Marriage and Psychological Testing
Not only will many readers here have direct experience with decades of marriage themselves, of ministering to those engaged, or of officiating at weddings—a good number will be 18-22 year old persons themselves who will have an interest in marriage (as they may be considering it someday), and at least until the end of the semester of psychological testing (as they are in my class). Once again the Venn Diagrams of Psychology and Spirituality come together. Because of the high divorce rate, churches and synagogues in the past several decades have increasingly turned to resources from psychology in order to help couples who are preparing for marriage to get a clearer understanding of what lies ahead of them. Pre-Cana programs in the Catholic church may include having each person take the FOCCUS Inventory. Here is what one young person wrote about the FOCCUS process:
I took the FOCCUS test in January and we just got our results, we scored high! But we were also honest. The best thing to do is to be honest, it will really help find where the two of you stand in particular areas of a marriage. I'm not Catholic, so this test is given in all types of churches, in fact our instructor in our class was saying that it is given in many different places (counseling, churches, etc...) I know most people think its ridiculous to take this test but I think it's a great idea. Many people now a days expect or don't expect certain things in a marriage, therefore end up in divorce, as you see. There could be a particular subject that you hadn't discussed really that could end up being a huge problem in your marriage, such as finances and budgets.
To me, I'm glad we took this test, seems that Jim and I are pretty compatible!
As students who take courses in psychological testing learn, the interpretation of psychological tests by someone with experience and training is often more important than the fact of the test or of the results given. One aspect of the FOCCUS program is trained examiners who can weave in test findings with their own sacramental understanding of marriage itself and a good knowledge of the couples who are preparing for marriage. For my own knowledge as well as for all of the 18-22 year olds reading today, I'd be very interesting in hearing from America readers who have worked in pre-Cana programs, whether they used FOCCUS or not. Another psychological test frequently used in marriage preparation (though not specifically in pre-Cana, I think) is the Sixteen Person Factors Inventory. Here is an example of psychological testing results used along with pre-marital counseling, from a standard textbook in the field:
Sue and Jim took tests as part of the pre-marriage program at their Church. The counselor met individually with each of them first--to go over their findings and then to obtain permission to share the findings in the joint meeting. Feedback to each person included relationship feedback and personality ratings.
Overall, Sue was 'very satisfied with the relationship. She believed she and Jim shared a great deal together, much caring and affection, good communication, and a fair division of roles. One area where she was 'a little unsatisfied' was in the area of finances. She believed that more money needed to be saved for the future; she was not happy that Jim had recently bought a $32,000 sports vehicle.
Sue's personality feedback included a high score on the Extraversion factor; indeed she has many friends and activities in her life. She presented herself as 'no more stressed' than most people. She scored higher on 'receptive' traits than 'tough minded' ones, suggesting an openness to different ideas, people, or situations. She came across as highly independent, as one who actively attempts to control others and her environment. She is experimenting and has an inquiring mind. Sue is more self-controlled and restrained, and her desire to save for the future is one aspect of this quality.
Jim's profile came back differently. In terms of the relationship, he noted that he was 'satisfied'--not quite as enthusiastic an endorsement as Sue. Although he was 'satisfied' with time together and caring and affection, he was 'unsatisfied' with division of roles, extended family, and finances.
In terms of 'couples comparison,' some major trends include the following: Sue tends to be more social, gregarious, and extraverted than Jim. In terms of anxiety, Jim is the more anxious and stressed of the two. Sue is more independent than Jim, and does not need as much regular affirmation of her self-worth from others or activities.
The counselor went over all of the test data with Sue and Jim. They agreed they had very different ideas about saving for the future. Jim noted, 'I get alot of enjoyment from my hobby with cars, and since I am paying for it myself, I think I have a right to this.' The counselor noted that because Sue gets a great deal of satisfaction from her social life, she may not have to purchase 'things.' Another area the counselor brought up for discussion was whether Jim goes along with Sue's plans without expressing his opinions. They both agreed that this occurs. When the counselor brought up the topics of extended families as well as how each felt about having children, Jim laughed and said 'There's alot to talk about here' while Sue remained surprisingly quiet.
Together, Sue and Jim decided that they would benefit from several more counseling sessions to talk about the concerns raised by the testing.
My own bias regarding psychological testing is that it should only be done when it provides information that can't be provided by more direct means. Binet came up with the idea for an "intelligence test" when parents, teachers and physicians in Paris could not agree on how to provide the right education for particular children. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) or Beck Hopelessness Scale came about when psychiatrists and psychologists could not agree on important diagnoses and prognoses through interviews. In an ideal church, the experiences of the married couples and sacramental ministers themselves might be enough of a source of wisdom and guidance for those planning to marry. But this is a complex world, with a high divorce rate. Do you think psychological testing can add to, in Cardinal O'Connor's phrase, the sacramental resources of religion itself?
William Van Ornum