The Intimate Exit Interview

Avoid the late night litanty of "What did I do wrong?"

Posted May 08, 2010

If I am reawakening painful memories I apologize, but I’d like you now to think back to the ending of your last romantic relationship.  Do you think your former lover or spouse could specify two or three major reasons why it didn’t work out between you?  Could you? Do you think your list and your ex’s would in any way resemble each other’s?

One of the most urgent and usually unarticulated questions to arise in the mind of anyone in an intimate involvement – from the second hour of a promising first date to year 7 of a marriage with children -  is some version of “How are we doing?”, or more to the point, “How do you think I am doing?” Most of us never find out.  We simply deduce the worst when the follow-up phone call goes unreturned or when gossip or the legal papers reach our desk.

I have no panacea for love gone wrong or insurance against pain and disappointment.  Did you think I did? But I do have a recommendation concerning one of the most insidiously awful parts of aborted romance – that lengthy late night litany of “What did I do wrong?  Should I have been less this or perhaps a bit more that?  Maybe if I hadn’t said…or had only done…” I’m sure you’re familiar with the script.

Those readers who toil in the corporate world probably have the tools for my proposal already at your command, only requiring slight modification for use in the private sphere. What I’m talking about are the vaunted products of high-priced management seminars everywhere – the Performance Evaluation and the Exit Interview.

To anyone unfamiliar with these procedures I will quote from a Performance Review Guide.  The only changes I have made in its wording I have indicated by brackets, wherein I have adapted the lingo of industry (e.g. employee, supervisor, management company) to that of private relationships: “Performance Planning is designed to bring (the partners) together at intervals to renew their mutual understanding of activities and priorities that relate to (their mutual) goals, define what routine parts of the (relationship) looks like when they are done satisfactorily, develop a plan for the next review period and define the results to be achieved with emphasis on improvements and personal development targets. This encourages (the partners) to develop a closer, team-oriented relationship, brings (each person’s) performance and goals more in harmony with and supportive of (their joint) overall objectives and focuses on planning rather than judgment.”  Who in an intimate relationship could quarrel with this, although they might well use less jargon?  As a therapist I recommend such structured conversations a minimum of weekly and preferably daily for couples who aren’t all that great about communicating.  I don’t call them Performance Evaluations, although that’s sort of what they are.  I call them  check-ins.

An Exit Interview is generally a formal discussion between the departing employee and a higher up who did not directly supervise this person’s work, so as to encourage honesty about personality conflicts or objectionable management styles without jeopardizing the departing person’s references. What management wants to know is what the company can do better or needs to change in order to make a more appropriate choice of replacement.  Some typical questions might be: did the job turn out to be what you expected? In what ways did it differ from your expectations?  What aspects of the job did you enjoy most? Least?  Is there anything the company can do or might have done sooner which would induce you to stay?  Can you suggest any changes that need to be made to ensure a happier situation for your successor?  You can see how neatly this process can be adapted to the more personal realm.

Among departing mates such an interview might best be conducted some months after the breakup when feelings aren’t running quite so high.  Better yet, perhaps mediated by a mutual friend taking the place of the Human Resources Department who can transmit each person’s report to the other.

Another possibility would be to create an Exit Interview form of your own, designing it (if you are sufficiently brave)to secure answers to the questions which comprise your own personal midnight miseries, e.g. “Did your partner’s weight/income/sexual skills influence your decision to leave?” In order to ensure a response that’s not gratuitously devastating you can announce to your soon-to-be-ex that you will be filling out the same form and be sending it on as soon as you receive yours.

I was originally planning to suggest a specific Relationship Performance Evaluation or Exit Interview Questionnaire in this blog, but I’ve thought better of it.  Your relationship with Her or Him (no, not Jesus) is unique, affected by its duration intended purpose, and perhaps the age and genders of the participants, to name a few factors. So other than planting the idea and recommending both ongoing and exit aspects from personal experience, I’ll just make a suggestion or two and leave it to you.

Tailor the design of your creation to what you know of your lover’s style.  Is she long-winded?  Then devise one with open-ended opportunities such as “Compare and contrast the most challenging aspects of our relationship with ones you have successfully negotiated in the past.  Feel free to use a separate sheet of paper.”

If one of the reasons your shedding Old Whatzzisname is his lack of introspection or unwillingness to communicate, a multiple choice format would be better.” Regarding sex in this relationships, I would have preferred (a) more occasions for it, (b) fewer demands for it, (c) other forms of it, (d) varying places for it, (e) a broader definition of it, (f) a wider variety of costumes, (g) a larger array of accoutrements, (h) a bigger or smaller number of participants.  Check all that apply.”

If you come up with something helpful in your own situation that you would like to share, please do add it to the comments below.  We’re all in this together, this relationship thing, so let us in the private sector  consider the merits of going public.

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