Could These 9 Assessments Strengthen Your Marriage?


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Assessments and personality instruments are all the rage these days. It seems like you can find one on nearly every website you visit. In fact, I have one on my own website. 😉 

We're all familiar with more common ones like the Myers-Briggs, DiSC, and Enneagram, but of course there are lesser-known ones, too, that offer help on things like our relationships, role on a team and work fit.

These assessments are big business: in fact, according to the New Yorker, they're a two billion dollar per year industry. 

They make big promises: to tell you who you are at your core - or at least some aspect of it - thus providing key insights that just. might. change your life. (That sounded cynical, but I don't mean it to be!)

In this post, I'll offer some thoughts on how Christians can think about these assessments, how they can benefit your marriage (or relationship), and eight you might want to try.

Quick note: I'm not using the word 'test' because these instruments do not indicate whether you've passed or failed! The assessments and instruments (I use these words interchangeably) typically show you who you are by temperament, how you like to work, and so on. In other words, they usually deal with differences God has baked into you.

How Should Christians View Instruments & Assessments?

First, I'm not pretending this is a complete answer to how believers should view assessments and personality instruments. That's another book. 

But I think there's a wide range of viewpoints on them: some think they're ridiculous and won't bother, while others seem to have a crush on their favorite assessment. (The Enneagram comes to mind in particular.) 

At times, I also sense there's not a ton of critical reflection on them between these two extremes. 

But God wants us to think his thoughts after him (see 2 Corinthians 10:5), to live 'all of life, all for Jesus' as our church likes to say.

So, in no particular order, here are some reflections that should apply to most instruments and assessments we come across. Try them on and see what you think.

#1 Christians should not functionally place instruments and assessments on the same level as the bible

If you're reading this post, you probably have a pretty high - if not very high - regard for the bible. And that's a good thing. After all, it is 'breathed out by God' and equips us to competently do God's work in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16). 

So we know that the bible should have first place in our lives, but we don't always find ourselves living that way. At least I don't. Sometimes, I can find the bible boring and repetitive. (Genealogies, anyone?) Even though I know, on an intellectual level, that it's what I really need, and a tremendous gift from God. 

Truth is, sometimes assessments seem to offer some kind of mystical, special insight that promises to unlock our lives. To give us a key to ourselves - or others - that will make a huge difference. Lately, I've seen a fair number of Christians become what I'd call 'overly excited' about the Enneagram, for example.

But only God's word 'is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.' (Hebrews 4:12-13) Nothing can 'assess' us more accurately than God's word, powered by his Spirit that lives within us. And, only the bible can help us understand foundational, relational truths, such as what marriage is really for.

#2 It's helpful to know the backstory

Just as knowing how the bible came to be helps us know how to view - and use - it, it's helpful to understand how a given assessment was created, too.

Each of us has various biases that, in this context, shape what we measure, how we measure it, and even what we choose not to include. In other words, even scientifically verifiable instruments are not neutral for this reason.

Understanding the backstory can help us understand where a given assessment might be slanted, and aid us in avoiding assumptions that may be unhelpful or limiting. For example, the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) was developed by a mother-daughter team, neither of whom had training in psychology, psychiatry or testing. There's nothing wrong with that, and a third woman, university psychology professor Mary McCaulley, helped shape and bring it to mainstream culture. But it's good to know that - as the New Yorker puts it - the MBTI 'is essentially home-cooked'.

On a more clearly spiritual level, the Enneagram 'contains components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy'. While it's hard to tease out exactly how this religious slurry plays out in the Enneagram itself, it's good to know that it may be influenced by some assumptions that aren't compatible with a biblical worldview. 

Again, this doesn't mean there isn't real value in the MBTI, Enneagram, or other assessments like it. God has revealed his truth to countless people, many of whom don't know him in a saving way.

We should just be aware of what an assessment, test or instrument can really offer, which means we should understand a bit of its history if we're going to rely on it for meaningful insights or results.

Now that I've raised a few cautions, I'd like to suggest two benefits before moving on to how they might benefit our marriage or relationships.

#3 Personality instruments or assessments can help reveal God's creative design

While each of us is quite literally unique, there do appear to be basic, shared characteristics among us. For example, the Working Genius assessment suggests each of us has two of a possible six strengths, or 'geniuses' that relate to how we work best. The other four areas will either frustrate us, or be 'working competencies' we can use, but will ultimately frustrate us if they stay front-and-center for too long. 

Now that my family has taken this assessment, I've got to say it pretty accurately fits each of us. And describes well a bit of God's intentional design, design that began before we drew our first breath. (See Psalm 139:13-16) Since the bible was never meant to, at least primarily, pinpoint our strengths as it relates to work, assessments like the Working Genius can add a valuable piece to our self-knowledge. Which can aid our ability to love others well (Matthew 22:39) and inform our service to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) and world.

#4 Assessments and instruments remind us that some gifts and strengths aren't better than others

In a fallen world, it's SO easy to compare ourselves to others. And, at times, become proud because of our relative strengths.

More commonly, though, we can become insecure when we feel like we don't measure up. During seminary, for example, I can remember being in awe of my professors and feeling like 'I could never be like them'. 

A good assessment or instrument can remind us that we don't have to be someone else. (I'm starting to think all social media sites should have to post that warning label at the top of their pages in big, cigarette-package-like letters. But I digress...) And that, in fact, it might be disobedient to try.

The MBTI, for example, clearly states that there are 16 types, none any better or worse than the others. They're simply different.

The bible suggests this, of course, in less technical ways. For example, the spiritual gift lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4 don't rank believers according to their various gifts, as if one is objectively better than another. Instead, each of us 'should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.' (1 Peter 4:10)

I remember a friend who was interning, and preaching at, a church I was attending. He was told - unkindly - by someone that 'he should never preach again'. That was an awful thing to hear, but it was, at root, an informal 'assessment' that became part of a discernment process which led him away from vocational ministry into a pathway where he now shines far brighter for Christ. What's he doing now is just as valuable as the formal ministry he had done before, and he no longer feels the pressure to be someone God hasn't designed him to be.

That's what a good assessment does: help you discern your God-given design so you can focus on that, rather than waste time trying to be someone you're not.

How Can Assessments Or Instruments Help Your Marriage?

Alright, at this point we've done most of the heavy lifting. Having explored a basic framework for how we can approach instruments and assessments, let's consider briefly how we can use them profitably in our marriages or other (romantic) relationships.

We're going to go lightning-round style here to keep it short and to the point.

  • Scripture doesn't say that certain 'types' of people from various assessments can't fit together well. Or, conversely, that certain types will be amazing together. Most instruments, like the MBTI and Enneagram, acknowledge this pretty clearly, but it bears repeating. While an ENTJ and ISFP are polar opposites on the MBTI, it doesn't mean they're destined to fail as a couple, or magnetically attract each other, either. It depends on so many other, more important factors such as the quality of their individual relationships to Christ and sense of calling.
  • At the same time, the insights you gain about yourself can be helpful as you consider what you may need in a potential spouse. For example, my wife is a pretty pure 'S' on the MBTI, which means she's concrete and detail-oriented. I'm a strong 'N', preferring to operate at 50,000 feet where I rely on my intuition and avoid fine details like venomous snakes. I don't quite want to say I 'needed' someone like her - as if marrying someone without that ability would have doomed me - but her ability to manage the details and logistics of our home is an amazing gift to me, and has probably kept more than one debt collector far away. 😂
  • Finally, instruments can help spouses work together well, and avoid unnecessary frustration. For example, let's say you take the Working Genius assessment and discover your geniuses are discernment and galvanizing. In other words, you're gifted at intuitively understanding whether an idea is good or not, and rallying others to join you around an important project or idea. But, you're not so good at the geniuses of wonder or invention; you don't always see the potential in a given situation, or, how to create something to address that potential. Meanwhile, your husband has the strengths of tenacity and invention, but struggles with galvanizing and discernment. Let's imagine, for example, that you both agree you need more time as a family.  Your husband could use his gift of invention to come up with an idea of something the family could do together, then you can affirm and shape (or disaffirm!) his idea with your gift of discernment. Then, you might use your strength of galvanizing to get the kids onboard and excited. Finally, your husband might use his genius of tenacity to ensure the plan actually happens. I know it's probably not that neat and tidy in real life, but hopefully it gives you one example of how an assessment might help you work together intentionally as a team.

9 Assessments & Instruments That Can Strengthen Your Marriage Or Relationship

 Again, let's go bullet-style and land the plane. 

  • SYMBIS or Prepare-Enrich. Both of these are relationship-specific assessments for couples who are considering marriage, or in their first few years of it. My wife and I have taken both, and we administer the SYMBIS to couples as we have a slight preference for it. Both assess a couple as individuals, but also on where your strengths and weaknesses may lie as a team. While both address spiritual beliefs, they're pretty light in this core area. Helpful to process the results with someone who can probe them with you more deeply. (Side note: SYMBIS puts out a bunch of helpful resources like books, workbooks and devotionals you may find helpful.) Cost: $35 each.
  • Myers-Briggs (MBTI). Probably the most well-known instrument on this list, it groups individuals according to 16 basic types. A decent report can help you think through how your type may interact well - and not so well - with your spouse or potential spouse. Cost: free, basic versions, while paid versions range roughly $15 to $40, depending on the depth of the instrument and how fast you want the results interpreted.
  • Working Genius. A newer assessment by Patrick Lencioni geared toward fulfilment at work. But, as shown above, it can also inform how you relate to your spouse in daily life to maximize your strengths and avoid needless frustration. Use code 'Andy' at checkout to get half-off. (FYI, I'm not an affiliate for the assessment, and don't get any proceeds from it.) Cost: $12.50 with the code; $25 without.
  • StrengthsFinder. Another popular assessment, this measures what makes you unique so you can lean into it. It's highly-nuanced. Can help you and your spouse / potential spouse consider how you can work together well. Cost: $20 online to receive your 5 top strengths, or, get the book (Amazon, etc.) and receive a code to take it online. (The book is basically just a summary of the different strengths with a little framing.) For $50, you can receive an ordered ranking for all 34 potential strengths in your life rather than just your top 5. This can help you avoid your greatest weaknesses.
  • Unique Ability 2.0. This is a book and workbook, and more like a journey than an assessment per se. You - and people who know you well - complete different exercises to help you identify what makes you 'you'. You'll come away with a 'unique ability statement' that helps you see where you should focus your time and efforts. I did this on a sabbatical, and found it helpful. Cost: $50 for the book and workbook.
  • The Enneagram. Divides individuals up into 9 main types; some versions suggest a 'wing' or subtype. Cost: free versions abound, while the full test costs $12.
  • Focus on the Family marriage assessment. Fairly robust, and free, assessment that gives you your relative strength in 12 key marriage areas, then lists both strengths and 3 growth opportunities. Results are fairly generic, but still useful in quickly showing you where you're relatively strong and weak. Cost: free. 
  • The bible. I'm not kidding. 😊 Because, as we've seen above, the bible is written by God himself, and applied to us through his Spirit, its potential insight for us and our spouse is without limit. It may not seem as flashy or come with a personal report, but it can assess - and bless - our relationship more than all the other assessments, instruments and tests combined. Cost: depends, of course, on what kind of bible you get. YouVersion puts out a great, free app for all platforms.

Your Turn

  1. Which assessment have you taken and found helpful? (It doesn't necessarily have to be one from above.)
  2. What one new instrument will you consider taking?
  3. Where does the bible fit into your sense of who you, and your (potential) spouse, are? Are you comfortable with the role it plays in your life on that level?
  4. Consider taking one of the instruments with your spouse or potential spouse, then process it together. Ideally, perhaps, with another peer couple or older, mentor couple.
  5. Can I and/or my wife help you? As a trained coach, I'm available to coach guys, and my wife and I work together with couples regularly. We administer the SYMBIS, then follow-up with them personally. Feel free to reach out here.

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