My partner and I sat across from each other on our bed as I explained how this exercise worked. Author and psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber, I said, calls it the “check-in.” My partner and I are best friends, very happily married for five years. We pride ourselves on being excellent communicators in our relationship.
However, this exercise was making my heart flutter with anxiety, with my nervous giggle slipping out at awkward moments. I had no reason to be nervous but I could feel the walls go up to protect my vulnerability.
The “check-in” is one of seven tools Sumber describes in his new book Renew Your Wows, which he aims at couples looking to increase their communication, up their intimacy, or just make things work. Sumber has studied under the tutelage of relationship experts such as Sue Johnson and Wayne Dyer, and writes that all of his mentors and experiences have informed his process. He describes the book as “less a relationship ‘diet’ book of ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that,’ and more about a creative lifestyle change.”
Relationship books can take on a rather sugary and romanticized view of how to improve a relationship — and these same books can also spend a lot of time focusing on the couple as a unit rather than on the parts that make the whole. Sumber is more down-to-earth, practical, and direct, and rather than focus solely on the couple working together, he points out the need for each individual to take responsibility for their actions and words.
In order to better a relationship, he writes, you must “contemplate your own individual self as separate from your partner. Sometimes we must create some emotional distance from our partners,” he explains, “in order to regain our sense of who we were when we started this wacky relationship.”
His process stresses the importance of taking personal responsibility for actions and behaviors and for the fulfillment of personal needs. By giving up waiting on others, including a job or agency to change things, he writes, “the easier and more fluid your process of change, transformation, and illumination will be.”
Appropriately, then, the exercises Sumber gives throughout the book, as well as in the downloadable workbook he provides, bounce between solo activities and activities meant for the couple together. One of the exercises that jumped out at me was what he calls the 7/24. Here, one partner chooses a day in advance and plans to spend that day “celebrating, appreciated, and offering acts of kindness” to their loved one. Other smaller exercises include reading a book aloud together each night, and journaling.
In the downloadable workbook, meanwhile, Sumber gives exercises such as writing down the vision of your perfect relationship with your partner, creating personal affirmations, writing a movie script for your ideal day, and making a list of extraordinary things in your life. And this emphasis on action certainly matters. Part of what can be frustrating as a couple is figuring out how to implement advice, but Sumber helpfully provides concrete actions for couples to take.
This is not to say it will be easy. My partner and I both felt uncomfortable with the check-in, but found that it provided a simple and direct way to express gratitude, needs, and gifts. I have already started recommending this book to friends — not necessarily because their relationships are in trouble, but because Sumber’s book seems useful to all couples, regardless of where they stand.
Renew Your Wows: Seven Powerful Tools to Ignite the Spark and Transform Your Relationship
Raindrops Press, April 2015
Paperback, 168 pages