Friday, April 13, 2018

Marriage, Myers and Briggs

It's Friday, which means ... well, nothing.  Except once in a while, the Friday pieces here are going to stray into something less important than sports or even politics, but reflect something that struck me during the week.

As you know, I watch some TV shows that may sound odd for a healthy adult male with an actual wife, to watch.  We're down to taping only one "Real Housewives" anymore (New Jersey), although that one is on its last legs.  I record every Red Sox game and watch it when I go to bed, possibly as an offset to regain my man card.

And we religiously watch a host of "reality" shows.

One such show is called "Married at First Sight", and is truly one of the remarkable pieces of television out there.  If you have not seen it or heard about it, MAFS is in its fourth or fifth season, and is essentially a televised experiment in social assorting.

Men and women apply for it, because they have had no luck in the usual matchmaking arena and truly want to get married.  A team of psychologists, who are integral parts of the show, review a host of questionnaires and select three couples to be participants, who have been matched using the team's algorithm for likely compatibility.

Of course, this is not just a simple matchmaking exercise or dating app -- if you apply, and you are selected, you will be legally married to the other person.  Moreover, as the title suggests, the couples literally go to the altar not knowing anything about the person whom they will meet there, and have to say "I do" to a perfect stranger.

You are not going to sign up to do that unless you are bloody well sure that you're willing, because getting out of a marriage is not fun, and you're going to have cameras in your face for the six or eight weeks or so that you will live as a married couple, honeymoon and all, before Decision Day.  All the fights, all the warts, all the intimate moments -- OK, not all -- are part of the show.

On that day of decision, after a couple months together, each participant must decide if he and she want to stay married, or get a divorce.  Both parties must indicate their intent, separately, and we infer that they are not supposed to tell their spouse what they're going to say until the filmed decision.

The show is quite dramatic, obviously, but it is a credit to the team that I think a bit more than half of the couples have actually both decided to stay together -- last year, if memory serves, all three couples decided to stay married, and the hostess of one of the ancillary pre-show interview shows is actually still married to the man she met at the altar in season 2 or 3 -- and was immediately repelled, by the way -- but now has a child with him and is happily married.

So -- I mention the show because I watched a recorded episode Wednesday night, and something struck me, a memory I wanted to share.  This one couple was having a disagreement about something, and as they were trying to resolve it themselves, one of the two said to the other something akin to "I understand why they matched us ..." and "We have so much in common ...".

The couples often say that very same thing, all of them, because in truth they are in a process of discovery about their new spouse, and sometimes laugh when they realize how closely matched they are.  Questionnaire leads to algorithm, which leads to matching people who would not otherwise have met.  And the algorithm for matching has gotten better as time has gone on.

At any rate, when the person mentioned how well they'd been matched, I had a flashback.

Back in the 1990s, I was working for a 1,000-person company in Virginia, and for some reason all employees were asked to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ("MBTI") test, which is a psychological quiz.  You have probably taken it, or heard about it.  In essence, it takes four personality scales and measures you on each, and assigns you a letter based on which half of the scale you fall into -- for example, Judging ("J") vs. Perceiving ("P").  You end up with a four-letter designator, of which there are 16 possibles.

I'm an ISTJ, in case you are interested (and which those who have taken the test and know me have no problem assuming).  And by the way, you can only take the test once in your life, because if you try to take it a second time, you'll immediately see what the questions are asking relative to the type indicators, and will be unable to answer them without prejudice.

So I took the test in 1996, I think.  At the time, although MBTI had been around for 50 years, I had never heard of it.  So my answers were honest, and I'm pretty comfortable with the thought that I am really an ISTJ.  But I digress.

The test was administered one day, and we returned the next for the results.  Except there were about 20 of us in the one group who had taken it and returned, and they did not explain anything to us on Day 2 ... immediately.  Instead, they illustrated the results through experiments before telling us what we were.

I recall one of them.  We were supposed to address some kind of problem that might have had multiple answers, and given 15 minutes to finish.  We were put into four groups and told to work together to solve it.  One group was done in a minute or so, la la la, but my group, well, we were still deciding on the answer when the bell rang, because there were different ways to approach it, leading to different outcomes.

Remember, we didn't know the MBTI letters or what they meant or anything, for that matter.  All the four of us knew was that we needed to solve the problem.  And the leader was laughing hysterically at us after the time was up -- I remember her saying about us, "That's so J", meaning that we judgmental types worked through problems completely differently, while the Ps, the perceptive types, just picked an answer and went off on their merry way.

But she was right, of course, and the exercises were all meant to show us the value and legitimacy of the tests.  And the company actually used the outcome to deal with relationships -- if you're an ISTJ (introverted, sensing, thinking, judgmental) and have to work with an ENFP (extroverted, intuiting, feeling, perceiving), you will become very frustrated very quickly -- but if you know that's the personality of the other person, and that it is innate and unchangeable, you will deal differently, factor in his or her way of doing things, and get less frustrated.

I learned a lot from that exercise, particularly when my wife took the test.  Ten years later, I was a part of the board of a major arts organization with a new director.  We all took the test (or submitted our past result), and we were taught how our interactions on the board would be better if we understood where each other was rooted psychologically.  It worked that year quite well.

And I gained some reasonable faith that an experiment like Married at First Sight could actually work.  As I saw the couples look wonderingly at each other and understand why they were put together, I keep hearing "That's so J" in my mind, and get it.

Have a nice weekend!

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

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