By Beth McCord, Crosswalk.com
Jeff and I were married at the young age of 20, so you can imagine the bumpy road we traveled trying to figure out ourselves and navigate our disagreements. Thankfully, we came across the Enneagram. This personality system helped us know ourselves better so we could communicate what we needed, and it helped us understand one another, which completely changed the dynamics of our disagreements.
Early in our marriage, we often felt stuck in unhealthy patterns. We loved each other in the way we liked to receive love, but because we have unique personalities, it never landed how we intended. Jeff is an Enneagram Type 6, and I am a Type 9. As a Type 6, he fears not having security or support and being blamed, targeted, or abandoned. He wants security, guidance, and loyalty. When he is facing something intense or challenging, he wants to talk about it. As a Type 9, I fear conflict and tension. I want peace and harmony. I'll forget myself and go along to get along and end the conflict. But stuffing my needs and desires leads to a lot of built-up resentment that eventually has to come out, and when it does, we're back in the same argument we didn't resolve earlier.
Jeff tries to talk about it when we disagree, and I withdraw because of the tension. He then feels abandoned, one of his core fears, so he gets more intense and becomes anxious. As he gets more intense, he activates my core fear of tension and conflict. I start to shut down even more, and we continue in this cycle, which we call The Dance. But because the Enneagram shines a light on our inner motivations and fears, when I see Jeff starting to feel anxious, more intense, and passionate, I can say, "Hey, I see this is really affecting you, but I feel the need to shut down and withdraw. Can you give me 30 minutes alone? We can talk about this later. We are okay." This helps Jeff know he is secure. I am not going to abandon him. He knows I need space and that we'll come back together later. We both feel cared for and understood.
Does this work perfectly every time? No, of course not. But because the Enneagram reveals the motivations of our hearts and our tendencies when our fears are activated, we can pause in our disagreements long enough to show compassion. We can speak directly to one another's fears, assure each other of our love and good intentions, and then proceed to a resolution from a less anxious place.
All 9 Enneagram Types have unique attributes and liabilities, and every couple combination has the potential to be a healthy, life-giving relationship. But because we live in a fallen world, even the best marriages will have struggles and misunderstandings. Here are a few examples of Type combinations and how the Enneagram can help them identify and understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Type 3 and Type 8 will be a power couple. Both Types are assertive, optimistic, natural leaders and get things accomplished. But in that forward motion, they will sometimes disagree and run each other over to get what they want. Type 8s are passionate, and value authenticity, but Type 3s learn at an early age to shapeshift into whatever image is needed to succeed and ignore their emotions to achieve their goals. Type 8 will eventually fortify the armor around their heart because of Type 3's lack of honesty. And Type 3 will be overwhelmed by the passions and demands of Type 8 and feel like a failure. They both need to learn how to slow down and relax so that Type 3 can take off their achieving mask and Type 8 can reveal their tender heart. When they can both access their vulnerable emotions, they can solve disagreements instead of ignoring them and rushing ahead.
Type 4 and Type 5 make an incredibly creative couple. They see the world in ways others don't and can inspire people with creative projects. But both are withdrawn Types and struggle to share their gifts with the world and each other, so they have to work hard to stay connected. Type 4s need to feel all their emotions, and they don't like it when people tell them to "get over it" or "move on." Type 5s live in their heads. They value intellect and practicality and use their thoughts to solve problems. They will withdraw from the relationship if they don't recognize one another's unique strengths. Type 4s can help their Type 5 partner value their emotions so they can experience the fullness of life. And Type 5s can help their Type 4 spouse recognize that they are more than their emotions so they don't drown in the tsunami of their feelings. When solving a disagreement, emotions and intellect are both valuable and needed.
Type 1 and Type 6 are very responsible, helpful Types. But Type 1 strives for a level of perfection that isn't necessary for a Type 6, and Type 6's need for constant assurance can frustrate a confident Type 1. They both have a unique inner dialogue contributing to their disagreements. Type 1 has a strong inner critic, while Type 6 has an inner committee constantly asking, "What about this?" Type 1 tends to judge and fix during a disagreement, but Type 6 wants to vent the many conflicting thoughts from their inner committee. Type 6 will disagree with Type 1's belief that there is only one right way to fix the problem because their internal committee shows them multiple options. By understanding these differences, Type 1 can offer Type 6 a safe place to process and help them find their inner confidence, and Type 6 can help Type 1 relax more by embracing gray areas. They can successfully work together to solve their disagreements when their inner dialogue does not consume them.
As you can see, all 45 Enneagram combinations will have their own set of positive traits and problems. It all comes down to your willingness to grow, recognize where you've been wrong, and repair the relationship. The Enneagram can help you do this. At Your Enneagram Coach, we love to come alongside couples to help them reach their full potential. By applying the tool of the Enneagram, you'll have clarity into your unique personalities and relationship dynamics, helping you break free from unhealthy dance patterns and transform into the couple you were meant to be!
Because of the transformation we've experienced in our marriage, we created a personalized curriculum for all 45 Enneagram Type combinations (Dances) and wrote a book titled Becoming Us. Each Type has specific Core Motivations driving how they relate to each other, so there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to relationship growth. The Enneagram can help you understand your heart and your spouse's heart, which allows you to communicate better, solve disagreements when they happen and get back on a healthy track!
Related Resource: FREE Enneagram Podcast!
In The Enneagram of Personality podcast, we'll look at each Type and help listeners determine their type, where we see different types in the Bible and what spiritual growth looks like in each type. To hear the first episode, click the play button below:
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/marekuliasz
Video credit: ©iBelieve
Beth McCord (Type 9: Peaceful Accommodator) and Jeff McCord (Type 6: Faithful Guardian) are best-selling authors and co founders of Your Enneagram Coach (YEC), one of the largest Enneagram platforms in the world and the only one of its size that teaches people how to use the Enneagram from a faith-based perspective. Their podcast,Your Enneagram Coach, has more than 3 million downloads since launching in April 2019. More than 2 million people have taken their online Enneagram Type assessment, and more than 2,000 people have enrolled in their Become an Enneagram Coach program. Their latest book is 'More Than Your Number: A Christ-Centered Enneagram Approach to Becoming AWARE of Your Internal World.'