Have you ever filled out a questionnaire on the state of your relationship? Some are trivial and found in fashion magazines. Others are carefully crafted to help you see both strengths and weakness for further conversation.
Even the best quizzes can feel awkward when filling in all the answers, as if it's a multiple-choice test with right and wrong answers. Couples may think questionnaires will predict the compatibility of their relationship, and that somehow you might fail the test. But the good ones are not tests. Rather they are designed to help you catch a snapshot of current areas of strength as well as areas to grow and explore together.
We use these inventories not to grade the success of the relationship, but to help guide our discussions with couples. They simply help set the agenda. Couples are often eager to see the results, as if the results will give their relationship a grade! But usually any anxiety disappears when couples dig into affirming their strengths and discussing any weaknesses.
- An inventory shows you at a glance where you have already done well. Every couple is together for a reason, and it can be affirming to take stock of areas of strength. They can take pride in where they are in sync with one another.
- An inventory also highlights topics you may not have thought much about, especially in pre-marital or newlywed situations. It can be a valuable part of the learning that needs to happen in a relationship.
- An inventory gives you the opportunity to talk about concerns one or another may be harboring. It is normal for couples to choose to ignore areas of stress. There may be elephants in the room, or air that needs clearing. In our sessions following an inventory, we encourage couples to discuss areas that they have overlooked or they have stepped around because they were uncomfortable with introducing the subject.
- Once a couple has seen areas they should explore, it often inspires them to listen to teaching in that area and to talk together privately regarding areas previously ignored. An inventory is valuable for showing a couple where they can to focus for greater future intimacy.
- Inventories allow a counselor to personalize the conversation to the couple's specific needs. Every couple is different, and time together can be focused on areas that will be most productive.
- The goal in taking an inventory is not passing or failing, but shaping and inspiring conversation. We will ask individuals to tell their partner what their thoughts were behind their different answers to get them discussing together their thoughts on a given matter. Often, before results are even tabulated, just the process of considering a range of topics inspire long conversations between partners before they sit down with a counselor.
- Remember, the questionnaire is only a snapshot, and portrays your relationship at one moment in time. Just discussing the issues it raises changes and improves your relationship!
Many counseling centers include an inventory as part of their marriage preparation or counseling. Some of the best ones include Prepare (for engaged couples), Enrich (for married couples), and Foccus. We personally use the Foccus inventory as it has a variety of question sets available so you can customize it to you as bride and groom. The cost for taking an inventory usually quite reasonable (less than $100) and very worth the investment.