Relationships all have their ups and downs, but if you’ve been experiencing a particularly frustrating stalemate with your partner, take a cue from the working world. In recent TikTok video, a woman named Nadeen described the process of putting a partner on “probation” or handing them a “performance improvement plan” (PIP) that will give them guidelines for how to improve your relationship.
As Nadeen put it, “Our arguments were always about me being upset that he’s not pulling his weight, and he’d always say that if I just waited, he would have gotten to [whatever he didn’t do]. It was just ridiculous to fight over these things, because they weren’t even big issues, but they were really important because that was how we actually lived. If you can’t live with someone, how are you supposed to be in a relationship together?”
But is putting your partner on “probation” or a “performance improvement plan” actually a good idea? Or does it risk turning your bond into one that is purely transactional—or worse, creating a manager/employee dynamic between you? It depends on how you approach it.
“Our relationships are based on agreements—both implicit and explicit,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, psychologist and author of Date Smart, tells Lifehacker. “When both partners agree that an arrangement such as a ‘performance improvement plan’ works in the best interests of both partners and the relationship, the outcome can be a win-win.”
However, Manly says, if one partner is manipulative or takes a parental role that results in treating a partner like a juvenile on probation, “that dynamic can be very damaging. In essence, great relationships generally don’t occur by chance but as a result of both partners working together mindfully to elevate each other.”
Which is why Manly says that the best chances for a positive outcome are when both partners agree to the benefits a concrete plan can offer. “No matter what term is used—a ‘performance improvement plan,’ ‘relationship agreement,’ or ‘interpersonal goals outline’—a well-crafted, loving agreement can truly benefit both partners and the relationship itself,” she says.
So is a PIP a good idea for your relationship? Manly highlights everything you need to know about such an agreement so you can decide whether it would work for you and your partner…or not.
The potential issues that might cause you to suggest a relationship PIP
Table of Contents
Some quirks might be easier to overlook than others, and if you are finding a misalignment in values is an ongoing issue, a PIP or relationship agreement might be a great solution for you, Manly says.
“Many partners are drawn to each other based on physical attractiveness, shared interests, and a desire for companionship; however, relationships tend to thrive when partners are also aligned on values and goals,” she explains. “As partners get to know each other, they often realize that they have different general values in areas such as quality time, cleanliness, friendships, finances, and honesty.
As differences in key areas arise, partners often fight and bicker over the same issues again and again—often with no resolution. It takes mindful wisdom to slow down, notice the areas that are misaligned, and then create clear strategies to address the concerns.”
What type of partner might benefit from a PIP?
As Nadeen mentioned in her TikTok, the plan works for her boyfriend because he likes lists and organization, and Manly commends her for doing a great job homing in on her boyfriend’s particular strengths. “The plan she created aligned with what resonated with her boyfriend’s preferences and needs,” she says. “Many people actually enjoy—and benefit from—having very specific outlines as they provide structure and clarity.” If your partner is a sucker for to-do lists and a schedule, laying out a PIP might work for you.
On the other hand, Manly notes, more creative types or those who are more “go-with-the flow” may recoil from a structured lists of areas they need to work on. However, she points out, “it’s important to note that even those who don’t like lists will benefit from some method that provides clarity on the needs, wants, and expectations of each partner in the relationship.” You just need to find out what the best method to communicate those things.
How does a performance improvement plan benefit a relationship?
From Manly’s experience, she finds that couples often argue over a few key issues such as emotional connection, quality time, technology use, financial arrangements, sexuality, shared duties, and friend/family concerns. “Partners—even those in long term relationships—are often less than clear about their wants, needs, and expectations,” she explains. “And, if they try to communicate with a partner about what they want, fights or stonewalling often occur. Communication often becomes increasingly difficult—especially when one or both partners get highly defensive. So, a performance improvement plan could allow both partners to craft an agreement that focuses on specific needs and expectations.” Creating one, says Manly, elevates the relationships “from a guessing game or power struggle to a clear, adult agreement that gives both people a chance to create a healthier, satisfying relationship.”
Examples of a performance improvement plan within a relationship
So what does a PIP look like within a relationship? Maybe you want more quality time, but your partner is more of a lone wolf. Manly says creating a clear performance plan can help guide your partner toward carving out more quality time that feels good to both of you.
Or you might enjoy a clean environment, and your partner is really lax in that department. “Although it’s important to allow for personal cleanliness preferences to some degree, a performance plan could help bring the less-than-tidy partner into a place of moderate tidiness that would feel better to everyone,” Manly explains.
If your partner is highly extroverted and enjoys bringing friends home at all hours, while you’re a moderate introvert who needs more quiet time and structure, a performance plan could create an outline for how to manage your differing needs that feels fair and livable to both of you.
When is a relationship performance improvement plan a bad idea?
The biggest con to a performance improvement plan, says Manly, is if the plan is one-sided—meaning that one partner creates the plan to manage or control the other partner. If that’s the case, “it’s likely the plan will cause discord and resentment,” she says. Also, if the plan is created in a top-down way that leads a partner feeling disrespected or childlike, then it will most likely create emotional distance and resistance. Additionally, if both partners aren’t truly invested in the plan, it’s likely to fizzle out fairly quickly, which Manly says can actually worsen the relationship due to increased feelings of irritation and discontent.
Can a plan like this really be successful?
“I’m an advocate of conscious agreements,” Manly says. “When we create agreements mindfully—rather than defaulting to the status quo—we can actually uplevel ourselves and our relationships.”
As in all areas of a strong relationship, the PIP process is really all about effective communication between both partners. While the form factor may seem unusual, in execution, it can be as effective as a heartfelt conversation.
“Given different histories and relationship experiences, it’s common for one partner to need more nudging and structure to reach the desired goals; this isn’t problematic as long as both partners agree that change is needed and desired,” Manly notes. “The goal of such plans is not to mold another person but to create intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics that lead to a healthier, more satisfying relationship.”