Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Owning Up*

As follow-up to exploring how both partners in a relationship contribute to interaction patterns ("Hands Off"), the following exercises will be most useful if both partners complete and discuss them.

Nonetheless, it's possible for one of you to significantly change your relationship if you think through and write down your responses to the following:
First, What is characteristic of you in regard to intimacy? (a) Think of a recent situation with your partner where your characteristic behavior played out. Run through it mentally from the beginning. (b) Now think of another situation. And another. (c) What do these three situations have in common? What do you notice about yourself and intimacy?
Second, identify ten things that annoy you about your partner. For each, explore: (a) What is your reaction to your partner's behavior? (b) How do you provoke that behavior?
Next, describe five painful situations that have occurred in your relationship: (a) What were the consequences for you? (b) What was your responsibility in each situation?(c) What keeps the situation alive for you (what is the pay-off in the present)? Examples are illusion of control, getting a charge from the anger, not having to face your own fear of intimacy, etc.
Finally, describe ten positive characteristics of your partner and the effect of each on your relationship. Reflect on how you might integrate more gratitude into your relationship and into your life.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Enneagram: A Compelling Vision

Susan Olesek's TED talk on behalf of the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP), Both Sides of the Bars, is the most compelling Enneagram presentation I've ever seen, for her own transparency, for her clarity and vision, for her compelling examples, for her intelligent presentation, and most of all for the power of her presence. This is the finest example of how life-changing the Enneagram can be in the hands of someone on an authentic spiritual journey.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Loop the Loop

What do I mean by a "systems approach" to relationships? An analogy is our natural environment, where we easily understand two key principles. 
A stable environment tends to maintain stability (homeostasis). For example, when sunlight is plentiful and atmospheric temperature climbs, phytoplankton on the ocean's surface thrive and produce more dimethyl sulfide (DMS); the DMS molecules in turn increase cloud condensation, and the increasing number of clouds lowers the temperature of the atmosphere. 

Changes in one part of the environment will affect others parts. Think of what happened with the introduction of kudzu, jokingly referred to as "the vine that ate the South." Kudzu was brought to the U.S. from China in an effort to control erosion, but these non-native vines spread rapidly and killed many trees by shading them with leaves.
Those who introduced kudzu to a non-native environment were using what's referred to as "single-loop learning": Hey, this plant grows quickly and would stabilize some ground that's eroding. Let's try it! "Double-loop learning" would have been to consider that basic assumption in light of a bigger picture, the environment into which the kudzu would grow, whether or not it would have natural boundaries or constraints similar to those in its natural environment.

You can use the same principles in your relationships:
What do you do that continues to maintain homeostasis, even when you don't like the results? If your spouse expects you to manage the finances, for example, and you'd rather not, do you grouse as you balance the checkbook, or do you step back and ask Wait a minute, why does this keep happening even though I complain? Clearly my grousing isn't changing anything.

What have you introduced into a key relationship, thinking it would have a positive result, only to find it made things worse? For example, one of the Love Languages is "acts of service." I have a client who wanted more intimacy with her partner, and kept doing little things for him that showed her love. Instead, he withdrew more and more, interpreting these acts as implicit criticism that he couldn't do those things for himself. His Love Language is "words." All she needed to do was tell him what she loves about him, but until they stepped back and examined their assumptions about "love," her attempts to fix the problem were only making it worse.

What's Good Enough?

Several of my clients have been looking at their marriages lately, for a variety of reasons. One couple -- while their marriage is already more than good enough -- wanted some fine-tuning and gave rave reviews of a workshop I recommended with Drs. John and Julie Gottman in Seattle, "The Art and Science of Love." 

With a client who wants to refresh her marriage, we began exploring "what's good enough?" I learned about this concept from Carolyn Bartlett, who uses it in
The Enneagram Field Guide. Initially coined by psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, "good enough" describes a nurturing relationship that provides the basic safety, love, mirroring, and containment needed by a developing child. It's also a template for effective therapy. And we can easily extend it to effective partnering in adult relationships.

Interestingly, healthy "containment" is not restrictive. Quite the opposite: the term refers to an emotional, mental, and spiritual space where both partners are available, expansive, and secure; where both feel calm and safe; where each can experience and express perspectives and emotions -- with the expectation of support and comfort, and without fear of judgment or rejection.

Clearly, this definition of "good enough" does not mean compromising or lowering standards. It simply recognizes the fact that no human being and no partnership of any kind is or has to be perfect. And it inspires open communication to make sure each partner's needs are being met.

In "Bad Relationships: Change your Role and the Rules of Engagement," Dr. Tara J. Palmatier quotes Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:" criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Palmatier suggests two scenarios that can have "mutually satisfying, long-term relationship outcomes" (the remaining eight are "either 'get out now' or 'live a life of resignation' outcomes"). In response to your concerns, your partner could:

  1. Hear what you say, be accountable, respect your feelings, and actively try to change.
  2. Hear what you say, be accountable, respect your feelings, communicate which of your behaviors are contributing to the situation, and you both actively try to change.
From a systemic view, I prefer the second scenario, and suggest that you also (1) look together at how the pattern operates that you've created together, and (2) agree on an interesting and inventive way to interrupt the pattern. Michelle Weiner-Davis addresses this in Divorce Busting, especially Chapter 6: "Breaking the Habit: Interrupting Destructive Patterns."

Forget everything you thought you knew about change

Greg was a college professor who loved mental gymnastics but wasn't very comfortable with emotions. He especially dreaded extended family holidays because his wife Suzanne thought his relatives were cold and arrogant, and invariably a member of his family would say something that upset her during their visit. She would then go into what he called "a dramatic meltdown." Greg's response? He didn't want to talk about it with Suzanne; he wanted to hide. This upset her even more, which increased his desire to withdraw. Greg wanted Suzanne to stop reacting "so emotionally." She wanted him to "quit being so intellectual and support her."

I asked Greg to think of a way to go with the pattern instead of trying to avoid it; he suggested to Suzanne that they find a private space and take ten minutes every hour, when with his family, so she could vent and he would take her feelings seriously.
Greg loved the idea of expecting and planning time for Suzanne to blow off steam, because he wouldn't be distracted wondering when or how it might happen. Suzanne responded positively because he was acknowledging her right to her feelings about his family.

As it turned out, they didn't need to take ten minutes every hour. Just knowing they could do it was freeing. "That outing," Greg later said, "turned out to be our very best family visit. While we hoped to be able to make it through two days, we actually stayed three days extra."

More in Out of the Box Self-Coaching Workbook.


Hands Off

Often when we experience relationship problems we conclude it's the other person who's "touchy," "unreliable," "critical," etc. Operating from this premise, you may unwittingly attempt solutions that reinforce or even exaggerate the perceived problem.

Let's say Anne and Bill have a family business and Anne, a perfectionist, thinks Bill gives employees too much autonomy. 

Anne presses Bill to be more hands-on, questioning him frequently and in detail. Bill doesn't keep her posted on the ways he is hands-on because "She'll just nit-pick anyway." This confirms Anne's belief that Bill isn't paying enough attention to details, which leads her to follow up more frequently. Bill responds by retreating even more, leading Anne to check in even more, and so on. 

Instead, they could reframe the situation as an interaction problem:
  • Problems that occur between people are situational difficulties -- both are doing something to maintain the problem.
  • It's normal and appropriate to resist attempts by another to "fix" us; such so-called resistance is more usefully labeled as a source of energy when released for positive purposes.
  • It may seem paradoxical, but going with the other person's energy is much more likely to make a difference than lecturing, advising, or scolding.
This approach requires relationship partners to develop the ability to:
  1. focus on observable behaviors in the interaction (vs. only the behavior of the other person),
  2. do something to alter the interaction (as opposed to trying to change the other person).
A particularly interesting application of this concept relies on the paradox of going with a behavior in order to change it. Following this premise, Anne could release the positive potential of Bill's management style by saying something such as "I respect your value of trusting our employees to do their jobs well. Let's talk about how we can help them be more autonomous." This is a win-win situation:
  • If Bill "resists" Anne's suggestion, he becomes more "hands-on," increasing his oversight of employees and eliminating her basis for criticism.
  • If they work out standards that ensure employees do their jobs without frequent follow-up, again there is no longer a basis for Anne's complaint.
For more about this approach, read The Tactics of Change, by Fisch, Weakland, and Segal.

"How," not "Why," is the Question

To more fully understand the couple in the Plus ça change blog entry, it helps to know that people with the husband's personality -- referred to as "style Nine" in the Enneagram personality system -- tend to go along with others' ideas, yet feel unspoken resentment when they stifle their own agenda. At the same time, they are peacemakers and want to be reassured that even their unexpressed annoyance has not created a disruption.

Thus the husband wanted to snuggle up to his wife, who was very aware of his "pouting" and didn't feel so inclined.

Those of the wife's personality -- referred to as "style Eight" in the Enneagram -- typically have plenty of ideas but often succumb temporarily to their enthusiasms and/or forget to include their partners. This couple might have been drawn together initially because of their mutual comfort with the wife providing structure, then both began to feel some pain from that same dynamic.

What's fascinating about this couple is that we did not spend time exploring their personality styles so they could understand why they were having difficulty. Instead, I asked questions to help them look closely at what each of them did and said, so they could see how they were unwittingly feeding their interactive pattern. This works in the same way as interrupting a personal pattern. You look carefully at how the pattern operates, then find a way to playfully interrupt it, so it loses its "juice."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

You've no doubt heard the epigram first made public in January 1849 by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, founder and editor of Les Guêpes:
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Usually translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same," plus ça change refers to what happens when we attempt to resolve problems within the paradigm in which they were created. What does this mean in everyday terms? To borrow again from the French:
On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs.
Translation: "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." I'm tempted to leave you with these powerful metaphors. But, I'll illustrate how plus ça change became the code for a married couple to interrupt an interaction pattern that was frustrating to both of them - to "break the eggs" they'd both been hatching and create a new "omelette."

This had been their pattern: When the husband perceived the wife as "interrupting" in conversation, he would shut down and "pout" (according to the wife). The wife, annoyed that he would blame her instead of speaking up for himself, kept talking while pulling back emotionally. He saw her withdrawing emotionally, wanted to have peace between them, so bypassed his feeling of being ignored and tried to draw physically closer. She felt "schizophrenic" - "He's critical and wants to get closer? Doesn't compute!"

In the past, the pattern had been the opportunity for each to give "feedback" to the other, not realizing that his telling her she interrupted, and her telling him he should speak up if he so desired, fed the plus ça change pattern so that it kept occurring, over and over. When they looked at their interaction systemically and saw how both of them kept it going the way it always had (plus c'est la même chose), they stepped back, let go of blame, and agreed that whoever saw the pattern occurring would simply say, "Plus ça change..."

A Partnership Model

An Enneagram style Six leader and her team met to define a leadership model reflecting their values as supporters of abused women. They made explicit the characteristics of a traditional power-based system, contrasted with their own vision of an equality-based system -- a true partnership:


Power-Based Systems
(control behavior)*
Don't share feelings 
Don't take a stand
Don't accept criticism
Don't listen to others
Don't depend on others
Don't admit mistakes
Cover up skill deficiencies 
    (or fear of them)
Break promises/agreements
Withhold information
Equality-Based Systems
(resilience, harmony, meaning)
Be self-disclosing 
State opinions openly
Share accountability for problems
Acknowledge what others say, feel
Give importance to all agendas
Admit mistakes, fears, not knowing
Be consistent, honor agreements
Give time to process: 
   - Descriptive feedback
   - "I" statements

*"Control is a form of addition, used to deny our fears."
See also Riane Eisler's Partnership Politics ("The partnership and domination systems not only give us names for different ways of relating but also explain what lies behind these differences.")

A Parallel Universe

I have great zeal for helping my clients learn how to interact more effectively instead of vying for power and control. But frankly, we often don't see how our own behavior plays a role in the difficulties that arise in relationships.

Instead, we tend to blame others for their behavior.
We lose sight of the fact that the very act of "blaming" makes us players in the power game. In The Fifth Discipline Peter Senge describes how the underlying structure of a human system "causes its own behavior."

We have the power to alter these structures and create new patterns, but our interaction systems are subtle: we usually don't see the structures at play. In particular we don't see how our own behavior helps maintain the status quo in relationships.

Changing such patterns requires a complete change in context -- we must step into a parallel universe of human interaction where the old, unexamined rules no longer compel us to act in certain ways, where we ask new questions:
  • "What's behind this other person's behavior?"
  • "What am I doing that keeps this dysfunctional pattern of interaction repeating itself?"
  • "What could the pay-off possibly be for me to have things remain the same?"
  • "How might either of us do something different?"

Romancing the Shadow

Most intimate relationships have some version of this story: one partner (or both) turns the other into a parental figure. . . We call this downward negative spiral the roller-coaster ride because the lovers get on at the same place, seem to spin out of control, but end up getting off at the same placeand nothing has really changed. (p. 158, Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zweig, Ph.D. and Steve Wolf, Ph.D.)

Whatever their other reasons to seek coaching, more than half my clients have relationship issueswhether married or single. I'm not a therapist or credentialed in relationship coaching, so stick mostly to helping them look at personality styles and subtype dynamics in their relationships.

However, Romancing the Shadow is full of practical advice for Jungian shadow work personally and in relationships of all kinds (as well as at work and in mid-life). So I'm culling out a few gems on how we bring parental complexes to our relationships.

First, I'll admit I can see I married my father, thinking I'd found his opposite. Dad, a style Eight on the Enneagram, was a military officer and stern disciplinarian, with whom I always felt a distance. I remember agonizing rides while he drove me places in early high school, where neither of us could think of a word to say to the other. Dad wore his toughness on the outside, so when I met my first husband I was immediately taken by his quiet demeanor and intelligence. A style Five, I now believe (he's long deceased), he was sweetly romantic while we were courting, and we talked at length about ideas, but that personality style's tendency to hoard emotions began before long to feel very much like interacting with my father. 

Unfortunately I was young and naive, hadn't studied psychology yet, and was years away from learning the Enneagram, so in my eyes he was "the problem," having no notion that projections of my own shadow were keeping me from seeing that relationship as an opportunity for consciousness.

In their analysis of one couple, Zweig and Wolf suggest "The couple's parental complexes are shadow-boxing with each other. . . they can put on the brakes only by taking responsibility for their own feelings, romancing their projections, and moving out of the past into present time." 

The solution, of course, lies in waking up, first acknowledging that no one person is "the problem;" both people contribute their part to feed the self-fulfilling downward spiral. Then being alert for cues that one's own shadow has been hooked andinstead of reacting as usualdoing something different: describing what's happening inside you and asking for space or support or conversation to help you move through it in a way that doesn't perpetuate the cycle. 

I don't take these suggestions lightly, nor do I expect you to do so. But what relationship have you ever had that was easy, day after day, year after year? You know the pain of compromise, you know the depression of defeat. Romancing the Shadow will help you engage in the disquieting task of shadow work, and find true relationship in the process.
Seeing itmeeting the shadowis the important first step. Learning to live with itromancing the shadowis a lifelong challenge.

Mutual Development with the Enneagram

No matter how deep our individual developmental work, it's only truly tested in relationship. And it's a beauty of the Enneagram that we more easily see the interaction patterns among different personalities. 

We know how each of us views the world through a particular filter, each has characteristic ways of interacting; and responses from the other eight will vary with each. 

So an Eight/Nine couple might be drawn together initially because of their mutual comfort with the Eight's providing structure, then both begin to feel some pain from that same dynamic. Style Eight has plenty of ideas but may forget to include Nine, who hasn't initiated any ideas. Nine goes along with Eight, then obsesses over being left out. Over time, Eight's exhausted from having to "hold up the world" (a belief they create and sustain, of course). Nine's equally tired of feeling "invisible" (ditto).

The gift in mutual development is not having either partner on the hot spot because both are learning about themselves within the relationship. This does require courage, however—to take personal responsibility for the relationship, to deepen our own self-awareness, to accept and integrate parts of ourselves we have not wanted to know and see, moving attention away from how we and our partner should be and toward who we are.
Step 1: Each share with the other your understanding of your Enneagram style in general and how, specifically, that plays out for you. What doesn't fit for you about that personality point? What are your gifts? What problems do you think your motivations and behavior do or could create in the relationship? Ask each other for feedback and listen to it.
Step 2: Create a clear picture of what the transformed relationship will look like and commit yourselves to learning as you go. Pick two or three areas of mutual development (don't overwhelm yourselves with too many promises); set some priorities and work on them one at a time.
Step 3: Be alert to how you get in the way of your own progress and stay committed to the transformation—notice and affirm each other for the ways in which you stick to the plan. When one or the other of you gets hooked into an old reaction, instead of placing blame, try to understand how it happened and what either of you could do the next time to keep from getting caught up in the old pattern.
Examples: 

How these steps might work with styles Nine and One.

How styles Eight and Two could improve their relationship.

A style Four is divorcing a style One. 

Four/Five relationship issues.

A couple with styles Four and Six adopt a child. 

Mutual development with styles Six and Nine

Dynamics of Eight/Six patterns in relationship.

Dynamics of Eight/Eight relationship patterns.

A couple interrupts a Nine/Eight interaction pattern.

And a bit about styles Three and Seven at work.



Alter the Interaction, Not the Other Person

How often when you're having relationship problems, do you focus on how "touchy," "unreliable," "critical" etc. the other person is? 

Operating from this premise, you may have unwittingly attempted solutions that continue or even exaggerate the perceived problem.

Let's say someone sees her spouse as not hands-on enough in their family business – she thinks he gives employees too much leeway.
She questions her husband frequently and in detail.
As a consequence, he doesn't tell her about what he does that's hands-on because he believes She'll just nit-pick anyway.
This confirms her belief that he isn't paying enough attention to details, which leads her to follow up more frequently.
He responds by retreating even more, leading her to check in even more, and so on.
In contrast, you can reframe the situation as an interaction problem. A fundamental premise of this approach is that problems in relationships persist only if maintained by both people – not only the one identified as having the problem:
  • Problems that occur between people are situational difficulties – both are doing something to maintain the problem. 
  • It's normal and appropriate to resist attempts by another to "fix" us; such so-called resistance can become a source of energy with positive potential.
  • It may seem paradoxical, but going with the other person's energy is much more likely to make a difference than lecturing, advising, or scolding.
You can shift focus from what's wrong with the other person to how you both contribute to a self-fulfilling problem. To do this requires two critical skills: 
  1. Focus on observable behaviors in the interaction (vs. only the behavior of the other person).
  2. Do something to alter the interaction (as opposed to trying to change the other person).
Ideally, both partners in the interaction would talk about the self-fulfilling pattern and decide together how they can interrupt it and do something different.Sometimes, though, one of the partners isn't willing to do this. It's still possible for one of them to break the cycle.

Paradoxically, changes we seek in other people are more likely to occur if we first accept those people as they are. A particularly interesting application of this concept relies on the paradox of going with a behavior in order to change it. 

Following this premise, the person above could reframe the negative connotation of "not being hands-on enough" and say something like this: "I like the idea of being able to trust our employees to do their jobs well. Let's figure out an approach that gives them more autonomy and doesn't require our checking in on them."


(For a full description of this approach see The Paradoxical Approach to Problem Solving)

It Takes Three to Tango

 (the two who dance together, and the dance instructor)
I'm counseling a couple to build a healthy relationship. An inventory on this couple suggested she's an Enneagram Two and Six (split) and he's an Eight. What will be the best techniques to use employing the Enneagram with this couple?
First a caveat: I'm not a therapist. I'm a social psychologist and a good process observer who often uses the Enneagram. I like coaching couples about their Enneagram interaction dynamics because there's immediate feedback. I can help them see these dynamics in action instead of relying on how they tell me they interact. It's very effective to be able to say, "Let's stop a minute and take a look at what just happened..." or "...at what A just said to B..."

Because they learn about themselves as they explore their interaction dynamics, individuals can improve their relationships to some degree without the other member of the partnership present, but that's not quite as powerful, because we can fool ourselves about how well we apply something we've learned. That same deficit is present in anything I might say to this reader because I'm not actually seeing this couple in interaction, playing out their Enneagram dynamics in their own unique way.

But there are some guidelines for effective counseling with the Enneagram. First, I'd be curious to know which inventory this reader used. Many people rely on written instruments, or at least use them as supplements to determine Enneagram style. Because I've seen so many individuals mistyped using written instruments, I find it much more fruitful to let clients themselves determine their Enneagram styles by distinguishing among all nine. This helps them take ownership and reduces their defensiveness. More important, they become clear that many behaviors are shared by more than one style, and they eventually center on the one that represents their primary driving force. While it's common that Sixes think they might be Twos when they're first learning the Enneagram, Twos usually know they're not Sixes:
The driving force of style Two is pride -- there's a tendency to influence indirectly, to be somewhat manipulative and/or seductive, and to have a great deal of difficulty focusing on their own needs, particularly how they may contribute to relationship problems. Twos like to align themselves with those in power, so if your client is style Two, she wouldn't necessarily be in conflict just because her partner is style Eight. This is often a sexually expressive combination as long as style Two is focused on satisfying style Eight's needs, but as time goes by she'll want much more emotional reassurance than style Eights typically think is necessary.
The driving force of style Six is fear. Sixes have big-time issues with authority (which would be certain to come up with a style Eight partner), are pretty open with feelings and eager to learn about themselves, but may do some blaming of partners that's often based on projection. Early in their relationship style Six would typically seek style Eight's protection, but later would begin to see the other as a bully. If your client is style Six, she might well be looking for more equality in the relationship, as well as intimacy.
When you're the counselor, style Eight will want you to tell it like it is, no matter how raw or profane, as long as you let him know you care about him in spite of his rough edges. I don't mean you say this to him, but rather show your appreciation: by laughing at his jokes, by not being intimidated. At the end of the first day with a style Eight client, after showing his delight with my very direct feedback he walked with me to the gate at the airport and, when we shook hands in parting, held the hand I extended with both of his hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Mary, thank you for caring." 

About working with style Right, Suzanne Zuercher (Enneagram Companions) writes:
"Once a trusting atmosphere exists, 8s respond to the director's suggestions about how to gain insight… As they become more free and less fearful they open to methods of interior work with the same gusto they display in other areas of living… All of this energy… will frighten 8s; often they will project this fear onto directors, being tempted to hold their feeling back lest their directors not be strong enough to bear it… Strength but not aggression, power but not contest, honesty but not ruthlessness are what 8s look for in a director."
Twos, on the other hand, are highly relational, want to be in on everything, and will want a relationship with you. Counselors need to be sure they don't let style Two's focus on the counselor's needs take over. I've had meetings with business clients where I had to mentally slap my head when I realized we'd spent the first 15 minutes talking about my life. Style Twos may focus on the other person to avoid dealing with their own needs. It helps to ask the simple question, "What do you need?" or to gently point out how helpful she is and how that pattern at the same time gets in her way. 

Zuercher also notes how likely it is style Two will make flattering remarks to keep the counselor away from uncomfortable topics. She then writes:
"…directors find it hard to cut through superficiality, reporting, and wordiness with their 2 directees… probably best dealt with by pointing out to the 2 what has just taken place, leaving comments on that observation for the directee to make. Many times 2s are not aware of what they are doing and having it described helps them recognize their fear of acknowledging the unpleasant."
Style Sixes, because of their watchfulness for others' power tactics, may engage in a push-pull interaction with a counselor. In a class I taught on building relationships with the Enneagram, I asked participants to state an intention for their own transformation. A style Six said, "You're the expert, I'd like for you to tell me what I should focus on." 

My answer? "That would be a death sentence for both of us."(If you respond to a Six's request for advice, you become the authority to rebel against. It's vital they find their own power.)

When she asked what I meant by "a death sentence, I said, "What do you think it might mean, given the dynamics of style Six?" 

"That I'm the expert on myself?" she said, tentatively. 

"Sounds like you're on to something," I concluded. 

Reflective Action: Enneagram Six and Nine Partnerships

Mutuality 

We all want mutually satisfying relationships that nurture our potential and help us find purpose in life, relationships in which we listen and are listened to, know and are known, where we release attempts to manipulate, share our true selves, acknowledge each other as unique and valuable individuals, and are willing to learn, grow, and change in response to the other's development: a dynamic process where the relationship is continually recreated. 

However, partners come to relationship from different worldviews. Some may resist giving up control; others may fear sharing their needs. The Enneagram is a helpful tool to clarify interpersonal patterns. Understanding the nine different styles can help us recognize our special gifts and areas of growth, better understand our partners, and appreciate the potential in each for higher human capacities. 

Any Enneagram combination will bring complementary gifts as well as the potential to exaggerate each style's down side. Here, you'll learn how to create specific actions that are mutually enhancing, whatever the combination of styles.
For example, if you're style Three interacting with style Eight you might find that both of you (for different reasons) are out of touch with your emotional side. It would be mutually developmental to practice and reinforce each other for active listening.
Or if you're style Two (highly relational) interacting with style Five (highly independent) you both would benefit from exploring your differences, agreeing the Two will give the Five a little more space and the Five will accede to the Two's desire for a bit more interaction.
Focusing on mutual development can accelerate personal growth and transform a relationship. The possibilities are illustrated here with Six and Nine partners. 

Style Six  

Enneagram Sixes are relationship-oriented and motivated to feel secure. At their best they're loyal, likable, caring, warm, compassionate, witty, practical, helpful, and responsible. They're energetic, with a devotion to the common good, and they attend to interdependent needs. What style Sixes personify for all of us is the fear and caution we feel when our security is invaded. Typically, they felt powerless as children to influence their own fate. Consequently, they've developed a radar system that leads to high empathy, sometimes to an astonishing degree (it may feel like ESP). On the down side, they tend to check for hidden agendas in their interactions, and their assumptions are not always correct.

Sixes may either procrastinate making decisions or second-guess the decisions they have made. This is because what's "best" tends to be defined in terms of others' wishes or expectations. They too often question their own ideas or even their own competence, especially if challenged. As children, they learned to communicate from a one-down position, and they tend to carry this power-under stance into adulthood, often giving power to others, particularly those in perceived authority roles or whom they believe have higher competence. So it's a sign of growth to learn how to be interdependent, operating from a power-with perspective, a true partnership.

Sixes have two distinct expressions of fear. Some can be immobilized by fear and self-doubt (phobic), others fight against internal doubt by throwing caution to the winds (counterphobic). Most tend to challenge authority; they may decide it's honest to say whatever they feel at the moment and then worry they've somehow risked too much. For the most part, though, their candid communication is a model for others who tend to be less self-disclosing or less actively involved in a relationship. Consequently, self-aware Sixes are highly relationship-oriented people who can bring out the best in their partners, working tirelessly to make things better, always hoping the relationship can survive and flourish. This helps their intimates feel secure, knowing their partner will be sympathetic and without pretense. 

Style Nine 

Style Nines are motivated to keep peace and avoid conflict. At their best they're pleasant, peaceful, generous, patient, receptive, diplomatic, open-minded, and empathic. They honor diversity, nurture cooperation, and are typically skilled at building consensus. Unexamined Enneagram Nines tend to merge with others' agendas and to forget their own. They typically forget any childhood difficulties they experienced, and may be unaware of the degree to which they've allowed themselves and their wishes to become invisible, even to themselves.

From this history, when conflict arises they typically take an implicit power-under position, withdrawing or minimizing the importance of an apparent problem. This strategy can lead to a tamping down of emotions but also helps them develop the gift of artful negotiation: they're able to see situations from many points of view and to resolve issues by seeking an integrated perspective. 

In organizations, style Nines usually do very well until expected to be decisive, which is difficult because they truly do see all sides of an issue, and because they're unaccustomed to having their opinions valued. Though they typically seek consensus, they can become quite stubborn about opinions they do hold. In a personal relationship, Nines may seem difficult because they find it easier to focus on what they don't want. They may back off from conflict, unable to take a stand, except indirectly. The partner may long to be met half-way, to talk openly about difficulties, instead of meeting with obstinacy or passive-aggression.

If Nines go along with the partner's interests, even this can wear thin over time, as the partners become tired of always planning their time together. What under-developed Nines personify for all of us is our universal fear of and resistance to change: change requires confronting what the present situation lacks. A deep emotional fatigue sets in when unaware Nines are forced to deal with work overload or emotional stress, because being out of touch with what they want makes it difficult to act on their own priorities.

Well-developed Nines are serene and centered safe harbors for intimates. They're good listeners who accept partners as they are and help them see things from a broader perspective. Having worked through their avoidance of conflict, they deal with problems in a constructive fashion while retaining their gift of honoring diversity and differences. In this respect they're the epitome of cooperation and consensus.  

How Style Nine Sees Style Six 

Enneagram Sixes are quite aware of their own boundaries, so aren't a big threat to style Nines' fear of losing a sense of self. In spite of Nines' defensiveness when they feel discounted, they want very much to connect with others and be appreciated for their ideas. Sixes, with their personal radar, can be sensitive to style Nines' needs. When this pair relates with mutuality, Nines become more known to themselves because of Sixes' honesty.

Style Sixes, usually spontaneous and open with their feelings, can balance Nines' more laid-back style with a great deal of energy. This is a partnership where fighting can be fun. Nines may not know how to directly express their unhappiness with circumstances or people, and are stimulated to action by Sixes' willingness to state the obvious. In fact, style Six's tendency towards self-disclosure is a wonderful model for style Nine. This is particularly true when the two have a conflict: Nines can learn from Sixes' active willingness to take some risks and resolve their differences. 

How Style Six Sees Style Nine 

Enneagram Sixes learn to be more centered and self-referencing from serene Nines, which reduces their self-questioning and promotes a sense of peacefulness. Out of their power-under perspective, Sixes are on the alert for a "take-over," and tend to feel safe with Nines, who are not overtly interested in holding power.

Because Nines are calm and reassuring, they provide a model for living with more ease and tend to balance the Six's emotional intensity. Seeing Nines as a safe harbor, Sixes trust they're liked and allow their deeper selves to show. This can strengthen their belief in themselves and help them be their best selves. When things are going well, Nines are generous with their praise of Sixes' good qualities and contributions, which makes Sixes less likely to look for a hidden agenda and less defensive about discussing areas for improvement or greater self-awareness. Also, Nines can help Sixes to be less challenging or doubting of others, by offering alternative ways to view a situation.

Merging their strengths can lead to a partnership characterized by reflective action. Nines will reflect thoroughly on an issue, reviewing many perspectives before acting (if at all); Sixes are more likely to act without a great deal of reflection.  

Potential Problem Areas 

On the down side, style Nine's general tamping down of emotions is in contrast to style Six's emotional presence. Sixes can reach a height of emotion that seems disproportionate to Nines. Style Nine's withdrawal from difficulty often shows up in emotional apathy, physical fatigue, and/or illnesses such as chronic neck pain. Thus in the Nine's search for stability, the Six's response to the ever-changing present may feel like emotional whiplash. In fact, the Six is stating where s/he is for the moment, but the Nine may take that to be the Six's total reality and find it difficult to stay energized and engaged to match the Six's current state. 

Also, the very activeness that draws Nine to Six may cause difficulty. Sixes (who may seem constantly in motion over some perceived miscarriage of justice) may push Nines to become more active, which can feel like bossiness, and the Nine may express resentment or freeze in a state of inertia and stubbornness. 

From the perspective of style Six, Nines will seem too slow and deliberate. Style Six may want to engage in the moment and is likely to interpret style Nine's relative lack of response as disinterest. In trying to work through disagreements Sixes may be disappointed in Nines tendency to focus on the bright side or, worse, to remain silent or even withdraw. Over time, the Nine's accommodating quality may give way to a desire to "fix" the Six. This could well show up as criticizing the Six for being so tenacious and/or blaming others. 



The Container of Soul: Mutuality and the Enneagram*

Understanding your Enneagram style is a powerful tool to enhance your personal effectiveness and spiritual development. The Enneagram is even more powerful when explored in the context of relationships with others. While each of the Enneagram combinations brings special considerations to the development of mutuality, any combination will offer complementary gifts as well as the potential to exaggerate each style's down side. Here, you'll learn how to create specific actions that are mutually enhancing, whatever the combination of styles.
For example, if you're a Three interacting with an Eight you might find that both of you for different reasons are out of touch with your emotional side. It would be mutually developmental to practice and reinforce each other for active listening.
Or if you're a Two (highly relational) interacting with a Five (highly independent) you both would benefit from exploring your differences, agreeing that the Two will give the Five a little more space and the Five will accede to the Two's desire for a bit more interaction.
Regardless of the combination of Enneagram styles, the first steps to create mutuality are to value each person's gifts, be sensitive to areas in need of growth, and approach the relationship in ways that are mutually enhancing and beneficial. 

Consciously framing each person's potential development in terms of mutuality includes discussing how one Enneagram style complements the other, as well as mutual blind spots. The examples below, using the Six/Nine partnership for illustration, are only some of many possible ideas for mutually developmental actions:  
  • Although acted out in different ways, both Sixes and Nines have problems with decision-making. Nines may procrastinate while they gather others' opinions and/or seek to build consensus because they have difficulty knowing choosing; Sixes may procrastinate while they gather more data to develop certainty about the "right" choice and/or worry about how others will judge their decisions. Both may change their minds  Nines because they don't want to be pinned down, Sixes because they begin to doubt themselves. Both, however, rely too much on others' opinions. This is a development area where similarity of focus can be beneficial to both. It's often easier to see someone else's behavior initially, so they could agree to give each other feedback about decision-making behavior and to discuss and look for blind spots in their rationale for delaying decisions. Or they might agree to meet once a week to review decisions and compare notes, each learning from the other. 
  • Similarity of focus can also be beneficial in the way both communicate their ideas. Nines are known for their epic tales; it's sometimes difficult to get a simple answer from them as they struggle to bring their complex awareness of infinite alternatives down to a central theme. Sixes can feel charged with so many things they want to say, listeners are left trying to figure out the message. For both it's useful to ask before speaking, "What's my key theme? What are my main points? Who is my audience? What do I want them to understand?" Efforts to improve in this area can be mutually developmental by (1) listening to each other and summarizing what appear to be relevant points and/or (2) preparing and rehearsing with each other to confirm whether or not their message is clear. In either case their heightened awareness will help both develop more clarity. 
  • Sixes tend to look for hidden agendas sometimes unnecessarily. Nines tend to look on the bright side to a fault. It would be mutually developmental in a complementary way if each would consciously seek the other to fill in the flip side and create a more balanced perspective. 
  • According to Enneagram theory, both Sixes and Nines have a connection to the achievement-oriented Three. They can support each others' development by encouraging the up side of their Three connection, stimulating each other to action, accomplishments, and success. For example, they could set deadlines for a mutually valued project and hold themselves and each other accountable to meet specific milestones. 
  • Nines need to assert themselves more, speak up for themselves, confront others directly. Sixes do this more readily. Together, they can observe and discuss how to model for and learn from each other: 
The Nine can openly appreciate and imitate the Six's courageous action by being more assertive, while simultaneously helping the Six know when to draw the line between challenging someone and suggesting a solution.

The Six can acknowledge and imitate the Nine's patience and graciousness in sometimes giving others the benefit of the doubt, while simultaneously helping the Nine distinguish between self-effacement and diplomatic problem-solving.
  • Sixes will recognize when they're upset. Nines have a tendency to "merge" with the partner, and may find their own feelings emerging in response to a problem the Six is experiencing:
In response to these emerging feelings, Nines may withdraw into their own feeling state and/or want to talk about their own feelings and similar experiences, leaving the Six feeling stranded. The Nine may also take on the Six's problem, playing the role of intermediary in order to seek harmony or stability. It's mutually developmental if the Nine's own feelings are kept separate and the Nine acts as a sounding board for the Six, then encourages the Six to decide what to do (it's important for Sixes to experience their own potency).
Subsequently they could focus on discovering and dealing separately with the Nine's own feelings ("Why did I react so strongly? What must I be feeling deep inside?"). At this point, the Six could be the sounding board for the Nine.
Use the principles of mutuality to seek interactions that simultaneously develop yourself and the other person in all your relationships, using the above examples from the Six/Nine interaction to stimulate your thinking.

Mutuality is a reflection of the shared belief that both people in a relationship can grow, as reflected in this quote from Thomas Moore:
Friendship is the container of soul [and] the soul requires many varieties of vessels and many kinds of spaces in order to work day by day with the raw material life serves up.