One Way to Keep Relationships Happy: 'Performance Reviews'

Two cheerful young people holding coffee cups and talking while standing in office
Two cheerful young people holding coffee cups and talking while standing in office

I watch the Today Show every morning. And not too long ago, they had a really interesting segment that discussed whether or not people in marriages should undergo a "performance review." While you might be shaking your head and doubling over with uncontrollable laughter at the mere thought of it, I want you to stop and think about it after you're done laughing. Sure, it sounds silly. But is it really?

Let's think about this for a second. Why do businesses do performance reviews of their employees? Well, they do it so they can keep the productivity at a peak level, right? What would happen if no one ever had a critique of the job they were doing? Would they still put in their best effort, or would they slack off? I suppose the answer varies from person to person. Some people just naturally put in 100 percent effort, while others will look for every excuse to be lazy if they don't get caught. But the performance review at least holds people accountable for their actions. And it rewards and punishes accordingly. Some businesses even do a 360 degree type of performance review where they invite employee feedback to assess the effectiveness of the leadership within the organization. In my opinion, this is brilliant. Not only does it hold the employees responsible for their behavior, it also does the same for the management.

So, we're all familiar with the concept of performance reviews. You may or may not like them, but they do serve a purpose. I assume the only people who don't like them are the ones who are not doing their job to the best of their ability. They somehow know they will not get a good review.

I teach communication and relationship classes for a living. And one of the things I always say to my students is this: "Relationships are like plants. If you don't water them, attend to them, and care for them daily, they will die." That seems like an obvious statement when it's about plants. But how many people look at their relationships the same way? How many people water and feed their relationship? Not a lot.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have the following pattern: in the beginning of a relationship, they put forth their best "self." They dress well, speak well, and do all the "right" things. But then reality sets in, and people get lazy. It's almost as if they're thinking "Ahhhh...I finally 'got' them... my work here is done!" Let's face it -- that when the work starts!

In order to be the best version of yourself and have the best relationship, you have to put in effort! It's no different than what it takes to be healthy and fit -- you have to put in effort to eat well and exercise daily. In order to be successful at your career and advance, you have to put in time and energy at your job. And in order to have a successful, happy relationships and/or marriage, it takes effort!

If both people don't put forth their best efforts in relationships, then what happens? The relationship suffers, and the people suffer. So, wouldn't it be a good idea to put in some effort to avert disaster? In the long run, it's a small price to pay. It's sort of like keeping a close eye on your weight so you don't accidentally gain 300 pounds and develop health problems like diabetes or heart disease. It's a lot easier to fix a smaller problem than it is a huge one.

What are the things that should go into a relationship performance review? Here are some key points that are tops on my list. I base this not only on my education and professional background, but also on my own personal experience.

1. Empathy

I think we might have world peace if everyone practiced empathy. Sure, that might be an exaggeration, but maybe not. Regardless, both partners need to try to understand each other's point of view. Even if you can't relate to what the other person is saying, you still need to convey that you are trying. And if all else fails, then you both should agree to disagree...but do it with mutual respect.

2. Listening

Being a good listener is more than just keeping your mouth shut. It involves paraphrasing, asking probing questions, seeking out understanding of both the content of the message and the emotion/feelings behind it. In short, being a good listener says, "I'm here. I'm present. You're important to me."

3. Conflict management skills

There are many ways people handle conflict, and most of them are not productive. Avoiding, competing, and accommodating are generally destructive to relationships. Compromising is a better strategy, but ultimately you want to collaborate with one another by viewing yourself as a team who is seeking a "win-win" result, not a "win-lose" one.

4. Patience and Acceptance

Everyone is different. So, in order to have peaceful relationships, we have to have patience with other people's behavior. We also need to accept the person for who they are -- not who you want them to be.

5. Self-reflection and Personal responsibility

How aware is the person of their own actions? Do they have the ability to look at themselves and see what they are doing wrong or what they need to change? Are they able to take personal responsibility and follow up by changing their actions? Some people find it difficult to own up to their behaviors, because they see it as a loss of power. But it takes maturity to admit when you're wrong and make things right.

If I were going to actually design an assessment form for a relationship performance review, I would include a lot more detail. But this is a good starting point. If you remember nothing else, think about this: a successful relationship occurs when both people put the other person's needs equal to -- or even before -- their own.