Choosing the Right One to Marry

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley,

I have been dating this guy long distance for about six months. He dated a girl for two years, prior to them taking a premarital questionnaire, which brought out issues they could not resolve, thus ending their engagement. He didn't keep a copy, and I would like to take this questionnaire prior to becoming "serious". My question to you is, do you know where I could find a premarital questionnaire? Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated!

R. R.

Dear R. R.,

The premarital questionnaire your friend took was probably the PREPARE Inventory, developed by David H. Olson and Dale R. Hawley. It is usually administered by a qualified counselor, someone who has been especially trained to score it and interpret the results. The couples usually do not receive a copy of the report, but rather go over it with the counselor to determine their potential conflicts. That's probably why your friend does not have a copy of it to share with you.

The PREPARE Inventory is not designed to predict the success or failure of a marriage. Quoting from the PREPARE Self-training Counselor's Manuel, "The PREPARE Inventory is intended for use by counselors who are working with couples on a professional basis...However, be aware of the appropriate uses...It is not intended to predict the ultimate success or happiness of a couple" (p. 3). In other words, the PREPARE Inventory does not determine if you are right for each other. Instead, it is a counselor's tool to help you anticipate some of the conflicts you will encounter during your marriage.

If you are interested in contacting a qualified counselor in your area for an opportunity to complete the inventory, call the PREPARE office for a referral. Their telephone number is 1-800-331-1661, and their address is P.O. box 190, Minneapolis, MN 55440-0190.

However, you can make up your own version of the PREPARE test if you like. It won't be as sophisticated as the one a professional counselor would give you, but it could give you a rough idea of where you might have serious conflicts. But more importantly, it would help you understand how you would handle those conflicts after marriage.

Ask yourselves these questions:

  1. Do you want to have children, and if so, how many?
  2. What religion do you want for our children?
  3. When our children are disobedient, how will you discipline them?
  4. How do you want to spend our vacations and holidays?
  5. How much money do you expect me to earn? What if I never earned any money?
  6. What kind of house would you like to own? Where would you like to live?
  7. Do you expect me to make love to you whenever you want? If not, would you EVER expect me to make love to you? Would you leave me or have an affair if I never made love to you?
  8. If you don't like one of my friends, would you want me to give up the friendship?
  9. What should our budget priorities be? How will we make financial decisions?
  10. Would you support me financially if I wanted to educate myself for a new career?

I have chosen these questions because they are likely to create conflict. Try to think of other questions that would also raise conflict between you. The questions are important because you should be able to identify these problem subjects. But more important than the questions themselves is how you will go about trying to resolve those conflicts. Your conflict-resolving skill tells me more about the success of your future together than whether or not you agree on the answers.

Throughout marriage you will always have conflicts, and it's not the conflicts themselves that will threaten your marriage - it's the way you try to resolve them. If you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse), all will go well with your marriage. But if you make decisions that fail to take each other's feelings into account, disaster will follow.

I believe that any couple can create compatibility once they are married by simply following the Policy of Joint Agreement. But it is also true that every couple should know as many of their conflicts as possible prior to marriage to give themselves a head-start at resolving them. PREPARE can help you identify them for you. While your boyfriend used that information to decide against marrying the other woman, the people at PREPARE would be the first to tell you that their inventory is not designed to warn you against marriage. Instead, it is designed to identify conflicts and encourage you to resolve them in a way that would make your marriage fulfilling. Presumably, after completing the inventory, you and your friend would go to work trying to resolve the conflicts with the Policy of Joint Agreement.

While we are on the subject of compatibility, however, there are five criterion that I recommend to those who are looking for a marriage partner. The reason I have picked these five, which are usually not found in most tests of compatibility, is that incompatibility in any of these areas make the Policy of Joint Agreement particularly difficult to implement. As a psychologist, I save marriages by showing spouses how to change their behavior to create a fulfilling marriage. But the categories that I will share with you now are traits that even trained psychologists have great difficulty trying to change. And so when you date, look for compatibility in these areas.

1. Intelligence. You and he should be roughly equivalent in intelligence, within about 15 IQ points. Without having to take an IQ test, you can usually figure that out by comparing grades in school, although men are notorious underachievers in high school. College grades are a better measure of intelligence for both men and women. The quality of your conversation is another good indicator of compatible intelligence. Men who are stimulating to talk to are usually in your league intellectually. But if there is a large gap between you in IQ, both of you will tend to be bored by your conversation. The one with the highest IQ will find the conversation to be superficial, and the one with the lowest IQ won't be able to keep up. There is also a tendency of someone with a higher IQ to disrespect the judgments of the one with the lower IQ, and that's an absolute relationship killer. Respect is essential in marriage regardless of the quality of an opinion. If you both enjoy talking to each other for hours at a time, and you respect each other's ideas, you pass the test.

2. Energy. You should marry someone roughly equivalent to you in energy. If one of you lays around watching TV while the other scurries about and can't sit still, it's probably a bad match. The reason energy is an important determiner of compatibility is that so many of your lifestyle pre-dispositions will depend on your energy. Leisure time activities and sexual interest are particularly sensitive to the amount of energy you have. People high in energy enjoy activities that burn that energy, even after work, while those with low energy levels would find such activities to be exhausting. And regarding sex, the more energy a person has, the more sex he or she tends to need. Since leisure activities and sex are two of the best ways to deposit love units after marriage, incompatibility in these areas can make it very difficult for a couple to stay in love.

3. Social Interest. If one of you is socially outgoing and the other is an introvert, that difference can make the planning of social activities very difficult. The Policy of Joint Agreement dictates that you don't do anything unless you can both agree, and in marriages of extroverts to introverts, their area of mutual social comfort is very narrow. The extrovert will not be able to get to know as many people as he or she would like because the introvert hates meeting new people. And the introvert will be constantly challenged to tread into the terrifying waters of introductions. Yet, I am very much opposed to spouses going their separate ways after marriage (one goes to a party and the other stays home), so the social interest difference require very creative solutions to keep them together yet make their social lives happy for both of them.

4. Cultural Background. Culture determines a host of personal sensitivities. Take Christmas, for example. In the American culture, Christmas is usually a big deal for most people. But imagine growing up in a family where every year Christmas was celebrated with zeal, only to discover after marriage that you cannot celebrate Christmas at all. The Policy of Joint Agreement dictates that you don't do anything unless you can both enthusiastically agree and because the person you married comes from a family that finds Christmas offensive, you do not celebrate it. Even if your spouse were to give you permission to celebrate Christmas, his background will still make such a celebration very uncomfortable to him. From my perspective, The Policy of Joint Agreement would rule Christmas out until a way is found to celebrate it with mutual enthusiasm.

Cultural background does not only dictate sensitivities, but it also dictates certain skills in meeting emotional needs. In some cultures, outward displays of affection are discouraged, and yet you may need that from the person you married. To meet your emotional need, he must not only go against his cultural training, but he must learn to do something that he was never taught.

Sometimes when two people are in love, they feel they can overcome cultural barriers. But that's usually because their relationship has been rather brief. They have not yet had to wrestle with some of the conflicts that culture imposes on them. I counseled one couple who had fallen in love, yet one could only speak Spanish and the other could only speak English. Granted they could eventually learn each other's language, but with that would come a host of cultural differences that might be much more difficult to overcome. Time eventually proved to both of them that their relationship was not meant to be.

5. Values. Moral values usually dictate how we behave. The Policy of Joint Agreement and the Policy of Radical Honesty are moral values that I encourage all married couples to adopt because they create and sustain love. But even when these two important values are agreed to at the time of marriage, conflicts with other moral values can make the creation of a compatible lifestyle very difficult to achieve. Getting back to our Christmas example, it's a cultural difference that makes a spouse unskilled in knowing how to celebrate Christmas. But if you marry an Orthodox Jew, it's more than skill that will be a problem. He will probably be deeply offended by such a celebration. And that offense comes from his moral convictions, not just his cultural background. A discussion of values is always a good idea when on a date, because if you find your values to be very divergent, it will make it difficult for you to agree on a lifestyle that you enthusiastically share.

A question often asked in a compatibility test is "Would you be willing to give up your religion to please your spouse?" It's not really a fair question, because it usually doesn't come to that drastic measure. But the point is important, and I would rephrase the question a little differently. I would ask, "Do you have any beliefs that would prevent you from following the Policy of Joint Agreement?" That is actually more to the point. Is there some belief that is so important to you that you would be willing to let your spouse suffer rather that give it up? If so, you should be certain that your spouse shares the same belief.

The point in all of this is that wide differences in any of these five characteristics of people make it difficult, but not impossible, to create a compatible lifestyle. When dating, if you try to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement), you will be able to pick up on areas of incompatibility immediately. And if you find yourself fighting a difference in one of these characteristics, it's reasonable to come to the conclusion that it's not worth the effort to try to resolve it. That's when you break up and start in all over again with someone else.

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