How Happy Is Your Marriage? Or Is That a Wrong Question?
What to look for in a relationship quiz. Which quizzes to try, which to avoid.
Posted December 3, 2013
Today’s Wall Street Journal Personal Journal section leads with an article by Elizabeth Bernstein posing the question “How Happy Is Your Marriage?” That question troubles me. There is something right about it. Happiness does generally indicate that your life is going well. At the same time, by rating “the marriage,” you can end up feeling stuck, resentful, and hopeless about learning how to stop arguing or avoiding each other.
In other words, the risk from the way the question was framed—how happy is your marriage? – is that the answer to the question will be “not very happy at all,” and then, what then?
The danger is that instead of seeking help you will just feel trapped, become at risk for making the relationship even worse with criticizing and complaining, or give up altogether on the partnership.
A potentially more helpful question might be How Good Are You as a Partner or Spouse? That question would give you data about factors that you can control. If you are not as good as you might be at the role of partner/spouse, then you can decide to learn the requisite skills, just as if you were hired for a job and were not yet succeeding, you hopefully would find a place to learn the additional skills you need for job success.
Phrasing the question as how good you are as a partner or spouse has an additional benefit. It would be less likely to inadvertently set you up to try to change your partner, a doomed strategy which would probably make your relationship even less happy. Your job is to focus on what you can do better, not to fix your partner.
Having raised this concern, however, I do agree with the core premise of Bernstein’s Wall Street Journal article. Her point is that relationship quizzes can be helpful. A rating scale that helps you to identify strengths and weaknesses, skills and skill deficits, areas of positive functioning and areas for improvement could give you a big advantage toward the goal of making your relationship or marriage all the happier.
But beware. Not all relationship quizzes are created equal. Most pop quizzes in magazines or on the internet have zero scientific backup. Some seemed designed to send business to divorce lawyers. Others are bridges to nowhere. Still others foster blame-my-partner perspectives.
On the cheerier side, a well-informed quiz truly can help you to see more clearly how you are doing in your role as a long-term partner.
In addition, the feedback you receive after you have taken the quiz hopefully will specify actions you could take that would raise even higher the level both of your performance as a partner and thereby how happy you feel in your marriage.
Below is a review of a variety of free internet relationship quizzes.
All of these quizzes are applicable to either long-term partners or married couples. There's no need to be scared off by the word “marriage” if you have not yet sealed the deal.
Good: 1. Grade Your Marriage
A 15-item set of factors that you rate on a scale of 1 – 10. This quiz is formatted nicely and the content is excellent. As the introduction says, “… this isn’t a test, but rather a map for you to use for further discussion.” Bravo to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for this quiz, and for the website it’s on that also includes many excellent resources. My only concern with the site is that although it gives a lovely explanation of why learning conflict resolution skills is important, it doesn’t teach them or refer readers to a site that does.
Scroll way down to the bottom of this site's home-page for a free quiz evaluating your readiness for relationship success in five areas of essential skills. This quiz quickly identifies where your relationship skills are fine, where some polishing up would help, and how to get the skills you need. (Disclosure: This quiz is based on my marriage skills book The Power of Two; the online program was developed by three of my adult children and their friend).
This test has you rate your marriage with 40 questions. It's nicely constructed and should give you helpful data.
Avoid: 4. Four Seasons of Marriage
This quiz clarifies the extent to which your marriage is ideal or less than ideal. On the other hand, it has you rate essentially how much you like your partner. There’s not much you can do about that if you are already married. And if you are not married, this quiz could lead you to decide that the relationship's problems are because your partner just is not a good person or a good match for you even if in fact you both have been contributing to the difficulties and you both have potential to learn how to be better partners.
This quiz gets the strongest thumbs down from me. It purports to ask “How good are you at having an intimate relationship?” The first six questions are okay in that regard; the remaining 14 however mostly all focus on dimensions that you don’t like about your spouse. Bad.
This quiz focuses on what you may have disagreements about rather than on how you generally interact. While it does convey that controlling and abusive behaviors invite divorce, and also that ignoring “your spouse’s intimacy and sexual needs” can lead to trouble, overall it’s superficial and unlikely to lead you toward productive growth pathways.
This quiz is short and written with peppy verve. The ten questions that each offer three options get scored as you go. At the end out pops a relatively lengthy “assessment” of what you may need to be paying attention to in the relationship. The final assessments can be rather long-winded but could give you some food for thought.
This quiz does what it claims to do. It gives you relatively good feedback with regard to how strong your relationship seems to be. While the quiz does not give you very good clarity about the specific skills that would make your relationship better, the quiz takes only about 5 minutes to complete and probably is useful if the question it asks, how strong is your relationship, is what you want to know.
Though this test is a quickee it has surprisingly good questions and offers quite helpful feedback from your score.
In sum, kudos to Elizabeth Bernstein for her article on How Happy Is Your Marriage, encouraging folks to give themselves a free relationship check-up. At the same time, becoming aware of how various quizzes are likely to impact you will hopefully make your experience less likely to do harm and more likely to be helpful.
Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is author of Power of Two, a book, a workbook, and a website that teach the communication skills that sustain positive relationships.
Click here for a free Power of Two relationship test.
Click the Power of Two logo to learn the skills for a strong, emotionally healthy and loving marriage.