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Marriage Inventory–10 Questions to Take Your Marriage to a New Level

Patsy Rae Dawson

Why I Use a Marriage Inventory

About five years after I'd written Marriage: A Taste of Heaven, Vol. I: God's People Appreciate Marriage, a woman showed up at our door. She said, “I know your mother, and she told me about your marriage book. Can I come in and talk to you and your husband?”

Mature couple in loveWe invited her in. She proceeded to tell us how horrible her husband and his family were. His brother was in jail for murdering his wife, and on and on she spun the gory details. Three times I interrupted her, “Why are you here? Can we get to the question?”

Each time, she replied, “I'm getting there, you need to know this.” That was at the height of the Dallas TV saga of J.R.'s scandalous behavior and Bobby's naïve innocence. She rattled off enough material for me to write at least ten episodes.

After a couple of hours my husband said, “This is Wednesday, and I need to teach a class. I can only give you thirty more minutes.” She finally got to the point: She had committed adultery and her husband planned to divorce her. She wanted to know if there was any way to save her marriage, and if they did divorce, what did her future hold.

I thought, If he's so rotten, why do you want him to take you back? She seemed to think the two hours of slandering her husband and his family somehow justified her unfaithfulness. She left us with only thirty minutes do deal with major problems. We never saw her again.

Three Lessons I Learned From That Experience

1. Set time limits up front. I can always add more time if I need to.
2. While the appalling history might create an interesting TV series, it seldom adds anything to solving the actual problems.
3. When the he-said-she-said is taken out, most marriage problems can be reduced to one or two issues that can be answered with classic solutions. The main exceptions are long-term spouse abuse and sexual addictions that have progressed into cluster sins.

Getting to the Point Produces Results

Over the years, I've found that skipping the drama and focusing on the problems works well. For instance, a lady called and asked to come discuss her husband's adultery, stating it was the second time in many years that he'd visited a prostitute. I told her, “Before you come, go online and read my booklet “Adultery and Sexual Addiction: A Plan for Healing the Soul and the Marriage.”

When she arrived, the first thing she said was, “Where do I begin?”

I verified that she'd read the booklet then said, “I have just one question for you. The first time your husband committed adultery, did you handle it properly?”

She said, “No.” We spent the rest of our time customizing the homework in the booklet for her and setting up time frames to accomplish each part. I wrote down what I expected her to complete by the time we met again. To this day, I know none of the horrific details. She labeled it as the second episode of adultery and that was all I needed to help her find peace within herself and to begin working on saving her marriage. The painful details belonged to her and her husband to work their way through. My job was to offer hope and to help her develop the skills to make that journey with her husband. I didn't need to dig around in their private injury.

Sometimes the various elements are important, but frequently they contribute nothing to solving the problem. So I've devised the short “Marriage Inventory” to help get to the core of the matter.

10 Questions to Help Take Your Marriage to a New Level

The questions don't cover all possible marriage issues, just 10 major areas that can spawn lots of conflict. The examples in parenthesis reflect the beginning of each problem rather than years of build up. If the marriage has progressed beyond the beginning stages, the questions should still be answered in the affirmative.

This can be seen in "4. Does your marriage have physical abuse in it?" where slapping and pinching may have progressed to sending the mate to the emergency room. The questions are not about the degree of the problem, but simply determining the target area where the focus needs to go. This inventory is based on over 35 years of my working with both men and women. Check everyone who does each of these things in all applicable areas whether in the beginning stage or more advanced:

1. Does your marriage have emotional neglect in it? (Each going his or her own way, not listening or sharing, too busy to spend time together, etc.?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

2. Does your marriage have sexual neglect in it? (Where one person is climbing the wall because the other withholds sexual affection?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

3. Does your marriage have verbal abuse in it? (Name calling, cursing, ridiculing a person's looks or actions, yelling, judging motives, etc.?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

4. Does your marriage have physical abuse in it? (Throwing things, pushing or shoving, slapping, pinching, etc.?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

5. Does your marriage have adultery in it? (Past or current that is part of the problem?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

6. Does your marriage have sexual abuse in it? (Expecting the other to perform acts that make him or her uncomfortable emotionally or physically, etc.?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

7. Does your marriage have sexual addiction in it? (Using visualization, porn, or phone sex along with self-gratification, may become so compulsive that it interferes with one's work and siphons off money, etc.?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

8. Does your marriage have parental-dysfunction issues? (Pushing unsolicited advice, trying to manage the adult child's life, snubbing the child's mate, expecting the child to be on call, overwhelming elder care, incest, verbal or physical abuse, etc.?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

9. Does your marriage have venting and seeking emotional rescue in it instead of problem solving? (More complaining and ranting while expecting to be catered to than working to actually overcome problems?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

10. Does your marriage have searches for solutions, new skills, and accountability in it? (Working to change thinking and behavior for lasting changes?)

[ ] spouse [ ] you [ ] both [ ] none

After the Inventory, What I'd Ask You to Read Before We Talk

I've put a lot of material on our Web site so I don't have to keep saying the same things repeatedly in dealing with classic problems. Just like I sent the lady, whose husband was on his second round of adultery, to my booklet on “Adultery and Sexual Addiction,” here's where I'd send you if you selected some of the problems above.

1. Emotional Neglect

This is a very common problem in our way-too-busy world that appears at different stages of our marriages. Discover how God designed men and women to support and balance each other in “Male and Female: God's Genius!” Restoring the emotional balance in a marriage usually produces results very quickly and creates an environment that makes it easier to solve more difficult problems. Read "Male and Female".

2. Sexual Neglect

We're not that far away from the influence of Victorian morals and the idea that lovemaking, even in marriage, is somehow dirty--still a very common problem for both husbands and wives. Just because a spouse may sexually neglect the other, that's no guarantee he or she is adultery proof. Failure to understand God's design for SPEAKING GOD'S BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE OF LOVE in the other's arms can lead to temptation and greater heartache down the road. Read The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God's Soulmating and Lovemaking Guide for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex to see God's plans for a healthy love life. You'll also find Stacey's Story--A Sexless Marriage alongside the Song of Solomon account.

3. Verbal Abuse

Many people excuse verbal abuse as, “That's just the way I am when I get mad” or “We're married, now I can be myself.” Read “The Verbal Abuse in This House Is Gone! It's Just Gone!” to see how one wife dealt with vile names, breaking things, and the silent treatment to intimidate her into ignoring a sexual problem. Read Incredible Lovemaking after Learning to Fight Fair. Be aware that physical abuse nearly always started out as verbal abuse.

4. Physical Abuse

If allowed to continue unchecked, physical abuse frequently gets much worse and is harder to stop. This major problem should be dealt with seriously.

* Take the “Survey on Spouse Abuse and Domestic Violence Among Christians” to determine the level of verbal and physical abuse in your marriage and help assess how dangerous your situation is. Fill out the "Survey".
* Then check out the resources at the “Spouse Abuse Among Christians FAQ” page for both secular help and peer pressure within the church. If physical violence has been threatened or has occurred, please call the national domestic violence hotline and find out what you need to do to stay safe. You'll find the toll-free number at "Spouse Abuse FAQs".
* Don't skip “Warning! 3 Levels of Sin--3 Levels of Restoration” to alert you to dangerous marital situations and to help protect yourself if need be. Please do not minimize your gut instincts and take the proper precautions to be safe and to protect your children. Read the "Warning".

5. Adultery, 6. Sexual Abuse, and 7. Sexual Addiction

The unsolicited availability of porn on TV, the Internet, and in spam has greatly increased the incidents of these problems. Teenagers can quickly become addicted and carry these problems into their marriages. These issues are secretly rampant among many Christians.

* Read “Adultery and Sexual Addiction: A Plan for Healing the Soul and the Marriage” to get past saying, “I'm sorry” or “I forgive you” and to adultery or sexual-addiction proof your marriage. One husband wrote, “This is the first time I've felt loved, and that I had hope for overcoming this addiction.”
* Read The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God's Soulmating & Lovemaking Guide for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex to experience just how much God loves and cares for his people's sexual happiness and offers solutions. Read "God's Sex Education FAQs".

8. Parental Domination

This problem magnifies all other issues and leads to anger and resentment for both the adult child and the mate. It may interfere with a couple developing or maintaining a healthy emotional and sexual bond with each other. Many adult children carry childhood scars (maybe even open wounds) along with undeserved guilt from family alcoholism or drug use, narcissism, emotional neglect, sexual abuse, and verbal and physical abuse.

In addition, the burden of elder care may accentuate these upbringing defects and place added stress on the marriage. Such children may need to seek solution-oriented books plus attend support groups or counseling. Also, working on any of the above inventory areas where their pain contributes to dysfunction gives relief and strength to deal with the parental issues. God's command to the first married couple was to put their marriage first over parents--leaving and cleaving.

9. Venting and Seeking Emotional Rescue

Choosing venting without problem solving in marriage leads to bitterness and anger against the mate. For example, often wives easily recognize other women in abusive marriages and form their own private sympathizing groups. Unfortunately, this husband bashing usually serves to put the marriage on life-support--keeping the marriage alive in name only while the wife fights for emotional survival. The longer abuse continues unchecked, the more dangerous it becomes and the harder it is to stop it. All physical abuse starts with verbal abuse. Husband abuse is a well-kept secret.

Likewise, some men frequently recognize other sexually-starved husbands and engage in their own wife bashing that views the problem as hopeless--“that's just the way women are so get used to it.” While venting offers some relief and support from just knowing one is not alone in his or her feelings, it does not solve legitimate marriage problems. A lack of sexual love in a marriage leads to emotional coldness in the later years when the hormones slow down and give physical relief.

In the early years of working with others, I watched two seasoned Christians try to help someone using the “vent and rescue” approach. The first was a preacher and his wife who placed themselves on call to a young couple with serious marriage problems. The couple frequently called them in the middle of the night to referee their fights. This scenario went on for over 10 years until finally the husband was killed in a car accident. The wife turned to prostitution. All the hours, mental anguish, and exhaustion accomplished nothing with this couple who stayed trapped in their marriage problems.

The other counselor was a mature, experienced woman whose neighbor asked for help with her marriage problems. Instead of solutions, the neighbor simply wanted to run to the Christian's house and rant about what was going on in her own home. The older woman always calmly talked her down from her high agitation. These on-call emotional fixes went on for over five years with absolutely no change in the neighbor's behavior or resolution of any of the underlying problems.

Sometimes venting is advised when taking care of aged parents. However, the best support groups for Alzheimer's and other dementia is perhaps to vent and to discover that one's anger is normal, then to quickly move on to learning skills for managing the distressing aspects of the disease, developing a sense of humor, and perhaps even backing away from it without guilt.

Competent professional counselors recognize that couples often want to just vent and do not allow it to go on past the fact gathering stage. Once they understand the nature of the problem, they begin working on solutions.

10. Searches for Solutions, New Skills, and Accountability

While the human tendency is to want to put into effect one solution to solve everything, it seldom works that way. Big marriage problems are usually solved through the implementation of lots of little things. Clusters of small changes make big differences. For example, verbal abuse magnifies all marriage problems. It closes the door to effective communication and intimidates the abused spouse to hide problems rather than bringing them out into the open to be solved. This leads to bitterness and anger.

No matter what the marriage problem is, learning how to fight fair and how to communicate on an adult level creates an environment that makes it easier for each partner to act their best and to face the normal problems of each stage of life. Someone aptly said:

We spend the first 20 years of our life growing up physically.
We spend the next 20 years growing up emotionally.
We spend the next 20+ years enjoying the fruit of growing up.

Having observed many marriages for over 40 years, I suspect there aren't many, non-dysfunctional marriages in the first 20 years--only well-kept secrets. Unfortunately, many couples do not use those years to grow up and learn how to solve problems which locks their marriages in immaturity.

Learning how to live with someone with different ideas, needs, and desires from our own forces us to lose our self-centeredness and to think of others. At the same time, emotional survival insists that we respect our own self-image, needs, and desires, which pushes us to express reasonable expectations from the other to satisfy legitimate needs.

Suggestions for the Marriage Retreat and Follow-up

After Bob took the Marriage Inventory including reading the above supporting material, he sent the e-mail you read earlier about the immediate results he got from just analyzing their problems. I responded:


Going on a retreat together sounds like a great idea, and I know you will both come back renewed and committed to each other. The two of you just looking over the different retreats, seminars, etc. and discussing what you'd like to accomplish ought to be a good exercise in itself.

One main danger is that after a couple makes up and starts some initial changes, when the pressure goes off, they can easily drift back to just like it was before. I'd like to recommend some materials for further study to keep the momentum going.

1. Listen to my CD “Fighting Fair and Facing Anger: Developing Skills to Solve Problems.” The thing I value the most in my marriage is that my husband and I can talk about anything. We can share ourselves, warts and all, knowing the other will work with us and not throw it up later in a disagreement. We started developing that ability by learning how to fight fair. If the two of you work together and openly on it, you'll progress very quickly. Read about How to Fight Fair.

2. I get positive remarks from both men and women about “The Secret of the Woman of Great Price: The Key to Facing the Problems of Life.” I developed that material after a major spiritual crisis and depression. I had to totally re-examine my relationship with God, my husband, my family, and my relationship to other people's problems that were intruding upon our life together as a preacher's family where we faced the normal problems of a young family plus everyone else's problems. One lady recently wrote that the CD helped her realize that not only are problems a normal part of life, but we should also expect to solve them. Read about The Woman of Great Price.

3. Then I suggest that you and your wife start through my Marriage: A Taste of Heaven volumes and do the homework together.

  1. The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God's Soulmating & Lovemaking Guide for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex
  2. God's People Appreciate Marriage
  3. God's People Make the Best Lovers

You'll read medical and psychological evidences that prove repeatedly that the brain is the greatest sexual organ of all--take care of the emotional relationship, and the body will take care of itself. While this information has always been present in the Bible, modern science only discovered it about 25 years ago. Lots of people, after they go either The Song of Solomon Love Triangle or Christians Make the Best Lovers are ready to God's People Appreciate Marriage to add the fine points to the mental union. You can start with any of the volumes.

Over the years, I've found that couples who read the books, do the homework separately, and then discuss their answers together, that their marriages usually make rapid progress. A word of caution, this exercise is not for hashing over what the other does wrong. In fact, such discussion is forbidden at this point. The purpose of this study together is to fine-tune your understanding of God's plan for your marriage in a non-personal, non-accusatory manner.

I've never seen a marriage yet that didn't have room for both partners to make changes. If one of you wants to admit to something you're doing wrong and pledge to change, you can, and that will benefit the marriage. Save the discussions about what the other is doing wrong until after you learn how to fight fair and understand better the Bible's principles for a happy marriage.

I've observed several instances where one mate could not resist using this time to emphasize the flaws in the other. Each time it resulted in the criticized mate losing interest in the study before healthy marriage skills were developed. And in every case, the critical mate seemed totally blind to how he or she contributed to the dysfunction in the marriage. This seems especially true with verbal abusers and sexual addicts. If you learn how to fight fair first, then both of you will develop the skills to stop the blame game in its tracks.

Bottom Line: I've witnessed many times that the people who put the mental work into growing and solving problems get the best and most lasting results. I pray for honest hearts and hard work for both you and your wife. The rewards are worth the effort.

If I can be of further help, let me know,


P.S. Bob, You might enjoy reading “An Alligator Learns to Make Tea Instead of Hollering” to see how another couple used a marriage retreat and the books. Read about the "Alligator" at

NOTE: Bob's name and the number of years he has been married were changed to protect his identity. He gave permission for his story to be shared in hopes that it might encourage others.

Permission to Reproduce Marriage Inventory--10 Questions

Marriage Inventory--10 Questions by Patsy Rae Dawson. Copyright © 2010-2015 Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved.

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Real Stories from Real People Who've Gone Through This Material

For More Information Read

* Some Battles Are Worth Fighting
* Why Are We Becoming a Nation of Verbal Abusers?
* An Open Letter to Elders & Preachers for Help with Spouse Abuse Among Christians
* Spouse Abuse and Domestic Violence Among Christians FAQ
* Survey on Spouse Abuse and Domestic Violence Among Christians - For the Abused and Those Who Help Them -- For Both Husband and Wife