The Limits of Pre-Marital Inventories



As a middle schooler, my love for personality quizzes took root in magazines and a young internet. There was something so satisfying about being told what flavor of lip balm best suited my style, which boy from Harry Potter was my soulmate, and what future tattoo I should get.

A few years later, my penchant for quizzes took a more serious turn when I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory for the first time on a youth group retreat. Reading through each bullet points describing INFJs, I thought, that’s me. That’s me. That’s me.

This short paragraph seemingly nailed exactly who I was. As an awkward teenager, the comfort found in reading about who you are, and discovering there are enough others out there with your same tendencies to categorize them into a personality type--the feeling that maybe I wasn’t as unusual or as much of an outsider as I sometimes felt like--was not to be underestimated.

I know now that the sense of deep recognition I felt speaks to every heart’s cry to be known. We desire to be understood; to be told we aren’t alone in certain weaknesses and struggles inherent to our personality--even when the one telling us is an inanimate piece of paper or computer tab.

Fast forward to my engagement, when my husband and I took the inventory in the book The Temperament God Gave You at our sponsor couple's recommendation. Specifically, they asked us to consider what aspects of our temperaments, upbringings, and spiritual lives might be a source of contention in our future marriage. I happily complied.

My husband, however, was suspicious. He didn’t want who he was to be put into one of several boxes, he said, nor did he believe a book could tell us everything we needed to know about ourselves and our relationship. I half-seriously wondered to myself if his not liking personality inventories would be a source of contention. Truly, though, my husband was on to to something.

Unlike inanimate text that, insightful and knowing as it may be, is meant for thousands and can’t personally interact with us, the living God does know us, so intimately and particularly. He knows each person as so much more than a designated personality type or set of letters. In that fullness of who we are, we are loved.

It’s this love spouses are called to reflect to one another. For the first time, I began to consider what we were like simply as we were, rather than what we were like according to tests and inventories.

I’ve realized these materials do warrant critical thinking rather than blind acceptance of their results. If, like us, you are given inventories like the temperament test or FOCCUS as part of your marriage prep, it can be helpful to approach them with an open, yet critical mind and to consider how you might deal with potential concerns.

One drawback that arises from these inventories, for instance, is the false perception that you’re locked into your weaknesses: hearing a dead-on description of myself in the temperament test, in both my strengths and struggles, initially led me to believe I struggled with complacency, laziness, and following through on things because that was simply my temperament; who I was. In reality, I can see now that personality descriptions aren’t there to tell us who we are and then let us be. Instead, they can serve as a means of bringing to light vices and struggles we can become more aware of, in the hope of improving upon them.

Moreover, when you and your beloved fall into seemingly opposite personality categories, or if your inventory highlights opinions or areas of your lives in which you majorly differ, anxiety over your compatibility might arise. Bear in mind that marriage preparation isn’t intended to test how right you are for one another, but to offer tools that enrich your discernment and encourage communication about topics you might never have discussed previously. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in seeking peace over unrest, in whatever way that looks like in your relationship.

Being told who you are by a test is fun, and can provide you with new language and a new lens to understand you and your beloved’s identities within a certain set of qualities. Yet ultimately, our deepest, truest identity comes from Christ. We are loved and willed into existence, we are conformed to him, we are made for love--all of us, no matter what combination of letters makes up our personalities.

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more