The key to saving your marriage may also be the thing you hate doing at work: an annual review.
Many marriage therapists encourage spouses, and even romantic partners, “complete periodic performance reviews” to inspect their relationship, find any problems that exist and “identify goals for improvement,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s the relationship equivalent of the six-month dental checkup,” James Cordova, director of the Center for Couples and Family Research at Clark University, told WSJ.
But couples can’t go into this with a soft approach, experts say.
“Couples have to be careful, and constructive, when sharing their assessments,” according to WSJ. “Fairness is crucial. And for couples in a relationship crisis, a performance review is unlikely to help.”
This isn’t just advice, but it's based on research.
Back in 2014, Cordova had couples fill out questionnaires about their partner’s strengths and weaknesses, The Daily Beast reported. There were six-month checkups thereafter, with a control group being told their checkup would be delayed, The Daily Beast reported.
The couples who had the six-month checkups reported greater marital satisfaction and happiness than those who didn’t receive the checkup, according to The Daily Beast.
But while Cordova’s research may have found this based on six-month checkups, others, like Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, who are marriage coaches and have been married for 34 years, “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,” WSJ reported.
It makes sense, too, that these reviews would work for a marriage. Communication about relationship issues has long been considered a key to a happy relationship, as our own JJ Feinauer wrote back in June of this year.
In fact, a study from Cornell University found that communication is one of the three keys to a happy marriage, since it can help solve marital issues, Feinauer reported
“Most marital problems can be solved through open communication, and conversely many whose marriages dissolved blamed lack of communication,” the study said.
The researchers don’t mention any bonuses given out after a good review, as some workers sometimes see. We’ve seen bonuses given out to spouses, though, in the past, which has sparked some controversy, and may mean the performance review method may not be accepted by all.
As our own Shelby Slade reported, Polly Phillips, who’s married to an executive in the oil industry, wrote for the New York Post that she often receives a “wife bonus” from her husband because “she has given up, and continues to give up, many opportunities to care for their daughter and home.”
This sparked some controversy online, with some wives saying these kinds of bonuses make women feel more dependent on their husbands, Slade reported.
And, as Heather Landy of Quartz wrote, these bonuses don’t do much to help relationship satisfaction. This is according to a University of Chicago research paper that found incentives and bonuses don't always make workers more productive.
That is to say, a good marital performance review, or some kind of bonus, may not make a spouse any better at their relationship.
With that in mind, conducting a marriage review may seem daunting at first, but Rebecca Chory, a professor at Frostburg State University, offered six tips for conducting a positive performance review for your marriage to The Wall Street Journal.
Chory said it’s important not to put down your partner, but rather identify his or her bad behaviors and explain how you came to those ideas. Couples may also want to show you’re bringing up issues that you’re consistently upset about, and not “criticize your spouse for something one time and laugh it off another,” WSJ reported.
Couples should also allow their partners to respond to the feedback and be clear about whatever goals they’d like them to change in the future, Chory said.
“If you are doing it well,” he said, “you can tell because you will feel closer to each other and will each feel understood."
For more on building a happy marriage:
Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.