- Tamara Catharina
Checking in, an act of love
Recently I discovered something in my relationship with Vincent that I believe is crucial for our connection. And I think essential in every intimate relationship. When we end up in conflict, it is seldom about the actual topic. Usually, it is about communication. And more specifically, it is about “we didn’t check-in with each other”. I will give an example of a few months ago, and one that occurred regularly:
One morning I came out of the shower and was dressing myself and packing my bag to go out together. Vincent opened the front door and asked Pepijn to come over and put on his shoes. I wasn’t ready to leave. I felt stressed. I really like to stay in flow in the morning and to follow the pace of my body. And from experience, I know that when the door is open, Pepijn wants to go out nów. And that he gets upset when that plan then changes. I felt triggered and irritated and had the idea that I now “had to hurry up”. And I had thoughts about Vincent “not being mindful about me”. My “I’m not ready” came out of my mouth slightly different than what is in line with my values. Which made me think, “I suck at Nonviolent Communication”.
At the moment of this event, I didn’t have clarity about how to navigate this. I decided to rush and run out and contemplate it later on. In the days after that, I noticed similar moments where I felt stress, irritation and had thoughts of blame. And every time this happened, I recognised that both Vincent and myself made assumptions about the other person. We didn’t actually do a reality check but acted or spoke as a follow up on our assumptions. What would happen if we checked in with each other? What would happen if we checked if our assumptions were reality?
On a sauna day together, where we had spaciousness and quiet time, we spoke about the moments that we checked in with each other and how that contributed to us. And about the moments we didn’t check-in and how painful it often had been for both of us. We discovered the long term benefits of checking in. The conversation touched me and brought me in closer connection with Vincent. I understood that checking in can be nourishing and connecting for ourselves and to each other. I understood that checking in is a simple and profound act of love.
Checking in, the receiving end
In the example above, I realised that I would have so loved for Vincent to ask me, “are you ready for me to open the door?”. But why would that make a difference for me? This question brought me to the needs that live in me around intimate relationships. I want my needs to be known, to be seen, to be understood, to be respected and to be taken into consideration. When someone checks in with me, I translate this as “I am being loved, I matter, I am safe”. When I receive the gift of checking in, I feel an opening sensation in my heart, a warm feeling, a fullness. I sense that someone noticed me, sees me, cares for me. It feels nourishing to me when someone checks in. It is a sense of deep relaxation and trust to lean back. It feeds my trust in life. And when you give me that gift of love, I feel love, I feel connected to you. I have the experience then of being in this love together, in a field of love and care.
Checking in, the giving end
But what does it give me to check in with someone else? I remembered a moment in the morning when Pepijn woke up before me, and I felt tired. Vincent stood up and took him out of bed. Even tho I expected Vincent to be comfortable with it, I didn’t want to assume anything, so I checked: “Is it ok for you if I stay in bed?”. “Yes, of course”, he replied, with a warm voice and smile, “please take your time”. Connecting to that moment, I understood, I wanted to care for him. I wanted to honour his capacity. I wanted to know about what was happening for him at that moment and include him in my choices. I want him to know that I respect him. And that I am open to receiving his honesty and listening to his needs. I ask from a place in my heart, a place of love and care. When I check in with him, it feels like giving a gift. It makes me think of Marshall’s song “Given to”. I feel joy when I give. I feel moved from a field of love.
Another thing that I realised is that when Vincent checks in and I experience this love and care, I can choose to express my appreciation. And when I do that in the way of sharing how it contributed to me and what needs were met, I give him information about what is important for me. For example, a few days after the event, Vincent asked me, “are you ready to go?”. I shared with him afterwards: “Thank you for asking me if I was ready. I so like to stay in flow and follow my body's pace. And when you check in with me, I notice it relaxes me, and it gives me the idea that I can take my time. And I feel seen and cared for”. It was touching him to receive this gift of appreciation and gave him an even deeper understanding of how his gift of checking in contributed to my wellbeing.
Apart from its contribution at the moment, I believe checking in also contributes to the connection in the long term. I experience checking in with each other is as a way to maintain the bridge of connection between us in any intimate relationship. Checking in moment by moment connects us to the needs that live in us in every moment, and it connects us to the change of needs that I believe happens throughout every life of a human being. It keeps the line open to listening to each other, understanding each other’s needs, and then having the possibility to choose to take those needs into consideration in the next step we take. With checking in, as a small and profound gesture, we continuously keep the line open. And how I experience that is that it keeps my heart open.
Along the way of relating with Vincent for the past years, I notice a shift in both of us. Every time we connect to each other's needs, express them and listen to them, it seems like another few cells in our body understand what is important, both for ourselves and the other. And the more cells have this understanding, the more we experience flow in our relationship. Awareness of our needs and awareness of the impact we have on each other increases that flow. The more we understand what works for us, the easier it is to navigate life together and the more fluent the dance with our needs.
What I learned in the past years, with some challenges in our lives, is that it is essential to remember that our needs can change. It is never a fixed manual that we can hand over to the other person, and that magically works forever. And that we can not expect the other person to, without us sharing those shifts, understand how to contribute to our lives and care for us. Checking in, testing the water, asking each other what is alive for them now, and doing so continuously or regularly, to me, is a necessary ingredient of caring for our connection.
From “have to” to “want to”
Now it might sound like a lot of work to check in with the other. So I want to connect to my “why” over and over again. I care for myself, the other and our relationship. I want to contribute to making our lives more wonderful moment by moment. I want to increase flow and ease in our being together. I want to enjoy giving and receiving gifts of appreciation and care. I don’t “have to” do it. It is my choice to contribute. I only want to do it if I can do it from a place in my heart and when my body says “yes” to it.
I believe a healthy relationship involves a willingness to listen moment by moment to what lives in ourselves as well as the feelings and needs of the other person. It consists in allowing change of attention and priority to happen. And to accept that the other might not automatically understand or feel understood. A dance of mutual empathy and authenticity.
I would love this to be a space for engagement, exploration and connection. Please practice nonviolence in your comments. If you have a request (for example, because you would like support or collaboration), you can send me an email: email@example.com