Stay connected and in tune with each other with this simple little trick.
No, we’re not talking about enneagrams.
One Simple Question
Jenni and I have a simple technique we use to check in with each other that helps us stay connected and in tune with each other. We simply say, “On a scale from 1 to 10, what is your stress level?” Or we could use the same idea to ask about any negative emotion like anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, etc.
The shorthand version for us has become, “What number are you?”
Quickly communicating what’s going on this way can serve as the basis for further conversation. For us, when the number is below a five, we don’t typically pursue it further unless the person offering the number wants to clarify. We often respond, “Oh, good” or “That’s great.” An answer above a five usually means we need to talk it through to gain an understanding of what’s behind the number.
Offer or Ask for a Number
If I am being watchful and notice cues of emotional distress in Jenni, I will usually ask her for a number. She’ll do the same for me. Honestly, she’s much better at reading signs of emotionality than I am. Sometimes, if I am not aware of what’s going on, she will tell me her number without being asked and ask me about my number.
Whether asked or offered, the important thing is to be completely honest with each other about where we are and to both say where you are. The combination of numbers is often the best indicator of the way forward. If both our numbers are high, we might both just need some space and time to settle ourselves. When one is high, and the other is low, the low number can usually help the higher number. If we’re both low, we’re good and can go on our way.
It can be difficult to answer truthfully because sometimes we are in denial or may feel guilty for feeling bad. You might be tempted to give a falsely low number because “I just don’t want to get into it.” But in truth, emotional distress is going to come out at some point, whether we want it to or not, so it’s better to just be upfront about it and get it out on the table.
Help Bringing it Down
A high number from either of us will typically bring a response of “What’s going on?” We also ask, “What’s one thing I can do to help bring it down?” That’s a really important part of the discussion. It puts you on the same team, communicates empathy and compassion, and may lead to some helpful assistance in dealing with whatever is going on.
Sometimes when your emotions are too intense, you might have a hard time knowing what will help. That’s when it’s good to offer general suggestions that are helpful in taming emotions, such as journaling, prayer, breathing, or a hug. It’s also helpful to say to your distressed partner, “I’m trusting you to let me know if there is something I can do for you to help. I’m here for you.”
I hope you’ll give this little “What Number Are You” technique a try the next time one or both of you are up against some intense emotions. We’d love to hear how it works for you.