Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: How to Assess Important Relationships

a couple sitting on a bench looking out at the NY skyline
Photo by oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

For many, the advent of a New Year is a time for reflection, fresh starts, resolutions, and traditions. A few years ago, Gary, my husband of 55 years, and I started a New Year’s Day tradition of assessing and discussing our relationship.

Our doing this started when I was writing my book on relationships. (And no, this is not a promotion piece for my book.) I had developed a relationship assessment tool – one that I make available at no cost to anyone who wants to use it. This assessment tool can be used to appraise any important relationship, e.g., with spouses, bosses, family members, work colleagues, friends. It has been designed to quickly pinpoint what is working in any given relationship and what is not.

The 15 Building Blocks of a Relationship

Based on my experience and research, I have compiled a list of the 15 building blocks of relationships: They are the specific and required elements that comprise healthy and fulfilling relationships.

I present them in alphabetical order and not in any hierarchical order, because only you, as a relationship participant, can determine the order of importance of the building blocks in any given relationship. That is, the relevancy, importance, and impact of each building block will vary from one relationship to the next.

The assessment tool addresses these two areas vis-à-vis each building block:

  1. How I feel treated in any given relationship.
  2. How I try to treat the other person in any given relationship.

The 15 building blocks in a relationship are:

  1.  Accommodation (pertains to adaption, adjustment, compromise, and concession).
  2.  Appreciation (pertains to thankfulness, gratitude, acknowledgment, recognition, regard, esteem).
  3.  Commitment (pertains to engagement, involvement, pledges, vows, bonds, agreements).
  4.  Communication (pertains to imparting thoughts, feelings, ideas, disclosing, sharing, revealing).
  5.  Discord (pertains to expressing anger, frustration, and other negative feelings in non-destructive ways).
  6. Empathy (pertains to vicarious experiencing of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and attitudes; understanding by putting oneself in another’s position).
  7. Expectations (pertain to anticipating, high probabilities, looking forward to certain things happening).
  8. Forgiveness (pertains to absolution, reconcilement, contrition).
  9. Honesty (pertains to integrity, honor, truthfulness; an absence of deceit and fraud).
  10. Kindness (pertains to compassion, tenderness, helpfulness, consideration, and patience).
  11. Predictability (pertains to anticipating in advance with some surety what to expect, what is going to happen).
  12. Respect (pertains to esteem, being held in high regard, thought highly of; listened to carefully and thoughtfully).
  13. Space (pertains to having the physical and emotional latitude to do things, be with other people, and pursue interests alone).
  14. Trustworthiness (pertains to truthfulness, reliability, and dependability; counting on someone, banking on them; believing they’ve got your back).
  15. Values (pertains to holding ethics, standards, principles, moral codes, and ideologies that are honorable).

The Benefits of Using This Relationship Assessment Tool

As the developer of this relationships assessment tool, you would expect me to tout its benefits! But please don’t take my word for it. Here are some comments from readers who used the tool and shared their feedback with me.

  • The assessment tools were very helpful. The best part was that my husband and I rated each other more sensitive/supportive than we rated ourselves, so this was a nice surprise!
    These assessments are a great way to see quickly if you’re on the same page as the other person.
  • … what’s important to me may not be so valuable to the other person. Or the things I am doing and the way I am being might not really be communicating what I want to say. I like that the tools are short and concise yet speak to the important areas of a relationship without getting into “you said, he said” dialogue. They provide a starting point at which to delve deeper into the specifics of a relationship.
  • Karen’s assessment tools present situations in relationships that, especially in close ones, are often really scary for people to consider. Fortunately, she frames them in words that make them non-threatening and thus provide the feeling that such discussions are safe to have. Overall, this positive approach/description opens the door for many people who would otherwise timidly keep it closed.
  • I completed the assessments and couldn’t believe:
    1. How easy they were to complete.
    2. How thought-provoking it was to linger over both assessments.
    3. How astounded I am that, in fact, I am partnered with the absolute best man for me—he hit the bell on every single question of how I am treated by him.
    4. How open I am to work on honesty in our relationship. By this I mean that it has been a slow, conscious path to revealing myself so fully to him. I have been aware of how I have hidden myself emotionally.
    5. The assessments also helped me to accept myself and respect my own efforts to “give what I long to receive.”
  • My wife and I found the directions clear and easy to understand. The structure creates a helpful guide. Completing the assessment created an opportunity for us to talk about things in a constructive manner. It is a great way to learn how your partner feels about different situations and how you feel.

The Relationship Assessment Is Readily Available

If you would like to learn more about my relationship assessment tool and/or use it, it is readily available for you, at no cost. (The assessments are print ready.)

To reiterate: the tool is beneficial to assess any important relationship in your personal or professional life, i.e., not just with spouses or partners.

Although the assessments are most beneficial if both parties complete them, in many relationships it might be inappropriate and/or uncomfortable to ask the other person in the relationship to complete the assessment tools. Nevertheless, there is value in completing the assessment tools on your own to see what you can learn about yourself and your participation in any given relationship.

Wishing you healthy and fulfilling relationships, at home and at work!

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

Email queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is

It’s All About Relationships:

New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work.

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