Marriage “Performance Reviews”… Really?

The news was on as background noise as I was getting ready to start work this morning.  I couldn’t help but pay attention when the anchor talked about the benefits of giving your spouse a performance review.  I have to say I found this nothing less than FASCINATING!  Needing to know more, I located the article written for the Wall Street Journal, A Performance Review May be Good for Your Marriage. I read the article a couple of times before solidly forming an opinion.

I have some background to draw from that validates an ability to make a somewhat ‘credible’ analysis of this hypothesis.  First, I have failed at marriage.  I admit it.  It was a joint failure and we acknowledge it. I wasn’t compelled to call ex-husband to discuss whether or not a sit down ‘performance review’ would have made a difference.  I wish I had, I think I would have enjoyed the chuckle.  Second, I have worked as a leader/evaluator and direct ‘performance review’  facilitator and coach in both the public school system and private industry for years.  I have read research, attended classes and observed evaluations.  I am a trained coach and have a masters in Leadership & Human Resource Studies as well as ABD doctoral work in the same.

My first thought was Really?  Then as I dug deeper and read the article, I appreciated the disclaimer

 “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.”

I did find it naïve that the  ‘performance review’  feedback example that was used was utilized by a couple that were both relationship coaches.  The interaction goes essentially like this – Husband: “I am feeling ‘left out’  because you have been travelling so much for work lately.” Wife: “I can assure you that my schedule will lighten up soon.”  Again, I think… really?

I struggle with this for the following reasons:

  • The term ‘Performance Review’ triggers all kinds of issues for most people. In public education, parents and schools use them to both encourage and punish. In the corporate world, performance reviews, how we do them and the best way to communicate and motivate as a result of them, is constantly in question, with many companies considering getting rid of reviews altogether. Probably not the best choice to eliminate reviews altogether, but it talks to the volatility of the practice.
  • In functional marriages there is most likely already a system in place of ongoing feedback that is working. On the Today Show this morning the anchor was discussing this article with Jay Leno. His response… “You marry your conscience.” Actually that sounds like a pretty healthy response to me. The inference is that he assumes you trust your partner enough to use them as a ‘mirror’ for your behavior in the relationship. It also infers that you are talking, interacting and providing ongoing insight on how you are feeling and expecting that from your partner.
  • There is a DANGER for marriages that are struggling with communication and especially in those where there is covert control or emotional abuse.  This message could actually give additional permission/justification to a spouse that is controlling and abusive to use this venue deemed ‘appropriate and helpful’ by research. Emotional abusers look for ways to persuade their partners that the abuse is appropriate. It may be hard to argue with someone when they say the Wall Street Journal says it’s a good idea to do this.

performance revieweWhen I read the article online, there was an active survey asking the question, “Will you give your marriage a performance review.”  Over 80% of those surveyed to that point said Yes.  I wonder how many of those surveyed were thinking  “I really want to know what my spouse needs” as opposed to “I can’t wait to tell my spouse…”

I support great communication in marriages and we KNOW that how we communicate and experience our partners determines how we work through issues to resolution or to the point of letting it drop.  I concede that there are marriages out there that may benefit from scheduled time to talk due to a busy schedule but I would bet that they are in the minority.

The suggestions on how to communicate during the performance review are excellent and facilitate open and non-threatening  communication.

  • Address the behavior and not the person
  • Explain why you came to your conclusion
  • Show that you are aware of the other person’s situation (empathy)
  • Be consistent over time (avoid surprises)
  • Allow the other person to provide input
  • Be clear about how you want the other person to change

If you have a behavior that needs to be addressed in your relationship, would you wait for a ‘performance review’  ?  I would recommend that if you feel like you can approach your partner, then ask for a chance within a day or two to sit down and talk about something important to you. Schedule the time and deal with it.  If you don’t feel like you can approach your partner, then that is good information and you may need to seek help from a therapist or relationship coach.


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