It’s amazing how much my first year of marriage has found Sarah and me sharing with others about what the experience has been like. Just recently we gave a talk to some undergraduates about how we integrate prayer into our relationship. One key feature of our prayer, especially at the beginning of our marriage, was a Relationship Examen. Our method takes the spirit of Ignatius’s examination of conscience and applies it to a deep examination of how our relationship is going. Each of us would take turns reflecting on these three questions:
How am I doing in the relationship?
Self-reflection is key to the Christian life. And this reflection best starts with Jesus’ command to love God, neighbor, and self. In this case the neighbor would be your friend or partner. How have you been caring for the other person? Where do you notice your struggles to be a good friend? Are you caring for yourself, or do you beat yourself up for your imperfections? Jesus knew that we couldn’t be effective neighbors if we didn’t first take care of ourselves. And how does your relationship with God influence how you are? For Sarah and me, individual prayer only strengthens us as a couple.
How are you doing in the relationship?
Here’s a chance to be honest but loving with your friend or partner. Have you felt loved by that person? How has she or he given you joy and contributed to the welfare of the relationship? Do you have any gentle suggestions for him or her to do something different? This is a time I can be honest with Sarah and say, “It would mean a lot if you could offer more words of affirmation to me,” since that’s a primary way I feel loved. Honest relationships have the chance to act as a mirror, in which the other can reveal to you the ways you may have been helping or hindering the relationship.
How is the relationship going in general?
The Relationship Examen concludes with a look at the relationship as a whole. Where have we come from and where are we going? Have we enjoyed spending time together? Has the relationship grown and strengthened, or has it become stagnant? And just as Ignatius’s Examen looks hopefully toward the future, we can ask ourselves what our hopes are for our future in relationship with each other.
These three questions can also be helpful for examining your relationship with God. How are you giving to the relationship? What has God done for you? What might you need to ask for? Is your spiritual life growing or stagnant?
Sarah and I have found that a prayerful examination of our relationship makes it more meaningful and invites us to take a more intentional role in its development.