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VIA survey of character strengths can improve your relationship

couple smiling at each other
the focus from what’s wrong to what’s right.


  • The VIA survey measures you on 24 character
  • 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

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

Yet in their forthcoming book, “Happy
,” 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

The survey assesses 24 character strengths, which are categorized
into six virtues:

1. Wisdom

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Judgment
  • Love of learning
  • Perspective

2. Courage

  • Bravery
  • Honesty
  • Perseverance
  • Zest

3. Humanity

  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Social intelligence

4. Justice

  • Fairness
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork

5. Temperance

  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Self regulation

6. Transcendence

  • Appreciation of beauty
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Humor
  • Spirituality

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.

via results colorScreenshot/VIA Institute on

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

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.

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