Relationship ‘tests’ are all over social media. Couples therapists share which to trust


Unsure if you and your partner have the same interests? Or if they’re willing to go the extra mile for you? There’s a test for that — and it’s already gone viral on social media.

The orange peel theory espouses that your one true love will always happily do what you ask, no matter how messy (or sticky) the task. The bird test asserts that any partner willing to pause what they’re doing to engage with you on something, even if it’s as silly as a nearby bird, is a good match. On TikTok, these hashtags have garnered 48 million and 12.5 million views respectively.

Plenty of other “relationship tests” have made the rounds, too. “Name a woman” has straight men scrambling after their female partners ask them to say the first woman’s name that comes to mind. (If you don’t say your girlfriend, wife or fiancée’s, you failed.) There’s also more in-depth quizzes posted by people who claim that knowing all the answers about your partner means you’re on solid ground.

Whatever you decide to call them, these relationship tests, quizzes, or social experiments frequently pop up and trend across social media. And while some analysis of your relationship can be a good thing, experts tell TODAY.com some of the theories presented may not hold the meaning you think they do — and you could end up reading more into something than you should.

Understanding relationship tests

The desire to understand your relationship certainly has merit, but all relationship tests are not created equal, Dr. Bob Waldinger, psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, tells TODAY.com.

“The quality of these tests is all over the map,” he explains. “Most relationship tests on the web don’t provide any evidence of whether they measure what they propose to measure.” He says many such tests are devoid of references, peer-reviewed research or even sound logic. “You wouldn’t want to make big decisions based on a set of untested questions or theories that someone just made up out of thin air,” he says.

Other times, these tests are based on solid research, but have been tweaked slightly to appear as something new. For example, the orange peel theory and the bird test are both rooted, at least in part, in research from the famed Gottman Institute, which provides couples’ counseling and training for therapists. The research found that if one partner makes a bid for attention and most of the time the other responds by engaging with them, the relationship will likely last, Kim Polinder, host of the podcast “Engineering Love” and a relationship coach based in Long Beach, California, tells TODAY.com.

Donald Cole, the clinical director of the Gottman Institute, agrees that “a good (relationship) test is tied to a tested psychological theory,” he tells TODAY.com. “In Gottman therapy, we use a set of questionnaires that meet that standard.” But he says that a key part of any testing they do includes for the results to be “interpreted by a trained professional” so clients don’t jump to the wrong conclusions or read more into an outcome than what’s called for.

The pros of relationship testing

“Relationship test questions can prompt you to consider things you’ve overlooked and can get you to consider what might be changed,” says Waldinger. “And some surveys are good at asking you about yourself, not just your partner.”

Other times, relationship tests give you a fresh perspective on your partnership or prompt helpful conversations. “Using a quiz as a way to discuss the quality of a relationship can be a positive for a couple,” says Cole. “But it should be something you do together so you can learn from it and maybe make things better.”

Polinder says such tests have been around for decades for a reason and can be “an entertaining way to assess the state of your connection with your partner.”

The cons of relationship testing

Because most (if not all) relationship tests you see circulation on social media aren’t backed by research, the results might not be that revealing and could even cause division if theories are tested without both partners understanding what is happening.

“I’m totally against all forms of manipulation in relationships, and some of these tests seem very manipulative,” says Cole. “Open dialogue is the path to relationship positivity, not testing behind the back.”

Other times, relationship tests fail to take into consideration a host of factors that make one relationship different from another, instead applying broad standards that don’t make sense for everyone. “It’s way too easy to take a relationship scale that gives you a result, see what the test-makers say about your result, and decide that you’ve got a definitive answer when in fact the test is poorly constructed, or there are big factors that the test doesn’t cover,” says Waldinger.

Also, some relationship tests provide validation to only one person in the relationship instead of promoting constructive conversation, Polinder notes. “It is important to not lose sight of the fact that you have the answers before you in the form of communication with your partner,” she says. In other words, directly asking your partner to be more attentive to your needs might be better than dropping hints that you want them to peel an orange for you.

How to know which tests to trust

How does one go about identifying the tests that hold the most water? “Look for the credentials behind the test,” advises Waldinger. “Look for whether a test was developed by a reputable researcher or a reputable organization.”

Also consider what the test is claiming to measure and if it will really provide insight you don’t already have, Polinder advises. “For all of the couples I work with, they don’t need a ‘bird test’ to tell them their partner doesn’t answer their attempts at connection,” she says.

And sometimes it’s best to leave consequential testing and interpretation of results to qualified professionals. “There’s a good reason why test construction is a science unto itself,” says Waldinger. “It’s complicated, and some very official-looking tests can be based on nothing but one person’s opinions.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com



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