Re­view good for your mar­riage

Lesotho Times - - Health - El­iz­a­beth Bern­stein

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 Cen­tre 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 check-ups 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 and au­thors of mul­ti­ple books on mar­riage, who have been mar­ried 34 years and live in Ojai, Cal­i­for­nia, 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, Mr. 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.

“It gives us a safe, sure place to talk about our emo­tions,” says Ms Hen­dricks, a psy­chol­o­gist, who is 67.

The spouses sit down for a more for­mal mar­riage re­view once ev­ery few months, but they are care­ful to fo­cus on the re­la­tion­ship and not cast blame. They ask them­selves, “How are we do­ing work­ing to­gether as a part­ner­ship?” and dis­cuss ar­eas where they need to im­prove. They ex­am­ine their top three goals — for ex­am­ple, “work­ing to­gether as a team for our chil­dren,” “work­ing to­gether to­ward financial goals” or “be­ing to­gether so we both have a great sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence.” And they talk about how they can make their dif­fer­ences work for them. “It’s like tak­ing the pulse of the re­la­tion­ship,” says Mr. Hen­dricks, 70, and a psy­chol­o­gist.

Dr Cor­dova says while men of­ten re­sist mar­riage ther­apy, they tend to ap­pre­ci­ate mar­riage re­views, be­cause they fo­cus on a cou­ple’s strengths and goals, as well as solv­ing prob­lems with­out blame.

But how do you re­view your mar­riage?

Re­mem­ber that this is the per­son you love, and don’t be too crit­i­cal. “You can’t ap­proach it as you would a sub­or­di­nate you su­per­vise at work,” says Shan­non Bat­tle, a mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist in Fayet­teville, NC. “You can’t fire your spouse. This is ‘til death do us part.’ ”

Mul­ti­ple re­search stud­ies on peo­ple’s re­ac­tions to per­for­mance re­views show that when peo­ple feel they have been treated un­justly, they be­come hos­tile, But when they feel they have been treated fairly and re­spect­fully, they ac­cept the mes­sage of the re­view.

Re­becca Chory, a pro­fes­sor at Frost­burg State Univer­sity’s busi­ness school, in Mary­land, who stud­ies re­ac­tions to neg­a­tive feed­back, has iden­ti­fied six strate­gies for giv­ing an ef­fec­tive per­for­mance re­view:

Ad­dress the be­hav­iour, not the per­son. Couch your com­ments with af­fir­ma­tion. “Do not put down your part­ner,” Dr Chory says. She rec­om­mends say­ing, “I love you and want to be with you, but there are th­ese be­hav­iours…” or “When you did this, I felt this…”

Ex­plain why you came to your con­clu­sion. What con­trib­uted to your as­sess­ment? Pro­vide ra­tio­nale.

Show that you are aware of the other per­son’s sit­u­a­tion. Is your part­ner stressed, over­worked, sick? Ac­knowl­edge the chal­lenges he or she has been fac­ing and how they may have con­trib­uted to the be­hav­iour you don’t like.

Be con­sis­tent over time. This doesn’t mean you can nag. But you should never crit­i­cize your spouse for some­thing one time and laugh it off an­other. “A per­son needs to know what to ex­pect, the rules of the game” says Dr Chory.

Al­low the other per­son to re­spond and pro­vide in­put. The re- view should be a con­ver­sa­tion, not a lecture. And a lot of mis­un­der­stand­ings can be cleared up when peo­ple talk openly.

Be clear about what you would like to change. What can be done to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion?

As for the re­view it­self, Dr Cor­dova says you should al­ways be­gin by iden­ti­fy­ing your strengths as a cou­ple. “It is the pos­i­tive foundation that keeps a re­la­tion­ship happy and healthy in the long run,” he says.

Then move on to dis­cussing your con­cerns — but limit your­self to one or two. “You don’t want to kitchensink the thing,” Dr Cor­dova says. And you don’t need to come up with a so­lu­tion right away. Aim to un­der­stand your part­ner and to have your part­ner un­der­stand you.

If the re­view makes your re­la­tion­ship worse, or causes a lot of ar­gu­ing, you may need re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­ing. “If you are do­ing it well, you can tell be­cause you will feel closer to each other and will each feel un­der­stood,” Dr Cor­dova says.

— WSJ

Cou­ples can avoid many re­la­tion­ship prob­lems by tak­ing time to eval­u­ate and re­view their part­ner­ship.

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