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Communicate in a Way that Lands

Often we fail to consider that our social, spiritual and intellectual interests are miles apart.  Our value systems and goals are contradictory, but we are in love.

—Gary Chapman


As I shared with you in the last blog , the enneagram can be a wonderful way to connect with a sense of compassion and understanding with your partner.  Each of us has a primary Enneagram type..  This is our basic personality type and the one that is most dominant in our life.  The two straight lines connect to our “stress” and “security” points.  In other words, when we are feeling good and buzzing in home frequency, we will also demonstrate a lot of the qualities of our security point (or number).  However, when we’re in a lower frequency state we will demonstrate the qualities of the stress point.  So, for example, if you are a Four, you will veer into Two territory when stressed and hum along at the high end of One when feeling good.

Recently I met with a young married couple named Elise and Anthony.  Elise was a successful, quiet and driven individual.  She was CEO of her own home design company, and she was also very athletic and physically fit.  In fact, the first time I met her, she made me feel her arm muscles! (Which were fantastic, by the way).

Anthony, on the other hand, gave off a much different vibe.  Although he was covered in tattoos and loved motorcycles, he was relaxed and easygoing, a laugh a minute, and clearly very tender and affectionate.  Yet I began to notice that Elise would almost visibly cringe whenever Anthony would stroke her back and grasp her hand.  Her eyes seem to say, “Get off of me!” but her set jaw and calm demeanor revealed little of her inner stress.

They came to see me because Anthony was desperate to start a family, but Elise was postponing him right and left. “If we had kids when she promised,” said Anthony, “We would have four kids by now!”

“Four kids!” cried Elise. “Tony, you are nuts!”

He shrugged. “I come from a big family,” he said to me, “Big Italian Catholic family.  I am the oldest of six.  You should see us at Christmas! It’s freaking awesome.”

His face shone with pride and true joy.  I looked over at Elise. “It’s something, alright,” she said quietly.

As we dug more into their points of conflict, their communication struggles and perspectives seemed very different, despite their deep connection.  I decided to consider the role that different enneagram types may be playing in their issues..  Using the chart to help demonstrate what I was talking about, I told Elise I thought she was a number 5, a Thinker.  Thinkers are highly intelligent and self-contained.  No wonder she was able to do triathlons and run her own company at such a young age.  However, Thinkers also tend to struggle in social situations.  They tend to retreat inward as they are overwhelmed by all the activity around them.  They might hold back their emotions and struggle to make real connections with people, even with their own partners.

On the other hand, I thought Anthony was a 6, a Loyalist.  For him, family and friends were everything, and he was very gifted at receiving and giving love and affection.  However, as a Loyalist, I think Anthony really was struggling to understand that his wife was overwhelmed by his constant need for love and attention.  In fact, Loyalists can occasionally struggle with being alone and listening to their own counsel.  They are always looking for guidance and turning to other people for support instead of looking for it from within.

As I talked to them about all this, Anthony began to look a little sheepish.

“What is it, Anthony?” I asked.

“I gotta confess something, honey,” he said.

“What is it?” asked Elise.

“The main reason I keep nagging you about kids is because my mom is always bugging me about it.  I actually have been having an awesome time alone with you the past couple years.  The vacations, the time together…the sex,” he said, looking a little impish.

“You mean you don’t want to have kids?” she asked, confused.

“No!” he said. “I do, I really do.  But the truth is I am okay with waiting until you are ready.  And we can talk about how many.  I am sorry I have been pushing you nonstop.  I guess I never stopped to think where all that was really coming from,” he said, and then to me, he explained, “My younger brother just had a kid, so I felt like I was under a lot of pressure.  But I won’t do that anymore, honey.”

Elise breathed a visible sigh of relief, and then smiled a little. “It’s kind of weird, though,” she said, laughing. “Now that I know I can take my time, I feel so much more ready than before.”

Returning to the Enneagram, I helped them both to understand a little bit more what made them each tick, and how to use this information to help them communicate better.

“For instance, Tony,” I said, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I think you sometimes overwhelm Elise with your constant affection.  Instead of always grabbing her hand right away or putting your arm around her, maybe try asking her, “Hey, babe want to hold hands?” And just take a beat to look inward and find out why you want to hold her in that moment—is it because you feel a real connection you want to share with her, or is it coming from a place of insecurity or loneliness?”

He nodded slowly. “I know sometimes I go overboard.  My family does too.  They are always hugging her and grabbing her at family parties.  By the end of them, she looks like a scared cat who wants to hide under the bed.”

We all laughed. “Well, you know, Tony,” I said, “It’s a funny thing about cats.  If you overwhelm them with attention, they tend to scratch or puff up their hair in fear.  But, if you relax and let them come to you when they are ready, they can turn into total purr machines.”

“Purr machine,” said Tony. “I like that.  I think I’m going to name my next bike that.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Elise. “What have you done, Dr. Berman!?”

As you can see, understanding where you and your partner land on the Enneagram can be incredibly useful.  It can really illuminate how your partner needs to be loved, and show them in turn how you need to be loved as well.

For more on the secret to creating just what you want in your romantic life, read my book, Quantum Love: Use Your Body’s Atomic Energy to Create the Relationship You Desire.

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