Love That Lasts
Eleven Questions to Ask Before Marriage ©
Donald A. Cadogan, Ph.D.
It is impossible to reduce the complexities of marital relations to a few simple statements. That said, I do believe the quest for connubial bliss requires two basic, seemingly simplistic, but profoundly important elements. In order to enjoy a long and satisfying marriage your first task is to find the right partner. Your second task is to be the right partner. It seems like common sense, but stay with me.
This section focuses on the first of the rudiments for success – finding the right partner.
I believe most people would
agree a happy marriage is one of life’s great treasures. Unfortunately, the odds of making a good
marital union are not in our favor. We
have a divorce rate in the
This is not to say that we must come from happy, intact families in order to have a contented life, but our chances are greater. In addition, it is not my intention to malign one-parent households. While it is true that role modeling by both parents at home is important, many people raised in single parent homes, provided they were loved and nurtured, greatly benefit from the experience. Nevertheless, the lack of a partner clearly imposes additional child-rearing burdens. It is also true, however, the partners in some two-parent households are so hostile to each other that divorce is often best for everyone, especially the children. There is no doubt that a good number of children from many homes are psychologically damaged by destructive experiences resulting from frequent angry interactions with parents that are dissatisfied, frustrated, and unhappy in their marriages. Thus, poor marital choices diminish our children’s lives as well as our own.
Fortunately, modern marital therapy methods have made important inroads into this problem. Nevertheless, even the best techniques when used by the most skillful therapists cannot help make a marriage satisfactory when the marital affiliation is a bad fit to begin with. Tragically, a great number of marriages are inherently disharmonious.
It appears that numerous couples form these unsuitable unions because they do not know what to look for in a mate; others settle for partners they know are incompatible, but hope that after they marry, somehow, their mates will change, and their relationships will get better. Unfortunately, they seldom do. If they manage to avoid divorce, their marriages frequently settle into angry, cheerless, or deenergised forms of coexistence.
Nevertheless, you can prevent this difficulty. As I stated in the introduction, the first task in making a happy marriage is choosing the right partner, and one way to ensure this selection is to become aware of the factors that make a person suitable. It is important to know, however, the best time to consider these questions is well before marriage. This is because once you meet someone and “fall in love” it becomes difficult to assess the strength and weaknesses of your relationship. Nevertheless, I expect many who read these words will already be in committed relationships. If you are seriously dating or even married, you will still benefit from an awareness of the dynamics that contribute to marital success.
Love is one indispensable emotion that needs at least brief discussion. It seems self-evident that without love no marriage could truly be satisfying. All the ingredients of a happy marriage are insufficient without this magical, irrational, and impassioned adhesive. There are many formal, scientific definitions of this savory state; but clearly, poets convey its essence best. Take a moment to relish these words from Lord Byron.
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Now reflect on this experience from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:
Love is a smoke made with the fumes of
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears;
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.
Tough acts to follow. Nevertheless, I must attempt a few words, but from a different direction.
From a psychological perspective, we can describe love as the state of mental well-being associated with the satisfaction of affectional, sexual, and ego enhancement needs, or the anticipation of such satisfaction. It does sound a bit stuffy compared to Shakespeare and Lord Byron, but it is accurate. Love fills us with a desire to satisfy our loved ones’ needs as much as, and often more than, our own.
Psychologists also describe two kinds of love - romantic love and mature love. (The later is sometimes called companionate love.) Romantic love refers to the infatuation associated with falling in love, to love at first sight (or quickly there after). The lover imbues the loved one with enchanting and idealized qualities that are often little possessed by the loved one. The lover can also feel that the loved one is more important than life itself. Again, from Romeo and Juliet:
"So dear I love him that with him,
All deaths I could endure.
Without him, live no life.”
Although not always with such intensity, this powerful sentiment can occur early in the relationship often before the lovers know each other well. Some people claim it draws its strength from the influence of lustful infatuation, but is little else. Others say it is much more.
Arthur Aron, Ph.D., a psychologist at
It seems that varieties of biochemical sources fuel this experience, including the dopamine rush produced by strong sexual attraction and oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) infused by unconscious anticipations of childhood nutrient fantasies. The less lovers know each other the easier it is to generate this experience. Too often, unfortunately, as they become better acquainted their love fades. This is especially so when the lovers are psychologically unsuitable as I will discuss in the eleven questions that follow.
Was this the form of love described by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet? I’m afraid so. For the most part, the passions in romantic stories remain unrequited. In the great romantic tragedies, misfortunes of some sort usually keep the lovers apart. We are left with the notion that because the power of their love is so profound all would be well if only the lovers could reunite. This, unfortunately, creates the misimpression that love is all that is necessary for a lasting relationship. This false notion may be the real tragedy conveyed by these stories. I believe love is a necessary condition, but it is clearly not sufficient. The love found in lasting relationships springs more from the lovers’ relationship then from their idealized, but often inaccurate, imagery.
There is good news, however. If you are also compatible in important areas, your relationship can endure, and your romantic passions can grow into its more stable and durable form - mature love.
Mature love develops over time and stems from the loving experiences and memories of two companionable people who deeply care about each other. Essentially, this more realistic and enduring love grows from a mutual courtship that continues on some level throughout the marriage. Loving couples demonstrate an ongoing desire to see good qualities in each other. They have an uplifting mind-set that, together with a frequent display of loving gestures, feeds and sustains their love. Compatibility, however, plays an essential role here. Without compatibility in key areas, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a lover’s positive view of the other’s contrary traits.
Thus, love takes time; and love that endures is love that is nurtured. In fact, many loving couples state they were not even attracted to each other at first. Their love, including sexual desires, developed after they came to know one another. Over time, they discovered qualities that drew them together. They began to feel more appreciated, valued, desired, and special to their partners and more secure in themselves.
However, in many cases, there is a physical or psychological attraction prior to the intense longings of love. Some people call this chemistry and claim there must be chemistry if love is to develop.
It is important to note, however, we can only discern this powerful ingredient through person-to-person contact, and we usually detect it early in the courtship. Internet matching, for example, can introduce us to a great many potentially compatible people, but we can only determine chemistry through our actually meeting. For me, the difference between the two is that chemistry is discovered, whereas love is developed.
Clearly, to make a successful, loving marriage you must find the right partner, but it is also important that you be the right partner. I will discuss this more in question 11 (part II), but let me comment briefly on this second task now. To be the right partner you not only have to be suitable in specific ways for your mate, but you must also be a person who is suitable for marriage in general; you need to be psychologically healthy and essentially trustworthy, reasonable, empathetic, and capable of caring at the very least. The attributes that contribute to a successful partnership for you also apply to you. As you can see, it is difficult to separate these two fundamentals.
Before you begin mate selection, it is important that you know a few things about yourself, such as what kind of person you are, your likes and dislikes, and how you usually think and act. One interesting way to do this, as suggested by psychologist E. A. Dreyfus, Ph.D. in his book Someone Right for You, is to make a list of your top ten qualities, attributes, or characteristics. When this is completed, choose a close friend to make a list of your top ten qualities and compare the two lists. This will give you valuable insight into your total self.
Knowing yourself includes knowing what you want in a mate. Many of your desires here will ebb and flow as you become familiar with different people, but certain critical issues will be consistently important. Although no one can be a “perfect” partner, be aware of your personal “red flag” and “green light” issues. To become conscious of these, as recommended by psychologist Neil Warren, Ph.D., founder of the online dating service eharmony.com, make a list of the qualities that you must have in a partner and a list of the attributes your partner must not have. Keep these in mind when you meet and date prospective mates. You will encounter most of these characteristics in the first few dates. When you discover “red flag” qualities, stop dating. There is little sense in wasting time pursuing a relationship that will only lead to dissatisfaction and possibly disaster.
There are also specific “tried and true” issues you might not be aware of that usually lead to marital disappointment. These factors are the principle focus of this section. I present them in question form below.
Questions to Consider Before Marriage.
Let me begin by saying I developed the following questions after years of working with troubled families, work that too often has been frustrating and fruitless. This is because many marital trysts are intractably disharmonious. Almost all of the problems encountered boil down to a few crucial, but avoidable trouble spots. The questions will draw your attention to these critical relationship areas. Nevertheless, it is well to note that although the questions are important, they are only questions and not answers. It is possible to have a successful marriage even though you answered “no” to many of the queries. It all depends on how you deal with the subjects at issue and on the personal significance these concerns have for you. No one can proclaim with certainty whom you should and should not marry. We must make our own decisions. In any event, you will profit from knowing the components of potential problems.
To make this article easier to use I have listed the questions first, together with summary statements, to provide you with a quick reference. In the next section a separate, larger discussion follows each question. Questions 1 to 10 focus on whom you chose for a partner. Question 11(part II) focuses on whom you chose to be as a partner.
1. DO you ACCEPT EACH OTHER AS you BOTH ARE?
It is important to accept each other’s faults, flaws, and shortcomings without the need to make changes.
2. HAS YOUR COURTSHIP BEEN SMOOTH OR TURBULENT?
Frequent or caustic premarital fights predict turmoil after marriage.
3. DO YOU LIKE THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE WITH YOUR INTENDED?
The way you feel about yourself when in your mate’s company frequently reflects your partner’s underlying, often unstated sentiments.
4. DO you HAVE COMPATIBLE INTERESTS, ATTITUDES, VALUES AND GOALS?
It is important to be in harmony about the things you like to do, the beliefs you hold important, the way you view the world, and your life’s objectives.
5. WHAT SPOUSAL ROLES DO you EXPECT AFTER MARRIAGE?
You need to agree about whether your marriage will be traditional or modern.
6. IS your INTENDED SEXUALLY ATTRACTIVE AND SATISFYING TO you?
Sexual and affectional compatibility are vital parts of a lasting and satisfying marriage.
7. DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WHEN YOU ARE IN
THE COMPANY OF YOUR INTENDED’S
FAMILY AND FRIENDS?
Be aware that marriage frequently comes with a large cast of loveable, and sometimes not-so-loveable, characters
8. ARE YOU INTERESTED IN THE SATISFACTION OF EACH OTHER’S NEEDS?
Love includes a passionate desire to gratify your loved-one’s needs and desires.
9. IS THERE THE FEELING OF SOLID AND ENDURING FRIENDSHIP?
People in satisfying marriages often describe their spouses as their best friend.
10. ARE YOUR PERSONAL AND HOUSEHOLD HYGENIC
Incompatibility in the need for orderliness and cleanliness can seriously undermine an otherwise gratifying partnership.
11. ARE YOU WILLING TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY, AS
FAR AS IS REASONABLE, FOR MAKING THE
People who recognize that their actions influence their spouses’ behavior are best able to work out marital difficulties.
1. DO you ACCEPT EACH OTHER AS you BOTH ARE?
This is a fundamental issue and possibly the most important question here. It reaches into the heart of the relationship and addresses a matter basic for stability and longevity.
Can you accept your intended’s faults, flaws, and shortcomings without the need to make changes? Moreover, does your friend accept yours? It is important to remember that no one is perfect, but his or her shortcomings must be within limits that are acceptable to you. I am not implying here that you must learn to cherish qualities you detest. If you really dislike the way your person is, it is best for you both to move on.
However, many people believe that after marriage they can change their partners to conform more to their liking. “He has such potential,” I sometimes hear, or “She will be much better when she matures.” Change is difficult, however, and is usually only successful when it is desired by the person striving to change and not just by someone else. This is not to say that change is not possible. Psychotherapy is based on the notion that we can modify our mal-adapted and self-destructive ways. But again, change is difficult; and it is usually only successful when it is desired by the self and not just by someone else.
It is well to note, as has been stated by psychologists A. Christensen, Ph.D. and N. S. Jacobson, Ph.D., more marital problems stem from our attempts to alter our partners’ undesirable traits than actually come from the annoying characteristics themselves. In addition, positive change and growth, when or if it occurs, is more likely in an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
Lack of acceptance of your intended’s personal qualities will cause you to display a characteristic that is always destructive to a relationship – criticalness.
I am not referring here to discussions about minor actions that offend you. Your mate might be unaware of these behaviors and could be glad to modify them once he or she knows they trouble you. After all, no two people are completely compatible, especially at first. As time goes by, change and growth resulting from positive interpersonal experiences naturally occurs. It is important, however, that your complaints, even minor ones, be few in number and that you present them in a reasonable and caring way. I will discuss this more in part II.
By lack of acceptance of your intended’s personal qualities, I am referring specifically to stable characteristics or ingrained personality traits your potential spouse has that you find objectionable. For example, your partner finds parties pleasurable and likes socializing. You, however, get little satisfaction from these activities and instead prefer quiet evenings at home. This fundamental dissimilarity is not readily modified. Pay attention to important “red flag” issues such as these that become apparent during your courtship. Many problem areas are discernable during the first few dates if you ask personal questions, especially if your query is about past relationships. Too many people make excuses for their potential partners’ behavior, however, and disregard what they are seeing and hearing. If you cannot allow for important differences, you will have frequent conflict and, ultimately, dissatisfaction in your marriage.
When you are in a good relationship, it is safe to be yourself. It is okay to let your hair down, to relax and risk being vulnerable. If you are frequently judging your partner, however, and complaining about her or his mannerisms, qualities, or characteristics, your intended will soon become defensive and angry, or begin to withdraw and avoid close emotional contact and intimate sharing. Communication with you will eventually break down. If your complaints are convincing, instead of changing your spouse you could actually undermine your partner’s self-esteem and foster the development of a negative self-image, a loss of self-confidence, and even feelings of anxiety and depression. Clearly, this is no way to treat someone you “love.” If you really do not like the kind of person your potential spouse is, you really should consider someone else.
The reverse is true as well. Your intended will undermine your feelings of self-confidence if she or he is frequently critical of you. This is especially so if the complaints have a contemptuous or sarcastic ring to them. In my opinion, self-acceptance and feeling of personal security (to be discussed next), are the two principal ingredients of sound mental health. Any relationship that has a corrosive effect on your feelings of personal worth (or safety) will bring out the worst in you and diminish your capacity for love and happiness.
A form of acceptance that has a more global quality can be called positive attribution. Psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D. uses the term “positive sentiment override” to describe this. I am referring here to your overall acceptance of your significant other, to acceptance that is more than just approval of her or his specific traits. In essence, this is your tendency to see your partner in a good light and to interpret his or her behavior in general as beneficent. In other words, I am indicating an overall propensity to attribute positive intentions to your lover’s actions. This basic underlying feeling of overriding acceptance will influence most of your interactions with your partner. It is a quality that is vital to love.
Positive attribution also allows you to give your partner the benefit of the doubt in arguments, which is essential to good marital communication. The reverse of this would be unconscious feelings of disdain and even contempt for your friend. It is incredible how often we link up with people we are attracted to, but fundamentally dislike. The destructive influence of underlying negative feelings will eventually destroy your relationship.
2. HAS YOUR COURTSHIP BEEN SMOOTH OR TURBULENT?
Did you get along well during your time of dating, or did you have many fights and disagreements? A “no” answer to the previous question (Quest. 1) indicates a lack of acceptance of each other’s basic behavioral traits. Your lack of acceptance will show itself in frequent fights and conflict and, thus, as a high level of turbulence in your courtship.
Some couples believe the hassles and squabbles that occur during courting will go away after marriage. Unfortunately, they seldom do. For almost all people in good relationships the time of courtship is relatively conflict free. This is the time we are usually on our best behavior. It is also the time with the least amount of interpersonal intrusions or pressure, and it is the time requiring the least amount of personal adjustment. A great deal of discord throughout this period is not typical in good relationships. It foretells the likelihood of even greater difficulties during marriage
Nevertheless, fighting is normal in any intimate relationship. To expect otherwise would be disillusioning. Your arguments, however, need to be constructive - designed to resolve problems not to perpetuate them. Moreover, your fights best be rare. Some experts feel that a ratio of five good experiences to one bad is the absolute limit for maintaining a good relationship even with the most stable individuals. More conflict than this points to future troubles and often leads to divorce.
Ongoing battles also produce destructive levels of stress hormones such
as adrenalin, cortisol and ACTH. It is
actually possible, according to a ten-year study at the
It is important to note that a personal tendency to react angrily and defensibly to problems in general is often seen in at least one of the partners in marriages that eventually break up. This troublesome proclivity tends to aggravate problem-solving attempts and results in higher levels of stress hormones.
As can be surmised at this
point, it is not only the frequency of fights, but also the style of fighting
that can destroy a relationship. Fight
patterns that include insults, condescending put-downs, threats, or the silent
treatment destroy the feelings of harmony and good will that are essential to
the development of a lasting relationship.
John Gottman, Ph.D., psychologist and director of the Love Lab at the
In my view, this happens when we harbor unresolved resentments and keep them to ourselves until they finally tumble out with great passion. I am referring to feelings we do not voice in constructive ways, to issues we do not discuss openly, fairly, and assertively. In time, these angry feelings develop sensitive triggers and are easily provoked. The aggrieved individual eventually develops more of a desire to seek revenge than resolution. This destructive communication style keeps malignant issues hypersensitive and leaves the couple poised for ongoing warfare.
Dr. Gottman also points to certain elements in fights that are predictive of future divorce. These are 1. criticism, 2. contempt, 3. defensiveness, and 4. stonewalling or the silent treatment. Many fruitless and destructive arguments have these qualities.
The important point here is that these harmful features are frequently present during the courtship time of dysfunctional marriages. They are seldom seen, however, in the dating period of couples with genuinely amorous associations - relationships that lead to loving and lasting marriages.
There is also a very serious and even puzzling aspect to courtship turbulence that merits broader discussion. If you are presently stuck in a dysfunctional or abusive relationship, you should find the following discussion useful. Others might wish to skip the rest of this question and go straight on to question number three.
Before I go further into attempting an explanation of this, let me first say there are many warm and caring people who are truly capable of being loyal and loving partners, yet who somehow find themselves in abusive relationships. This is often because people raised in good families with decent and loving role models sometimes find it difficult to believe their obnoxious partners could possibly be as bad as they really are. Their only part in this dilemma appears to be their naiveté and loving innocence. I am hard pressed to fault anyone for these beautiful qualities. Nevertheless, if you are to avoid entanglement in a destructive marriage, you need to become aware of maltreatment when it occurs and learn not to tolerate it.
As puzzling, as it seems however, many people chose to remain in relationships even when they clearly know their affiliations are destructive. Some actually cling more tightly to their associations after their partner becomes harmful. This tendency to stay in bad relationships applies to both men and women, and to partnerships that run the gamut in type from friendships to marriage. The mistreatment also runs the scale in severity from simply disquieting to completely disastrous. Again, let me point out I am not referring to intimate relationships in which sporadic or intermittent fights occur. Occasional arguments are part of any good affiliation and might even be necessary to keep it healthy. I am referring instead to abusive partnerships in which one, and sometimes both partners suffer ongoing personal damage either physically or mentally.
One fact that makes these alliances even more mystifying is that they are often abusive right from the start. In other words, many of these relationships are inherently dysfunctional with severe interpersonal difficulties apparent from the beginning. Again, they choose to ignore this fact, hoping their partner would somehow change, or that they themselves would adapt in some way. They convince themselves that eventually everything will get better. The tragedy is that things do not get better; they only get worse because of constant bickering, frustration, and painful dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, they hang on, hoping and denying. In marriage, unless they get effective help, these couples often experience years of anguish as they let their chances for happiness slip away.
Why would anyone choose to stay in an abusive relationship? Why not simply end it and find someone new? Haven’t we all known people we didn't like, or with whom we didn’t get along? Wouldn't it be better to avoid these individuals? Yet, despite this common sense notion, many individuals maintain their painful affiliation; and some actually become obsessed with the idea of making their ill-fated partnerships work. Again, a major contributing factor is that so many people grow up in unhappy and abusive families themselves and have had poor love-relationship models. Some come to believe that all amorous involvements are inherently damaging. They do not really know what healthy intimacy is and assume their partnerships, as bad as they are, are no different from any other. So they struggle vainly to make the best of what they have.
Chronic abuse suffered in childhood often affects people in other ways as well. Usually, the ongoing disrespect encountered in their childhood families produces deep and lasting feelings of low self-esteem. They tend to believe no one could really want them. They often feel grateful to be in any relationship. Unfortunately, the abuse in their current relationships, whether they are married, living-together, or just dating, tends to increase their sense of worthlessness and locks them deeper into their present destructive associations.
In addition, people who have had abusive childhood experiences, especially where their parents were also brutal to each other, often get used to the abuse and adapt to it. Over time, they become content with the mistreatment. It becomes familiar. It’s what they know. They not only expect it in other partnerships, but actually feel uncomfortable without it. In my practice as a psychologist, many people who have witnessed ongoing abuse in childhood have told me that love relationships that are warm and caring seem phony. In order to feel more comfortable they often provoke the other until their partners act in angry, disrespectful, or abusive ways, thus, fulfilling their prophetic expectations. I cannot say they feel happier being in (or more correctly participating in) abusive relationships, but they do seem more secure. To them, their relationship is now predictable.
Tragically, on the far end of this spectrum are those who have come to believe their only safe alternative is to forego close associations entirely and accept a life of isolation and empty solitude. Unfortunately, such a mind-set when deeply held is difficult to change and can last a lifetime.
With these latter situations, long-term professional help is usually crucial.
3. DO YOU LIKE WHO YOU ARE OR THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE WITH YOUR INTENDED?
This is really a variant of the previous questions and has to do with feelings of personal acceptance stemming from the relationship, but at deeper levels. It has to do with your underlying, often subtler emotional reactions when you are with your partner, feelings you cannot find words to describe or justify. This would be more a purely emotional or “gut” reaction. To best experience this intuitive sense you must allow yourself to feel whatever you feel even if you consciously do not know what you are feeling or why you are feeling it. This means learning to trust your irrational side.
The total opinion others have of us is often communicated in subtle ways and is frequently perceived only by our unconscious mind. This refers to our reactions to our partners’ feelings about us that are communicated nonverbally, i.e. through body gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, as well as through timing and verbal innuendoes. It also comes from the match, or mismatch, between their verbal and nonverbal language, i.e. between what they say and what they do. Tuning in to your feelings or intuitions when you are with your intended can give you important clues about who your potential mate really is and, more basically, about his or her unexpressed feelings toward you.
Unfortunately, if you are someone with very low self-esteem, and you tend to feel that others dislike you no matter who you are with, your intuition will be an unreliable indicator of your companion’s true feelings. This problem has a self-fulfilling aspect to it. We buttress our emotions with our actions. Thus, our feelings of unacceptability will be reinforced when we act as though people dislike us. We actually become more convinced of our feelings because of our actions. Also, avoiding people because we think they do not like us often results in their actually disliking and avoiding us. If this has frequently been your experience, and you are unable to modify it by learning to disregard your false assumptions, professional help might be necessary.
The way you feel about yourself when you are with your intimate friend is affected by other factors as well. When you and your mate are in personal harmony, that is, when you are alike in important ways, such as interest, attitudes, and values (discussed next) you will feel comfortable when you are together. You will feel in tune and have a sense of completeness as though you are with your personal counterpart. There will be a greater tendency for you to identify with your partner and to understand each other. This also tends to produce what psychologists call a “hallo effect” - you like the areas you know, because of their similarity, therefore, you assume you will like the areas you have yet to encounter. This is somewhat similar to the positive attribution mentioned earlier.
You should know, however, there are some exceptions to the importance of similarity. Being with people different then us, but who have characteristics we admire or wish we possessed can be fun and can provide a sense of completeness. It must feel safe, however, not to have the qualities we esteem in our potential mate. For example, let us say a compulsive person (someone who is deliberate, detail oriented and careful in decision making) joins with a person who is impulsive (makes quick, but poorly thought out decisions). They both like their own way, but also value their partners’ style.
Because of their association, the compulsive partner could be influenced to loosen up and be more spontaneous, unstructured, and carefree, yet maintain his or her more deliberate manner. The impulsive partner on the other hand, might try to be like the more purposeful companion and find life less chaotic and more secure, yet preserve a sense of spontaneity. For this to happen, however, both must accept and respect the other’s position. Nevertheless, I must emphasize, as will be discussed next, that similarities in interests, attitudes, values, and goals as well as resemblance in personal characteristics are usually necessary for a happy and enduring relationship.
It is also important that you feel safe in a global sense. This is usually produced when your partner shows sensitivity to your feelings and needs no matter what they are. This will allow you to be honest, open, and vulnerable with you partner - qualities vital for a happy marriage.
It is well to note that any unresolved unconscious negative feelings about members of the opposite sex can also affect your relationship. These feelings can easily develop from abuse in childhood or from difficulties in previous relationships. To determine if your partner harbors these issues, pay attention to your feelings about yourself when you are together. It is important that you feel safe both emotionally and physically. After all, you certainly would not want to be the unconscious target of resentments stemming from pain inflicted on your mate by someone else. Of course, this also applies to any negative influences, or “baggage,” you bring to the relationship. These issues are best worked out and resolved as early in your new relationship as possible.
In essence, it is vital that you feel safe. But you must also feel esteemed, i.e., that you feel good about yourself when you are with your intended. Let me put it more poetically – you must like the picture of you that is reflected in your partner’s eyes? Of course, it is also important that there be a reasonable match between the image your mate has of you and reality.
4. DO you HAVE COMPATIBLE INTEREST, ATTITUDES, VALUES, AND GOALS?
These issues are so fundamentally important I could have listed them first. These are also the areas most frequently focused on by dating services. Without a reasonable match in these four areas, we diminish our chances for a long and successful relationship. While it is true that few people match completely in all these areas, and some successful unions appear not to match as all, a foundation of basic resemblance seems essential.
In other sections, I discuss the importance of personal similarity. What we are really looking for, however, is compatibility. Similarity, as it turns out, is one way to provide it. This raises a host of other questions, however, such as: Is similarity always necessary? How alike must we be? Is similarity ever detrimental? I have addressed some of this earlier, but let’s take a closer look.
First, no two people are ever really the same, not even identical twins. Fortunately, it is unnecessary to be completely identical. It could even prove boring to be alike in too many ways. Moreover, it is possible for a couple to be in conflict over there similarities. For instance, two strong, dominant people could easily clash over leadership issues. The differences we bring to our partnership can add dimension and vitality to the relationship. But it is imperative we respect the differences. It is also important they be few and not be in areas that will cause conflict. So, to ensure compatibility, let us focus on our similarities in the following four broad areas: 1. interests, 2. attitudes, 3. values, and 4. goals.
Interests refer to the things and activities we enjoy. Goals refer to our stated objectives, but also consist of our interests. It is difficult to separate these areas completely. For example, it is important to discover whether you enjoy many of the same pastimes or have similar aspirations for your life and for the future. In other words, if your partner loves skiing, do you like it also? If your intended wants a house in the country with several children, do you look forward to this as well? If your friend plans to run for public office, will you want to be part of this as well? Much of the enjoyment in marriage comes from the sharing of achievements and experiences. Mutual interests and goals are obviously important if the enjoyment that comes from sharing is to be experienced. Of course, as time goes by we often learn new things to enjoy from each other, and we would want to be open to this possibility. However, when our goals and interests are held strongly we will need either a partner with comparable desires, or one that is easy going and adaptable.
One aspiration briefly mentioned earlier pertains to our expectations with regard to having children. In times past, during our agrarian culture, marriage meant having children - lots of them. And many individuals continue to hold firmly to this view. Today, largely resulting from increased career opportunities for women, many people want fewer children, and some prefer childless marriages. However, this preference is often not stated or discussed until after marriage. The result is disagreement and resentment that might well have been avoided.
One way to determine compatibility of interests and goals is to make two lists, one of the activities you enjoy and the other of your goals. Ask your partner to make similar lists and compare them. You might find your inventory expanding as you discover your partner’s preferences.
Values refer to issues in life we hold dear, ideals we cherish. Do you share similar views about the issues that are important to you? For example, if your intended is a member of an environmental group, such as Greenpeace, do you also have a strong desire to protect species from harm or extinction? Arguments about these issues can cut deeply. Other areas that frequently provoke painful disagreements have to do with money and its management, or are in the realm of religion. If you are someone who is agnostic with values stemming from your cultural upbringing, but your friend is religious and closely follows doctrine prescribed by his or her religion, you could be in store for many caustic and fruitless arguments. The values we hold are among our most stable and enduring characteristics. If you clash in this area, you will be in for many troubling days.
Attitude pertains to one’s overall outlook, or to one’s psychological approach to life in general. I am speaking here in a broad sense and including personal characteristics, and qualities. Cheerful, optimistic, humorous, and outgoing traits with tolerance and empathy for others are qualities usually associated with sound mental health and are often found in good marriages. These qualities of attitude, along with flexibility and integrity, vary in intensity from person to person. Having these characteristics gives us the ability to get along with a wider variety of people and provides us with an excellent chance for happiness in marriage and in life. But even if you claim these attributes, your intimate partner needs to have similar or, at least, compatible overall attitudes if you are to avoid future frustration and disappointment. Thus, finding a match in attitude as well as with interests, values, and goals is vital.
Dating services, such as those on the internet, emphasize the importance of matching demographics, such as race and religion, and personal traits somewhat similar to the ones I have mentioned. For example, Match.com, claiming to be the largest dating service, matches couples on the following issues: appearance, education, occupation, religion, children, race, politics, and personal habits. This can help narrow the field for you as you make a selection based on additional issues important to you.
Another popular site is eharmony.com founded by psychologist Neil Warren, Ph.D. Dr. Warren attempts to match people based on 29 personality dimensions. These dimensions focus on four core traits and three vital attributes. Traits here refer to ingrained personality characteristics that are not readily changed. The inventory spotlights the following traits: level of self-esteem, interpersonal style, cognitive orientation, and physical appearance. Vital attributes refers to qualities of personality that are mostly learned and are more modifiable. Dr. Warren includes relationship skills, values, and family and educational history in this list.
Please note this brief comment is not intended to completely summarize Dr. Warren’s scale. In addition, there are a number of other valid dating sites on the internet, and many more are continually coming on line. Internet matching on these dimensions is an excellent place to start. It efficiently predicts the likelihood of meeting someone whose company you will enjoy. There is, of course, no substitute for personal chemistry, and internet dating does not circumvent this. Any match of worth must meet the needs of your heart as well as your head. You cannot really know if someone is right for you without spending time together.
The importance of specific traits and attributes to harmonious matching does vary from person to person for very subjective and idiosyncratic reasons. . Some people are ridged in their style and would need a close match while others are more flexible and can adapt easily to a variety of traits and attributes. This later person would not need such a close match in many of these areas. It really comes down to how you feel when you are doing things with each other. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder
If you are compatible, you will like spending time together.
5. WHAT SPOUSAL ROLES DO you EXPECT AFTER MARRIAGE?
In marriage, we play many parts, i.e., partner, parent, companion, provider, homemaker, lover, helpmate, playmate, friend, confidant, and so forth all of which we can be subsume under the heading “spousal roles.” We usually come to a relationship with a certain set of expectations and desires regarding these roles – what we anticipate both from our partners and from ourselves. You will head off trouble by getting a handle on this issue and discussing it during your courtship. In addition, these tasks are usually encompassed by an overall marital style that can be broadly described as either traditional or modern. Even within these styles, different people perform these functions in different ways. Nevertheless, compatibility in the area of spousal roles is vital to the development of a successful marriage. Disparity of styles or expectations will lead to frequent clashes, ongoing frustration, and result in deep and lasting resentments.
Modern life has brought with it radical changes in male and female sexual roles. Many of the masculine and feminine behavioral styles that were once considered proper are no longer acceptable to an ever-growing number of people. For example, in former days, opening a door at work for a woman by a man was good etiquette. However, the modern view is that such behavior places the man in a superior, protective position and implies the woman is weaker and less adequate. Such gestures were originally intended to be chivalrous. In our modern, competitive business world, however, the ideas these acts foster are distinctly disadvantageous to women. It is still polite to hold a door for someone, but now it is by either sex for either sex. Today most people seek social role patterns that provide greater freedom, fairness, and equity to both sexes.
But old attitudes resist change, and many people continue behaving with traditional patterns sometimes without their full awareness. The result, when intimate partners hold different styles, is couple conflict. Marriages where one spouse is modern and the other traditional can generate constant fighting about “proper” behavior. They often end in divorce.
Thus, more then ever before, people have diverse ideas about what a marriage is and what they expect from a spouse. Traditional views usually hold that the husband is head of the household and provides for the family’s financial security. With this position, the wife stays at home and takes care of the house and children. There are some minor variations and role limitations here because of cultural influences, but the power balance is tipped in favor of the husband. He is frequently the final arbiter, especially for major decisions. This style of marriage is developed from social traditions. In many communities, the anticipation of a traditional marriage is unstated and simply expected. In today’s economy, because of higher living cost, many wives in traditional families must also work outside the home. Nevertheless, working wives in these families usually continue to carry the principle task of caring for the children and upkeep of the home.
The modern view, which has more variations, holds that husbands and wives are equal in power, and both can work outside or inside the home as desired or as necessary. With this notion, marital tasks are performed by either and are usually assigned in some equitable way, such as based on skill or interest. Both partners usually make decisions jointly following discussion. The needs, interests, and opinions of each have equal weight. Decisions arrived at in a modern marriage are not guided by tradition as much as by the needs of each individual situation and by the interests and desires of each partner. Without guidance from tradition, however, decision making is often more challenging.
To make it more confusing, many couples have marriages that are composed of elements from both styles. As it turns out, either style can be satisfying provided both partners agree. However, individuals of one persuasion often show antipathy towards those with the other approach, making it difficult to mix them. People on the extremes of this issue - that insist their view is the only right option - are incompatible.
Unfortunately, many individuals assume their mates will naturally have views similar to their own, and they marry without ever considering this issue. Do not make this mistake. You must discuss these needs in some way before marriage.
It is important to note, however, regardless of style, studies indicate that marriages where partners are comparable in power, or have equal authority in the relationship are usually the most satisfying and are the happiest. The modern style is inherently this way, but many traditional marriages are also clearly equal in power.
If you are unsure of your own style preference, see the quiz in part II entitled “Are You Modern or Traditional?”
6. IS your INTENDED SEXUALLY ATTRACTIVE AND SATISFYING TO you?
For almost everyone, sexual gratification is one of the prime features of marriage. It is important that your needs be met in this area. But what makes a person sexually attractive to another?
Men and women both rate physical appearance as one highly important factor. But both consistently rate additional attributes, such as a sense of humor, sociability, warmth, and trustworthiness as desirable in a romantic partner. This is all part of the chemistry I discussed earlier.
However, it is not necessary that your mate be the most sexually desirable person you have ever known; but you both must be sufficiently desirable to each other that you feel contented here.
Even happily married couples find attractions or temptations for sex outside the marriage. Former president Jimmy Carter, a man noted for his moral integrity, once said, “I have lusted in my heart many times.” Nevertheless, he was never known to have been unfaithful to his wife. Sexual loyalty is a vital part of a successful marriage. Satisfaction at home minimizes the risk of marital infidelity and helps remove a potential impediment to a long and loving marriage.
On the other hand, it is problematic to confuse lust with love. Intense sexual attraction or lust can cause us to develop an obsessional desire to be with a person whom, because of their sexual attractiveness, we see in a romantic, idealized way. This powerful and instant longing can easily be mistaken for love. As I have indicated earlier, real love develops over time as you get to know each other. It encompasses many more aspects of the person than just their physical or romantic appeal. Its principle ingredient shows itself as a growing and profound concern for the other’s happiness.
I am including the desire for affection under the heading of sexual fulfillment, although it is a very different need. Similarities in the level of desire for affection are also an important, even vital part of marital satisfaction. We know that affectionate touch can produce neurohormones, such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins that, at the very least, instill feelings of comfort and well-being. Affectionate physical contact can also diminish our levels of stress hormones, lower our blood pressure, improve our immune systems, and, thus, add years to our lives. Even our pets love to be touched.
But different people experience body contact in different ways, and many are confused about this issue. This results in rampant dissimilarities in the need for affection that often go unnoticed during the time of dating. Some people, because of unfortunate life experiences, do not like to be touched; others confuse affectionate physical contact with sexual contact and have learned to use affectionate touch primarily as a prelude to sex. Thus, when this later person is not in a sexual mood, affectionate touching will feel inappropriate, unnatural, and uncomfortable; as a result, affection will be avoided. Since our sexual drive is usually high during courtship, touching will be frequent, leading to a possible misperception of our partners’ affectionate nature and even a misunderstanding of our own.
The remedy, if there will be one, is time and discussion.
7. DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WHEN YOU ARE IN THE COMPANY OF YOUR INTENDED’S FAMILY AND FRIENDS?
It is true that you will be marrying your mate and not your mate’s family. Nevertheless, if your intended loves his or her family and plans to spend much time with them, you best like them too, or at least be able to tolerate them. If you cannot stand them, you are in for many difficult days. Holidays, especially, will be a time of conflict and frustration. This also applies to your mate’s friends. If, because of your dislike for them, you decrease your mate’s access to his or her friends or family, you can create in your partner feelings of resentment. A successful marriage enhances one’s life; it does not diminish it. This caution, of course, also applies to how your intended feels about those close to you.
It is also true that our parents’ marriages often serve as models for our own. Thus, it becomes important to pay attention to the relationship of your potential mate’s parents. For example, if one parent dominates and abuses the other, your intended may adopt this style and be brutal to you in marriage. Sadly, I have known these qualities be completely undetected in a prospective mate during courtship, only to emerge strongly after marriage. Of course, this does not mean your friend will definitely act the way his or her parents did, but it would be wise to discuss it before you marry
It is also important to note that we often choose friends based on qualities or traits that are similar to our own. Thus, our friends tend to be reflections of aspects of ourselves. In other words, they are usually like us in some way. Therefore, if you disapprove of your mate’s friends you might actually be rejecting important characteristics of your mate. Although there are many exceptions here, this can be a crucial indicator that your intended is wrong for you.
In addition, studies indicate that support for your relationship from your family and friends is an important indicator of its success. This is a surprisingly important issue. While it is true that those close to you do not walk in your shoes and cannot always know what is best for you, it will be wise for you to listen carefully to their concerns.
8. ARE YOU INTERSTED IN THE SATISFACTION OF EACH OTHER’S NEEDS?
Many people marry with the idea that marriage will satisfy all their requirements. Others believe it is their spouses’ duty to take care of them. In addition, some people are unhappy being single and believe only marriage will make them happy. Imagine the burden all three of these views place on their partners. Their spouses are expected to be more like parent replacements than marital mates. Mature individuals are more self-reliant. We are, after all, responsible for our own happiness. While it is true a successful marriage will meet many of your important needs, it is also true that marriage will require that you give as well as take.
Genuine love has been defined as a state in which we are as concerned with the satisfaction of our partner’s needs at least as much as we are with our own. Along these lines, when you trust your spouse and feel that your partner is looking out for your interests, it becomes easier to relax and focus more on your mate’s needs.
If your answer to question number two indicates a high level of interpersonal turbulence, your answer here will probably be “no.” Your problem solving discussions, both before and after marriage, need to be on a “win-win” basis. In other words, unless you both benefit from the solution, nobody benefits. After all, a person would have to be extremely selfish or blindly self-focused to be satisfied in a marriage that made only him or her happy. Enduring and satisfying relationships flow from a balance between meeting your partner’s needs and meeting your own. I am not talking about compromises here in which one person’s wishes are gratified this week, and the other person’s desires are indulged next week - though sometimes this is the only fair solution. For example, she loves the beach and swimming, he loves the mountains and the beauty of the forest. So they alternate, spending one weekend at the ocean and another weekend in the mountains. Thus, on each trip one person’s needs are met. However, on each trip one person’s needs are not met. This is essentially a win – loose solution with the looser alternating. A vacation at a mountain lake, however, is more a win-win.
The interesting thing here is that your sincere search for an equitable solution is, by itself, an act of love and will enhance your overall marital satisfaction.
9. IS THERE A FEELING OF SOLID AND ENDURING FRIENDSHIP?
Some people have trouble accepting the notion that a person of the opposite sex could be their best friend. Thus, they overlook the possibility of friendship in marriage. However, a good friendship, with its trust, support, and loyalty, is the bedrock of a solid marriage. After all, you spouse is the intimate companion you will be spending most of you free time with. In addition, one characteristic found in sound friendships is honest communication. This characteristic will be vital when you attempt to workout interpersonal difficulties that will surely arise. If you are to be open with your intended about your feelings and concerns, it is vital you deem it safe to do so, and that you anticipate your message will be accepted and understood. These are characteristics inherent in a good friendship.
10. ARE YOUR PERSONAL AND HOUSEHOLD HYGIENIC STANDARDS COMPATIBLE?
This is a more important area then many people realize. People often feel there is a right way and a wrong way when it comes to household cleanliness. Their way is, of course, the right way; anything else is wrong. For example, if you like your house to have a casual, comfortable, lived-in look, you will tend to perceive someone who is neat and orderly as fastidious and “up-tight.” If you like it clean and orderly, however, you will likely be offended by the sloppiness of a casual partner. Fights about this issue can polarize an otherwise happy couple. And sadly, the more they fight the more dissimilar they become.
Interestingly, one way to resolve this difficulty is for each person to accept the other’s way as valid for that person. In other words, the neat person does not insist that the casual person also be neat, nor does the casual one require a more relaxed attitude on the part of their “fastidious” mate. In time, paradoxically, there is a tendency for loving couples to see value in their partner’s way and move closer together. Be warned, however, it is difficult to be comfortable living with someone who is poles apart from you in this area. Complaints about neatness and cleanliness are among the more frequent and destructive in marriage. Consider this area carefully.
It is important to note that one’s household standard reflects more than just fastidiousness or sloppiness about the house. An overall behavioral style is suggested. Personality dimensions falls on continuums, and one continuum dimension is from obsessive/compulsive at one extreme to impulsive on the other. Obsessive/compulsive people manifest a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control. They are often ridged and inflexible. Impulsive people are just the opposite. They are usually careless in their manner and put little thought into their decisions. The potential for incompatibility here is glaring with a high likelihood for serious clashes not only in the home, but in everyday life.
This section focuses on our need to be the right person in marriage and moves us towards a greater awareness of ourselves. It begins with question eleven.
11. ARE YOU WILLING TO ACCEPT THE
RESPONSIBILITY, AS FAR AS IS REASONABLE,
FOR MAKING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WORK?
Choosing the right person is, sadly, not sufficient to produce a happy marriage. You must also be the right person both for your mate as well as for marriage in general. In other words, you not only need to be compatible in specific ways with you spouse, but you must also posses certain traits that are essential for making any relationship work. Trustworthiness, a capacity for empathy, emotional stability, and fair-mindedness are indispensable examples. It needs to be said, however, some people are so self-focused, or so fiercely independent they would have difficulty sharing control of their lives with anyone. These folks are probably better off staying single. I believe most of us, however, including those who have had poor prior experiences, are capable of forging good and lasting intimate relationships.
Thus, in addition to finding the right person you must discover what you can do after you marry to help your marriage function at its best and to promote its longevity.
Self-esteem is a central issue in our lives and plays an important role in marriage. It influences our choice of partners as well as how we behave toward our partners. Thus, I am going to spend time in this area to be sure I communicate a useful understanding of this issue.
The concept of self-esteem had its historical apex in the last century, from the sixties to the nineties. Many social scientists touted the importance of self-esteem in the construction of our lives. In the Eighties and Nineties lay movements develop and political organizations formed to help foster its incorporation in education and in society. Then, in the late Nineties, criticism about the usefulness and predictability of self-esteem as a behavioral and personality variable developed. The concern was that the push for self-esteem, with its focus on the importance of the individual, was creating a generation of selfish adults. The criticism at first slowed the spread of these ideas, but lately has resulted in a renewed interest in the issue with more research and some new, more temperate ideas emerging, leading to a swing back towards valuing the concept. The view emerging now is that self-esteem, as a predictor of success, cannot be separated completely from our acts and its consequences, and it must be balanced against the value and importance of others in our lives. Common sense? Yes, I think so. It points to the danger of loosing focus when we over simplify behavioral concepts or push them to extremes. I will try to keep things in balance as I discuss this issue further.
Let me go back to fundamentals. Our capacity to give and receive love has its roots in our ability to love ourselves. Conversely, it is difficult to think well of others while thinking poorly of ourselves. When we have self-approval, however, we are more open to giving love, and we are more likely to recognize love when others give it to us. Thus, we feel more confident and more comfortable with our intimate companions. The development of a positive identity leaves us open to feeling, competent, valued, and with a secure sense of belonging.
When it comes to acceptance of self, however, I am not referring to blatant narcissism, which is often confused with self-esteem. This quality of self-centered conceit takes self-worth to unacceptable levels. Narcissistic personalities have difficulty forming true loving relationships and develop, instead, associations designed to feed their need for adulation. Healthy self-esteem is balanced with an awareness of the importance of others. As I have said earlier, mature love means that your happiness and that of your loved ones are interlinked.
Most of us strive to construct a sense of self that allows us to function independently, yet feel part of our world. Our need for this state is like an inner-compass that directs us throughout our lives. Clearly, whether we identify ourselves as worthwhile or worthless has a profound bearing on the overall direction our lives take. It influences our friendship preferences, our choice of careers, and, importantly, our marital mate selections. In short, our feeling of personal worth (or lack of it) is a fundamental aspect of our being and plays a principal role in the construction of our lives. I have little doubt that self-esteem is a corner stone of sound mental health.
Low self-assessment, on the other hand, has the reverse effect. It correlates highly with depression. It also increases our tendency to feel infatuation for, or become dependent upon another. A negative self-view with its ingrained sense of inadequacy and unacceptability often fosters the misguided fantasy that some magical person will come along and rescue us. But, because we feel inadequate we are prone to destructive bouts of jealousy of our partners’ friends and of resentment for our partners’ superiority.
Thus, in order to feel loved we need to believe we are capable of being loved. We need to feel lovable. We must also have a reasonably positive sense of self if we are to judge others accurately or to recognize when their love for us is genuine. In other words, a poor self-image diminishes our faculty to develop mature and lasting love. Let me delve a little deeper just for a moment.
Some people believe we are what we do. In other words, some think that our personal value is intrinsic to our actions and that our sense of worth stems entirely from judgments made about these actions. I must say this popular view does have merit. We usually do feel good when we do well and when others admire us for it. If we perform well, others see us as worthy, which, in turn, influences us to see ourselves as valuable, promoting further high-quality and note-worthy performances.
Unfortunately, this seductive concept has its drawbacks. With it, any poor performance would label us incompetent, result in denunciation, instill a sense of worthlessness, and restrict or even eliminate our potential for approvable actions. As such, all of life's endeavors would carry the paralyzing possibility of leaving us feeling worthless, hopeless, and rejected. By prohibiting failure, this view stifles risk and forces us on a relentless quest for approval. This is the kind of world-view rock stars struggle with, often resulting in ongoing anxiety and excessive drug use.
It is not possible to make everyone like us. Some people even detest us for the very reasons others love us. Whose opinion is correct? It becomes difficult to establish our value when we judge ourselves solely by the opinions of others. Therefore, we must find some inner capacity to sustain ourselves even when others reject us – a vital skill when seeking a mate since, as we reach out, many will refuse us.
While it is true that we all make mistakes and none of us is perfect, people with low self-esteem judge themselves harshly for their mistakes and condemn themselves for their flaws and shortcomings. They also keep others at a distance for fear of having their inadequacy exposed. Sadly, there is a self-perpetuating aspect to this negative cycle.
A NARCISSISTIC WELL
There is a way to judge ourselves that minimizes the pain of disapproval. In order to develop a stable and enduring sense of worth, we must accept that our worth comes from our existence, that we have a right to be here. We need to understand that our real value is intrinsic to our being and not solely contingent upon acceptable acts. We need to recognize that our behavior is a matter of choice and that our capacity to choose makes us more than our behavior.
Now it is true, of course, that socially acceptable conduct is valuable and much of the approval we receive from others rests upon our proclivity for such behavior. However, when we base our personal value only on the social usefulness of our acts, we can develop resentment towards those whose approval we seek. Secure feelings of self-worth, on the other hand, spring more from less conditional experiences of acceptance, from love that transcends performances and rests more on an exchange of good will. This allows us, in turn, to develop a more enduring self-acceptance. Love that is based on mutual approval and not contingent upon our accomplishments or performances is the kind we receive from true friends and, if we are lucky, the kind we received in childhood from our families. Our self-esteem is influenced by the good opinion of our loved ones just as their self-approval is linked to our love for them.
Because of the importance of this phenomenon, therefore, our ability to accept and value others makes us important to those whose lives we touch. Genuine self-acceptance is the product of a faith in the durability of our intrinsic value and of an awareness that our existence means we are important to ourselves and potentially so to others.
To keep things in balance, however, I must point out that I am not talking about a right to unconditional love. As adults, no one owes us love just because we exist. Nor can we expect others to love us just because we love them. We do need to earn their love. Although love grows largely from its mutuality, it is maintained by lovable behavior.
Interestingly, people with low self-esteem are often unaware that the average person has a higher sense of self than they do, or that their behavior reinforces their undesirable self-view. In the Appendix section, I have placed several short quizzes. One is designed to help you determine your level of self-esteem. I recommend you take a short pause here and take the self-esteem quiz. You can take it later, of course.
The following section focuses on interpersonal processes that make vital contributions to relationship satisfaction. I will be spotlighting specific issues that, in my opinion, are vital for successful marriage. There is a great deal that has been written on this subject. I have listed a number of recommended sources at the end of this writing.
Essentially, a marital relationship is a system. It is created and maintained by two individuals. Each person influences the other, creating a partnership that, through back and forth interaction moves toward a steady, distinctive, and enduring state. Yet, although you both make the marital arrangement, you have primary power only over your part of the system. Thus, you have less power to modify your partner’s behavior than you have to amend your own. When things go well in the marriage, you can take your share of the credit. When things go bad, however, you must take your share of the responsibility. Knowing who you are in your marriage means being aware of what part you play in creating it. It means understanding how you affect your partner’s behavior. Thus, the most important question to ask yourself when there are marital difficulties is - How am I influencing this situation?
As we all know, many people tend to blame the other person when things go wrong. “If it wasn’t for her,” I often hear, “everything would be fine.” But marriage partners exert powerful influences over each other’s behavior. When problems arise, it is vital to discern how you might have affected their development. You need to know how you have helped cause this problem. Of course, you must also be willing to assume responsibility for correcting any negative influences you discover.
I realize this is easier said than done. A certain amount of smug satisfaction comes from believing we are entirely innocent and our partners are completely guilty. We are angels. They are devils. We experience a glorious sense of righteous superiority when we claim to be “innocent victims.” But remember, it is far easier for us to modify our own behavior then it is for us to change someone else’s. Therefore, if you can discover how you have influenced the troublesome situation, you increase your ability to correct it.
In other words, to solve the problem you will want to know what part you played in its development. Remember, however, you must also be willing to assume responsibility for correcting any negative influences you discover. Your marriage is important to you; it has the potential to provide you with great satisfaction and happiness. Therefore, it is your obligation to yourself to make it work. This responsibility is correct even if your spouse, the person you temporarily detest, will also benefit from your corrected actions.
Along these lines, it is important for you to know that your partner cannot fulfill your needs in every way and that, although sharing your life with your spouse should add joy to your years, you are ultimately responsible for your own happiness.
Of all the social skills we learn in life, our ability to clearly state our thoughts and feelings is one of the most important. And this is especially true in marriage. The expression of feelings is its life-blood supplying needed information about the relationship to its members as well as furnishing vital emotional nutrients. Experts widely agree, the ability to communicate effectively is one attainable attribute that is crucial to the success of any marriage.
The way you talk and, especially, listen to your partner will play a vital role in how satisfied you will both feel in your relationship. As you know, disagreements are normal in all intimate associations, even the best of them. Fighting all the time, of course, would be a sign of serious disharmony. But occasional spats are inevitable. They may even be necessary. This is true in close friendships as well as in marriage. The mission for us here is not to learn how to eliminate arguments, but how to manage them. And this means being fair, reasonable, and clear in our discussion. Unfortunately, comprehensible message sending is an art many individuals do not practice. Some of the most frequent complaints encountered by marriage and family therapists are those involving poor communication. Inept verbal exchange patterns during heated moments are commonly the cause of additional, and sometimes worse, discord. Little mistakes can result in big troubles. However, it is also true that small improvement in disclosure know-how can lead to large advances in marital satisfaction. Toward this end, the survival of your close associations requires that you learn to communicate effectively.
Modes of Communication
We communicate on two levels: verbal and nonverbal. We convey our thoughts and feelings verbally - with words - and nonverbally - with body language through tone, facial expression, gestures, and actions. It is important that our statements agree on both levels. Studies indicate that when we receive messages that are different on these planes we tend to believe the nonverbal message. We also learn to distrust the communicator.
In conjunction with the verbal and nonverbal levels, three styles of communication are common in human relations. These patterns have been termed: passive, aggressive, and assertive. It is important to note, however, we all really practice a combination of these styles and not just one. In addition, different situations call for different approaches.
The passive style of interpersonal behavior is characterized by inaction. People utilizing this mode tend to be easy to get along with and pleasant. They go out of their way to avoid offending others. This, of course, can be a very charming quality. These folks are easy going and agreeable – on the surface. But it has a down side. They are often very fearful of hostility both in others and in themselves. They believe any display of aggression on their part will provoke others to rage at them or to reject them. Thus, they are very uncomfortable expressing anger and usually deny or suppress it whenever it occurs. One tragic consequences of this style is that passive people become reluctant to speak up or defend themselves when it is legitimate. They act as though other people have rights, but they do not. They think other’s feelings and needs are important, but theirs are not. They behave as though they do not count. Thus, they have no way to protect themselves from the petty annoyances and inadvertent intrusions that occur in most relationships. As a result, resentment can easily build under the surface producing an ongoing state of stress and tension. In some cases, the tension builds to morbid levels, resulting in withdrawal from others, or in destructive outbursts that serve only to embarrass them and alienate others. This, in turn causes them to suppress their anger further. In time, people prone to passivity learn to fear being close to others and keep to themselves both emotionally and physically. Although passivity can also lend itself to a long, albeit superficial, relationship, it will more likely be an unhappy one. Behavioral scientists have estimated that around fifty percent of our population employs this style, often to an unhealthy extent.
The aggressive style is on the other extreme and is characterized by belligerence and interpersonal intrusiveness. People who utilize this approach tend to go forcefully after what they want and usually get it; but they are unconcerned about how this will affect others. They act as though they have rights, but others do not. They are not intimidated by anger and are seldom concerned with other’s opinions. These people say, “I don’t get stress - I give it.” However, their angry, dominating manner tends to alienate people who, in time, seek to oppose them. Ultimately, aggressive individuals become suspicious of others and begin to watch assiduously for infractions or violations of their rights. Thus, the aggressive style produces stress in the aggressors as well as in those around them; and it prohibits the development of close, trusting, and caring associations. It is easy to see how this style, especially in its extreme, would prohibit the development of a mutually satisfying marriage.
The assertive style is a combination of the other two styles. It is characterized by both fairness and strength. Assertive individuals are able to stand up for their rights, but remain sensitive to the rights of others. People who choose this approach are usually relaxed and easygoing, but are candid about their feelings. They do not usually bottle-up their feelings and deal with stressful situations, when possible, as they arise. It is worth noting here, the way you present your arguments can make the difference between resolving your disputes and adding to your hostility. Assertive individuals know, if they want their partners to hear their complaints and be fair in response, they must communicate their concerns in as non-provocative a manner as possible. They also know they must be willing to listen sincerely to their partners’ complaints. They strive for win/win solutions to their marital difficulties. In essence, assertive communication means being honest and direct about your grievances while being open to the concerns of your partner. This is the best style for minimizing stress and maintaining long-standing intimate relationships. Behavioral scientists also know that your ability to be assertive, or to stand up non-provocatively for your rights, can contribute importantly to your emotional well-being. Thus, it is essential we be assertive in our marriages.
The key to the assertive style is to be fair, to focus on the problem, and to try not to intensify the situation. In other words, don’t harbor hurt, don’t try to destroy your partner and stay focused. When you are hurt or angry, however, it is easy to slip into an “angel/devil” mentality – you’re the angel, your spouse is the devil; you are completely right, your spouse is completely wrong. In reality, however, this simplistic dichotomy is rarely valid. Remember, to resolve your problem you must stay focused and present your grievance in a manner that is not provocative. I realize it is much easier for me to tell you this than it is for you to do it. After all, how can anyone expect you to stay reasonable when the devil person you married has offended you so grievously? But you must. Consider the following.
First, it is important to know
that the way you start your arguments plays a vital role in the way they
finish. Psychologist John Gottman,
director of the Love Lab at
Thus, do not store things up, do not seek to destroy, and stick to the point. Dr. Gottman, points to the importance of introducing our complaints in a “softer” non-critical, non-contemptuous way if we are to obtain resolution.
However, some people do not know what assertive behavior really is; and many find they are assertive in some situations, but not in others. In the Appendix section I have placed an assertiveness quiz. This would be a time to take a pause in your reading and take the quiz.
Along these lines Dr. Haim Ginott, the noted psychologist, discerned that statements starting with “I” tended to be less provocative than those starting with “you.” He made a study of what he called “I statements.” These refer to statements we make to others about our feelings concerning the relationship or about issues in the relationship as they affect us. It is not so much about what kind of person the other is for doing it what was done, but more on how we feel about what was done. For example: Mary tells John she gets annoyed (or frustrated, or hurt) when he does not call to inform her he will be late for dinner. The focus is on how she feels about his actions and how it affects her; it is not on what kind of a person she thinks John is for not calling i.e., uncaring, inconsiderate, etc.
Basically, “I statements” are designed to minimize blame by focusing on the relationship issues and their impact on our feelings. Their purpose is to inform not to incite. When we do this right, it leads readily to quick and often amiable resolutions.
“I statements” themselves usually contains four elements: (1) a description of the problem or issue, (2) its effect on your life, (3) how you feel about this effect, and (4) what you would prefer. You may be very angry about the other person’s behavior, but you remain focused on the issue. For example, let us imagine you are car-pooling with a friend to work who tends to be tardy. This, in turn, causes you to be late and fall behind at work. If you let your anger build and fuel a hostile reaction you might say, “I’m sick and tired of you coming late everyday and causing me work problems. How can you be such an insensitive jerk?” Such a comment might make you feel good for the moment. After all, your friend caused you pain, why not give some back? And indeed, your comment probably would hurt your friend. In some cases, you may even resolve the problem in the process. But you also risk provoking hostility and resentment in return, which could cause some people to be deliberately late in defiance. You may even loose the friendship entirely. If you value the friendship, however, and wished to be more certain of resolving the problem, you would be wiser to use an “I statement.” In this case, you would say something like this: “Whenever you are late picking me up” (description of offending behavior) “it causes me to be late for my job” (concrete effect on you). “I feel very frustrated when this happens,” (how you feel) “and I really need you to be more punctual” (the behavior you prefer). Another example of an “I” message is this: “When you cancel our plans at the last minute it’s usually too late to make other plans. I find this very irritating and really would like you to let me know in advance when you think our plans are not going to work out.” As you can see from my examples, however, it is not always necessary to start a sentence with “I,” but the focus needs to be on how you feel about a situation, which you clearly state, and not on how terrible the other is for causing it. Of course, it is certainly all right to express your concerns with passion.
Sending and Receiving
Effective communication contains two major and obvious components: message sending and message receiving - speaking and listening. The first, speaking, necessitates your willingness to send clear, honest messages about your thoughts and feelings. In other words, there must be no hidden statements, double meanings, or innuendos. Say what you mean and mean what you say. In addition, when dealing with troublesome issues, your messages must be constructive, i.e., aimed at solving your problems rather than just expressing feelings designed primarily to hurt the other person. Insults, put-downs, or comments intended only to belittle your marital partner are destructive to you relationship and create more difficulties. Feeling expression does not mean blurting out anything you feel just because you feel it. Be fair and considerate with your comments. For example, imagine someone saying, “I have to be honest with you. You’re ugly.” Such a statement is not honest; it’s cruel.
However, let us broaden our discussion of communication a little and focus on the importance of listening. The second component in effective verbal interchange is your ability to listen to your partner’s assertions in a manner that will encourage further communication. One excellent way to accomplish this is to avoid interrupting with defensive remarks. That is, allow your spouse to air his/her grievances without interference from you. This means you must listen even when you are being attacked. Meaningful interchange will be encouraged this way. If you must comment, confine them to clarifying questions or message reflections such as, “It sounds like you feel neglected when I watch television, or “You feel you are not cared about when I don’t greet you at the door. These illuminating restatements are even more potent when combined with genuinely empathic assertions such as, “You feel that you are being taken for granted. I know that can really hurt,” or, “It must hurt to feel unimportant to me.” This kind of attending has been termed Active Listening. It is a vital part of communication for it helps the message sender feel heard, satisfied and in turn, willing to listen to you. It is important to note once again, however, empathic assertions or restatements must be genuine.
Of the two elements, speaking and listening, the later is the most difficult. This is because when we are angry we have a greater desire to be heard then we have to hear. We want others to know how awful we feel and usually don’t care how bad they feel. In fact we often have a desire to verbally, and sometimes physically, hurt the one who hurt us. In addition, listening when we are being berated or attacked is particularly frustrating, especially when the accusations being hurled at us are unfair or untrue.
Moreover, regardless of the difficulties, the listening part of the discussion is usually the most important. There is no point in speaking to our spouses unless they are willing to hear what we have to say; and the better they listen, the more satisfied we feel. The reverse, of course, is also true. This is a fact we would do well to remember. The more we pay attention to what we are being told the better our spouses are likely to feel. This results in an increase in their willingness to listen to us and to a decrease in fruitless and destructive arguments. This, in turn, contributes to happy marital relations overall. It is even possible for marital fights to lead to fond memories of the incident if they are done with fairness, understanding, and good humor
The primary rule for effective family communication, therefore, is – LISTEN. To put it another way, when his/her mouth is open, keep yours closed. This will best ensure that you hear what is being said. If your spouse is hurt or angry with you, it is for some reason, even if just imagined. Pay attention to that reason. Accept it. And try to understand it from your partner’s point of view. When your spouse knows that you are genuinely trying to understand, he/she will be more willing to listen to you. Your efforts here will contribute to a warmer, more conciliatory marital atmosphere.
Consider this example: Mary confronted John at the door and complained, “You are almost an hour late from work. I have been worried sick thinking that you might have been in an accident.” (This is frequently used as a guilt inducing statement when someone feels his/her partner has been inconsiderate.) “You could have called me from work when you knew you were going to be late. Now dinner is cold and ruined.” John was somewhat surprised by this greeting, but for the past few days sensed that his wife was troubled about something. “You’re right,” he stated. “I could have called. It must seem I am unconcerned about your feelings.” “You are unconcerned about my feelings, “Mary replied. “I feel like you don’t care about me at all any more.” John responded, “I guess I haven’t been too attentive to you lately. Mostly, I have been coming home at night these days and just plopping down in front of the television. I can see how it would seem like I don’t care about you. Then I arrive late without calling you. No wonder you are angry.” “Well, what’s going on John?” Mary asked. “You haven’t been paying much attention to me for a while. I’m just afraid that maybe you don’t love me anymore. Is something wrong?” Mary felt that John was listening to her at this point and began to calm down. She was now more open to understanding his position. “I’ve been so busy at work,” said John. “I guess I have been preoccupied with it. I must have been kind of distant lately. It’s nothing about you honey. I love you very much.”
I must point out that our willingness to listen to and understand our spouses will not necessarily lead to an immediate, positive reaction on their part. They do not know us by how we are at this exact second, but rather how we have been, or by our history with them. We need to stay the course and allow time to overcome what we might call relationship inertia.
Also, it’s important to note that John didn’t get caught up in Mary’s anger and fire back defensive, angry comments like, “Boy oh boy! Nobody cares about how hard I work. All you think about is yourself,” etc. Timing here is also important. John waited until Mary was sincerely interested in his explanation before he began. The discussion ended with Mary acknowledging that John is usually more caring and attentive to her. She was happy to know that she was still important to her husband and that every thing was all right. Of course, John also agreed to let Mary know when he would be late – when possible.
It would be nice if we never had relationship problems, but we do. Learning to manage them, therefore, is our best hope. Using “I messages” to communicate our concerns is one way to handle everyday interpersonal difficulties that does work. Communicating our annoyance, irritation, frustration, and anger in this more controlled fashion is truly an effective outlet for these negative feelings. Moreover, in the process we are less likely to cause reactions that may serve only to perpetuate our problems. As with any skill, your ability to communicate effectively will improve with practice; but communicate you must if you are to make your intimate relationships the best they can be.
HARMONIZING WHO YOU WANT WITH WHO YOU ARE
The person you are - your qualities, characteristics, and attributes - determines your partnership preferences. Naturally, selecting the right person means knowing the person you are selecting; but it also means knowing the person you are. I have developed a few quizzes to help you in this regard. The quizzes are designed to illuminate some of the characteristics discussed in part one.
Traditional and Modern marriages.
In question five I discuss the importance of compatible marital roles. Although we play many roles in our marriages, the tenor of these roles is influenced by our overall view of marriage. This can be divided into two broad areas: traditional and modern. Disagreements here can produce major disharmony in marriage.
The important factor for us here is not so much whether marital partner’s beliefs are modern or traditional, but that they are in agreement. It should be noted, however, studies do indicate that, regardless of style, marriages are happier when partners are equal in power and family status.
Modern or Traditional Quiz
I have included a quiz on this subject in the appendix section. Your results may surprise you.
Once again, it is not crucial to the development of a happy marriage that the partners be modern or traditional in their thinking. However, it is important that they agree. It is also noteworthy that equality plays a vital role.
Give and Take
Earlier I mentioned several personal qualities vital to the success of any marriage. These included the need to be psychologically healthy and the importance of being trustworthy, reasonable, empathetic, and caring at the very least. To this, I would like to add the value of being balanced in our ability to give and take – to be evenhanded in our capacity to look out for our partners as we look out for ourselves. This quality shows itself when we love. Remember, we can define love as a desire to satisfy our loved one’s needs as much as our own.
Since we all want our intimate relationships to be the best they can be, we will want to seek partners who care as much about our needs as much as they do their own. But it is equally vital to be the kind of person we are looking for, that is, to be willing ourselves to both give as well as take in the relationship. In order to establish such an arraignment and make it last we must strive for parity between what we receive and what we provide. We must find some reasonable symmetry between our generosity and our selfishness if we are to avoid problems. In other words, if you do a great deal more for your partner than s/he does for you, you will probably feel cheated eventually and become bitter. Conversely, if your partner does much more, she or he will likely become unhappy with you. Striking a fair balance here is one important way to avoid the destructive resentments that can easily undo an otherwise good partnership.
It is very important to note, however, I am not talking about seeking perfect equality between what you get and what you give, for no relationship is exactly 50:50. In fact, in the best relationships the partners frequently give more than they get and are willing to do so. Clearly, it is not in your best interest to look for evidence that your partner is cheating you. If you do, you will find it. There is one thing that has impressed me over the years. A bright, articulate person can make a convincing case for just about anything. I am suggesting instead you strive to avoid what might be called a victim - exploiter imbalance where one person clearly uses the other or is used excessively by the other.
Unfortunately, without being aware of it, many of us develop a tendency to give much more than we are comfortable with, or else we take our partners for granted and give too little back. Others have trouble accepting anything from others and inadvertently discourage a fair exchange.
Giver or Taker Quiz
I have included in the Appendix section a quiz entitled “Are You a Giver or Taker.” I believe you will find it helpful in your quest to know yourself.
Perhaps some politicians or business executives are driven by elevations in the narcissistic or “selfish” characteristics found in the Taker style. In intimate relationships, however, the advantage goes to more loving individuals who are comfortable being a little more giving than taking. It is Important to remember that relationships can be easily undone by constant bickering over the 51 – 49 percent giving/taking spot.
FINDING A SUITABLE DATE
One big issue not mentioned so far has to do with dating and readily plays a role in the development of unsatisfactory marriages. This one, in my view, is extremely common and is associated with feelings of low self-confidence. Many find the very act of meeting new people to be too difficult. They do not know how to introduce themselves or how to conduct themselves after they do. Thus, they feel lucky to have anyone in their lives and, for fear of being alone and lonely, hang on desperately to unsuitable partners. I suspect this to be a problem of some magnitude. It could be one of the prime underlying ingredients leading to our high unhappy marriage rate. I have no doubt a good many people would benefit from improving their interpersonal skills and broadening their social contacts.
If holding on to an unsuitable mate for fear of having no one is widespread, as it might well be, then learning how to increase our options for finding new partners becomes vital. At present, the most popular method of finding a potential mate is from personal introductions by family members and through acquaintances stemming from work and social networks. This is an excellent way to expand your contacts, and it is wise to focus your efforts here. But there are other ways. Meeting new people at special interest groups is also very valuable. For example, if you like camping and outdoor experiences, joining a group like the Sierra Club could put you in contact with like-minded people. Joining a ski club could help you to meet other skiers. Single people at such clubs and other special interest groups already share some of your interests. In addition, going to places where other singles congregate and are open to contact, such as house parties and local bars, can be effective. As I have mentioned earlier, scientific internet matching and internet dating has also become popular and is one effective way to meet suitable partners. I believe this last method has become the most popular. All of these factors help boost our chances of finding new friends and meeting compatible mates
This, of course, cannot circumvent the importance of developing self-confidence and a secure self-image. It is also vital to develop the human relations skills and qualities necessary for successful dating, such as clear communication, respect, and trustworthiness at the very least. These personal attributes are also vital for successful marriage. However, if you have trouble meeting new people and tie yourself to unsuitable individuals because you fear being alone, learning effective interpersonal skills will have a positive effect on your mate selection as well as on your life in general.
It is my hope that this writing will help you know what to look for and what to avoid when selecting a mate and to know what qualities or personality attributes will interact best with yours. Other interesting ideas and guidelines have been developed and published, some of which I have listed at the end. Nevertheless, there is no substitute for personal chemistry. No one can know for sure what is best for you. I believe it is wise to experience, experiment, and explore to find who is right for you. This means meeting and getting to know many people so that when you marry you select from a large pool of potential mates rather then settle for one of the few people you happen to know.
It is, of course, definitely possible to meet the right person on your first encounter. Many good marriages have developed this way. However, you improve your chances of finding a harmonious partner when you learn how to meet and, thus, get to know more prospective mates before you marry. This also means, however, you must end dating relationships that you know are wrong for you. Remember, you can discern a good many “red flag” relationships in the first few dates.
Once you get to know a prospective mate, serious consideration of these eleven questions can help you prevent many of the major difficulties that plague so many marriages. It is worth noting that if you are already engaged or in-love you will most likely find it harder to be honest with your answers. However, being aware of, and working out these concerns before marriage can save a great deal of grief. Those of you in committed relationships or already married can also benefit from an awareness of these potentially troublesome issues. However, you must be willing to take your share of the responsibility for dealing with and resolving them. Those difficulties that are not resolvable will require acceptance and adjustment if you are to be content in your marriage. To do this you will need to stay focused on the good aspects of the relationship as you learn to be tolerant of the rest.
OTHER IMPORTANT INFLUENCES
Studies comparing successful and unsuccessful marriages have disclosed a number of other facts statically associated with divorce. These are: having had parents that were divorced, having had a previous marriage (especially if you are male), living together prior to marriage, having children from a previous marriage, having different religious backgrounds, marrying very young, marrying after only a short acquaintance, and experiencing financial hardship. I mention these only to provide the facts and be more complete. Some of these issues seem intuitively true such as marrying very young or after a very short acquaintance. It is important to note here, however, that these studies disclose statistical probabilities. This means they are pertinent only for large groups and cannot reliably predict the outcome for just one relationship. There are many exceptions here. In addition, we can do nothing about some of these influences, such as a divorce between our parents. Nevertheless, you can benefit from a cautionary awareness of these other important issues.
Quizzes focusing on issues discussed in this writing.
It is important to note that, although the following quizzes do have face validity, they have not been subjected to validity and reliability trials. The results of the quizzes are only suggestions and are not intended to be definitive.
Here is a short quiz to help you determine your level of self-esteem and at the same time show you some elements that are vital to the growth of a secure and positive identity. Remember, a secure sense of self is an essential ingredient in love that lasts.
In each question circle the letter choice that best applies to you. Do not look at the results section until you have completed the quiz.
1. Do you judge your personal worth according to the opinions of other
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
2. Do you need everyone to like or accept you?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
3. Do you believe that being alone means you are unacceptable?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
4. Do you downgrade yourself when your performances are not perfect?
b) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
5. Do you feel rejected whenever attention is not paid to you?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
6. Do you compare yourself unfavorably to others?
a)Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
2. Do you compare yourself unfavorably to others?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
7. Do you set unrealistically high standards for yourself?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
8. Do you believe people can only like you if you are interesting?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
9. Do you estimate your general ability to be low or inadequate?
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
10. Do you boast about your accomplishments or about the people you
a) Almost never. b) Sometimes. c) Almost always.
The “a” answers reflect an independent, self-assured and self-confident manner. If you scored high here, you are able to accept your strengths as well as your shortcomings. Your close interpersonal relationships are probably enjoyable. Seven or more “a” answers indicate a very high level of self-esteem.
The “b” answers denote moderate feelings of self-esteem. Since most of us have some doubt about ourselves and need occasional reassurances from others, it is likely the average person would make this choice. The desire for approval is part of our nature as social beings and, in moderation, can prompt behavior that adds to our charm. If most of your choices were “b” choices, or if you chose as many “a” answers as you did “c” answers your level of self-esteem is average.
The “c” choices reflect strong self-doubt, low self-confidence, and feelings of dependency and inadequacy. If you scored high here you tend to see yourself as less adequate than others, are probably very needful of their approval, and feel generally insecure. You may feel you cannot function well on your own. Resentment toward the people you feel dependent upon may develop if it is not already present. Your low assessment of yourself may be hampering your ability to enjoy life. If you had a “c” choice score of seven of more you probably have low self-esteem.
If you wish to boost your self-esteem, you may find it helpful to be more assertive and less perfectionistic. It may be useful to know that most people value inclusion of some kind and wish to belong. Thus, the people you desire acceptance from likely want your approval too. This fact gives us all intrinsic value and makes our good opinion of others socially desirable. Take a look at your answers again and try to move your behavior into the “a” choice range.
It is important to note that, although this quiz does have face validity, it has not been subjected to validity and reliability trials. The results of this quiz is only suggestive and not intended to be definitive.
Here is a quiz to help you determine just how assertive you are and, at the same time, show you what assertive responses look like.
1. You are in a restaurant and order a steak medium-rare, but it is served to you well-done. You would:
a) Accept it since you sort of like it well-done anyway.
b) Angrily refuse the steak and insist on seeing the manager to complain about the poor service.
c) Call the waiter and indicate you ordered your steak medium-rare and then turn it back.
2 You are a customer waiting in line to be served. Suddenly, someone steps in line ahead of you. You would:
a) Let the person be ahead of you since he/she is already in line.
b) Pull the person out of line and make him/her go to the back.
c) Indicate to the person that you are in line and point out where it begins.
3. After walking out of a store where you purchased some items you discover you were short-changed. You would:
a) Let it go since you are already out of the store and have no proof you were short-changed.
b) Go to the manager and indicate how you were cheated by the clerk, then demand the proper change.
c) Return to the clerk and inform him/her of the error.
4. You are in the middle of watching a very interesting television program when your spouse comes in and asks you for a favor. You would:
a) Do the favor as quickly as possible and then return to the program to finish watching it.
b) Say "no," then finish watching your program.
c) Ask if it can wait until the program is over and, if so, do it then.
5. A friend drops in to say hello, but stays too long, preventing you from finishing an important work project. You would:
a) Let the person stay, then finish your work another time.
b) Tell the person to stop bothering you and to get out.
c) Explain your need to finish your work and request politely he/she visit another time.
6. You ask a gas station attendant for five dollars worth of gas. However, he fills up your tank by mistake and asks for twelve dollars. You would:
a) Pay the twelve dollars since the gas is already in your tank and you will eventually need it anyway.
b) Demand to see the manager and protest being ripped off.
c) Indicate you only requested five dollars worth of gas and give him only five dollars.
7. You suspect someone of harboring a grudge against you, but you don't know why. You would:
a) Pretend you are unaware of his/her anger and ignore it, hoping it will correct itself.
b) Get even with the person somehow so he/she will learn not to hold grudges against you.
c) Ask the person if they are angry, then try to be understanding.
8. You bring your car to a garage for repairs and receive a written estimate. But later, when you pick up your car, you are billed for additional work and for an amount higher than the estimate. You would:
a) Pay the bill since the car must have needed the extra repairs anyway.
b) Refuse to pay, and then complain to the Motor Vehicle Department or the Better Business Bureau.
c) Indicate to the manager that you agreed only to the estimated amount, then pay only that amount.
9. You invite a good friend to your house for a dinner party, but your friend never arrives nor calls to explain or apologize. You would:
a) Ignore it, but manage not to show up the next time your friend invites you to a party.
b) Never speak to this person again and end the friendship.
c) Call your friend to find out what happened.
10. You are in a group discussion at work that includes your boss. A co-worker asks you a question about your work, but you do not know the answer. You would:
a) Give your co-worker a false, but plausible answer so your boss will think you are on top of things.
b) Do not answer, but attack your co-worker by asking a question you know he/she could not answer.
c) Indicate to your co-worker you are unsure just now, but offer to give him/her the information later.
In general, there are three broad styles of interpersonal behavior. These are: a) Passive, b) Aggressive, and c) Assertive.
a) The Passive style of interpersonal behavior is characterized by inaction. People utilizing this style tend to be easy to get along with and pleasant, but unwilling to stand up for their rights, for fear of offending others. They are very uncomfortable expressing anger and usually deny or suppress this feeling should it occur. As a result, resentment can easily build under the surface producing stress and tension. In time, these people learn to fear close relationships because they have no way to protect themselves from the petty annoyances and inadvertent intrusions that occur in most relationships.
The "a" choices in the quiz are representative of the Passive style. Thus, the more "a" choices you made, the more passive you are. Six or more "a" choices suggest you are most likely passive in your interpersonal behavior.
b) The Aggressive style is characterized by intrusiveness. People who utilize this style tend to go after what they want, but are unconcerned about how this will affect others. Their angry, dominating manner tends to alienate people who, in time, may seek to oppose them. Aggressive individuals are usually suspicious of others and are often on the look out for infractions or violations of their rights. Thus, the Aggressive style produces stress and prohibits the development of close, trusting, and caring interpersonal relationships.
The "b" choices in the quiz are representative of the Aggressive style. Thus, the more "b" choices you made, the more aggressive you are. Six or more "b" choices indicate you are most likely aggressive in your interpersonal behavior.
c) The Assertive style is characterized by both fairness and strength. Assertive individuals are able to stand up for their rights, but remain sensitive to the rights of others. People who choose this style are usually relaxed and easygoing, but are honest about their feelings. This is the best style for minimizing stress and maintaining long-standing intimate relationships.
The "c" choices in the quiz are representative of the Assertive style. Thus, the more "c" choices you made, the more assertive you are. Six or more "c" choices suggest you are probably assertive.
It is important to note that, although the quiz does have face validity, it has not been subjected to validity and reliability trials. The results of this quiz are only suggestions and are not intended to be definitive.
Here is a quiz to help you determine whether you are traditional or modern in your thinking. The results may help you better harmonize your intimate relationships.
ARE YOU MODERN OR TRADITIONAL?
Circle T (true) or F (false) on each question before looking at the answers. Try to answer the questions with the first response that comes to your mind. This will enable the quiz to better present a picture of your natural tendencies.
Please note, surveys of this kind are not definitive and can only reflect trends in your personality.
1. Muscles look good only on men. ……………………. T F
2. In dual career marriages, the man’s career is more important
because if they decide to have children he must
support the family……………………………………. T F
3. It is usually much safer for pilots to be men…………. T F
4. During family meals, the father should sit
at the head of the table……………………………….. T F
5. When dividing family chores, work inside the house should
be for the woman and work outside for the man…….. T F
6. Women in pants and short hair are
usually unattractive………………………………….. T F
7. Women are usually better cooks than men…………… T F
8. Women are usually not good at math…………………. T F
9. Women do not make good combat soldiers because they are
not as strong or as aggressive as men……………….., T F
10. In divorce cases, custody should be awarded
to the mother because women are naturally
more loving and nurturing…………………………… T F
11. A women’s most important task in life is
producing children........................................................ T F
12. Because of their small size, women do not make
good truck drivers…………………………………….. T F
The T (true) answers represent the more traditional view. The more T answers you made, the more traditional you are in your thinking. Eight or more T answers would definitely place you in the traditional category.
Feminists and modern social thinkers have challenged all of the issues raised by these questions. F (false) answers to these questions are more representative of their thinking. The more F answers you made, the more your thinking is in line with current ideas about sexual and social role relationships. Eight F answers or more would clearly place you in the modern category.
It is important to note that, although the quiz does have face validity, it has not been subjected to validity and reliability trials. The results of this quiz are only suggestions and are not intended to be definitive.
I designed the following quiz to help you determine whether you are primarily a Giver or a Taker. Knowing this can help you correct any potentially harmful inequities.
ARE YOU A GIVER OR TAKER?
Circle T (true)
or F (false) on each question before looking at the answers. Try to answer the
questions with the first response that comes to your mind. This will enable the quiz to best present a
picture of your natural tendencies.
Please note, however, surveys of this kind are not definitive and can
only reflect trends in your personality.
1. I agree with the following statement: It is nice
to be important, but more important to be nice………………. T F
2. I need to be liked by others more than other
people seem to………………………………………………… T F
3. I do not believe that nice people finish last……........................ T F
4. I believe that most people on welfare are
truly in need……….. T
5. I frequently give to charity…………………………………….. T F
6. Christmas is my favorite holiday………………………………..T F
7. There was much love in my family when I was a child. 8. My efforts to achieve or succeed in life are seldom
interfered with by others………………………………………. T F
9. I do not agree with this saying: Do unto others as they
would do unto you, but do it first……………………………… T F
10. I usually feel uncomfortable when
others do things for me………………………………………... T F
11. I am usually crushed when others
have bad opinions of me……………………………………… T F
12. I believe that if you cannot say something
nice about someone, don't say anything………………………...T F
The T (true) answers represent qualities often found in Givers, or people who are compliant, pleasing, or other-oriented. Such individuals tend to seek approval and have a great desire to be liked by others. They have a propensity to give or do a great deal for others with the hope of being liked. Some psychologists believe that about fifty percent of our population has this characteristic.
In the extreme, however, Givers or compliant personalities lack assertiveness and are easily exploited. In such cases resentment and hostility readily develops. But, for fear of rejection, their anger is seldom expressed until it builds to the point of rage. Ten of more T answers would suggest an extreme in this area.
The F (false) answers reflect qualities often found in Takers, or people who are aggressive and self-oriented. Some of these take-charge characteristics can be helpful for effective leadership. However, in its extreme, it creates resentment, hostility and, eventually, opposition. Eight or more P answers suggest the extreme in this position.
It is important to note that, although the quiz does have face validity, it has not been subjected to validity and reliability trials. The results of this quiz are only suggestions and are not intended to be definitive.
The following is a list of books on this subject that either I have personally read and recommend, or that clients or relationship professionals have suggested. Many say the same things, but in different ways. There are a number of great books out there not on the list. If you know of a book that was especially helpful to you, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bach, G. R., & Wyden, P., (1968). The Intimate Enemy,
Beck, A. T. (1988-9). Love
is Never Enough.
Berman, S. (1984). The Six Demons of Love: Men's Fears of Intimacy,
Bessell, H. (1984). The Love Test.
Bireda, M. R. (1990). Love Addiction: A Guide to Emotional
Blinder, M. (1989). Choosing Lovers.
Borcherdt, B. (1996). Head Over Heart in Love: 25 Guides to
Bradshaw, J. (1992). Creating Love: The Next Great Stage of Growth.
Branden, N. (1981). The Psychology of Romantic Love.
Brehm, S. S. (1985). Intimate Relationships.
Buscaglia, L. (1984). Loving Each Other.
Cappon, D., (1981) Coupling,
Chopich, E. J. & Paul, M. (1990, 1993). Healing Your Aloneness: Finding Love and
Wholeness Through Your Inner Child.
Christensen, A,, & Jacobson,
N. S., (2000) Reconcilable Differences,
Cowan, C. & Kinder, M. (1985). Smart Women, Foolish Choices.
Crowell, A. (1995). I'd Rather Be Married: Finding Your Future Spouse.
DeAngelis, B. (1992). Are You the One for Me?
Dreyfus, E. A. (1994). Someone Right for You. TAB Books.
Ellis, A. & Harper, R. A. (1975b). A Guide to Successful Marriage.
Emmons, M. L. & Alberti, R. E. (1991). Accepting Each Other: Individuality and
Intimacy in Your Loving Relationship.
Fishbein, M., & Burgess, E. W., (1963) Successful Marriage, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday and Company.
Fishman, B. M. (1994). Resonance: The New Chemistry of Love: Creating a Relationship that
Gives You the Intimacy and Independence You've Always Wanted.
Forward, S. & Buck, C. (1991). Obsessive Love: When Passion Holds You Prisoner.
Fromm, E. (1962, 1974). The Art of Loving.
Gathorne-Hardy, J., (1981) Marriage,
Love, Sex and Divorce,
Giler, J. Z. (1992). Redefining Mr. Right: A Career Woman's Guide to Finding a Mate.
Givens, D. (1983). Love Signals: How to Attract a Mate.
Goldstine, D., Larner, K., Zuckerman, S.,
& Goldstine, H. (1977). The
Gottman, J., Notarius, C., Gonso, J. &
Markman, H. (1976). A Couple's Guide
Gottman, J., & Silver, N.(1999).
The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work,
Gottman, J. M. (1979). Marital Interactions: Experimental
Gray, J. (1993). Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus.
Gray, J. (1994). What Your Mother Couldn't Tell You and Your Father Didn't Know:
Advanced Relationship Skills for Lasting Intimacy.
Gray, J. (1995). Mars and Venus in the Bedroom: A Guide to Lasting Romance and Passion,
Greeson, J. (1994). Food for Love: Healing the Food, Sex, Love & Intimacy Relationship,
Halpern, H. M. (1994). Finally Getting It Right: From Addictive
Love to the Real Thing,
Harlow, H. F. (1973). Learning to Love,
Hendrick, S. S. & Hendrick, C. (1992). Liking, Loving, and Relating, Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Hendrix, H. (1988). Getting the Love You Want,
Hendrix, H. (1990). Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples,
Hendrix, H. (Feb., 1991). 10 Secrets of a Happy Marriage, Family Circle, 27-30.
Horner, A. (1990). Being & Loving: How to Achieve Intimacy with Another Person and
Retain One's Own Identity,
Hunt, M. (1975). The Young Person's Guide to Love.
Huston, T. L., Surra, C. A., Fitzgerald, N.
M., & Cate, R. M. (1981). From Courtship to Marriage: Mate Selection as an
Interpersonal Process. In S. Duck & R. Gilmour (eds.), Personal relationships. 2: Developing
Jacobson, N. S., & Christensen, A., (1996) Acceptance and Change in Couple
Jampolsky, G. G. (1979). Love Is Letting Go of Fear,
Johnson, S. (March, 1994). Love: The Immutable Longing for Contact. Psychology Today , 27 , 33-37, 64-66.
Lasswell, M. & Lobsenz, N. (1980). Styles of Loving,
Lauer, J. C. & Lauer, R. (1986). 'Til Death Do Us Part,
Lederer, W. J. & Jackson,
Lerner, H. G. (1989). The Dance of Intimacy,
Mace, D. R. (1958). Success in Marriage,
Mace, D. & Mace, V. (1974). We Can Have Better Marriages If We Really
Matthews, A. M (1993). The
Engaged Woman's Survival Guide,
May, R., (1969) Love and
McCary, J. L. (1975). Freedom and Growth in Marriage,
McGraw, P., (2005) Love Smart,
McKay, M., Fanning, P. & Paleg, K.
(1994). Couple Skills,
Napier, A. Y. (1994). The Fragile Bond: In Search of an Equal,
Intimate, and Enduring Marriage,
Oden, T. C. (1974). Game Free: A Guide to the Meaning of Intimacy,
O'Hanlon, B. & Hudson, P. (1995). Love Is a Verb: How to Stop Analyzing Your Relationship
& Start Making It Great,
O'Neill, N. & O'Neill, G. (1973). Open Marriage,
Osherson, S. (1992). Wrestling with Love,
Paul, J. & Paul, M. (1983). Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You?
Phillips, D. & Judd, R. (1978). How to Fall Out of Love,
Phillips, G. & Goodall, L. (1983). Loving and Living,
Pines, A. (1988). Keeping the Spark Alive,
Powell, J. (1974). The Secret of Staying in Love,
Tucker-Ladd, C., (2000) Psychological Self-Help, mentalhelp.net.
Raphael, S. J. & Abadie, M. J. (1984). Finding Love: Practical Advice for Men and
Rhodes, S. & Potash, M. S. (1989). Cold Feet: Why Men Don't Commit,
Rock, M. (1986). The Marriage Map,
Rogers, C. R. (1972). Becoming Partners: Marriage and its
Ruben, H. L. (1986). Supermarriage: Overcoming Predictable Crises of Married Life,
Rubin, L. (1983). Intimate Strangers-Men and Women Together,
Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving: An Invitation to Social Psychology,
Rubinstein, C. & Shaver, P. (1982b). In Search of Intimacy,
Sangrey, D. (1983). Wifestyles-Women Talk About Marriage,
Sarnoff, I. & Sarnoff, S. (1989). Love-Centered Marriage in a Self-Centered
Scarf, M. (1987). Intimate Partners: Patterns in love and marriage,
Schaef, A. W. (1989). Escape from Intimacy, San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Schnarch, D., (1997) Passionate Marriage,
Schwartz, P. (1994). Peer Marriage: How Love Between Equals Really Works,
Schwebel, R. (1992). Who's on Top, Who's on Bottom: How Couples Can Learn to Share Power,
Siegelman, E. (1983). Personal Risk: Mastering Change in Love and
Shain, M. (1974). Some Men are More Perfect Than Others,
Short, R. (1992). Sex, Love, or Infatuation? How can I really know?
Shostrom, E. & Kavanaugh, J. (1971). Between
Sills, J. (1987). A Fine Romance: The Psychology of Successful Courtship, Making it Work
Sternberg, R. J. (1991). Love the Way You Want It,
Sternberg, R. J. & Barnes, M. L. (1988). The Psychology of Love,
Suid, R., Bradley, B., Suid, M., &
Eastman, J. (1976). Married, Etc.,
Veroff, J. & Feld, S. (1971). Marriage and Work in
Viscott, D. (1976, 1990). How to Live With Another Person,
Wallerstein, J. S. & Blakeslee, S.
(1995). The Good Marriage: How and
Why Love Lasts,
Warren, N. C. (2002). Date or Soul Mate: How to Know If
Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less,
Whyte, M. K. (1990). Dating, Mating, and Marriage,
Wilson, A. & Wilson, D. (1976). Cosmopolitan's Living Together (Married or
Young-Eisendrath, P. (1993). You're Not What I Expected: Learning to
Love the Opposite Sex,
Zerof, H. G. (1978). Finding Intimacy: The Art of Happiness in Living Together,
Zunin, L. & Zunin, N. (1973, 1988). Contact: The First Four Minutes,