Sometimes, I feel like my husband and I are running a business together. We each have our tasks and responsibilities and a budget to be accountable to. We discuss our “business” plan weekly and daily: You do this, I’ll do that. Hopefully that one matter will be cleared up by next week. We need more money in our operating budget. Can I take a sick day? We manage the logistics of our household pretty well, all things considered.
Our relationship often takes a backseat to the urgent day-to-day matters of child care and work. And even though we try to reconnect with date night and time alone, sometimes we feel more like coworkers than a couple.
But, what if we gave ourselves “relationship performance reviews,” as Elizabeth Bernstein, writing for The Wall Street Journal, suggests? Basically, couples should do check-ins on a regular basis about how each party is feeling in the relationship. Bernstein writes:
“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.”
She cites a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, in which 216 married couples filled out questionnaires that aimed to identify strengths and weaknesses in their relationships. The researchers then divided the couples into two groups: One group saw a therapist for “checkups” and the other half didn’t. It turns out that the checkup couples fared better than their neglected counterparts:
“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.”
Now, I tend to be kind of fatalistic about relationships. I think things will either work out or they won’t. But I can see how simply taking the time to sit down with your spouse and articulate what you’re happy about—and what you’re not so happy about—could be beneficial. If you’re squashing your discontent with the division of labor, or your sex life, or how your spouse speaks to you, or any one of a million things that could erode the quality of your relationship, those things are going to fester. If you could head those problems off at the pass by saying, “I’m not happy with our respective workloads,” or “Please don’t snap at me when you’re irritable,” maybe those things wouldn’t harden into permanent discontents.
Frankly, one of the things I think therapy can be helpful for is identifying when a cause is lost. If you ask your spouse to speak to you more respectfully or to cook dinner once in a while, and those changes never happen, the check-ins can be your signal to check out.
So maybe our date nights will now incorporate a little State of the Union as well. I’ll let him know what’s working for me and what isn’t, and he can do the same. Because if we let ourselves become just coworkers, frankly, we’re going to go out of business.