Relationships

Quiz: Is your marriage heading for a breakup?

Author: Canadian Living

Relationships

Quiz: Is your marriage heading for a breakup?

Sometimes you fight -- loud enough to give you a red face the next time you encounter your neighbours. Or you never yell, preferring to seethe in silence. Why? He spends too much (or she's too tightfisted). One of you isn't "romantic" enough. He is too emotional.

And so it goes. Every relationship takes a nosedive occasionally. Small wonder: even loving couples -- who, after all, come from different families with diverse values and priorities -- can have core differences about communicating, child rearing, sex and spending money.

How healthy is your union? Is there any way to tell? Marriage experts such as David Olson, coauthor of Empowering Couples: Building on Your Strengths (Enrich Canada, 2000), think so. In studies that involve thousands of premarital couples, they can predict which ones will stay married based on their answers to the following questions.

To find out where your marriage is at -- and which areas might need improvement -- have a go at the quizzes on the following pages. Get your significant other to do the same and then compare notes. Adapted from Empowering Couples, the quizzes cover five specific critical areas: communication, family of origin, finances, sexual relationship and conflict resolution. They'll help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses and, who knows, maybe even lower the decibel level and increase the romance quotient.

For more information and couple resources, and to purchase a copy of Empowering Couples, go to www.prepareenrichcanada.com.

Communication
On an episode of "Ally McBeal," poor Ally is curled up with a book and her blow-up man after a bad breakup wondering if she'll ever meet Mr. Right. Eventually, she comes to the realization that ending up alone isn't the end of the world and that some of her loneliest times have been when she was in a relationship.

Ain't that the truth? There is nothing worse than pouring your heart out to the one you love only to have to repeat yourself because he was too wrapped up in a hockey game to hear anything you said. Ouch.

It's no news that communication is the key to the success of any relationship. In fact, of the 21,501 married couples that were surveyed for Empowering Couples, the No. 1 thing that distinguished happy couples from unhappy ones was communication.

Communication and intimacy go hand in hand. The more intimate you are with someone, the more important communication is. You expect your significant other to pay more attention to you than to the checkout clerk at the supermarket. This is not always the case. The majority of married couples surveyed -- some 82 per cent -- wished their partners were more willing to share their feelings. Over time, couples feel more comfortable with each other and often assume -- incorrectly -- that they know how their partner would feel about certain situations, so there may be less verbal communication.

And listening is crucial to developing intimacy. The key, says Olson, is to speak to each other in an honest, clear and positive way -- every day. So set aside five minutes a day to talk about your feelings, about each other and about your life together. Discuss what you enjoyed most about your relationship that day, what wasn't great and how to make things better. Finally, give each other at least one compliment a day. Eighty per cent of unhappy couples feel that their partners put them down. A compliment a day will make you both feel good and, with any luck, keep the divorce lawyers away.

Take the quiz!
Here are the questions:
Record a number for each response to indicate your level of agreement with each statement.
1=Strongly disagree
2=Disagree
3=Undecided
4=Agree
5=Strongly agree

1. We are good at sharing our positive and negative feelings with each other.
2. My partner is very good at listening to me when I speak.
3. We let each other know our preferences and ideas.
4. We can talk easily about problems in our relationship.
5. My partner really understands me.

Interpreting your score:
Add up the response numbers for each of you.

Partner 1:
Partner 2:

21-25 = Your communication skills are very good.
15-20 = Your communication skills are generally good, but there are some ways they could be improved.
11-14 = Your communication skills are good in some ways, but they also need some improvement.
5-10 = Your communication skills need improvement.

Family of Origin
Love can only take you so far. Then you have to live with someone who was raised with different experiences, priorities and beliefs. The fact is that your family of origin, the family you grew up in, follows you into marriage. What you saw growing up will more than likely play itself out in your own marriage. This is not always a good thing. But if you understand this, you will gain a better understanding of yourself and your partner.

Think about it. Something you grew up with and would like to continue -- for example, mealtime as family time -- may be inconsequential to your mate, who grew up in a household in which everyone was left to his or her own devices at mealtime. Olson points out that it's often "not the big things that cause a decline in the quality of a relationship but the little things, which eventually affect a couple in big ways."

There is a definite link between your early family life and the relationship you enjoy with your spouse that will seriously affect two key areas of your life as a couple: closeness and flexibility. Closeness is about intimacy and how connected you feel to someone. It involves how you balance your private time and your time together. Finding the right balance is the key to being a healthy couple and family.

Flexibility is not only about how open couples are to change but how they deal with it as well. In every relationship, each partner plays a role within the structure. While a structure that is too rigid can cause problems, so can excessive flexibility. Again, the key is to achieve a healthy balance.

Defining your roots
Note: This part of the quiz is not typical, in that there are no scores. The questions are deliberately left open-ended to give you and your partner the opportunity to talk about where you're at and how your families of origin figure into your marriage.

1. How similar or different were your families in terms of closeness?
2. How do the similarities or differences impact your current relationship?
3. How similar or different were your families in terms of flexibility?
4. How do the similarities or differences impact your current relationship?
5. What would you like to repeat from your family of origin and what would you not like to repeat in your current couple relationship?

Family of Origin
Finances
When Julie and Ted were dating, she enjoyed the fact that Ted didn't count every penny and that he loved to shop with -- and for -- her. Now that they are married and have a mortgage, she isn't so happy. "I keep close watch over how much I spend and I try to save as much as possible, but Ted buys what he wants when he wants," says Julie. "It's very frustrating."

Let's face it: there are spenders and there are savers, and if you and your partner come from opposite ends of the spectrum, there are bound to be clashes. This is particularly true for people who marry later in life and who are used to making their own decisions about money. The thing is, most arguments about money aren't about money at all. They usually represent a struggle for control and are a result of differing views about spending and saving and about what money can and can't do.

Major debts are an issue for more than half of married couples. According to Olson's research, even happy couples argue about money more than anything else. However, happy couples agree on how to handle money more than unhappy couples do, and they have fewer worries about paying off debts and saving for the future.

But how do you get to the point where you have financial control? Stick to a budget. It may hurt in the beginning, but once you start to live within a budget, it will keep you out of financial trouble and lower the stress level at home.

Show me the money
Response choices:
1=Strongly disagree
2=Disagree
3=Undecided
4=Agree
5=Strongly agree

1. We tend to agree on how to spend our money.
2. I wish my partner were more careful about money.
3. I am concerned about our debts and our lack of savings.
4. The use of credit cards is really a problem for us.
5. It is easy for us to decide how to handle our finances.

Interpreting your score:
Score the quiz as follows for each of you.
A. Total your points for items 1 and 5.
B. Add 18 to total of A.
C. Total points for items 2, 3 and 4.
D. Subtract C from B.

Partner 1:
Partner 2:

21-25 = You handle finances very well.
15-20 = You handle finances well, but there are ways that you could improve.
11-14 = Your financial-management skills are good in some ways, but they also need some improvement.
5-10 = Your financial-management skills need improvement.

Sexual relationship
Sex is definitely one of those men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus areas. "Men always want sex, regardless of what else has gone on during the day," says Jane. "I could've had the most foul day with the kids and be very angry, and there's Jim rubbing his hand up and down my thigh. I tell him to get lost, but that doesn't stop him. I don't get it."

And that, in a nutshell, is the fundamental difference between men and women on the topic of sex. For men, sex is sex. For women, it's part of the whole relationship. So how do you get both parties on the same page, especially when most people don't like to talk about sex, particularly with their partners?

When things are going well in a relationship, the sex is usually great. But when there are problems that aren't being dealt with, it's lousy. When it comes down to it, sex is really the emotional barometer of a relationship. So it's no surprise that couples who enjoy a good emotional connection have the best sex.

Talk to each other openly about what you want, and do it in a positive way. Compliments, cards and little gifts are all tokens of affection that will help your partner open up to you. Everyone wants to feel special, and you'll be amazed at how far little gestures can go to heat up your love life.

Between the sheets
Response choices:
1=Strongly disagree
2=Disagree
3=Undecided
4=Agree
5=Strongly agree

1. I am satisfied with the amount of affection my partner gives me.
2. We have similar sexual interests and expectations.
3. My partner uses or refuses sex in an unfair way.
4. We have difficulty keeping our sexual relationship interesting and enjoyable.
5. It is easy for us to talk about our sexual relationship.

Interpreting your score:
Score the quiz as follows for each of you.
A. Total your points for items 1, 2 and 5.
B. Add 12 to total of A.
C. Total points for items 3 and 4.
D. Subtract C from B.

Partner 1:
Partner 2:

21–25 = You are very satisfied with your sexual relationship.
15–20 = You are satisfied with your sexual relationship.
11–14 = You are generally satisfied with your sexual relationship.
5–10 = You are dissatisfied with your sexual relationship.

Conflict
Ginger and Wil have been married for just over a year -- a particularly stressful year. Besides getting used to living together, they have had to make some major career decisions. They've had their share of arguments, which in turn have led to periods of stress. "I like to talk until we come to some sort of resolution," says Ginger. "If Wil doesn't like what he's hearing, he gives me the silent treatment, which can last for days. It drives me batty."

If there's one thing you can count on in any relationship, it's that you will argue. That said, handled the right way, a good argument can actually help a relationship. Most people think conflict is a bad thing and are quick to point fingers, while others will go out of their way to avoid confrontation. So many couples feel their differences don't get resolved. And that's when problems start.

The reality is, we tend to get the most angry at the ones we are closest to. The thing to keep in mind is, when you know you're about to blow a gasket, give yourself a time-out. Wait until you've calmed down -- then talk about it.

And do talk about it. Don't just walk away hoping the problem will disappear. It won't. Better to lay all your cards out on the table and deal.

Sparring partners
Response choices:
1=Strongly disagree
2=Disagree
3=Undecided
4=Agree
5=Strongly agree

1. We are able to compromise when necessary.
2. We tend to ignore issues that may cause conflict.
3. We often allow minor issues to become major problems.
4. We have different ways of dealing with issues.
5. As a couple, we are generally able to work through issues and problems and resolve them.

Interpreting your score:
Score the quiz as follows for each of you.
A. Total your points for items 1 and 5.
B. Add 18 to total of A.
C. Total points for items 2, 3 and 4.
D. Subtract C from B.

Partner 1:
Partner 2:

21-25 = Your conflict-resolution skills are very good.
15-20 = Your conflict-resolution skills are generally good, but there are ways they could be improved.
11-14 = Your conflict-resolution skills are good in some ways, but they also need some improvement.
5-10 = Your conflict-resolution skills definitely need improvement.

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Quiz: Is your marriage heading for a breakup?

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