Angry Christians & Couples Reviewing Marriages
September 1, 9:30 AM
Why Rate Your Marriage? A Numerical Score Can Help Couples Talk About Problems
Therapists Say They Learn a Lot When Couples Commit to Numbers in Areas Like Trust, Teamwork, Physical Intimacy
By Elizabeth Bernstein
When marriage therapist Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill met with new clients recently, she asked them why they were seeking therapy. The couple told her they’d spent years arguing over finances and recently had their worst-ever blow up. The husband complained about how much money his wife was spending; the wife said her husband was controlling. They hadn’t slept in the same room for months.
Ms. O’Neill, whose practice is in Mount Kisco, N.Y., then asked the question she often poses in a couple’s first session of marriage therapy: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you each rate your marriage?”
The spouses’ answers? “7.5″ and “almost an 8.”
“Whoa,” Ms. O’Neill remembers thinking. “What they are saying doesn’t match those numbers.” She would have given their marriage a 4, she says. “Those scores are very telling.”
How would you rate your relationship?
Researchers often rely on rate-your-relationship questionnaires in studies of why some marriages last while others crumble. Therapists say couples can benefit from occasionally using these tools to step back and get a clinical view of behaviors, healthy and unhealthy, in their relationship. The rating process can help start a discussion, clarify strengths and weaknesses and, hopefully, lead to marital growth.
“Rating helps you be honest with the reality of what you are feeling,” says Karen Ruskin, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Sharon, Mass. “And the only way to fix something is to first know what the problem is.” Some experts, rather than assign one overall number to a relationship, encourage couples to examine and rate a number of aspects of the marriage that researchers and clinicians agree are most important.
Clinicians say they learn an enormous amount of information by asking a couple to rate their relationship—including the spouses’ individual perceptions about the level of crisis they have reached, and their willingness to be honest. It is helpful to see which partner states the number first: Often, it is the person who is angrier. The order in which a couple presents their problems suggests the order in which the problems should be addressed, like a road map. “That’s worth six months of therapy right there,” says Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York and Boca Raton, Fla.
Attaching hard numbers to the most important relationship in your life comes with some risk, of course. It can be sobering to actually quantify which areas aren’t working well. “You can’t hedge a number,” Dr. Hokemeyer says.
But for couples seeking help for a troubled relationship, a rating serves as a baseline, Dr. Hokemeyer says, a point from which to move upward.
What does it mean when two partners’ scores don’t match? Ms. O’Neill, the Mount Kisco therapist, estimates that 25% of the couples she sees disagree on the score. In those cases, it is often the spouse who rates the marriage very low who has already mentally detached from the relationship, she says, while the spouse who rates it high is “totally clueless.”
The couple she saw recently who gave their troubled marriage such high scores is somewhat typical, she says. “It’s a defense mechanism,” she says. “People are afraid to say their marriage is on the rocks or isn’t happy until they really want out.”
Why is it so hard to clearly see and analyze the health of one’s own marriage? One reason is we don’t have many role models. We don’t know very much about other people’s marriages—the only real one we ever see from “the inside” (sort of) is our parents’.
Each person brings different expectations to the partnership. And most people—even our closest friends—don’t usually publicly air their marital problems, so we have no idea how our relationship stacks up next to others’ relationships.
Research shows that when a couple compares their own marriage with others, they typically judge their own to be better. They focus selectively on what is bad in others’ marriages and what is good in theirs. This is called a Superiority Bias, and couples tend to do it even more when they feel threatened in the relationship, to give themselves a boost of confidence.
“When we want to maintain our own relationship, we distort things,” says Arthur Aron, a relationship researcher at Stony Brook University, in Stony Brook, N.Y., and the University of California, Berkeley. “We overrate the qualities of our partner and underrate other people’s marriages to systematically devalue our alternatives.”
So if you think you would like to try rating your own relationship, how should you go about it? Experts suggest evaluating specific areas that researchers agree are important to a marriage or romantic relationship, including trust, companionship, physical intimacy and teamwork. Readers may want to determine for themselves whether some areas are more important than others.
Some partners won’t want to assign numerical values to aspects of their personal lives. But there is merit even if only one partner completes the test for him- or herself. When you have the results, look at the low scores. Do they occur in areas you and your partner agree are important? “One or two low scores you can use as a signal to improve your relationship,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
If there are more than a few, it’s probably time for a talk. “Start with the positives,” says Dr. Ruskin, the marriage therapist in Sharon, Mass. She suggests an opening line: “I love you and I love us. I would like our relationship to be enhanced and grow for many years. So I’ve been thinking about how to do that.”
Take ownership, Dr. Ruskin says. Tell your spouse you know there are things you can do to improve the relationship, and things the spouse can do, as well. Say, “I know we will want to do these things because we love each other.”
Here’s where you talk about the quiz. You might want to say that at first you thought it was silly and that your spouse may think so, too. This might make the results seem less threatening, Dr. Ruskin says. Explain that you think there are some areas that could use improvement, and ask what your spouse thinks. Make it clear that it’s OK if you have a difference of opinion.
Ask your partner if he or she thinks you two can handle working on the relationship together. Can you each think of one thing per category that you can do to improve? If the problems seem overwhelming, it may be time to seek professional help from a counselor.
Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to other couples, the experts advise. “Evaluate your own expectations,” says Lisa Neff, social psychologist in the department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas, Austin.
“We often compare what we are getting in a relationship to what we think we should be getting. To the extent that what we are getting exceeds our expectations, we are going to be happier.”
–Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at Bonds@wsj.com or follow her at www.Facebook.com/EBernsteinWSJ or www.Twitter.com/EBernsteinWSJ.
Kill Anger Before It Kills You or Your Marriage
April 23, 2003 by John Piper
In marriage, anger rivals lust as a killer. My guess is that anger is a worse enemy than lust. It also destroys other kinds of camaraderie. Some people have more anger than they think, because it has disguises. When willpower hinders rage, anger smolders beneath the surface, and the teeth of the soul grind with frustration. It can come out in tears that look more like hurt. But the heart has learned that this may be the only way to hurt back. It may come out as silence because we have resolved not to fight. It may show up in picky criticism and relentless correction. It may strike out at persons that have nothing to do with its origin. It will often feel warranted by the wrongness of the cause. After all, Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5), and Paul says, "Be angry and do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26).
However, good anger among fallen people is rare. That's why James says, "Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). And Paul says, "Men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling" (1 Timothy 2:8). "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you" (Ephesians 4:31).
Therefore, one of the greatest battles of life is the battle to "put away anger," not just control its expressions. To help you fight this battle, here are nine biblical weapons.
1. Ponder the rights of Christ to be angry, but how he endured the cross, as an example of long-suffering.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)
2. Ponder how much you have been forgiven, and how much mercy you have been shown.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
3. Ponder your own sinfulness and take the beam out of your own eye.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
4. Think about how you do not want to give place to the devil, because harbored anger is the one thing the Bible explicitly says opens a door and invites him in.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
5. Ponder the folly of your own self-immolation, that is, numerous detrimental effects of anger to the one who is angry - some spiritual, some mental, some physical, and some relational.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8)
6. Confess your sin of anger to some trusted friend as well and as possible with the offender. This is a great healing act.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
7. Let your anger be the key to unlock the dungeons of pride and self-pity in your heart and replace them with love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
8. Remember that God is going to work it all for your good as you trust in his future grace. Your offender is even doing you good, if you will respond with love.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
9. Remember that God will vindicate your just cause and settle all accounts better than you could. Either your offender will pay in hell, or Christ has paid for him. Your payback would be double jeopardy or an offence to the cross.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting [his cause] to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
Fighting for joy and love with you,
©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/kill-anger-before-it-kills-you-or-your-marriage