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What Is Partner Probation? Is It A Lifeline For Troubled Relationships?

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

heart with lock and keys

What Is Partner Probation?

Partnership probation is a predetermined period where one or both partners' performance is monitored and evaluated to determine if the partnership can continue in a healthy manner. It allows partners to confirm if a partner can follow through with agreed-upon expectations and improve the relationship.

Is Partner Probation A Real Thing?

Yes, and it is really nothing new. In couples counseling, this is simply known as a behavioral contract, where boundaries are created to achieve goals within the relationship.

No matter what you call it, accessing one's relationship in this way can be a powerful lantern, illuminating the murky uncertainties of your relationship. It can help people recognize what's working and what's eroding their connection and serve as the blueprint needed for change that can help salvage a troubled relationship.

Example Of Using A Relationship Performance Improvement Plan

As shared by TikTok creator (@nadeenhui), it is a potential approach to help improve relationships. In her video, Nadeen explains how she used this innovative way of looking at her relationship by using a business-focused employee performance improvement plan to articulate her expectations and boundaries to her significant other.

She had sensed their compatibility might be lacking despite their love for one another. Hence, she communicated the seriousness of her needs to him. Using the PIP terminology, she hoped to make her relationship boundaries more understandable.

Considering that her partner is an engineer, she thought this would appeal to his practical mindset. Per her feedback on TikTok, it worked and was well received. In fact, they liked the results so much that they began addressing one of their most significant relationship issues, which was sharing domestic labor responsibilities.

They began actively working on their challenges by sharing notes with daily and weekly tasks through a Kanban board. A Kanban board is a tool that helps people manage their work by visualizing tasks, workflow, and progress.

Tools like these can help people manage domestic labor, which can be a significant source of stress for couples. By using communication or tools such as this, couples can prevent the resentment that often builds from such inequality.

Does It Partner Probation Work?

While it might sound unorthodox to some, using respectful and straightforward language that can help couples solve problems can be highly effective.

It can help create a sense of clarity, purpose, and accountability, allowing partners to understand expectations, eliminate assumptions, and have a healthier relationship or know when it is time to call it quits.

Pitfalls Of Partner Probation

If couples use boundary-setting relationship tools, it is essential to ensure it does not develop into a punitive system leading to feelings of resentment or inadequacy.

Remember that successful relationships are built on mutual effort. To avoid an unhealthy power dynamic, both partners should communicate their needs and agree on what will improve their relationship. Ultimately, both partners need to be accountable to one another.

10 Tips For Doing A Partnership Probation

Open and Honest Communication

The first step is to have a compassionate and gentle dialogue about your emotional experience and how their actions impact you.

Using 'I' statements to clearly communicate your feelings, make sure to sidestep language that could be perceived as hurtful or disrespectful.

Explain the issues you've been experiencing and express your yearning to collaboratively work through these challenges.

Mutual Agreement

A probationary period should be mutually agreed upon, and both parties should be comfortable with the arrangement to ensure a sense of comfort and understanding within the arrangement.

Specify Expectations

Speak your truth and clearly state what your expectations are and which behaviors are causing challenges. Provide a crystal-clear picture and be as specific as possible so your partner knows exactly what areas they need to grow in.

Set a Time Frame

A probation period shouldn't be indefinite. Set a reasonable time frame during which you expect to see improvement. The magnitude and nature of the situation will dictate whether this period is measured in weeks or months.

During this time, it is the expectation that growth and transformation will materialize and changes to be continued after the period is over.

Monitor Progress, Not Perfection

Change is a process and journey, not a one-time event. You should look for signs of progress, not perfection. Remember to affirm even subtle strides forward.

Engage In Constructive Criticism

Criticism can be harmful or helpful, depending on how it's delivered. It's our responsibility to ensure that we are not merely providing criticism but that we're taking the path of being constructive and solution-focused, enabling growth and learning for our partners and ourselves.

Use Non-Defensive Communication

Shifting our language away from accusations using "I" statements instead of "you" can help avoid defensive reactions.

For example, say, "I feel hurt when..." rather than "You always...".

By owning our story and emotions, we invite understanding rather than fueling conflict.

Respect Your Partner's Feelings

Your partner might feel judged or controlled during this period. It is paramount to truly acknowledge their emotions to foster compassionate understanding. Try to focus on enhancing the bond you share rather than seeking to penalize or inflict harm upon them.

Reassess at the End of the Period

Once the probation period is over, take time to engage in a heartfelt conversation about the transformations or lack thereof that you have both witnessed. It's essential to discuss whether progress has been made.

If more work is needed, or if a different approach is required. It can also be a time to consider the possibility of adopting an alternative path, such as separating or ending the relationship.

Seek Professional Help if Necessary

If problems persist or intensify, such as experiencing any type of abuse or mistreatment, it could become imperative to reach out to a qualified therapist for support and guidance.

When a relationship teeters on the precipice of breakdown, it might be time to summon the wisdom of a couples therapist. They can help shine a light on the path to strategies that encourage health and growth while honoring the needs of both partners.

In Closing

In embracing our personal needs, while also honoring those of our partner, we can make our lives more rich and enjoyable whether we decide to continue the relationship or move on to different paths.

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