Orientation of Spouses to Each Other

This activity is designed to facilitate your thinking about you and your spouse in terms of the orientation of each of you. It will be helpful to think about orientation as simply a reflection of individual style. On the dotted line between the ends of each scale below, put an X toward the end that best characterizes you. Put a Y toward the end that best characterizes your spouse. If you believe that either of you falls about the middle, put the X or Y toward the middle. Once you have followed this process for each of the nine scales, think about what the implications are for each of you and for your relationship with each other. What do you think the strong points are that result from your individual orientations? What do you think the problematic points are that result?



It will also be helpful if your spouse completes this activity. This will give each of you and opportunity to share your perceptions of yourselves and of each other. Remember that your orientation is simply a matter of style. It is neither positive nor negative, good nor bad. It simply represents a dynamic or factor within your relationship that influences how you perceive and relate to each other.



Once you have completed the activity to this point, go back and put a Z on the line where you feel you would like to be with respect to each scale. The difference between where you think you are and where you would like to be represents an important area where you will be able to invest personal time and energy in enhancing your personal style and your relationship with your spouse.



1. Dependent....................Independent



2. People oriented....................Task oriented



3. Approaching people....................Withdrawing from people



4. Affiliation....................Achievement



5. Quality of experience....................Effectiveness of experience



6. Details....................Generalities



7. Optimistic....................Pessimistic



8. Security....................Opportunity



9. Consistency....................Excitement



Discussion



A lot of misunderstandings, misperceptions, and negative interpretations within marriage result from fundamental differences in the orientation of each partner to the other in terms of the variables introduced in the activity. Dependent/independent orientation is, perhaps, key here. Individuals with more of a dependent or follower orientation are sometimes seen by more independent individuals as emotionally draining, not accepting responsibility, and as not showing enough initiative or self-direction. Alternatively, individuals with a more independent orientation are sometimes seen as stubborn, self-centered, insensitive, and as inconsiderate of the feelings and interest of other people. The key is that these 'labels' are simply negative interpretations of the styles of the individuals.



Within the marriage relationship, these negative labels and interpretations become sources of conflict, tension, and negative pressure on the relationship. You will want to work with the client relative to the client's orientation, his interpretation of the orientation of his spouse, the effects of the orientation difference within their marriage, and the counterproductiveness of negative labeling and interpretations. You and the client may want to look for areas in which more dependent clients may function more independently and more independent clients may function more cooperatively and reflect more mutuality in terms of actions and decision making.



As you work with clients relative to this element of marriage, one of the common themes is, 'I am just an independent person.' Importantly, clients need to learn that this represents a position as opposed to a shared interest. At its essence, the position says, 'I am an independent person - and as one might expect from an independent person - you may take it or leave it.' Dependent individuals take what is a similarly nonnegotiable position, 'I am a dependent person and have always been so. I just get overwhelmed and can't handle being more independent and not being able to count on you. It is just not my nature to want to control everyone and tell everyone what to do.'



These same instructional issues arise with respect to individuals more oriented to people and those more oriented to tasks. Just as an appropriate marriage balance is needed with respect to dependent/independent orientation, a people/tasks balance is also important. With respect to independent/independent orientation, each spouse needs at times to be more dependent and at times more independent. Similarly, each needs to at times be more people-oriented and at times more task-oriented.



People-oriented individuals are very focused in terms of feelings, socioemotional comfort, consideration of the needs and interest of others, and place high value on the relationship and on the interpersonal gain within the relationship. The central theme is loving each other, caring about each other, and relating to each other. Task-oriented individuals focus on getting things done, following through with responsibilities, and the active/doing aspect of the relationship.



The negative labeling process already discussed becomes the first issue, with developing a middle ground being the goal. What usually is seen is that both individuals are oriented to people and both to task. The only real difference is the priority given to each side of the continuum. Marriage-effective functioning comes, with your assistance, through selective orientation sometimes more to the people aspects and sometimes more to the task aspects, with the effect over time being an orientation to both in an approximately equal measure.



The remaining seven orientation variables need to be understood and managed in much the same ways as have been suggested for dependence/independence and people/task. Some individuals are more approach oriented, more outgoing, more initiating with respect to physical, social, sexual, and intellectual interaction while others are more withdrawing oriented, more oriented to waiting on others to 'bring the relationship to them.' Who usually starts conversations? Who usually initiates social activities? Who usually is the more active participant sexually? Who is usually first to begin discussions around significant issues and topics? Through consultation, the individual may learn to strike a balance within the marriage, adopt an approach/withdraw pattern that is more comfortable for him and to which his spouse may more comfortably respond. Importantly, developing the skills and insights necessary to develop the balance being discussed here is in the interest of increased marriage effectiveness for the individual and also in terms of increased satisfaction with regard to the responses received from the spouse. Marriage is a two-way street. Developing more effective marriage behavior and skills more nearly assures that the individual will receive the benefits of action moving both ways on the marriage street.



Affiliation/achievement as an orientation variable may be understood somewhat in terms of a combination of people/task and approach/withdrawal as orientation variables. Those oriented to affiliation place high value on the relationship, interaction, and so on, while those more oriented to achievement place high value on accomplishment, 'improving' the relationship and so on. Importantly, an individual who is totally affiliation-oriented may minimize the importance of sexual skill and effective sexual involvement, while an individual emphasizing achievement might primarily focus on some held standard for sexual excellence. The point is that you must take care to help the client understand the behavioral and situational correlates of his orientation.



An orientation variable that frequently causes problems within marriage deals with the relative orientation to detail or generalities. This is probably best observed when listening to an individual relate an experience, explain something or talk about a specific situation or event. The individual oriented to detail will go into a very exacting process, being sure that every element, every issue, every component event is included. For individuals having a more 'generality' orientation, listening then becomes very tedious, time consuming, and difficult. They become impatient, frustrated, and show a real inclination to hurry the detail person along, finish comments and explanations for him, and generally speed things up. Conversely, the individual oriented toward generalities will be accused of not being open, not caring enough to really talk about what is happening, and not really being interested enough. The fact is that these are just simply different orientations to the thinking process, the analysis process, the understanding process, and the communication process.



The above discussion relative to developing balance is relevant here. In addition, both patience and tolerance become very important. The detail person needs to learn to give and ask for less detail, only the level of detail that really is necessary or essential. The person oriented to generality needs to learn to slow down, be a little more concrete, and to both give and request enough detail to be sure he really does understand and that his spouse is comfortable with the interacting communication process.



Given the above discussion, the client's orientation to optimism versus pessimism needs little elaboration here. There is one point that might be overlooked, however. Optimism becomes an energy source or positive driver that enables the couple to deal with problems, difficulties, and special situations that come up from time to time. It is the 'better day' that helps one get through the difficult or ambiguous times. Alternatively, some degree of pessimism is healthy and useful. It encourages the couple to be somewhat more cautious, to plan more thoroughly, and to be a little more prepared for the difficult or problematic times. It is, however, an energy drainer in respect to the relationship. Pessimism should be at a level that serves its positive purpose without becoming a burden to the relationship and continuing interaction.



An orientation to security versus opportunity develops problematic interpersonal gain in many marriages. Security is, of course, an important element within the marriage and is one of the positive motivating factors for being married. Security needs to be assured, to the extent that is possible, then. At the same time, though, life in general and marriage in particular has certain inherent risks, certain chances that one takes. To avoid all risks, to take no chances in fact reduces the probability of future security. If one deals with things too cautiously, the opportunity for improved security in the future is lessened. It can be seen, thus, that security and opportunity are interdependent and coexistent. Disproportional emphasis on either jeopardizes the other. The marriage-effective couple manages the security/opportunity balance in ways that maximize both while minimizing jeopardy to either.



Finally, consistency versus excitement is an orientation variable that has a problematic potential within marriage equal to or greater than any of the other orientation variables. 'Variety' might have as well been used as 'excitement,' since positive variety is generally the main ingredient in excitement. When couples indicate that their marriage is dull and boring, one way of thinking about that is that the relationship has become quite consistent and extremely predictable. In this sense, then, the alternative to 'dull and boring' is positive variety with the added benefit of additional excitement. This is, of course, an operational element in the lover/sexual domain within the marriage but also should be understood as important within the 'friends' domain. Variety here comes through variation in activities, conversational topics, other people with whom the couple interacts, and so on. It may be true that variety really is the spice of life. Importantly, though, a significant level of consistency and predictability is also essential. The key then is balance of predictability and variety, consistency and excitement.



An orientation to quality versus effectiveness is considered here out of order emphasizing its importance to and relationship to each of the other eight orientations. Individuals oriented to quality within the friends', lovers', or partners' domains give priority to feelings, satisfaction, comfortableness, and interpersonal gain. At the same time, they tend to understand things in terms of some standard of perfection or excellence to which people, actions, and events are to conform. This is what they mean by 'quality.'



Those more oriented to effectiveness emphasize getting the job done, reaching the goal, or doing what works. It is, to some extent, the old dilemma, means versus ends. Those oriented to quality are more oriented to the means and to the extent to which the end conforms to some standard. Those oriented to effectiveness are less concerned about means and concerned about ends primarily in terms of whether or not they satisfy what was wanted, needed, or expected.



'When we do something, is highest priority placed on how we do it and how it turns out or on what we do and what the outcome is?' In all areas of marriage, including the other eight orientation variables, the key within effective relationships is developing a balance that values both the means and the end, values both quality and effectiveness. You will want to work with the individual or couple in this area moving toward an orientation that emphasizes both quality and effectiveness in relationship to: people and tasks, detail and generality, the more active and the less active role, security and excitement, and so on. Marriage-effective couples emphasize both quality and effectiveness within all three marriage domains: friends, lovers, and partners.



You may wish to extend this activity by raising some additional questions.



1. Which two of your orientations are you most - least comfortable with and find most essential to being who you are? Which two of the orientation elements of your spouse are you the most - least comfortable with? How does this affect your relationship?



2. Discuss how you go about letting your spouse know about your orientations. How do your orientations show up through your behavior, actions, pattern of interacting, and so on?



3. How do you develop a balance of orientation, sometimes reflecting an orientation more toward the elements on the left side as listed in the activity and sometimes more toward the elements on the right side? How does this effort show up in your behavior, actions, ways of doing things, and so on?



4. How do you take your spouse's orientation into consideration as the two of you relate, work together, participate in your family, and so on?



By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. March 30, 2017