Nothing sucks quite like a performance review. Even when you know you’re doing well, hearing about your weaknesses is never any fun, so it’s no surprise that I’ve never met a person who has said, “You know what I’d like? For people to judge me in my personal life like they do at work!” That’s why it’s so strange that marriage experts are saying that’s exactly what we should be doing.
A marriage performance review may sound terrible, but it’s actually pretty simple: It’s just a scheduled time for couples to sit down (either on their own or with a therapist) and go over how the relationship is going, what’s working and what’s not, and how what could be done to improve.
There’s no point to this if spouses aren’t going to be completely honest, which can be challenging when you’re trying to avoid hurt feelings. And if the performance review is to be successful, The Daily Beast notes, then it must also be constructive and focus on the relationship as opposed to the individual. That means no one should be personally attacked for forgetting to bring home milk or letting the animals on the couch even though they’ve been asked not to do so. If you want your partner to stop leaving the floor wet after a shower (a thing that pisses my husband off more than any other thing I’ve ever done), you’re going to have to explain how that will be beneficial for the relationship, as opposed to suggesting that the lack of courtesy your partner displays is a sign of ill breeding or a personal affront to your needs.
How often should you have these performance reviews? Some experts suggest every six months (ugh), while others say that even more frequent check-ins are productive for growing in relationships. One couple—surprisingly both partners work in the mental health field—even suggest doing check-ins twice a week to make sure everything is on track. Who has the time and energy for that?
Nevertheless, research suggests these check-ins can work:
In an experiment—cited by the WSJ—conducted by James Cordova, professor of psychology and director of the Centre for Couples and Family Research at Clark University, couples were asked to fill out questionnaires assessing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
This process was then followed by six monthly checkups, while the control sample were told their appointment had been delayed.
The ones with the six-monthly checkups reported greater increased happiness than the ones whose appointments never materialized (they were told they were on a waiting list. To be fair, that must have been bloody annoying for them, and the sheer irritation they felt at filling out this daft form and then never getting the promised follow-up might have bled into their marital rows. Just saying.)
Of course, just regular random conversations can work, too, but these may be less likely to happen if they’re not scheduled and structured because “most people are busy and keep their head down,” realizing too late that they’ve drifted from their partners and are plodding down very different paths.
So what to do? Well, first of all, maybe don’t call these “performance reviews” so it doesn’t seem like someone could get fired or promoted, or like your relationship is a job (even if it does take work). After that? Consider seeing a counselor who’s trained in helping couples iron out differences and come together more closely. Couples therapy may have been stigmatized in the past, but, according to The Daily Beast, more and more couples are seeking help far before a divorce is imminent and even if they might not be having problems. Making some time to talk about the relationship can make it stronger and, unfortunately, just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re a flawless communicator or equipped with the tools necessary to critique your partner while maintaining respect and affection. That’s when a professional can help.
Even if you’re not into scheduling formal reviews to discuss your #relationshipgoals, you may want to make an effort to communicate more often. After all, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in a long time, it’s the idea that relationships can’t be successful if you’re not expressing your feelings to each other in an appropriate way.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via 20th Century Fox