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

Get Lusty gets real about sex with Dr. Jenn

Get Lusty for Couples recently chatted with me about sex, gender, age, holistic sexuality, and bold communication. Listen to the audio podcast here and read some of the highlights below.

Highlights of Dr. Jenn's podcast interview

  • What drew Dr. Jenn to the human sexuality aspect of sociology? A self-proclaimed "good girl" when she was in college, Dr. Jenn joined the Sexual Health Peer Educators to become comfortable with public speaking and her interests in sex, sexual health, and power dynamics in gender evolved from there.
  • What are girls taught versus what are boys taught growing up, says Dr. Jenn, presents a problematic power dynamic for women as it puts women at a disadvantage with less freedom surrounding sexuality. Society fosters negative and shameful feelings about sexuality, when it should really be open and widely discussed!
  • What are some of the biggest issues Dr. Jenn's seen for couples? In younger couples, technology and social media becomes a factor in harboring jealousy, while in older couples there's the issue of boredom and difference in desires between genders.
  • To cover both the younger couple's and the older couple's problems, Dr. Jenn suggests creating new habits, like weekly check-ins to discuss intimacy and topics they're working on as a couple.
  • What are the benefits to a holistic approach in talking about sexuality? There are many layers to human emotional logic, Dr. Jenn believes; delving into deeper aspects of a person's psyche allows you and others/your partner to better understand the beliefs and experiences that make you you.
  • How do you learn to boldly talk about sexuality in an open way? Look at it as a homework assignment, Dr. Jenn says, and agree each week to bring one new thing to your sex life. This will create a structure to make it less awkward and uncomfortable to talk about sex.

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

Stop Pissing off Your Partner - Vent, Gather Info, or Fix? of the most common gender differences I see in relationships regard communication styles. For example, it is not uncommon for a woman to want to talk through things and vent about her concerns. However, many men interpret this as a request to fix the situation. It makes sense -- if someone we love is hurting and tells us that, why wouldn’t we want to do what we can to “fix” it? But interestingly, the woman often becomes irritated because she says he isn’t listening to her or is trivializing her concern. And the man gets annoyed, because he thinks she isn’t taking his advice to make the situation better.

If you recognize this pattern in your relationship, what can you do about it? The best approach is to be clear about your expectations from the start. For example, if everyday when you get home from work you like to tell you partner about what happened and share your frustrations, state up front what you’re looking for. “Hi hon, can I just vent about my day? You don’t have to do anything. I just need you to listen.” And if you’re on the receiving end you could say, “I noticed I’m getting really irritated listening right now and frustrated that I can’t do anything. Do you want me to help you fix this problem, or do you just want me to listen?” This will make a big shift in communication and avoid hurt feelings.

I think there can also be a third category, depending on your personality. Sometimes people share stories and ask questions because they are on a “fact finding” mission. They want to gather perspectives so they can come to a more informed decision for themselves. So recognize this as a middle area, and clearly state your intentions for the conversation. “I don’t need to vent, but I’m also not looking for a fix. I’m curious about your ideas around this topic just so I can gather information.” With this clarity, the partner who is giving the feedback will be less likely to feel discouraged if you don’t take their advice.

Like developing any new habit, it can take time to create this new pattern of interaction. Being clear about your intentions and expectations is a great practice in transparency. In the long run, we’re much more likely to get our needs met when we own them and articulate them from the start.

(Originially posted as part of the Love & Sex Blog for Pacific San Diego Magazine.)

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

Genital Bear Trap? the cartoon. “I’m guessing you are not in the mood…” Cue laughter.

Why does this evoke laughter? Even I laughed initially when I read it before I considered other perspectives. I was curious whether women in general would find it amusing due to familiarity with that situation, or if they would be upset by it. And what about men?

In my private practice, I frequently witness this dynamic with couples of mismatched desire levels, albeit not to the extent of barbed wire. In bed at night, here’s the monologue that seems to go through the woman’s head:

He will probably want sex tonight. It’s been a little while so maybe I should. But I’m exhausted and don’t feel like it. If I yawn loudly, he’ll see the subtle clue that I’m too tired and not ask, and then I won’t feel guilty about saying no.

This cartoon cuts through the mental game playing as the woman blatantly presents her opinion about sex that night. The man scratches his head, and with a bit of uncertainty, states the obvious.

I’m mixed about how I feel about a cartoon like this. This is a stereotype, and such stereotypes are problematic because they can enforce already restrictive gender roles. On the other hand, this is how many couples operate, and humor is a known path to opening dialogue around uncomfortable topics.

So I posted the cartoon on Facebook and asked for people’s initial reactions, and why they had that reaction (both publicly and in private message). The responses were incredibly varied from the extremes of  “this is depressing” and “this isn’t funny,” to recognition that “as a mother of three children, I laughed,” to “lighten up people, it’s a joke” (which incidentally, was from a man). The most poignant responses were those indicating opposing gender perspectives on who was responsible for the couple reaching this point. As one friend posted, we need to ask why this is happening. I quite agree. What differences are women and men learning about sex and experiencing around sex that makes this a national joke? Clearly we’re missing the mark, and each other.

From a woman’s perspective, why would she get to a point of desiring physical barriers between her and her partner? She may be exhausted and overwhelmed from juggling so much, doesn’t feel much of a physical sex drive, she’s bored with the same old in the bedroom, or she’s built up a wall of resentments that make opening up sexually difficult. These are all common explanations I hear from clients and quite valid. The Facebook crowd added that a discomfort can exist if the man has cheated or if the woman gets tired of saying no. This was exemplified by the comment, “another clueless horny man,” from a woman who thought the cartoon was funny because it’s true. There were also some women who felt that the depicted couple was sad and distressing, because clearly her other modes of communication had been ignored.

The sad theme was also mentioned by several men, who saw it as frustrating to a man. I perceived these responses to mean that to encounter such roadblocks when desiring sexual intimacy with your partner is upsetting. Continual rejection can take quite a toll on a man’s self-esteem and confidence. On the other hand, several men found humor in the cartoon with the “it’s funny because it’s true” response for a few reasons: because women don’t communicate directly enough for men to understand, so the blatancy of the cartoon is appreciated; it “blames” the woman for her lack of interest in sex; and that the use of a bear trap and fencing in bed is just funny. As to why a man could get to this point in a relationship, in my practice, I’ve found that men are more likely to continue to have physical sexual desire throughout a long-term relationship, while their female partners don’t experience the same type of physical urges. It can be difficult for men to understand and accept this shift.

That being said, I would be remiss to not share the perspectives of the women and men who expressed the opposite view. A couple women were in the shoes of the “man” of wanting more sex. One man responded, after a chuckle, that sometimes guys don’t want sex either. There were also some people who recognized that it takes two to tango, and both partner’s played a main role in creating this sad situation. I certainly see all of this in my practice as well.

What is the lesson here? In relationships as depicted in the cartoon, it’s vital to realize that the woman is not trying to be a gatekeeper. Additionally, the man is not trying to be an ass. Despite the difficulty in each partner accepting this, it is actually quite hurtful and guilt-inducing on both sides. Drop the defensiveness and get to the vulnerable truth, and allow space for your partner to do the same. Get to the heart of your needs, desires, and motivations, and open to a teamwork approach. Otherwise that electrical fence will get more charged and divisive.

And the funniest response on Facebook? One of the class clowns from my high school did not disappoint. He wrote: “I’m wondering what book she’s reading? Maybe it’s 50 Shades of Grey, in which case the guy should hang in there as she might change her mind shortly.” Thank you, Doug.

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

Why It's Important to Hurt Your Partner...Sometimes

I’ve seen a trend with some men. They are very afraid to hurt their female partner. They explained that they learned as kids, often from their dads, that “You don’t hurt a woman. Ever.” Kids generally don’t have the brain capacity to develop nuanced understandings around such topics. Therefore, by adulthood, this statement becomes a black and white obligation for men around a very complex emotional situation.

How might this show up for an adult man in a relationship?

He always says yes but then doesn’t follow through. He keeps his opinions to himself but slowly builds resentments over time. He denies responsibility or blames his partner when she is hurt by something he’s done.

Why is this problematic?

This pattern of communication can create big relationship problems. It’s all based in fear: fear of confrontation, fear of feeling horrible for hurting the woman you love, or fear of seeing her cry. But it’s imperative to recognize the difference between “small hurts” and “big hurts.” Small hurts, handled responsibly, can avoid big hurts.

All 7 billion people on the planet have their own unique perspective on the world. This means when two of those people are in relationship, they will have disagreements. This is natural, normal, and healthy. People get disappointed, choose to compromise, and are sometimes hurt. This is all part of the negotiation required to merge two lives. When we choose how to negotiate the small hurts honestly and responsibly, we can live more from love than fear, and keep the big hurts from growing.

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sexuality Speaker, Sex Therapist, College Sexual Health Speaker, Sexologist

What is Tantra? Is it Different for Women & Men? #139

Dr. Jenn interviews Tantra Teacher & Counselor, Shawn Roop, about the definition of tantra as a spiritual & sexual journey. Shawn also shares important differences between women and men in their pursuit of spiritual sexuality.

Sexual Fun Fact
According to a new Australian study, what percentage of women regularly experience post sex depression or what's officially called post-coital dysphoria?

Special Den Sex-tion
Sex Position of the Day - "The Found a Penny"

~Dr. Jenn, San Diego Sex Therapy, Marriage Counseling, & College Sexual Health Speaker