I don’t do relationship advice often on here. But my partner and I have a really cool system that we developed within our relationship that I want to share. (And yes, he gave me permission to do this.)
My partner was in the Army, and he had these things called “After Action Reports” (AAR).When we got together, he told me about these, and we found a way to incorporate them into our relationship. These are prevalent in the military, gaming, and literary communities. But it doesn’t take much work to incorporate them into a romantic or platonic relationship.
We have found, through trial and error, that we need to just let things be when one or both of us gets upset. If we try to do other things or try to resolve the issue right then and there, it will only make both of us more upset and emotional. So we give time and space to cool off. When we are able to come back together–whether that day, the next day, or a couple days later– there’s a lot less emotion involved. Key important things when we do come back together are that we can listen to the other person and work to understand what was said. Here is the formula that we use and questions we ask to work through the issue:
- Event- What happened? – Make sure both sides are able to have a voice. One perspective may be different, or things might have been misunderstood, miscommunicated, or misinterpreted.
- Immediate action– Does someone (or both) need to apologize? – Give space for healing to start. Holding grudges and keeping score only leads to damage in relationships.
- The Good– What went well? – This is where you find out what works for you in your relationship. For us, it’s being able to walk away rather than escalate the situation further. That may not be for you. And that’s okay. But look for what went well.
- Improvements– What can we do better next time? – This is the other part of trial and error. It’s acceptable to make mistakes. But recognize them, do what you can to move forward from them, and work to fix them. Relationships only work when both of you try to fix the things that go wrong.
- Resolution– How can we make sure this same issue doesn’t happen again? – Relationships take work. We’re human, and we make mistakes. But if we continue to have the same issues over and over, then they’re just becoming habits.
Another key is that this whole thing is met with love. We start and end with making sure that love is obvious through the whole process. We make sure that we’re not attacking the other person, but we also are sure to lay out our grievances. An example could be, “When you said x, it made me feel (hurt, upset, angry, scared, etc.).” Then the other person could say, “I’m sorry that my words hurt you. I meant it in this other way.” And obviously that’s only one situation, and I’m intentionally keeping things vague. But I hope you get the idea. You should not be afraid to speak your mind, especially to a person you’re close to; however, you shouldn’t come for them or attack them in any way either. Work to resolve the issues as they arise, and make sure you’re both open to change and critiques.
But AARs don’t always have to be negative either. My partner and I also use an AAR to check in and communicate on other things too. Sometimes, they’re just check-ins, and other times it can be a heads-up of what’s coming. Obviously those look different than a conflict resolution. A big one we focus on is finances. Here’s kind of a basic formula for these types of AARs:
- Overview– What’s going on/ What is the financial state like/ What needs to be addressed? – This is just to air out the main thing that needs to be communicated. Let the other person know what is going on.
- Action plan– What are you doing about it?/ How are you managing it?/ What steps are you taking? – You might have your plan of attack already laid out. If you do, make sure you communicate that with the other person. If you don’t, skip to the next step.
- Assistance– What do you need from your partner?/ What are their expectations for this?/ How can they support you? – These questions are where your partner comes in. You’re not walking alone, whether it’s platonic or romantic. If you’re entrusting someone with this information, they are now walking beside you. And sometimes you don’t need actual assistance from your partner. I’ve mentioned that my life is hectic right now. I gave my partner a heads-up so that he could be prepared. I didn’t (and I still don’t) really need anything from him except support right now. I need him to be there, and that’s plenty of assistance.
- Check-in– When do you want to talk about this again?/ How will we know that this is resolved? – To wrap up these preemptive AARs, give either a check-in date if it’s something you’re still working through or a goal date for yourself and your partner.
I called this post “The Business of my Relationship” intentionally. Meetings like this are meant to be a little more structured and formal. Most relationship advice will tell you that you communicate everything, and that’s so true. There’s not really a thing as “over-communicating”. No one is a mind reader, at least to my knowledge. You have to voice your ideas and opinions so other people know them. You can’t just expect someone to know you’re struggling. It’s important to be able to tell them.
Structure is not a bad thing. Both of these examples are kind of erratic and when they happen. In addition to having these AARs, my partner and I also set goals we want to accomplish this year together. These are things that we both want to work on for the benefit of our relationship rather than just our individual selves. For example, I want to work on keeping my makeup brushes clean so that I can stay on top of things in that regard. I’m making sure I clean them once a month if they get used. But my partner doesn’t wear makeup, so that goal doesn’t apply to him. That’s just for me. However, we both want to get in better shape for different reasons and be able to work out together, even if it’s just taking walks when we can. The idea of getting healthier is both an individual and a relationship goal, and we are already starting to see some changes and improvements.
Because we set these goals for our relationship (in SMART format), we make sure we check in on the progress. At my job, I have meetings where the agenda gets sent out. Someone takes notes to record what was discussed so we have it for records. I know many jobs have a format similar to that. My partner and I decided to do that this year to be in alignment with our goals. We meet once a month to discuss progress and setbacks. All of our goals are written down in a document we both have access to. I also have a tracker for our monthly AARs.
We just had our January one this past week (can you believe January is over?). The tracker that I created is directly in line with our goals. We then can check in on how we progressed that past month. We get both of our inputs and talk about what happened. Going back to my previous example, we didn’t have a lot of time to work out together. My partner started a new job, life got busy, and it’s been cold here. That’s okay. We make sure it isn’t met with judgment. We know life happens. But it’s still important to see what we did or didn’t do that month.
After we finish our goal tracking, I have a section on my tracker labeled “Things we did well”. We use that time to talk about the things that went well for us as a couple the past month. Maybe we only had one incidental AAR (the first kind I talked about). Maybe we are both mentally healthy. It could be anything. The purpose of that space is to be able to reflect and recognize the good things in our relationship.
Immediately following the good stuff section is “Improvements.” In addition to reviewing the good things, it’s also important to recognize the areas we can improve. Otherwise, we stay stagnant and complacent. Again, it’s not meant as an attack on either partner. It’s absolutely not a call-out of all the things one person can or should do. That’s mainly just manipulation. This section is really, truly about what we can do better as a partnership. What goals were not where they should be? What didn’t go so well? Those are the kinds of things you should ask if you need a place to start.
The very last section of the tracker is “For the Good of the Order”. This section, like in most meetings, is for things maybe not covered in other sections of the meeting. This is our concluding space. We can air out any other things we need to say. Maybe we’ll discuss important things coming up in the next month. It’s really just an open floor so anything else can be said that needs to be.
The relationship only works so long as there is communication. And having communication structured to be more formal and business-like ensures that we stay on task. AARs are different than everyday communication. AARs are the business meetings of our relationship. They don’t last long– usually about 10-20 minutes. They don’t need to be long to be effective.
My relationship is great, and I’m so thankful for my partner. We are both working to continue to improve and strengthen our relationship. Once you’re with someone for a while, it can be easy for things to stay the same, especially if they’re at a good point. I hope I get to continue growing with my partner through all the situations we find ourselves.
I hope you communicate well in your relationships. But if you don’t, or if you need a system to implement even better communication, I recommend you try some variation of an AAR. Customize it to suit your needs and fit what you need it to do. It may change or improve things. And again, these don’t have to be applied to just romantic relationships. Pretty much any kind of communication would benefit from these tips. I’d love to hear from you if you do try these things out!