Check in or Checking the Box

A topic that comes up often in my office is that of check-ins. By this I mean the multitude of touch points men have with their wives. These include the daily ones, typified by coming and going to work, meetings, appointments, lunch breaks, etc. They also include the more event oriented ones, such as those dealing with travel, corporate functions, etc. With all of these, the recurring conversation we have in my office surrounds whether or not said check-ins are meaningful and trust-building. If not, it seems like they are the at best inconsequential or at worst, damaging. If they are deemed inconsequential by a wife, naturally the husband asks, “why am I doing it then?” If damaging, the husband usually is inclined to try and figure out what he’s doing wrong. The dialogue then typically spirals into a no-mans-land of misunderstanding. He thinks he’s doing it the way she asked and she thinks he’s not listening or is just checking the box. Ugh.

I can’t solve the riddle and put a bow on the check-in thing, but I can take a stab at making it more meaningful. Below are 3 things to remember, followed by some suggestions:

1 – First, remember that a check in is a specific act of insulating against fear. While there may not be imminent fear, where a wife is biting her nails wondering what her husband is up to, that fear is often looming in the background. Every time you check in you are adding a thin layer of insulation or buffer against that fear. That leads to the second reminder.

2 – Every check in that is predicated on honesty and integrity (as opposed to lies and secrets) gives your wife ammunition to fight the battles in her head. When fear and doubt start to creep in, and she starts scrutinize every move you’ve made and every word you’ve said the last few days, she can lean on your check-ins. She can sort of tally up those touch points and say to herself-

“is he cheating on me? Is he looking at porn? Ok, maybe, but he has been consistent in the check ins. He’s said things that make me think he actually cares that I’m hurting. He’s shown me that he doesn’t want me to feel fear and anxiety. So while I can’t be sure of his integrity, I can at least take the data into consideration and not jump to conclusions yet.”

If all you’re doing is communicating logistics it’s not going to be very meaningful. In fact, this is exactly what causes a wife to see them as checking-the-box. What I mean by logistics is when a call/text/voicemail says something like-

  • I’m headed to lunch.
  • Walking into a meeting.
  • Just landed.
  • On my way home.
  • Watching TV.

You get the picture. There’s nothing relational, it’s just data.

So how do we make the check ins more meaningful?

To begin, we have to make them more relational. At the very least include a statement of your motivation or intention behind the text. Why are you sending it in the first place (PS – if your answer here is: “because I have to” – its not going to go well)? Probably because you don’t want her to feel fear or anxiety, or to worry. You want her to feel safe and secure. You don’t want her mind to race and rehash the past. You want her to be in the know in case she needs you. You want her to sense your commitment. Or renewed commitment. You want her to know that she’s on your mind and not an afterthought (anymore). You want her to know you are/aren’t with so-and-so. You simply communicate this along with the logistics. When your wife gets a sense of your motivation and intention it can help her trust you, rather than assuming you’re just doing it because the counselor said you had to.

Next, we have to try to express empathy. Yes, it is hard to do. And no, you can’t do it every time, with every single text. That’s ok, but more is better. Bear in mind what is happening in her world when you are checking in from your world. Engage beyond the logistics. Again, examples help-

  • How’s it going at home?
  • How’s the Dr. visit going?
  • Is your boss on your case today?
  • What do you want to do for dinner?
  • I can take the kids to practice if you’d rather not.
  • How was your day?
  • Need anything from Target on my way home?

These are not empathic statements. Usually they are underlined by empathy, but they are not empathic themselves. So we have to communicate on that next, deeper level. Here’s what that might look like-

I’m headed to lunch. How’s it going at home? I know it’s a hectic day there with the boys out of school, I hope you’re not feeling too overwhelmed. Do you need anything from me while I’m at lunch?
Walking into a meeting. How’s the Dr. visit going? Going to the Dr. is never fun, I hate that you have to do that today. I’m praying for the anxiety you might feel. I’m going into a meeting and I’ll yell as soon as I’m out.
Just landed. Is your boss on your case today? I know work is tough and you feel ticked at your boss. I’m sorry I’ve added to your stress and made it extra difficult to be at work. I know my being out of town doesn’t help.
On my way home. What do you want to do for dinner? I’m leaving the office and I know you’ve had a hard day with triggers and how I’ve hurt you. Can I grab dinner and make this evening easier on you?
Watching TV. How was your day? I’m sorry you have to worry about what I’m doing when you’re not around. And I hate that you have to feel like a babysitter. I’m watching TV, and doing so with integrity.

Hopefully this gives you some framework. Empathy and relational communication are both key. Sure, sometimes its just logistics. I get that. And I get that checking in can feel like a fulltime job itself. But it is also a fairly integral part of the process of rebuilding trust after betrayal. Bigger picture, I think it’s a sign of a healthy, integrated relationship in general. Most wives in my office say they don’t need their husband to get it perfectly, they just want to more from him than to check-the-box when it comes to these check-ins. Give it a shot.

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