In Favour of Relationship Reviews
TL;DR: Relationship reviews are great. They give you and your partner the space to:
- Talk about hard things;
- Make small asks of each other (and make small improvements); and
- Discuss your dreams and ambitions.
My partner and I have been doing relationship reviews every three months for the past year. We use this template, which has prompts covering things like our overall feelings, what we want to change, where we want to live and how we spend time with friends and family. (I’m not tied to this particular template — this post is about endorsing relationship reviews in general, not any specific approach).
When we tell people we do relationship reviews, we get a mix of “that’s so cool/impressive”, “that sounds intense” and something which I perceive to be “that sounds weird”.
I can understand this. When relationship reviews were first suggested to us (I think by our friend Peter McIntyre), I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were something that Vulcan-rationalist-types did together to try to feel things for the other human they were spending time with. They can sound oxymoronic, like they would force you and your partner to adopt a scrupulous perspective towards something that should be natural, organic and, perhaps, best left to evolve naturally.
But, in our experience, this isn’t what they’re like at all. The days we spend on our relationship reviews (and yes, they usually fill a day) are often our most romantic. They’re warm, reflective, even revelatory.
I think there are three categories of things we talk about in relationship reviews that make them so valuable — hard things, small things and big things.
Relationship reviews give you and your partner the space to talk about hard things.
Relationship reviews are the answer to “there was never a good time”. There is rarely a ‘good’ time to talk about hard things — to bring up insecurities you might have, to suggest that you both move country or ask your partner to change how they behave.
Relationship reviews give you the opportunity to bring up these difficult subjects. Better still, because they occur on a regular basis regardless of whether you have difficult topics to address, you don’t cause your partner any dread by asking something like “can we talk?”. The opportunity will come up soon so you don’t need to worry about ‘raising’ tricky topics.
Not only are relationship reviews an opportunity to address hard things, they also create a conducive environment. It’s much easier to make a big ask of your partner or raise a big concern if you’ve also just told them that you’re happy about other aspects of your relationship.
Relationship reviews give you and your partner space to make small asks of each other (and make small improvements).
Just as it can be difficult to raise big, thorny subjects, there’s also rarely a good time to make small asks, like asking your partner to tidy up a bit more or suggesting you visit your parents more often. It “never feels worth it” or “I really don’t mind that much”.
If there isn’t a space to talk about small, day-to-day things that bother you, it probably is costly to bring them up unprompted. Your partner might feel accused or you might ruin an otherwise harmonious day.
However, if you both make time and space for a relationship review, you’re both prepared to hear these small asks, to not feel judged or accused and, hopefully, willing to accept them.
A good example of a small thing that my partner and I managed to resolve: In one of our first reviews, she told me that she didn’t like being woken up by my alarm. She understood that I needed the alarm to get up for work, but found it loud and annoying so it meant she started her day a little grumpy at me (she was used to getting up without an alarm). We worked out an easy fix quite quickly — I now wear a watch that has a vibrating alarm (which only cost ~£20) which wakes me up but not her.
We probably could’ve arrived at this solution without a relationship review but it had never occurred to her to troubleshoot this particular problem, and even if it had, she thinks she would have felt uncomfortable making what she perceived to be a big ask.
And it isn’t just solving small problems. My partner and I spend quite a long time on the prompt “how can I make you feel more supported?”. We often discuss small things that we both really appreciate but which aren’t costly to the other at all (e.g. making each other coffee in the morning). When things are going well, relationship reviews can also prompt you to make small improvements at the margin.
Relationship reviews give you and your partner space to discuss your dreams and ambitions.
As well as providing a space to solve problems, relationship reviews also give you the opportunity to carve out plans for the future. This can be really valuable for two reasons: Firstly, talking openly about your dreams for the future helps you calibrate with one another. It’s very helpful to stay synced up on important considerations like whether you want to move in together or whether you want to keep living in the same city, even if they haven’t yet caused any problems. It helps you plan and avoid disappointment.
It seems quite common for couples to avoid talking about things like this (“let’s cross that bridge when we come to it”) but I think that’s a mistake. Having different expectations for a relationship can cause a lot of pain, particularly for the partner that hopes for more.
Secondly, talking about what you hope for from a relationship can be really motivating. Knowing what you’re both aiming for, even if that’s just enjoying the time you plan to have together, gives you a reason to make things work. I always find the section on our dreams and ambitions really exciting — we use it to discuss the places we want to visit, the people we want to introduce to each other and the things we’ve always wanted to try.
I don’t have any clear advice about how to start doing reviews. Feel free to make a copy of the template I shared and try it out — you might find some questions don’t feel interesting or that it’s missing sections you want to include. We’ve changed something about ours almost every time we have a review so it’s unlikely it’ll be everything you want it to be the first time around.
I’m also not sure what the best schedule is. 3-month-intervals work for us (close enough to feel regular but far apart enough to mean there are things to talk about) but it might make sense for the interval to be shorter for new couples and longer for more established ones.
In any case, let me know if this post means you try out a review. I’d be very happy to hear if I’ve missed something you find valuable or even read ‘The Case Against Relationship Reviews’ after you try it out.