The Marriage Quiz

To improve your marriage, use self-doubt as motivation.

Posted Sep 22, 2009

In our Age of Entitlement, one of the biggest strains on marriage is the presumptive right to have your partner make you happy. This unfortunate presumption persists even though empirical evidence shows that happy people make happy marriages. In other words, if you were happy before you met your partner, you will likely be happy after marriage; but if you were an unhappy single, marriage alone won't make you happy.

Rather than using their negative emotions as motivations to heal, improve, and repair, unhappy people tend to blame them, first on themselves and later on their partners. Eventually this leads to pathologizing the spouse with a clinical diagnosis or moral/emotional failing - he/she is crazy or has a personality disorder or ADD - or all three - and is incapable of love and sympathy.

Blaming gives unhappy spouses a sense of superiority and self-righteousness, which certainly feels more powerful than the self-doubt inherent in complex relationships. But this fleeting sense of power comes at a high price. In reducing self-doubt, it eliminates the motivation to heal, improve, and repair, leaving in its place a chronic and impotent resentment. It keeps their consciousness locked on how unhappy, even "damaged" they are at the hands of their partners.

A number of years ago, I tried starting my initial therapy sessions with couples by giving a marriage quiz - there are several good ones available. I had to forego the practice fairly quickly - no matter how the questions were phrased, people answered by focusing on the ways their partners were failing them. In other words, the quizzes designed to help assess the couple inadvertently reinforced their blame and resentment.

In response to my own self-doubt as a therapist, I came up with the Marriage Quiz, designed to uncover self-doubt and turn it into motivation to heal, improve, and repair. It works by asking how loving, compassionate, supportive, flexible, fair, and sexy you think you are and then comparing your answers to what you think your spouse thinks of you in each of those dimensions. It asks you to see yourself through your own eyes and through your partner's eyes at the same time.

Though not fool-proof, the Marriage Quiz opens a small window of opportunity to see that your marital problems originate in the way you interact with each other rather than the character or diagnosis or childhood of your partner. It helps you see that happiness is not a right but an elusive state that must be approached with much effort and fidelity to your deepest values.

If you are not able to use self-doubt as motivation to heal, improve, and repair and if you cannot see yourself through your partner's eyes, just about anything you ask of your partner will seem manipulative at best or, at worst, controlling and abusive.

The Marriage Quiz