HOW THE ENNEAGRAM PLAYS A ROLE IN RELATIONSHIPS
written by Elise joseph
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My husband Dan and I never had the “honeymoon phase” of our relationship. On our actual honeymoon in Tulum, I ate something bad, started my period, and found myself sick on the toilet or passed out in bed for most of the trip. And don’t get me started on the fact that we couldn’t flush toilet paper. This photo captures it oh so well, haha.
When we started dating, I was newly divorced and had a lot of unhealed pain and grief which led us to navigating some tricky waters. Dan also ran in a lot of the same circles that I did (and casually knew my ex-husband and his family), so we had to confront difficult things and learn healthy communication early on. I had briefly heard of the word Enneagram, but it wasn’t until we started seeing each other that I really did a deep dive. It split my world open and has been such a vital tool for my self-discovery, awareness, growth and relationship with others.
The Enneagram is a personality typing system that describes patterns in how we manage our emotions and interpret the world, and categorizes them into 9 specific personality types. It sounds and looks complicated, but is actually quite simple. As you learn about each type, it is not uncommon to find parts of yourself in all of them. We are complex beings and not one pure personality type, and no type is better or worse than the other. I suggest taking the RHETI test and/or reading through the detailed descriptions on The Enneagram Institute’s website to determine what stands out as being closest to yourself. There are so many great resources out there!
As an Enneagram 4 (“The Individualist”), I tend to be artistic, sensitive and self-absorbed. I am expressive, have a strong sense of self-identity and have often felt misunderstood or unique, especially in childhood. My husband is type 5 (“The Investigator”) and can be isolated, curious, innovative and insightful. Type 5 is the most introverted of the Enneagram types and tends to direct their focus and energy primarily inward.
I know some find labels and personality types frustrating or limiting, and I understand that. Part of why I think the Enneagram has been an essential tool for us personally, is because we each so clearly identify with our type. I’m a moody feeler and wear my heart on my sleeve in a lot of ways. Dan is much more in his head — a thinker and a problem-solver. We enjoy many of the same things in life, but process and experience life completely differently. He helps me to be more logical and sensible, and I help him to more deeply connect with his heart and feelings. He is the steady anchor to my reactive, heightened emotional states. At our best, we inspire creativity in each other and allow ourselves to follow our own inspirations and find freedom in being our authentic selves.
On the flip side, Enneagram 4s and 5s can easily find themselves in what we jokingly have coined muddy “swamp” spirals — me pushing for more emotional contact, and him pushing for more detachment and space. At times, I can feel like Dan is analyzing me rather than trying to understand me, and he can feel drained of time and energy by me which triggers his withdrawal. Thankfully over the years, these “swamps” happen less and less, and we are more quickly able to recover due to our understanding of these patterns. If we hadn’t had the Enneagram tool early in our relationship, our intense dynamic could have caused us to easily combust.
The Enneagram In Love & Work by Helen Palmer is a book I return to time and time again. It was published in 1993 but still resonates! I’ve not only found it really helpful with Dan, but also in navigating my friendships and business relationships. All relationships are difficult, but I’m grateful for tools that help build trust and understanding.
To quote Gloria Steinem, “Far too many people are looking for the right person, instead of trying to be the right person.”
For more information, here are some resources that Jaimi has shared with me this past year — The Truth About Your Enneagram Number and Overcoming Productivity Hurdles of the Nine Enneagram Types.