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
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. Significantly, the
variable (dependent/independent) parallels the Psychology of Sharks and Seals
activity introduced earlier. Using the
RECIPES approach already introduced, the consultant will want to work with the
client relative to the clients 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. In addition to
following the suggestions in the Sharks and Seals activity, the consultant
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
As the consultant works 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 with
this differentiation being discussed in a later activity related to
negotiating. 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 cant
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 consultation 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
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 through consultation 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 the assistance of the
consultant, 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 the consultant must take
care to help the client understand the behavioral and situational correlates of
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 clients 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, through, 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 value both the means and the end, values both quality
and effectiveness. The consultant 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.
The consultant 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 our behavior,
actions, ways of doing things, and so on?
4. How do you take your spouses orientation into
consideration as the two of you relate, work together, participate in your
family, and so on?