- The VIA survey measures you on 24 character strengths.
- In their forthcoming book “Happy Together,” a husband-and-wife team recommend having both partners in a couple take the survey.
- Once you do, you can discuss what each person brings to the relationship and work on using those traits more often.
The VIA survey isn’t specifically geared toward couples looking to improve their relationship. It’s a 120-question assessment that measures you on 24 “character strengths,” including creativity, honesty, and leadership.
Yet in their forthcoming book, “Happy Together,” Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski, PhD suggest that learning more about your character strengths — and your partner’s — can change the way you view your relationship, for the better.
In “Happy Together,” the authors (who are married to each other) apply the science of positive psychology to romantic relationships. Pileggi Pawelski has a master’s degree from the positive psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania; Pawelski is a philosopher who teaches at the program.
Positive psychology focuses on learning what helps people flourish, and the VIA survey — or the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues — is based on the research of pioneering positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.
The survey assesses 24 character strengths, which are categorized into six virtues:
- Love of learning
- Social intelligence
- Self regulation
- Appreciation of beauty
The strengths you score highest on are what positive psychologists call your “signature strengths” — the character strengths “that are most essential to who [you] are,” according to the VIA website.
The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete: You indicate how closely each statement describes you.
Once you finish the survey, you choose which report you’d like. I selected the free survey results, which shows how you rank on all 24 strengths. (A snapshot is below — apparently my top character strength is fairness.) For $20 or $40, you can purchase more in-depth information about your strengths.
You can use these results to help strengthen your relationship
In “Happy Together,” Pileggi Pawelski and Pawelski outline a number of ways to draw on your survey results to improve your relationship. One is an exercise in which you tell “strengths stories” about your partner.
Each partner tells a story about when they observed the other using one of their signature strengths successfully. The authors write: “It can be incredibly powerful to hear your partner tell you a story of you at your best. It can help you feel clearly seen, deeply understood, and profoundly loved.”
Another exercise is to plan and experience a “strengths date.” The goal is to create one event in which both partners get to use one of their signature strengths.
Pileggi and Pawelski, for example, ate at a restaurant that features food from Peruvian and Cantonese cuisines. Pileggi Pawelski printed out information about the restaurant’s culinary influences and brought it to dinner to discuss with her husband. That’s because Pawelski loves to learn, while Pileggi Pawelski loves trying new things.
The important thing to remember about the VIA survey is that it’s based on self-report. No one’s observing you objectively and deciding you’re a loving, curious person — that’s determined solely by your responses to the questions. When I took the survey, I found I answered “like me” to most of the questions, possibly because I aspired to those traits and behaviors.
That said, the benefit of having two people in a relationship take the survey is twofold.
One, instead of seeing your partner’s tendency to, say, stop and snap a photo every five minutes while you’re walking together, you might realize that “appreciation of beauty and excellence” is one of his top strengths. Two, it shifts the conversation away from each person’s deficits and toward what each person can potentially bring to the partnership.
It’s hardly the only way to revitalize your relationship, but it’s a great opportunity to see your partner with new eyes.