Skip the Chocolates: Take the Relationship Quiz

Valentine’s Day, February 14 has arrived. Are you prepared to celebrate with chocolate and flowers? Or, maybe you’re heading out for a “special” dinner and movie? Dating or married, the pressure is often on to impress. Cupid may or may not strike, but you sure work hard to please your partner on Valentine’s Day.

Ironically, the holiday originated in Roman times when the Emperor forbid single men from marrying in order to make what he believed were better soldiers. Not until the 15th century did the holiday become associated with love and romance thanks to a little inspiration from mating bird season. And not until the 1840s did it become a widespread tradition in the United States.

Today Valentine’s Day has become a $20 billion event with more than $4 billion spent on jewelry alone. And 6 million couples are likely to get engaged. Yes, engaged! So what does this all mean for the couple who has been with each other for a few months or many years?

Instead of rating the success of your Valentine’s activities and gifts, why not rate your relationship? That can be the best gift you ever give one another, and the results may have you both working harder to strengthen your relationship.

In Elizabeth Bernstein’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “Why Rate Your Marriage?,” she shares how some therapists use a numerical score to help couples talk about problems. The article links to 40 statements, each with a rating from A (least agree) to E (most agree), that a couple can use to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses in their marriage. The quiz, while unscientific, can be a useful tool for gaining insight or starting a discussion.
Categories in the quiz include:
  • Trust
  • Companionship
  • Physical Intimacy
  • Affirmation and Validation
  • Dealing with Stress or Conflict
  • Support and Assist
  • Partnership/Teamwork
  • Boredom/Excitement

Some statements you’ll rate in the quiz include:

  • There is a sense of trust in my relationship.
  • My partner and I learn a lot from each other.
  • My partner and I are responsive to each other’s needs and wishes.
  • My partner and I hug, kiss or cuddle often.

After you take the quiz, think of one thing per category that you can do to improve your relationship. If the problems feel overwhelming, it could signal time to seek professional help. To take the quiz, visit this link.

Although I find the quiz a helpful tool for couples, I was disappointed to see communication missing as a category. By truly listening and showing interest in each other’s words, couples can avoid making assumptions about what the other person is thinking. Many couples avoid the hard conversations with their spouse because they think they know what the other person is going to say before even addressing the topic.

I often talk to my patients about creating a communication sandwich to learn to be completely honest with a spouse. First, start with a positive, then address the concern and end with a positive. This type of communication is honest and teaches couples to be considerate of one another’s feelings, while touching on topics that may arouse anger. For example, you could say something like, “I know you really care about me but when you promise to do something and then you don’t, I feel like you don’t really mean when your words say. I am okay if you can’t do something but please be open and honest with me.”

Another technique for learning to communicate well in a relationship is to schedule a Sunday night meeting. It’s a short period of time (not a date night), only about 5-15 minutes, when you talk about the concrete things happening in your lives. You may discuss things like  the types of activities you’d like to plan for the following weekend; making time for one another, the kids and friends; doctor appointments; grocery shopping and other errands; and car pooling schedules. This quick meeting will help you to start the week off on the same page.

There are many ways to work on relationships. Another recent article in the New York Times by Tara-Poke-Parker entitled “Movie Night Can Double as Therapy” talked about how watching “chick flick” movies together can be a way to discuss the issues that certain movies may raise and how they pertain to issues in your life.  “A movie is a nonthreatening way to get the conversation started,” said Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of a relationship study referenced in the article. “It’s really exciting because it makes it so much easier to reach out to couples and help them strengthen their relationships on a wide scale.”

Many couples say they feel unappreciated versus not feeling attracted to a spouse. So this Valentine’s Day, you could start to appreciate one other more by communicating regularly. Your willingness to talk freely will open doors to listening, understanding, and maybe even compliments and praise.  If you think you would benefit from relationship therapy, please contact me.