For over 15 years working as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have found that combining 2 powerful models help couples improve communication, intimacy, connection, conflict resolution, while facilitating effective, developmental shifts for each partner: The Developmental Model (via The Couples Institute) and the Enneagram. This approach is called, “The Enneagram & Development for Couples©.”
There are 2 main roles in a relationship: Speaking to our partner, and listening to our partner. The capacity in which each individual navigates these greatly influences the health and satisfaction of the relationship.
Consider this: When you speak to your partner, in what capacity do you identify your thoughts, feelings, perspectives or desires, and share that with our partner in a way that is non-blaming, non-attacking, & non-accusing? It doesn’t have to be all these things at the same time, but just some aspect depending on what the situation is calling for. This is an honest sharing of oneself, an accessing of oneself beneath the personality type structure.
Our Type can influence how we navigate this role.
For instance, do I seek harmony or accommodation so it’s difficult to voice to my partner what’s important to me?
Or do I not express myself in an authentic way because I’m worried my partner won’t like what they see?
Or do I share my perspectives and opinions, but it’s in a critical or domineering way so my partner doesn’t truly hear me?
We can see how each of those possibilities could lead to pain, misunderstanding and disconnection when speaking to our partner.
And now, consider this: When you listen to your partner, in what capacity do you hear and explore your partner’s thoughts, feelings, perspectives or desires, even if you don’t agree? How well do you work through your differences without caving in quickly, or without demanding you are right?
- For instance, am I so sure I know the right solution, so I push for my way and don’t make room for my partner?
- Do I quickly shut them down because what they are saying causes me shame or anxiety?
- Or do I cave in and quickly just agree with my partner without considering what I really feel?
Again, we can see how each of those possibilities could lead to pain, misunderstanding and disconnection when listening to our partner.
Let’s look at the speaking role with our partner first, and how the strategy of Type can be problematic. I will randomly select Type 1 to illustrate.
The way in which Type 1 shares desires with their partner can feel critical or parental, such as, “Why am I always the one having to make sure everything is done? You just don’t involve yourself enough, you leave it all up to me. It must be nice to not have to worry about these things!”
The Type 1 intends for their words to illicit empathy from their partner, along with an agreement that the frustrating behavior will change. However, this almost never happens because the Type 1 isn’t aware of how stressful their communication style feels to their partner who experiences being “scolded.” Meanwhile, the partner is too busy feeling “scolded” to appreciate and truly hear the needs of the Type 1. It feels like a parent/child dynamic for both partners.
So, progress doesn’t happen and the couple is stuck and distanced. This is an example of a frustrating pattern that repeats itself over and over again.
However, when the Type 1 can integrate their growth point of 7 and thereby loosening the “rigidity” in which they communicate and how they see themselves and their world, it becomes possible to say instead something like, “when you pick up around the house, it makes me feel like I matter to you because I know it doesn’t come easy for you. I also feel like you care about me and it allows for me to relax and to be more affectionate with you.” This leads the partner to participate more in the spirit of wanting to be giving, instead of from a place that feels like “obeying.” When the 1 can shift the way they speak to their partner from a parental to an adult place, they will no longer continue to elicit the frustration of a parent-child dynamic in their relationship.
That is just one small example of how the habits of each type can impact the way we speak with our partner, thereby unknowingly keeping the relationship distanced and stuck.
Now let’s look at the listening role with our partner, and how the strategy of Type can be problematic. I will randomly select Type 5 to illustrate.
When listening to their partner, 5’s can come across as unresponsive, unaffected or passive. Without an expression of empathy, the partner concludes that the 5 simply doesn’t care. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I will illustrate this with an example:
Partner: Well? I just told you what I am upset about, why are you saying so little?”
Type 5: I don’t know what to say.
Partner: Well, be empathetic with me.
Type 5: That feels too disingenuine and awkward (the 5 doesn’t express empathy for their partner in a way that is gushing or feels fake)
Michelle: “Type 5”, can you understand why your partner is upset? Does it make sense to you intellectually?
Type 5: Yes.
Michelle: Great, tell your partner about that in a way that is genuine for you- it’s ok if it feels a bit awkward.
Type 5 (to partner): I understand why you are upset. It makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t like that you are upset. (Note from Michelle – accessing some healthy assertion from 8 to bring them forward and engage more).
Partner: Really?? That helps. I didn’t know you understood. I thought you have been thinking I am crazy. I feel validated now. It makes a huge difference when you say that to me. (this response from Partner encourages the 5 to continue to share more.)
In conclusion: Guiding individuals to access the higher side of their growth points can lead to more connection, closeness, understanding and emotional intimacy in their relationships. It’s important to note that these shifts are developmental – not behavioral – which means it’s a process that gets strengthened over time. Let’s use this knowledge to call forth mutual patience, encouragement and support in relationships with all our loved ones.
Wishing you the very best, in all your relationships!
Michelle Joy, MFT
Bio: Michelle Joy, MFT is a licensed marriage family therapist and a certified Enneagram Teacher. She has been helping couples for almost 2 decades by combining the Developmental Model of Couples Therapy (via The Couples Institute) and the Enneagram, an approach that she named, “The Enneagram & Development for Couples©.”
Michelle was a selected speaker at the 2019 International Enneagram Conference for her presentation, “Couples & The Enneagram.” She currently serves as an “Enneagram and Developmental Model Expert” in an online training class for couples via The Couples Institute, which has thousands of members from all over the world. Michelle also leads Enneagram workshops for couples and trainings for therapists, including both local and long distance Enneagram & Relationship Study groups at MichelleJoyMFT.com