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Marital Risk:

Sampling Marital Risk works like sampling Individual Risk. Yes answers to all the questions in Figure Three mean the person’s marital behavior and attitudes are not contributing to the family’s being at risk. No answers are problematic. When assessing Marital Risk, though, it is a little more complex.

First, there is a fairly common belief that it takes two to make a bad marriage. Although both spouses are usually contributing to the problems, they may not be. As you can see from the marriage questions, you sample the marriage behavior and attitudes of each spouse. One can have more no answers than the other; and one of them may not be contributing to the risk at all.

Here is the point. Marriage is sometimes described as being an institution, as a relationship, and as two becoming one. You likely know of other ways of characterizing marriage. The idea is that it is a single thing, something one can look at and understand by itself.

The goal here is not to debate this abstract issue. Rather, the goal is for you to look at the couple as two individuals who are the core of their family. The behavior and attitudes of each spouse need to be sampled.

For example, the wife’s behavior and attitudes reflect her skill at being married. Some behavior and attitudes show more marriage skill than others. Put it this way. If she is perfect at being married, she would always get all yes’s on the marriage risk list. Each no suggests a point where she is less skilled. The more skilled each spouse is, the stronger their marriage is. The less skilled either spouse is, the higher the risk for their family.

Additionally, your understanding needs to reach to a more basic level. Within their marriage, they are friends, partners, and lovers. Friendship is the area that gets most of their time and energy, if their marriage is going well. Being partners is where they take care of the family’s business and work together to parent their children, if they have any. Being lovers includes their sexual relationship and is where they share intimacy and closeness. All three areas are important and hold the possibility of richness and risk.

To fully assess your marriage or any marriage, then, you need to extend the assessment to these three dimensions. For example, ask yourself this question. If you were your spouse would you enjoy having you as your friend, partner, and lover? Most of the items in Figure Three can be expanded in this same way to include the friendship, partnership, and lover dimensions of the marriage. Not to carefully assess all three dimensions is to only look at part of the picture. 

It will be a good exercise for you to sample the marriage of Leroy and TJ’s mother. From the time TJ was six until twenty years later, you get glimpses of their friendship and partnership. Based on the information available, focus on their friendship, partnership, and lover relationship as suggested above. You will get some insight into their friendship and partnership and can intelligently speculate about their lover relationship.

Based on your assessment, why do you think TJ was eventually excluded from the family? Why do you think they are still together twenty years later? If their marriage is their family today, what do you think the risk is for their family now?

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