How a Performance Review Could Save Your Relationship



Job-related performance reviews may make you anxious enough. So how would you feel if your intimate partner asked for one?

After considering the potential benefits, you might realize it’s actually not a bad idea. Research conducted by Dr. James Cordova, director of the Center for Couples and Family Research at Clark University in Massachusetts, found that regular relationship checkups did indeed have a positive impact.

Cordova’s study, published in the “Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,” asked coupled partners to fill out a questionnaire detailing the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship. Half the participating couples met with a therapist to evaluate the results and come up with a plan for addressing their concerns. The control group of couples were told they were on a waiting list, and ultimately never reviewed or discussed the questionnaire findings.

Two years later, those participants who saw a therapist and worked on ways to improve their weaknesses, described themselves as being happier in their relationships. They felt closer to each other and experienced less depressive symptoms than the couples who never addressed the questionnaire results with their partners.

As Dr. Cordova points out, it only makes sense to have regular checkups – whether we’re talking about dental exams, annual physicals, or performing regular maintenance on our cars. Periodic evaluations help us make sure everything runs smoothly and stays in proper working order. Checkups alert us to potential problems which, when caught early, are usually minor and much easier to repair.

Of interest, men in particular were often found to prefer performance reviews over more traditional couples counseling. Perhaps this is because the main focus of the former is on strengths, problem-solving, and goals – with less emphasis on blame (real or perceived) or analyzing conflicts and other issues.

Similar to work performance evaluations, partners who felt they were treated fairly were more accepting of the review results. Those who believed the findings were unfair expressed more hostility, and resentment, toward the process.

So how often should couples conduct a performance review?

Relationship coaches, Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, who have been married for 34 years, recommend making time once or twice a week to meet and discuss concerns. In addition, they schedule a more formal and thorough relationship checkup every four to six months.

While these research results and recommendations are not too surprising, many couples can too easily forget to discuss the current state of their relationship. These important conversations often get pushed aside, as the more pressing activities and busyness of daily life take over.

Regularly scheduling a time and place to focus solely on “how we’re doing” as a couple takes effort on the part of both partners. However, the review’s emphasis on strengths and positives in the relationship, instead of conflicts and negativity, is often found to be a big relief and encourages more consistent “evaluation dates.”

You can even start the process now, by taking the actual performance review questionnaire that Dr. Cordova’s used in his research, here.


Below are some important guidelines for conducting relationship checkups:

  1. Pick a time and place free from distractions and stress for both partners.
  1. Begin by focusing on the positive: What’s working? What are your strengths as a couple?
  1. Be careful not to make the review a character attack! Keep any concerns directed toward particular behaviors instead of attacking your partner’s traits, or characteristics. (E.G. “I feel frustrated when you ….”)
  1. Allow for a respectful dialogue and exchange of opinions when discussing concerns in the performance review. You and your partner should be able to each share your thoughts and feelings in a way that you both can feel heard.
  1. After finishing your evaluation, agree on an action improvement plan for each of you. Schedule a date for a follow-up (and keep it!) to check your progress and reassess or make changes, as necessary.
  1. Seek relationship counseling if you get stuck or too heated in the process.

Remember that regular performance evaluations of any kind can keep minor irritations from becoming a more serious or irresolvable problem. Taking time to address the “little things” in your relationship now, with an open and honest assessment, will keep it healthy, running smoothly, and help prevent problems in the future.

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