern to your wife?” I ask.
“No – any time I try, she gets very defensive. We just can’t talk about things like this,” my client responds despondently.

We all have topics in relationships that are difficult to discuss. It can be tough to find the right words to talk about sex, intimacy problems, and relationship needs in a productive way. But once a topic becomes taboo in communication, it takes on a life of its own. If the lines of communication break down, this can breed distrust, secrets, resentments, and disconnection.

My suggestion? If you can’t speak it, write it! Although there are many forms of writing (e.g., emails, letters) I particularly like having a special journal. This is a place where your relationship can continue to grow and flourish, even amidst uncomfortable and heated topics. Choose a journal that you both agree is sacred to your deepest topics and a safe location to keep it. Then also choose a playful or attractive item to place on top of the journal, to indicate that a discussion has started within that requires a response. This could be a stuffed animal, a toy, a flower, or anything that feels safe and nice. In this way, you can completely avoid spoken words around the taboo topics.

How you write in the journal is also very important. Here are some suggestions to safely open the lines of communication:

  1. Explicitly state that you understand these are difficult topics and you don’t mean to make him/her feel uncomfortable or defensive. Acknowledge that you understand if s/he does feel that way and you’re sorry for the discomfort.
  2. State your thoughts and concerns clearly and concisely. Speak about how you feel. Be responsible and accountable for your feelings and your part in the current circumstances, and avoid blaming your partner for everything.
  3. Be proactive and offer a few ideas or suggestions of how to move through this tough topic. Write that these ideas are up for negotiation, so your partner knows s/he has a voice in creating compromise.
  4. End with 3 questions to help prompt a reply and direct the discussion towards clarity and authenticity.

Place the chosen indicator item on the journal and move on with your day. Agree ahead of time as to what length of time each person has to respond (1 day? 3 days?). This method won’t solve all your concerns and taboo topics overnight, but it does allow for movement through stagnation, and a potential path forward.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego

Deepen the Intimacy and Fun Communication with your Partner

This Wednesday, at Tango Wine Company in Little Italy (San Diego), I'm teaching a light and interactive couples workshop, just in time for Valentine's Day.

I will guide couples through fun exercises and enlightening discussion to deepen your intimacy, improve your authentic communication, and spark your connection.

  • Tips for increasing sensuality
  • Learn more about your sexual landscape (Did you know you had a sexual landscape?? :)
  • Sexual Fun Facts
  • Laughter and wine

Date: Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Time: 6:30 - 8:30pm
Price: $25 per couple
Place: Tango Wine, 2161 India Street, 92101

Each person will receive a complimentary glass of wine and snacks!

Contact Dr. Jenn to reserve you space at 858-880-5944 or

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego