Saturday, December 3, 2016

Nip and Tuck: Enneagram Eight and Six in Relationship

Question: I'm an Enneagram Eight and my boyfriend a Six... we're having trouble relating. Any ideas?
First, I recommend the most difficult possible task for style Eight: Make yourself vulnerable in the relationship. Move away from any criticism of your partner and focus only on yourself. 

Before you faint, read about Keyes' four relationship stages. All relationships go through conflict on the path to intimacy. Pay special attention to the fourth option under Stage 3: "Move our attention away from how we and our partner should be and toward who we and our partner are." 

Then try out the following exercises (it's ideal if your partner does the same; if not, the important work is with yourself, and surprisingly, even if only you do this work, your relationship will change for the better).

PARTNERSHIP EXERCISE (instead of focusing on the other's failings, notice without judgment what you do to trigger, incite, escalate conflict):
OWN UP TO THE PART YOUR SHADOW PLAYS IN THE RELATIONSHIP. What aspects of yourself have you disallowed and disowned? Talk about this with your partner. The biggest "no-no" for the Eight is weakness, so anything your partner does that seems wimpy to you will probably trigger some projection on your part.
Other ways to get to know your shadow:
Ask your partner for feedback and listen to it -- what do you dislike/have little patience for in others? It's quite likely these are aspects of yourself you've disowned.
  • Work with your dreams (there are a number of good books on how to do this).
  • Even if you aren't interested in poetry, read poems that evoke the underlying dynamics of your personality style - sit with them, and write down what comes up for you. Talk about this with your partner.
ACKNOWLEDGE HOW THE OTHER'S DEFENSIVENESS SHOWS UP. But instead of focusing on your partner, ask yourself:
  • What do I do to trigger my partner's defensiveness?
  • What do I do to escalate the situation when my partner gets defensive?
ACKNOWLEDGE AND DISCUSS YOUR KEY DEVELOPMENT NEEDS. For style Eight it's innocence; for style Six it's courage. Now ask yourself, "What could I do to surface and reinforce my partner's higher self?"
Baron and Wagele (Are You My Type, Am I Yours?) suggest Enneagram Eights may have trouble with style Sixes because they "try my patience with their excessive deliberating, stew about scenarios that are probably never going to happen, are afraid to try new things." Enneagram Sixes may have trouble with style Eights because they're "as strong-willed as I am, so we lock horns hopelessly in arguments; have no tolerance for my fretting; try to boss me around."

Michael Goldberg (The Nine Ways of Working) writes: "If you blow off (the) Six's concerns as weak or pointless (as) some Eights do, you stand a good chance of missing something important." Or (to the Six about the Eight) "She's tempted to test you constantly (Are you a wimp? Do you mean what you say?), but you don't have to rise to the bait. Your strong sense of your own authority - all the best Sixes have it - will save you." 

Helen Palmer moves closer to mutual development in The Enneagram in Love and Work: "The subtext of this struggle is power. The Eight can't surrender control until a mate looks strong and trustworthy, and the Six can't commit fully until the Eight looks less dangerous. Paradoxically some horrendous battles can have positive repercussions in this relationship. The Six has been goaded into terrifying displays of anger, has said the worst, and has survived." Or, "The Six has been bullied into setting the necessary boundaries. The Eight sees the limits and doesn't have to push further for the truth."
For mutual development, you and your partner might consider these ideas: 
  • Because you feel so responsible, there may be times when you focus over-much on what your partner needs to do developmentally. This is particularly likely to happen when there's no challenge that draws you together against a common issue. (When things get quiet, we sometimes create business to avoid the anxiety of looking deeper into ourselves.) He, on the other hand, may become defensive if he feels attacked (don't we all?). Some of your focus on on him could be avoiding looking at your own "weaknesses," and some of his defensiveness may be reluctance to confront any sense of incompetency he may carry. 
  • You can turn this around if you ask your partner to disclose what he thinks he needs to work most on, using active listening/no judgment so he feels safe. You can then ask him what he thinks you need to work on - here it's important for you to listen without defensiveness. By turning the tables this way you create trust, which is important to both of you. Furthermore, this pre-empts any tendency he has to accuse someone he perceives as powerful. Opening yourself up (in a structured way) to his criticism is a kind of reverse psychology. From your point of view, it's an opportunity to experience weakness and to discover you're strong enough to accept being weak. 
  • In your relationship, your partner may be the more willing to be vulnerable than you are. You can set aside time together to describe the things you love most about each other - ask him to go first as a model for you. When it's your turn, notice how it feels to focus only on loving feelings, and stay with whatever rises up for you. Share that with him as well. And appreciate how his intuitions about your needs are on target. This is mutually developmental because: (1) You're honoring his ability to express his feelings and intuitions, which enhances his self-esteem and reinforces his strengths. Further, he's hearing some disclosures that mitigate against any tendency to stereotype you as "powerful," "controlling."
    (2) You're strengthening the positive aspects of your development path (nurturing qualities) - showing unconditional love, building empathy.
  • Enneagram Eights tend to "plow ahead," whereas Sixes are usually more strategic. Again, as a kind of reverse psychology, invite your partner to help you consider all the negative ramifications of something you plan to do together. Whatever he brings up, ask for more specifics, then look for solutions to the potential problems. This will help you develop patience, and will help him develop a more realistic and optimistic scenario.   
For a further refinement of your interaction dynamics, take a look at your instinctual  subtype and his to see how these energies play out with each other: 
  • If your subtype is One-to-One, for example, and his is Self-Preservation: You're a stable, consistent person, whose very nature can reassure his undercurrent of fear; but you can be particularly controlling under stress and even become insulting when you're angry. He's likely to be a warm and charming guy who shares your passion for championing the underdog, but he's sometimes overly focused on being "nice," and under stress will particularly want your protection and not your ire. 
  • If you're a Self-Preservation subtype and his subtype is Social: Your role in the relationship is probably to maintain order - which matches your partner's need for security with rules. This may have been attractive in the beginning, but it doesn't do anything for either of you developmentally - and if you change how you behave, make sure you tell him about it because otherwise he'll feel you pulled out the stops. Further, you're likely to be a very private person who can be independent, withdrawing, even antisocial at times. Your partner, on the other hand, will be passionate about his causes and possibly accuse you of being "unfeeling." 
  • If you're a Social subtype with a One-to-One partner: To a degree your stereotypical types are reversed. You may be quite friendly, focused on group cohesion, full of gusto, less dominating than you could be, the social organizer of the couple. Your excessiveness may seem overwhelming to him at times. He will tend to be forthright, truthful, willing to confront. But he's also "counterphobic," driven to deny his fear, so under stress he'll be on the offense - in other words, somewhat dominating.
Of course, you can mix and match all three subtypes, leading to nine potential combinations. The $24,000 question: given any subtype combination, what could you do that would be mutually developmental? 

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