A lot can happen to a relationship in a year. Habits develop. Behaviors can get swept under the rug. Resentments can build up. Our busy lives can take over a large amount of our time. We can forget to express our gratitude and happiness and our sadness. We can take our relationship, our partner for granted, like we expect the sun to come up each morning. Just as we need a pat on the back at work, we need reassurance and encouragement – and so does our partner. It’s a new year. What a great time for a relationship review.
What is a relationship review? Think of it as a progress report, a performance review … or if that sounds too formal, a ritual periodic check-in. Similar to the kind of review we participate in at work, it’s a way to evaluate our relationship progress with our long-term mate or spouse.
One of the most important relationships in your life is your love relationship, most of us would agree. So use this time to reflect, review the highlights of the year just passed, consider what you love about your relationship, what you want more of, and what you want less of. Speak your mind.
Try not to turn the review into a “shape up or ship out” mentality or that you’re renegotiating a contract. A relationship review isn’t about rooting out “the bad guy” or assigning blame. It’s about clarification, reassurance, better understanding, and growth.
If you’re thorough and each of you do your part to listen, pour your heart and soul into it, the experience can be cathartic. It can bring joy and insight, and add a deeper dimension to your relationship.
How to Begin the Conversation
Yes, a relationship review is a kind of conversation. Let it be easy-going, informal. Give it some thought ahead of time, if you’re setting a date for the review. Jot down notes.
I would discourage you from whipping out a clipboard and checklist during the discussion, pencil in hand. Not a good idea. Discretely glance at your notes if you need to. It’s a talk, not an inquisition or a review you’re having with your supervisor at work.
Maintain a relaxed attitude and tone. At the same time, treat the process with respect. Designate a time to do it, a quiet place and a time without interruptions. Maybe sit on a loveseat, on a rug on the floor, or in bed (with clothes on), or sit at a table at a quiet café with a cup of tea or coffee. Sometimes the time and place happen spontaneously; something triggers you to have a discussion. Go with your instincts. If it feels right, collect your thoughts and dive in.
Rules of Engagement
· Give each other time to speak without interruptions – unless your mate asks a question or for your feedback.
· Let everything up for discussion. Nothing is off limits, no sacred cows … whether it’s his annoying snoring or you being more emotionally expressive.
· Take no offense. As long as your mate is expressing himself/herself in earnest, remain open and accepting.
· Avoid shouting and pouting; nagging and criticizing.
· Take responsibility for any behaviors and actions where you might have stepped out of bounds. Say you’re sorry if you messed up.
· If there’s a debate over an issue (you think one way and s/he thinks another) find common ground, solutions, compromises, or work toward acceptance of what your mate in all sincerity believes they can’t change.
· Express your love and commitment.
Topics for Discussion
· Starting out with happy reflections is a good beginning. How about sharing special memories?
· What, if anything new did you discover about your mate this past year?
· Not-so-special memories. This isn’t to call your partner out or make them be the bad guy (gal). It’s to let your partner know what you need and prefer not to happen again nor be a repeating pattern in the relationship.
· Experiences where your mate was “there for you” or wasn’t.
· A way to approach a subject could be: “I liked it or didn’t like it when you …” or “I am grateful because …” or “I agree to commit to …”
· Besides a review of the past year, include a discussion of what changes you would like to see in the new year, what you both intend to do now and in the future to secure the relationship.
Questions to Ask
Some are tough questions. We might be uncomfortable with the answers. We might disagree with some answers. Don’t be afraid. Face the music; it gets easier once you get on rolling.
· Do we have enough passionate moments, kissing, hugging?
· Do we regularly express gratitude and appreciation for one another?
· Do we praise and encourage each other regularly?
· Do we have lots of fun together?
· Do we enjoy being in one another’s company daily?
· Is our time together focused or do we find ourselves distracted by our cell phones, calls, thoughts of other things like work or other pursuits?
· Do we apologize for any emotional harm we caused one another – even if it was unintentional?
Making it Stick
The review in and of itself can be cathartic, productive. You may feel a renewed closeness and intimacy, like a weight has been removed because you expressed yourself, got stuff off your chest. You’re relieving emotional tensions, discharging pent-up emotions.
In order to make it stick and fulfill your promises and commitment to one another and make changes, you have to take it to heart and act on what you say you will do.
There’s magic when you express love. Expressing what you love about your mate is like a reflection. It bounces back. When you project love, you receive love simultaneously.