If your relationship were a body would it be fit and toned, in the peak of health; or would it be fat and flabby, barely able to run for the bus? It’s relatively straightforward to find out how fit we are in our bodies, but it’s often not so simple to road-test our relationships. After all, even relationships which appear to be in tip-top condition often have an Achilles’ heel – be it communication hiccups or the commitment abyss. Hence this – the ultimate fitness regime for couples. Firstly a questionnaire which really puts your relationship through its paces – just like a gym assessment it is designed to highlight your strengths and uncover your weaknesses. Having found out which areas of your relationship are seriously out of condition, suggestions follow on how to bring your relationship back to peak performance. If it’s already running well, you’ll discover how to make it even better. After all, why settle for jogging along when you could be breezing the marathon?
If you join a gym you start with a fitness test. When you want to improve a relationship you need to know which areas need attention.
• Answer the questions that follow as truthfully as you can. Don’t try to guess the “right” answers – there aren’t any.
• For each question, answer Y (yes, agree quite strongly/most of the time); S (agree slightly/sometimes); N (no, don’t agree/very rarely).
• Ideally you should both do the quiz – separately.
1. When you and your partner have decisions to make or problems to solve does it ever feel as if you are on opposing teams?
2. Do you ever find yourself having sex when you really aren’t in the mood?
3. Do you ever argue about money?
4. Do you tend to change the subject if a difficult topic (ie sex, commitment, money, parents, children) comes up?
5. Do either of you set up situations where one of you has to choose between your relationship and something else you really want? (ie go out with friends or spend time with you?)
6. Does s/he repeatedly promise to phone/come round/do something for you – and then forget?
7. Can you reveal things to each other that might be humiliating or really embarrassing?
8. Do you find sex is a good way to finish an argument?
9. Does your partner exhibit any of the following characteristics:
a) excessive moodiness; b) over-possessiveness or jealousy; c) neglectful or unreliable; d) does s/he drink or smoke too much. e) Has your partner ever been violent (verbally or physically)?
10. If you wanted a really fun day out would you tend to turn to your friends rather than to your partner?
11. Do you ever find that little arguments escalate into ugly fights with accusations, criticisms, name-calling or bringing up past hurts?
12. Do you find nudity, masturbation, contraception embarrassing?
13. Does one of you earn far more than the other?
14. Do you feel you’ve invested so much time and effort into this relationship that it simply must last?
15. Are you and your partner roughly similar in terms of a) looks, b) age, c) intelligence, d) education; e) social background?
16. Do you believe that disagreement is destructive to relationships?
Would any of the following worry you: a) s/he goes off for a holiday with friends; b) s/he works in an office with very attractive member of the opposite sex; c) s/he has lunch with an ex.
17. Does your partner ever do/say things that make you irritated or uncomfortable?
18. Do you use private jokey phrases for sex?
19. Are you ever frustrated that your partner doesn’t understand automatically what you want and need from her/him?
20. If one of you won the lottery would you agree on how to spend it?
21. Do either of you hold ideas or cherish plans that would make your relationship difficult to continue? (ie you yearn to go around the world on your own; s/he talks about marriage as if it were a foreign country…)
22. Do you ever feel worried that your sex life isn’t as good as other people’s’?
23. Do you know what each other earn, save, spend?
24. Do you have any secrets (undisclosed emotions, events from your past, sexual likes or dislikes etc) that you keep from your partner?
25. Do you agree about the following issues: a) having children; b) being faithful; c) marriage; d) religion; e) politics?
26. Can you imagine yourselves happily together in ten years’ time?
27. Do you ever find yourself thinking about what it would be like to be with someone else?
28. Do you ever find yourself holding back from telling your partner what you really think or feel?
29. Does her/his attitude towards money ever irritate or annoy you?
Now look at the table below to mark your scores. Give yourself a total for each section.
1. Y: 5; S: 3; N: 0
4. Y: 5; S: 3; N: 0
11. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
16. Y: 3; S: 3; N: 0
20. Y: 5; S: 3; N:0
2. Y:5; S:3; N:0
8. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
12. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
19. Y:0; S:0; N:5
23. Y:5; S:3; N:0
3. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
13. Y:5; S (slightly): 3; N:0
21. Y: 0; S:3; N:5
24. Y: 0; S: 5; N: 5
30. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
5. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
7. Y: 0; S: 5; N:5
17. score 2 points for each Y; 1 point for each S
25. Y: 5; S: 5; N:0
29. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
6. Y:5; S:3; N:0
14. Y:5; S:5; N:0
22. Y: 5; S:5; N:0
27. Y:0; S:3; N:5
28. Y: 5; S: 3; N:0
9. score one point for each Y; half a point for each S; add 10 points if you answered Y or S to e)
10. Y: 5; S:3; N:0
15. score one point for each N; half a point for each S.
18. Y:5; S: 3; N:0
26. score one point for each N; half a point for each S.
SECTION A: COMMUNICATION
Therapists say that the largest single reason relationships fail is lack of communication. “Communicating well is something that couples really need to do in order to keep going happily,” says Dr Maryon Tysoe, author of The Good Relationship Guide: How to Understand and Improve Male-Female Relationships
Professor Howard Markman, an expert in marital stress agrees: “If a couple do not have good communication then the relationship is already on life support,” he says. So, in many ways this is the most important section of all as underpins virtually everything else in your relationship. For this reason, any scores above 9 need careful analysis.
SECTION B: SEX
Most sexual problems can be ironed out – providing other parts of your relationship are strong enough. “The X-factor is trust,” says Sarah Litvinoff, author of The Relate Guide To Better Relationships: Practical Ways to Make Your Love Last
“Trust grows out of good communication – and communication is the key to satisfactory sex, as it is to all that is good in a relationship.” Obviously if you have scored highly in this section you need to think about your sex life – but don’t despair. Your score would need to be over 20 in this section for there to be a serious problem. Check your scores for the Communication and Trust sections – if those figures are low, the prognosis is very good that you can sort out your problems.
SECTION C: MONEY
Money is one of the major squabbling points in relationships. “Many couples come to Relate because they are fighting about money,” says Sarah Litvinoff. However once again, problems with money often go back to poor communication and trust. If your score is over 15 check these sections. If your scores are good you should easily be able to sort out any niggling money worries.
SECTION D: TRUST
“For a relationship to develop, you need to build up trust between the two of you,” says Dr Tysoe. According to psychologists John Holmes and John Rempel, successful partners are quite vulnerable with each other (note: this is a two-way process) – they take risks and are very honest. As this is such a crucial section you should ideally have a very low score here. Anything above 9 suggests you need serious work in this area.
SECTION E: COMMITMENT
You can communicate brilliantly, have wonderful sex and perfect trust but if you don’t see the future together then your relationship will obviously not last. If your scores are high in this section it may well be that this is not a serious relationship. That’s fine – as long as you both realise this and accept it. If you have scored over 18 in this section you need to check that you are both heading in the same direction.
SECTION F: COMPATIBILITY
The evidence, according to a battery of anthropologists, is that people tend to be happiest with a partner who is roughly the same as them in terms of age, intelligence, interests, education and social background. We also tend to bond with people who are roughly as attractive as ourselves. Professor Markman says, “The more differences there are between a couple, the less likely their relationship is to be successful.If a couple have a wide disparity in age, if they come from very different races and cultures or if they have very different careers, their relationship will be in the danger zone,” he warns. In the light of this, check your answers to question 15 – a high score here should be a warning sign. However your answers to 26 will also be enlightening – these are the questions that psychologists say couples should agree on if they want a relaxed relationship. However you might be very incompatible on the surface but get on very well underneath. For this reason there is no optimum score on this section. If however you feel your score is high or there are compatibility problems, read that section.
This is where the real work begins. Choose the areas where your scores were highest and concentrate on the advice given. If all areas seemed high, then focus first on communication. If you get this right, everything else may well follow.
Good communication takes time, effort and sheer hard work – for everyone. “Get your diaries out and make a date each week to spend time together,” suggests Sarah Litvinoff, “this should be at least an hour of uninterrupted time.”
Take half an hour each to talk about how you feel and what you want in life – as if you were explaining yourself to a stranger. While each person talks, the other must be silent and listen with full attention. After half an hour you change roles. At the end of the hour stop the conversation and don’t dissect the conversation. If you want to talk about it, make a date to do so, but not for a few days. “Doing this regularly will make you and your partner much closer,” says Litvinoff.
Good communication means being able to talk about your emotions, about how you feel and what you want from the relationship. But it is very easy to misunderstand each other. Follow these ground rules from Maryon Tysoe:
• Make sure you’re both calm when you broach the subject.
• Talk in terms of your feelings and thoughts (ie “I feel [upset, hurt, angry, insecure etc] about [specific action or statement by your partner]” rather than “You are a complete mean selfish bastard” or similar.
• Be specific, never general.
• Don’t talk in codes, say what you really mean. So, instead of “Your mate Bob’s a drunken lech” (which will make him leap to poor Bob’s defence) try telling the truth – that you feel upset he’s spending more time with Bob and his cronies than with you.
• Suggest practical, specific solutions where possible. Ie “how would it be if you saw Bob and the blokes on Friday night while we go out on Thursdays?”
“If you feel you’ve got to be perfect in bed you’ll get yourself in a terrible state,” warns Maryon Tysoe. However sometimes there are real sexual problems which need addressing. Painful intercourse and lack of erection can often have physical causes – check with your GP. If the problems are more psychological there could be a host of reasons. If you respond to what psychologists call “erotic cues” (ie nudity, masturbation etc) with anxiety, guilt, shame or embarrassment then there could be deep-rooted concerns about sex which a counsellor could help. Basically if the problem is long-standing, seek professional help. Talk to your GP if you can, or contact Relate. If the problem is more recent or you just feel worried about your sex-life, start talking to each other about it. “The main reason psychologists think sex therapy works is because it has encouraged the couple to talk to each other,” says Tysoe. She says you need the answers to four questions:
• Am I doing the things to her/him that s/he would like me to do?
• Is s/he doing to me the things I would like her/him to do?
• Are there things s/he might like if only we tried it?
• Are there things that I might like if only we tried it?
Sit down and talk about it calmly – find out how often you’d both like to make love. What would make it better for you – and your partner? You might both be surprised.
“Very different attitudes to spending, saving, accounting and budgeting are a real problem,” says Sarah Litvinoff, “because money affects every aspect of ordinary life.”
The first step here is communication and trust. Do you tell each other what you earn, spend, save? If not, why not? Review the sections on Communication and Trust.
If you are open with your finances but you still quarrel, it could be that the friction is masking a difference in priorities – one of you has a new car in your sights while the other wants to pay off the mortgage; one of you wants a ritzy holiday while the other yearns to squirrel away an “emergency fund”. You need to talk honestly and reach a compromise – or you will be fighting all the time.
If neither of you are very good with money, then make yourselves sit down with a sensible outsider – it could be a financial adviser or simply an astute friend – and work out what needs to be done. Sarah Litvinoff suggests you start by listing what you spend your money on. Often disagreements come about from pure ignorance – the shopping might honestly cost more than you thought; so might running the car.
If you feel your relationship lacks trust, you need to ask yourself why. Social psychologist Elaine Hatfield suggests that there are six major fears that hold us back from divulging all in our relationships:
• fear of hurt and rejection.
• fear of losing one’s individuality or of being engulfed.
• fear of having one’s faults exposed
• fear of one’s destructive impulses if one were to “unleash” one’s feelings.
• fear that information disclosed now will later be used as ammunition.
• fear of losing control.
However, if you value your relationship you have to develop trust. “By increasing your disclosure of your personal thoughts, feelings, past actions, beliefs and so on – and by him doing the same – you will feel there is movement in your relationship,” says Maryon Tysoe. Take time to explore yourselves. Start by telling each other things like how you lost your virginity; your greatest fear; your worst moment. It needs to be a gradual process so take it gently.
If you feel you can’t trust your partner, check whether this is based on fact or irrational fears. “Feelings of unease should never be ignored,” says Maryon Tysoe, “but ask yourself some questions: What exactly am I uneasy about? What do I think it could mean; what are the theories? Is there any other evidence to support my theory? “Be calm, logical and rational,” she continues, “are your feelings based on your anxieties rather than what is really happening? If you are sure they are not, then talk to your partner about it.” (use the tips in the communication section.)
There can be a lot of motives for staying together other than True Love. “Sometimes sticking in a relationship can be easier than admitting you’ve made a mistake,” says Maryon Tysoe. Sometimes there are external pressures – your families want you to marry; you want children; you’re scared you won’t find anyone else/better.
You can’t force someone to commit to you; equally you cannot con yourself that love will miraculously appear when you get married, have children, move in together. If commitment is the big issue in your relationship then you need some honest, no holds barred discussion between you (follow guidelines in Communication). Obviously this depends on your situation. If you’ve only just met then pinning her/him down and demanding to know when s/he’s going to propose would be a walking disaster. But it is valid if you have been together for some time and/or are on the verge of some external commitment (mortgage, kids, even a pet.)
There are two parts to this equation. Firstly whether you are compatible in the fundamentals of your life: your age, race, culture, social and religious background. If you’re not then you need to be aware that you will have far greater challenges than many couples. “A couple need common experiences to communicate well,” says Professor Markman who believes that even a four-year age gap can cause potential problems. Make certain that your relationship is in peak health in the communication and trust areas. More than most you will need to be able to be totally honest with each other.
However you might be as similar as two peas in a pod and still have problems. “There are no such things as fault-free men – nor are there fault-free women,” says Maryon Tysoe, “but you need to ensure that you can tolerate and live with your partner’s faults on a long-term basis.”
Sarah Litvinoff suggests you put yourself in your partner’s shoes and describe yourself through her/his eyes. Pick on points you think your partner finds irritating or would like to change about you. Discuss together whether you got it right. Then swap places.
THE FINAL OUTCOME – SHOULD YOU GO OR SHOULD YOU STAY?
You may have scored quite highly in several areas. Does this mean you should ditch your relationship this instant and hunt for someone new? Not necessarily. A questionnaire like this can never give you a complete guide to your relationship.
It might be useful to think about this: psychologist John Gottman found that in stable relationships, “positivity” outweighed “negativity” by the ratio of about 5:1. In unstable relationships it was less than 1:1. As Maryon Tysoe comments, “The point is clear. You’re going to get some disagreements, arguments, criticism and the like in a relationship; but what’s important is that this is heavily outweighed by positive interactions (agreement, complimenting, hugging, humour etc). So if you do have the odd unpleasant interchange, check that you’re getting the overall balance right.”
WHEN YOU SHOULD GET OUT – NO QUESTION?
When your partner is violent or abusive in any way. If you answered yes or even sometimes to question 9e you have a serious problem. If a person is violent then no “soft” fix will help. End the relationship completely – for both your sakes. The only salvation will come if they accept they have a problem and seeks professional therapeutic help – but that choice has to come from them.