You know your wife’s love language is physical touch and yours is acts of service, that she’s the passionate Scorpio to your intuitive Cancer and that her confident ESTJ Myers-Briggs type fits juuuust right with your dependable ISTJ. When things are good, they’re great. But why is it that when you fight it feels like the end of the world? Maybe you’re fighting wrong.
Though conflict with your partner is par for the course, doing it productively can not only make your relationship more resilient, it can also help water the nooks and crannies of your partnership that don’t always see the light. So how do you fight better? It’s all about knowing your Enneagram combination. We spoke to Enneagram expert and founder of Your Enneagram Coach, Beth McCord, on how to do just that.
What exactly is the Enneagram?
Per McCord, the Enneagram is essentially a map for personal growth based on nine basic personality types (“Ennea” means nine and “gram” means diagram). This map describes why we think, feel and behave based upon our four Core Motivations. Your relationship’s “combination” is how your Type interacts with your partner’s. You can find your Enneagram Type by taking an assessment.
What are the four Core Motivations?
“The four Core Motivations are the driving force behind why you do what you do,” says McCord. These are:
1. Core Longing: The message our heart longs to hear
2. Core Fear: What we're trying to prevent from happening
3. Core Desire: What we're striving for
4. Core Weakness: The issue our personality always struggles with
How do these Motivations interact with each other? “We are always trying to fulfill our Core Longing,” McCord explains. “But in the process, we are also running away from our Type's Core Fear, running toward our Type's Core Desire, and stumbling over our Type's Core Weakness.” So, if we can understand our Core Motivations, we can navigate our inner lives in the best direction for our Type. “This leads to a healthier you, stronger relationships and more clarity in your calling and career.”
How do Enneagram combinations play out in real life?
Each Enneagram Type is unique and receives love differently. Even though you may try to love your partner how you would like to be loved, that might not be their wants or needs. This is called the Enneagram Dance: Sometimes it’s a beautiful, elegant waltz, and other days you're stepping on each other's toes (and slamming doors).
McCord shares an example from her own life: “My husband, Jeff, is a 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. 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. When he tries to discuss something hard, I can withdraw because of the tension. Then he feels abandoned, which is one of his core fears, so he gets more anxious. He needs security and the certainty that we are okay, but as he gets more intense, he activates my core fear of tension and conflict, and I start to shut down even more.”
See the dance? McCord’s example illustrates how easily her relationship can go from the waltz to stepping on each other’s toes. And this is true for every partnership, which is why she emphasizes the importance of understanding your own inner world and the Core Motivations of others.
How can you fight healthier and resolve conflict in the Enneagram Dance?
That dance you and your significant other are doing can be a toxic pattern that you get stuck in. And breaking that pattern is key to getting back to the harmonious waltz you both love. When you and your partner try to understand each other’s Enneagram Type, you can more clearly see their longing, fear, desire and weakness, which means that you’ll be more equipped to offer support within the healthy boundaries of your specific Type’s needs.
McCord refers back to her own marriage to show what she means: “When: “When I see Jeff starting to feel anxious, more intense, and passionate, I can say, ‘Hey, I can see this is really affecting you, but I feel the need to shut down or withdraw. Can you give me 15 minutes alone? We can talk about this later. We are OK.’ 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. By speaking each other's Type-specific language, we both feel cared for and understood. It doesn't work perfectly every time, but at least we're trying to love each other the way we need to be loved.”
Remember: There are 45 potential Enneagram combinations, and each one will require its own “dance.”
Are there any “bad” or “good” Enneagram combinations?
“All 45 Enneagram combinations have their own set of positive traits and problems. It comes down to your level of awareness and your willingness to grow, recognize where you've been wrong and repair the relationship,” explains McCord. Here, she breaks down some potential Enneagram combinations and how they might interact based on their unique attributes and liabilities:
Type 3 and Type 8
This is going to be a power couple. Both Types are assertive, natural leaders and get things accomplished, but in that forward motion, they will sometimes disagree and run each other over in order to get what they want.
Type 4 and Type 5
An incredibly creative couple, this duo sees the world in ways others don’t and can inspire people with their creative projects. But both are withdrawn Types and struggle to share their gifts, so they have to work hard to stay connected.
Type 1 and Type 6
Both very responsible and helpful, 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.
There isn’t an ideal or worse-case scenario combination—but every pairing does have the potential to be healthy and flourishing. It’s all about understanding your Ennegram, your partner’s and dancing (and fighting) along the way.