Sunday, February 3, 2013

Different Strengths Create Partnership

Recently I took a values inventory that supposedly reveals my greatest character strengths. Considering this is the second posting in a row where I refer to a psychological test, I believe that being married to a counseling psychologist is starting to rub off on me... Anyways, the test is part of Martin E.P. Seligman's Authentic Happiness. Seligman suggests that in marital relationships, being able to use your character strengths in your relationship with your partner will lead to greater happiness.

1. Mercy and Forgiveness
2. Capacity to Love and Be Loved
3. Honesty, Authenticity, and Genuineness
4. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality
5. Curiosity and Interest in the World

1. Judgement, Critical Thinking, and Open-Mindedness
2. Love of Learning
3. Curiosity and Interest in the World
4. Spirituality, Sense of Purpose, and Faith
5. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality

Before we were dating, Owen and I travelled to Greece and Turkey as a part of the same travel abroad program. Both of us deeply value learning more about the world around us, and we are able to share in plans to live and study around the world. Our shared curiosity also shows in the tendency to go where we aren't necessarily supposed to go...

Other of our character strengths aren't so naturally shared. I can be honest to a fault, sharing every little negative thought that pops into my head, which can be difficult on Owen who isn't used to such candor. Owen's open-mindedness can prove inefficient as he examines every aspect of any decision, driving me crazy. Knowing that honesty and open-mindedness are more than just personality traits, but actually deeply held values helps us to be more understanding of these differences that arise between us. 

I know another ex-couple that never quite came to that understanding. One partner had Kindness and Generosity as a character strength; he desires to be of service to those he loves. He especially enjoys being helpful and doing favors. The other partner had a fierce independent streak and sometimes mistook such helpfulness as an indication that he found her incapable. This clashing of values eventually contributed to their break up.

For a relationship to succeed you must make the effort to understand and respect your partner's values and character strengths. The differences between you will provide a greater variety of strengths to contribute to challenges that you face as partners. Make the effort to learn more about what strengths your partner has to contribute and create a relationship where those strengths can flourish. 

If you are interested in taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths visit

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