How is your spouse performing?

Elizabeth Bernstein, Bonds columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote a great piece the other day on the usefulness of marital performance reviews. Most of us are familiar with performance reviews done by supervisors at work, but the idea of doing these at home is a fairly novel concept for most people.

The way we usually handle this kind of feedback to our partner is through catch is as catch can comments and asides, where we offer a word of thanks or praise, mutter a complaint, or throw out a “you always or you never” with a scowl. This usually results in a partner making a mental note to get back to that when time allows. If it ever does. This way of offering feedback is a little like taking something out of context—we only get part of the story or we get the whole thing completely wrong. Not a very useful way to communicate about how “we” as a couple are doing, is it?

Enter the “Marriage Performance Review.” This is when couples sit down together REGULARLY (and hopefully, without distractions) and identify issues and problems in order to tackle them before they grow into something destructive, and/or that takes on a life of its own. According to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers found that couples who performed regular “marital check-ups” saw significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction, sense of acceptance from their partner, intimacy—and suffered fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The key is doing these is that couples stick with behavior and avoid personal attacks. It’s also important that they acknowledge their partner’s feeling and views of the problem, be clear in what they are asking for, and consistent in both their communication and follow-up.

If a couple commits to doing this to the best of their ability and it doesn’t help, counseling would be the next best step for them to take.