In honor of Valentine’s Day, why not write about the Enneagram and relationships? Every time I work with companies on the business applications of Enneagram, someone always asks me this question: Which Enneagram styles have the best [romantic, enduring, most satisfying] relationships with each other?
And I always give the same answer: “Just as no style has a monopoly on leadership greatness, so it is that any two Enneagram styles can have a relationship that suits them. It really depends on what they want from a relationship. What matters most is that both individuals are at a similar level of self-mastery (psychological development): high, medium, or low.”
When both individuals are low in self-mastery – that is, they are highly reactive, tend to blame others for their own predicaments, and engage in highly limited self-reflection – the relationship will be predictably volatile with a great deal of arguing, drama, and blame. But for some people, this dynamic may feel like love to them.
When both individuals have medium self-mastery – for example, they are self-aware to a degree, but primarily when they are under great duress; for the most part, they go about their daily lives with limited time for or interest in self-reflection – they typically have what most of us would call “normal” relationships. These are filled with ups and downs, phases of joy and times of difficulty, satisfaction at certain moments and dissatisfaction at others.
But when two individuals are high in self- mastery — demonstrating an ongoing commitment to their own awareness and growth — they take responsibility for their own behavior, are aware and articulate about their own feelings and thoughts, and engage in limited blame of others. These relationships enhance both people, fostering their continued development, increasing expansiveness, and their individuality.
What doesn’t work well is when the two individuals are at different levels of self-mastery or when one partner is growing much faster than the other, leaving him or her far behind. These unbalanced relationships ultimately leave both people deeply dissatisfied.
But, the Enneagram can help predict who individuals tend to be attracted to for long-term relationships and why they are attracted to one another. In general, although people of the same style may like each another, they are often so similar that there is not enough difference to ignite what is termed “chemistry.” At the same time, people are attracted to others whom they understand and who they believe understand them. As a result, people are often attracted to people of their wings (the styles on either side numerically of their own style) or arrows (the style numbers pointing toward or away from their own style through arrow lines). This is because we often possess some of the characteristics of our wing and arrow styles, and this creates a common ground of understanding.
There are also some attractions between two styles that share neither wings nor arrows. Some of the most common are Twos and Fives, Fours and Sevens, Fours and Eights, and Sixes and Eights. The Two-Five attraction is often based on the Five liking the Two’s warmth and focus on the relationship — something Fives exhibit intermittently – and the Two relishing being the one who can draw the Five out for interpersonal engagement. This same basis for attraction can also become the cause of tension, with Fives feeling invaded by Twos and Twos feeling they are being shut out by the Five.
Fours and Sevens may be drawn to one another on the basis of their common avoidance of boredom, their pleasure in creativity and adventure, and the idea that “opposites attract.” Fours believe that enduring pain and suffering is part of the human experience, while Sevens perceive these things as negative experiences that can and should be avoided, usually through positive thinking. In the long run, however, Sevens can feel dragged down by Fours, and Fours can view Sevens as avoidant and not serious enough.
The Four-Eight relationship will undoubtedly be intense and involve high drama as both Fours and Eights like to engage their partners with full steam ahead, although Fours can eventually feel overwhelmed by the Eight’s energy, and Eights can end up perceiving Fours as overly vulnerable and sensitive. The Six-Eight relationship most often occurs between phobic (fearful) Sixes and Eights, with the Eight relishing the role of being the Six’s protector and the Six appreciating having the Eight as a source of refuge and safety. But what happens when the Six no longer wants or needs protection?
To have a healthy, satisfying relationship, the place to start is really with yourself. Once you are on the development road, you attract people closer to your level of self-mastery, and you tend to be more attracted to people who are also working on themselves. You can give yourself the self-mastery gift for Valentine’s Day, rather than waiting for cupid’s arrow to strike you. Cupid has been known to misfire.