Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Negatives" marital questionnaire

The following is a questionnaire I devised for troubled couples; or more accurately, for each troubled individual in the couple.  My hope – possibly over-idealistic, or stupid but hopefully sound – was that it would grease the wheels of marital healing if each spouse recognized his or her own imperfections, prior to or outside of conflict.  Part-inspiration for the idea was Hendrix’s Imago Dialogue, which enables compassionate, healing communications by the factors of reflective listening (mirroring), validation and empathy.  A “sender” names, in an “I-statement,” a message, need or grievance that the receiver then attends to by means of these three qualities.  Though the process is excellent, and can open one’s eyes and heart to the hurting separate personhood of the other, it still “sends” a negative evaluation to the partner, who may feel too vulnerable to receive it well.  So it seemed to me it might be better if a person were to discover, in his own space and time, his own flaws, before being assailed with them by the partner.

I’m reproducing the questionnaire here to help others, but also to be helped: I’d value some feedback as to the possible usefulness, destructiveness or irrelevance of it.


“Negative Questionnaire” for Couples
This is admittedly an unusual questionnaire, as it asks you to “accentuate the negative” about yourself.  Once we focus on the disappointments caused by our partner – their sarcasm; nonchalance about piles of dirty dishes; sense of entitlement; their assumption that getting angry means they’re right; failure to communicate clearly; failure to listen; doing sex without love or love without sex; terrible with money or too anal about money; stuck on stereotypical male/female roles or too “liberated”; immature interests or general immaturity; silence; narcissism; disproportionate time at video games or TV or with the kids; tendency to focus on my flaws; too attached to parents, alcohol, job; lacking empathy or interest in me; too independent – off on his own track; need I go on and on and on? – our own flaws immediately recede in importance to us.  Or we never see them in the first place.
There can be big positives in facing our negatives.  An obvious one is that we may want to change a flaw – to improve.  A less obvious one is that I see this marriage is – because of me! – not going to be perfect and so I must grow (up) to accept some limitations.  Sometimes we reach an interesting, if sobering, realization: We both have the same flaw, but his (her) version of it is a little worse.  Another way of seeing that is: We both have the same need (love, to be touched, sense of being a true partnership), but she (he) needs it a little less – and that can really hurt.
There are good and better ways of understanding our own deficits.  “Good” is to recognize the flaw as it exists in the present: I’m a dud of a handyman; I don’t plan vacations; I drink excessively; I’m not ambitious; I blow up “hysterically”; I need to know where she is all the time, and to control her.  The better way to understand is to see why we are like this, to see our childhood roots and the soil they grew in, the whole person we are whose past can never go away because it’s our substance and cause.  Look inside your present feelings and thoughts and behaviors.  You will, with some effort and “psychological courage,” see the underground route they have traveled to get here.  I control her because another abandonment after mother’s abandoning absence of love is impossible.  I will disintegrate.
Another factor involved is that the flaws we have are not simply habits, idiosyncrasies that we should accept as part of human “diversity,” war wounds to cherish or genetic structural weaknesses that we must accept.   They are the expressions of our childhood pain and injury or our defenses against the pain and injury.  And we shouldn’t love and nurture them any more than we should love the injuries we suffered.  We may, however, have compassion for ourselves as we heal and improve ourselves – and our part of the marriage. 

These questions overlap and create some redundancy – no matter.  And don’t worry: They won’t all pertain to you.
In accord with the best of the human spirit – and with principles of good parenting – we should first acknowledge that spirit, the best we have.  So . . .
 1.            What good thoughts, feelings, qualities, acts, do I bring to my adult life, and to my partner?
2.            What is not the best about me?
3.            What about me probably (if I were to think about it more) causes my partner pain or frustration or loneliness?
4.            What do I do to get revenge for the past?  Things such as demanding “respect” from my children because no one ever respected me; angry attitude; refusal to bend and need to have things my way.
5.            What aspects of my child self – such as cumulative frustrations or humiliations – have caused me now to feel right about being an indignant or explosive “hair trigger” of felt injustice?
6.            Can I see that childhood depression manifests in my quiet or spiritless or withdrawn personality or failure to express wants now?
7.            Am I much better at taking than giving?
8.            Do I hold my partner and children to high standards of performance or perfection that really have nothing to do with love but with lovelessness in my childhood?
9.            Pampering in childhood is effective neglect, and also may contain a lack of love: A parent may be stuck in his/her own “caretaking” world, doing everything, and not seeing the individual child and her need to be her own self-sufficient person.  If pampered, do you now feel entitled to attention, to things, to “sit there”?
10.         Were you known by your parents as the actual, specific person you were, or through the tinted lens of their needs and expectations, their anger or fear?  Do you know your partner, your child as her actual self?  (If he fails in school, do you care primarily about the grade or about the why, the heart behind the behavior?)
11.         Frankly speaking, did deep abuse and neglect through much of your childhood and adolescence make it difficult to feel grown-up, or feel undesirable to be an adult?  If so, what are you fighting within yourself to be one?
12.         Look inside and see if you carry with you at all times an emotionalized attitude about self, life, people.  Like a racial prejudice that distrusts or hates all individuals of a group including the countless ones you will never know, a global ‘background’ attitude is a self-protective delusion.  Contempt, superiority, self-as-victim, distrust (paranoia), futility – such an attitude grows from childhood and can poison a relationship, while feeling so right.  Look inside.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.