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Relationships

10 Ways to Measure the Health of a Relationship

Variations in day-to-day satisfaction are a normal feature of relationships.

Key points

  • Relationship satisfaction measures don't always capture accurately the quality of people's day-to-day relationships.
  • A new 10-scale test can help provide a quick snapshot of relationship health.
  • By comparing cutoff points, one can figure out which problem areas to tackle to improve relationship health.
Hunterframe/Shutterstock
Source: Hunterframe/Shutterstock

There may be days when you feel that you can’t go on with your partner any longer and other days when you're feeling completely in sync. What are the factors that determine these shifts in your feelings about your partner? Did you bicker over a small household chore that your partner forgot to complete? Do you feel that your partner doesn’t kiss you often enough?

Perhaps the onus is on you. Maybe you’re the one who’s neglected things, whether it's that household chore or your showing of physical affection. Or, maybe things are going better than ever, and you’ve just had a lovely romantic evening. You feel that your bonds are stronger than ever, at least for now.

These variations in your day-to-day satisfaction with your partner are a normal feature of relationships. There are bound to be good days and not-so-good days. However, now think about what happens when researchers try to learn about the science of relationships by asking people to rate how well they get along with their partners.

If you had to rate your relationship right now on a scale of 1 to 5, how would you ever come up with a number that captures all the complexities of these daily variations?

The Natural Day to Day Variations in Relationship Satisfaction

The idea that relationships can vary from day to day, or even moment to moment, is behind the development of a new relationship monitoring scale by Brigham Young University’s Shayne Anderson and colleagues (2021). Seeing the need for marriage and family therapists to track progress during treatment, the BYU team sought to come up with a measure that could easily be administered virtually in an instant and that could be repeated over time to see whether the treatment is working.

As Anderson et al. note,

To be clear, there is no shortage of valid and reliable measures of couple functioning… (but) therapists feared that the measures were too long, would burden clients, and that implementing them would add too much work or time to their already busy schedules

Imagine that you are in couples therapy and, to measure how things are going, you had to complete 3 or 4 questionnaires on top of finding time just to schedule your sessions.

Moreover, Anderson and his fellow researchers pose the issue of what actually constitutes “progress.” Is it feeling satisfied with your relationship? Is it the ability to communicate more clearly? How about physical intimacy? These are all dimensions of relationships that a single relationship quality rating scale, or even one with more items measuring satisfaction, might not capture.

Even if you’re not in therapy, the ability to take a look at your relationship on a repeated basis could be beneficial. Once you stop and think about how you feel on several key dimensions, you can gain insight into what you might need to work on so that you actually get along better with your partner. What’s more, maybe you could convince your partner to give this measure a shot as well.

Development of the 10-Item Couple Relationship Scale (CRS)

Before turning to the actual CRS, it’s helpful to understand the extensive work the authors engaged in to identify the final scale. After reviewing the vast literature on relationship functioning, the authors turned to 23 experienced couple therapists to rank 14 potential dimensions that would capture a relationship’s key elements. To make the measure as comprehensive as possible, these therapists were drawn from a wide range of specialties, including emotionally focused therapy, cognitive therapy, feminist-informed couples therapy, and therapists with expertise in LGBTQ+ relationships.

With this background, the authors then captured 10 of the dimensions that emerged from this analysis in visual analog scales or continuous line ratings. Instead of having to answer questions, couples could just point to where they fell on each dimension. The resulting scales were then tested and refined to require no more than a 5th-grade reading level and, literally, took one minute to complete.

Anderson and his colleagues tested their measure on an online sample of 300 nationally representative adults, all in committed relationships and not in therapy. Most were in a heterosexual relationship, with 14 of the 300 in same-sex relationships. The average relationship length was 14 years.

Test Yourself Using These 10 Scales

Now it’s time to look at the 10 rating scales. In the form administered to participants in the BYU study, the scale appeared on the screen. Still, you can approximate this approach yourself if you just imagine that line (about 100 mm long, or approximately 4 inches).

Describe how you feel about your relationship with your partner over the past week:

  1. Distant---> close
  2. Like giving up---> Completely committed
  3. Suspicious---> trusting
  4. Not at all safe---> perfectly safe
  5. All alone---> like part of a team
  6. Criticized---> accepted
  7. Like we are always fighting---> As we get along perfectly
  8. None of my needs for physical intimacy are met---> All of my needs for physical intimacy are met
  9. Extremely unhappy---> perfectly happy
  10. Overall (not just in my relationship), I feel the worst I have ever felt---> The best I have ever felt.

The key dimensions measured by these items (in order) are as follows:

  1. Emotional intimacy
  2. Commitment
  3. Trust
  4. Safety
  5. Cohesion
  6. Acceptance
  7. Conflict
  8. Physical intimacy
  9. Overall happiness
  10. Personal well-being

Now think about that 100 mm line. Each dimension is scored on a 0-100 scale. If you’re placing your imaginary cursor at below 71%, then you’re scoring at what the authors found to be the cutoff point between a well-functioning couple and one with problems based on scores on other relationship measures. However, the scores varied by item, with conflict receiving the lowest (73%) and safety the highest (88%).

Having developed this scale, the authors compared couples in therapy (“distressed”) and couples not in therapy. Based on this analysis, the authors reported slightly different cutoff scores for individual dimensions. Because of the nature of this comparison, you can use these percentages differentiating distressed from non-distressed as a guide to understanding your own relationship’s high's and low's:

  1. Emotional intimacy: 69%
  2. Commitment: 73%
  3. Trust: 77%
  4. Safety: 89%
  5. Cohesion: 71%
  6. Acceptance: 72%
  7. Conflict: 63%
  8. Physical intimacy: 64%
  9. Overall happiness: 71%
  10. Personal well-being: 66%

Using the CRS in Your Own Relationship

Given that you’re not taking this test on a computer, it may be difficult for you to interpret these cutoffs. Still, if you place your fingers apart on that 100mm scale, you should have an idea of whether you’re in the lower, middle, or upper range of these percentages. The ones that are the lowest would, then, be the ones you might consider figuring out how to improve.

Most importantly, the CRS can help you connect how you’re feeling about your relationship’s highs and lows right now with your recall of events that recently occurred. You could be on a high after that night of intimacy or a low over that ridiculous argument over a household chore.

If you decide to hang on to the CRS to check out your relationship’s quality, the authors recommend that you “routinely and honestly complete the measure." Furthermore, in couples therapy, the CRS could be particularly useful as a jumping-off point for discussing problematic areas. You, too, could use the CRS scores even if you're not in therapy in helping to explore areas in your relationship in need of attention.

To sum up, relationships evolve with a natural ebb and flow as couples feel better or worse about their partners daily. Taking a quick snapshot may be just what you need to achieve fulfillment as those days become years.

Facebook image: Hunterframe/Shutterstock

References

Anderson, S. R., Johnson, L. N., Miller, R. B., & Barham, C. C. (2021). The couple relationship scale: A brief measure to facilitate routine outcome monitoring in couple therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12541

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