Note: Marieke and I got divorced in 2020. This post might not reflect the current situation.
It is quite probably one of my habits that is frowned upon most when I tell others. Frowned upon until I usually explain how it works. Yes. My wife and I evaluate our relationship every six months. And it works magic. I am not saying it will work for you, or your relationship, but at least hear me out for a moment – a moment, as it all resolves around a rather simple question.
... "what did you like the last 6 months and what would you like more of in the next 6 months?" ...
My wife and I evaluate our relationship every six months
We started out about 3 years ago. We tried different approaches (some of our friends even have a list of topics of 50+ items to discuss), but settled on a hyper simple form. And It all revolves around one deceivingly simple question: “What did you like the last 6 months and what would you like more of in the next 6 months?”. And the fact that we try and remove ourselves physically and mentally of the day to day struggles of being parents of two young children, with busy careers and personal lives.
Setting a positive frame
The main thing the question achieves with us is setting a positive frame. What often will happen in relationships is that disagreements are phrased in a negative or sometimes even offensive wording ‘I came home and the house was a mess again’. For us, the question “What did you like the last 6 months and what would you like more of in the next 6 months?” naturally helps us to rephrase this annoyance into something like “Oh, when I came home Wednesday, two weeks ago, the house was so clean and in order, it was a breathe of fresh air“. This helps to have a more positive, open discussion about things we like, rather than scolding the other for things we dislike.
Creating a neutral context
Next to that, over the years, we learned that having these sessions in the relaxed environment of a nice bar (for us, The Cobbler of Gent‘s 1898 The Post Hotel) or another place that is not home, helps to have the conversations in all openness, removed from the context of home and home chores. What often happens -especially with younger kids- is that discussions are being had either while busy taking care of the kids or other household chores or after the kids are to bed, when parents are usually tired. For many, in these contexts, it is difficult not to take feedback personally or link it to that specific moment (rather than zooming out to see the bigger picture) – another environment helps solve this.
How this works for us
- We will usually leave our house after the children have gone to school, arriving in town around 9h30-10h00.
- That will be the starting point of the day. We’ll start with “what did you like the last 6 months and what would you like more of in the next 6 months?” and will take it from there. Usually for us, the bulk of the discussion will happen between 10h00 and 12h00. It sets the tone for the day, we’ll discuss key subjects and usually use the afternoon to get into more detail or discuss subjects we have touched upon in the morning but weren’t able to fully discuss.
- We’ll have lunch at a nice place in the city. Usually not particularly fancy, just a place with good food, that doesn’t take ages to make and that makes us both feel comfortable.
- After lunch, we’ll decide where to return – either we’ll return to the morning location again or switch scenery. This part of the day is usually used to get into more detail or discuss subjects we have touched upon in the morning but weren’t able to fully discuss.
- We’ll end the day whenever we’ll feel like it or will sometimes have drinks and dinner after. This is also a perfect moment to reflect on the day, to summarize the key agreements we made and look forward how to act on the key action points.
- I tend to make notes of the key things we discussed during the day as well as the key action points. I will store them online, somewhere we’ll both be able to access them (e.g. Google Drive or Notion).
How this might work for you
Again, I am not saying it will work for you, or your relationship, but you might want to give it a try. The luxury of a day together, starting with the simple question “What did you like the last 6 months and what would you like more of in the next 6 months?”. I also dissected our approach to our semi-annual reviews in one of the structured tools in my toolkit. You might just want to try it out some time and move from there.
Finding a good place to do this is quite the other story, I wrote a separate post on that on my travel blog Omakas.es. How are you tackling this?