Article - Intermediate

The Enneagram in Romantic Relationships

By Megan Biffi, Integrative Enneagram Solutions | 6 April 2022 |

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
- C.G. Jung

Introduction

From a young age, we are told fairy tales that end with two people falling deeply in love and living 'happily ever after'. This could explain why then, as we grow older, many of us daydream about the ideal romantic relationship - one where two people are madly in love, understand each other completely, communicate clearly, and go on to enjoy a long, happy and fulfilling relationship.

The reality is that, even in a healthy relationship, disagreements and misunderstandings between people are inevitable. Why, you may ask. Well, have you ever felt that you and your partner keep having the same argument or disagreement over and over again? Does it often feel like neither of you understands the other? You may even have gone as far as to say to your partner, "It feels like we are from two different worlds."

This can become especially evident when you and your partner get home from a party and, if asked to recap the event, you would both have a completely different perspective on what happened, what was of importance and what was least significant.

That's a good example of the mistake that many of us make in relationships; we assume that our partner sees the world in the same way we do. Even more, we feel that our partner 'should' see the world as we do and we interpret their behaviour through our own filters. More often than not, that belief is at the core of our conflicts. Each of us thinks that our view is right. This leads us to assume erroneously that, should our partner see things differently, they must be mistaken or confused. I mean, your perspective is the truth...it is right...how could it not be?

With this way of thinking in mind, we spend a great deal of effort in an attempt to get our partner to see what we think is the truth. We may stubbornly put all our energy into persuading our partner to see OUR truth and live through OUR perspective. During this process, however, what becomes lost is understanding each other's inner world. Because the truth, in every sense of the word, is exactly that, given that we each resonate with one of nine worldviews, we each have OUR OWN truth.

This is regularly observed in all kinds of day-to-day interactions. For example, you come home to your partner after a long day at the office. It has been one of those days. One filled with many meetings and people demanding your time while looming deadlines felt like they were drawing closer and closer, adding to your ever-growing feeling of pressure and anxiety. While standing in the kitchen, you turn to your partner and say "I am feeling very tired and overwhelmed. It was a really tough day."

Thirty minutes later, you find yourself sitting alone, with a cup of tea, outside in your garden. You suddenly feel extremely lonely. When you told your partner that you were feeling very tired and overwhelmed, you had hoped that your partner would have given you some attention and an opportunity to talk about your day and how you were feeling. You ask yourself, "Why isn't he/she asking about my day and how I'm feeling?" You interpret your partner's behaviour (leaving you alone) as rejection or not caring. In turn, you feel anger and/or irritability swell up inside you, so you stand up and walk over to your partner who is still standing in the kitchen.

An almighty fight ensues where you accuse your partner of lacking understanding and compassion, only to have your partner return your accusation with "I do care about you, how your day was and how you are feeling. I just thought that when you told me that you are feeling very tired and overwhelmed, you were saying 'PLEASE don't talk to me or demand anything of me right now, give me space. ' Which is exactly what I did." It is in this moment of clarity that you will find that your anger and/or irritability instantly evaporates because you now have a whole new perspective on the situation. You realise that your assumption about your partner's motivation was wrong.

This situation plays out in relationships in many guises. What we need to realise is that Information is power, and the more information we have about our partners, the greater the chance of a successful romantic relationship. Take, for example, the five 'love languages': words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time and physical touch. Just by discovering each other's primary love language and speaking it regularly, we gain a deeper understanding of how our partner views love and wants to be shown that they are loved. This is one of the ways we keep love alive in a romantic relationship.

Unless we have all the information at our disposal, we tend to take the actions of our partners personally or make assumptions about why they are behaving the way that they are.

What is needed, therefore, is to gain a better understanding of your and your partner's worldviews, and, in doing so, allow ourselves to better appreciate their perspective and to realise that it is as valid as our own. In other words, we need to practice compassion in our relationships. Compassion towards others is at the very heart of good communication and meaningful relationships. Being compassionate entails imagining being in someone else's shoes.

Enneagram in Romantic Relationships

"The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves."
- I. Cron

As this quote suggests, rather than attempting to change our partners, what if we truly understood each other and realised that we all have different gifts and challenges?

In a romantic relationship, it is vital that we understand each other's world and be responsive to each other's needs, which are at the core of our personality. This is why discovering, understanding, and responding to each other's few vital, core personality needs is so important in any relationship. They establish the key dynamic that will determine the level of fulfillment and harmony you experience, both in each of your own lives and together.

Having a good understanding of personality types can be extremely helpful in cultivating healthy relationships.

The question, therefore, arises: would you like to gain a better understanding of yourself and your partner - the way the two of you view the world?

The reality is, unlike what was proposed in the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by psychologist John Gray, we are not from two different worlds, but instead, according to those who have familiarised themselves with the wisdom of the Enneagram, we, as well as our partners, each resonate with one of nine worldviews.

It is for this reason that the Enneagram is an excellent tool for helping us understand our partners and, in turn, to be better understood. This is because the Enneagram helps us to look deeply within ourselves. Not only will you learn more about yourself, but you will also start to see the world through other people's eyes, understanding how and why people think, feel, and act the way they do. More than merely describing behaviour and personality, the Enneagram helps individuals to go deeper and explore the often-hidden motives that drive them to act and react in certain ways. The Enneagram also helps us develop compassion and to understand the needs and perspectives of others, helping us to relate better to one another while also understanding ourselves within a relationship context more clearly.

According to Amy Alexander, LMFT and founder of The Refuge Center for Counseling, "The Enneagram helps provide more compassion and perspective for yourself and in relationships with others." She explains that one of her friends puts it well when she says the Enneagram helps her to have "more compassion, less reaction" in her relationships.

Conclusion

Romantic relationships highlight the differences between us. Each of us is telling the truth, yet each can have a different story to tell. We look at our partnerships from radically different angles, often without seeing a universal bias. The Enneagram precisely identifies what these few basic, core ego needs are in each of us. It shows you the wiring of your ego -- what you need in order to thrive in a relationship, as well as what you are sensitive and fragile about that causes you to contract inside and become upset, argue, or pull away and shut down.

For successful relationships, we each need to fully understand the other's world and make our partner's needs fundamentally as important and honoured as our own. This fulfilment together enables you and your partner both to sustain the loving feelings and innocence that you both felt from the beginning and ensures a successful couple's relationship.

Astonishingly precise, the Enneagram allows us to look deeply within ourselves, into our own character, and to clarify relationships. This deep insight quickly turns to compassion when you compare your own bias with those of people who are unlike you. It stirs compassion to see through the eyes of others, to imagine being in their shoes, if you will, and to feel the pressure of their emotional lives, because when you take on another's outlook, their perspective is right.