Imagine that one morning you sit down to breakfast and your partner hands you a copy of your annual review. There in a bright yellow folder is a formal evaluation, complete with pie charts and bar graphs, highlighting the areas in which your spouse thought you’d excelled and where you’d fallen short.
“Over all, your performance is up from last year. Sex has improved, both in frequency and enthusiasm, and you’re also more punctual, which, as you recall, was a big problem last year. However, you continue to be far too irritable about the house being messy, complaining an average of five times a week…”
Sound far-fetched? Insulting? A sure first step toward divorce?
Well, this week, writer Jennifer Wallace advised this very thing in her Wall Street Journal article, Give Your Husband a Performance Review.
What a “handy way to air minor grievances,” she says, touting her end-of-year ritual with her husband and some friends. One couple she knows makes theirs a family affair, complete with an on-site psychologist “in case the conversation gets heated.” While she and husband keep their reviews fairly light, she knows couples who use it an opportunity to issue serious complaints, leaving me to wonder if the offending spouse is then required to put an action plan into place.
While I found Ms. Wallace’s suggestion for a structured review to be laughable, and perhaps a bit horrifying — and judging from the overwhelmingly negative comments from her online readers I wasn’t alone — I couldn’t help but question why we all took offense.
Why all the outrage? I wondered. Why be up in arms? Is it the point-by-point criticism that seemed so distasteful, or the formal structure for delivering it?
Most couples I know keep a running commentary on each other, hardly confining their complaints to an annual sit-down. Is the thought of writing it up more egregious than airing it moment-to-moment, each day?
Though I quail at the thought of compiling an annual list of my husband’s shortcomings— let alone hearing what he’s got to say about mine— the biggest issue I have with Ms. Wallace’s suggestion for a spousal evaluation is that it carries an implied injunction for change.
Work reviews are linked to promotions and pay raises. Reward is based on how we meet or exceed or fall short of our employer’s expectations. If we want to keep our job we do our best to keep our boss happy. But a spouse is not an employer and we are not employees. Behavior change in a partner cannot be required or demanded as if by contract, even though many couples assume that it can or should be. Why set up a structure which reinforces the mistaken idea that requests for behavior change must be met with a “yes?”
Like it or not, change is optional, for your spouse and for you.
We can lobby for it, beg for it, and even threaten divorce for it. But, as for making change happen in another? That’s out of our hands.
Of course we can ask, which I strongly encourage. But none of us are entitled to have our spouse behave as we wish.
Relationships are not about having that one special someone who will give us everything that we want in the ways that we want it. Of course we have expectations of the person we married, many of which may be perfectly reasonable. Even so, no partner will be ever be a perfect 10, because none of us are.
If you want things to improve, here’s my advice: Go ahead. Raise the bar… on yourself, not your spouse.
Best case scenario, you’re aware of your own trouble spots (or at least some of them) and you may even have a sense of what you’d be wise to improve.
Why wait for your spouse to present it to you in writing?
Why not take a long hard look at what you bring to your marriage and do a performance review of yourself?
You may find it helpful to consider the following questions:
What is it like to be married to me? (I suggest asking this question on a regular basis.)
Am I willing to be kind to my spouse even when it is difficult?
Do I strive to be generous even though it makes me feel vulnerable?
When disappointed, how do I behave?
Do I hold grudges or am I willing to let go?
Am I reliable, or do I promise things and fail to follow through?
Do I then find ways to throw my lack of accountability back at my spouse, citing his or her high standards or shortcomings as a way to take the heat off of me? Or, do I take responsibility for my own actions and reactions regardless of what my spouse has done?
Do I blame someone else (parents, spouse, circumstances) for my less-than-stellar behaviors or claim to be helpless to change them?
Challenging as it is, am I willing to take bold steps toward change, knowing that doing so is the only way I will grow?
Now it’s your turn. What questions would you add to this list?
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