Getting your annual performance review from your boss can be awkward and irritating. Can you imagine getting one from your spouse?
A growing number of marriage therapists and relationship researchers recommend that spouses and romantic partners complete periodic performance reviews. Couples typically wait too long to go to therapy for help, they say. By taking time to regularly evaluate and review their relationship together, partners can recognize what is and isn’t working—and identify goals for improvement—long before problems become entrenched and irresolvable.
“It’s the relationship equivalent of the six-month dental checkup,” says James Cordova, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Couples and Family Research at Clark University, in Worcester, Mass.
This isn’t an exercise to be taken lightly. Couples have to be careful, and constructive, when sharing their assessments. Fairness is crucial. And for couples in a relationship crisis, a performance review is unlikely to help.
Research shows that regular checkups improve relationships. In a study published in Sept., 2014, in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Dr. Cordova and his colleagues gave 216 married couples questionnaires asking them to assess the biggest strengths and weaknesses in their relationship. Half the couples then saw a therapist for a checkup of two sessions to go over their evaluations and brainstorm a plan to address their concerns. The other half were told they were on a waiting list and didn’t discuss their assessments in a checkup.
The researchers, who followed up with the couples after one and two years, found those who had performed the checkup saw significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction, intimacy and feelings of acceptance by their partner, as well as a decrease in depressive symptoms, compared with the couples in the control group who didn’t perform a checkup. In addition, the couples who had the most problems in their marriage before the checkup saw the most improvement.
Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, relationship coaches, psychologists and authors of multiple books on marriage, who have been married 34 years and live in Ojai, Calif., schedule informal discussions with each other every Tuesday and Thursday, where they talk about problems or conflicts that have arisen in the past few days. In one recent discussion, Dr. Hendricks told his wife he has been feeling “left out” because she has been traveling so much for work lately, and she assured him that her schedule was going to lighten up soon.