The Enneagram in a Nutshell
The Enneagram has been around for a long time, but it’s recently gained popularity. If you search the hashtag #enneagram on Instagram, you’ll find thousands of posts and tons of accounts dedicated to the nine personality types.
The nine types of the enneagram are:
On the surface it may seem straightforward, but peel back a few layers and a world of self-discovery awaits!
What’s Your Number?
You don’t have to take a test to find your number. The best way to discover your type is by reading and studying the Enneagram. Listening to Enneagram podcasts is also very helpful for learning more about each number.
My husband is an engineer. He is the poster child for a type 5. I wasn’t so sure about my number. At first I thought I was a 4, then I felt like a 3, then back to a 4, and for a moment I considered myself a 6. But when I asked my husband what he thought I was, he answered without skipping a beat. He laughed and said, “You are totally an 8.” After a few more days of studying, I wholeheartedly agreed with my 5!
And so our journey of exploring the 5 and 8 relationship began!
How the Enneagram Helped My Marriage
My husband and I have a solid relationship. And like all good relationships, we still fight, disagree, and have problems. At the end of the day, he’s my best friend. But with the help of the enneagram, we were able to address some issues on a deeper level.
Working through relationship issues through the lens of the Enneagram has led to many light bulb moments.
Learning the main motivation behind our types turned on a relationship light bulb.
An 8’s motivation is to be self-reliant, to prove their strength, and to stay in control of the situation.
A 5’s motivation is to possess knowledge and understand their environment.
I really wish I knew this information five years ago when we were redoing our backyard. I had a clear vision and was ready to dive right into the dirty work while controlling the details. But my 5 husband spent a few weeks learning, planning, and Excel “spread-sheeting” our DIY project. (Yes, I just made up a new verb. Feel free to use it!)
But guess what? Now that we understand our very different motivations and approaches, we work much better together in life and even DIY projects.
Another light bulb moment happened when learned about key fears. His key fear is feeling useless and mine is feeling controlled. When we brought our firstborn home from the hospital, I wanted to be in charge and do it all by myself. I wanted to prove my new mom strength. What I didn’t realize is that I was triggering his key fear by leaving him out of his new dad responsibilities and decision making. Looking back, it all makes sense. And I am so glad we worked through our key fears in preparation for our third child.
Orientation to Time
Another layer of the Enneagram is orientation to time. You lean to thinking and talking about either the past, present, or future.
If you’re anything like me, there’s always those one or two things that get under your skin. You know, those seemingly innocent questions or replies that can start an argument out of nowhere? Here’s an example of typical conversation that used to put me in a funk.
8: “I really want to put a bird feeder outside the front window. It would be so fun for the kids and I to do some bird watching from the office. They would love it!”
5: “Well, where are we gonna hang it? That tree might not hold a feeder. And then the birds are gonna poop all over the front yard.”
Here’s another example:
8: “I can’t wait to start playing tennis again in the spring. I love playing tennis with you. I think we might need new rackets though. And I definitely need some new tennis skirts. And of course we need new tennis balls, some new hats….” I continue to trail off daydreaming of the perfect tennis date scenario with brand new tennis gear head to toe.
5: ” Yeah, playing tennis will be nice! My racket and shoes are fine though. And didn’t you just buy a new hat?”
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Before I learned about orientation to time, my loving husband’s practical replies drove me insane. I wanted him to get all excited about my bird-watching daydreams and perfect tennis date visions.
One of the reasons I love and married him is for his planning abilities. Yet, when he tried to plan my dreams, I got annoyed. From his perspective, I was creating mental work for him that he wasn’t prepared for in the moment.
Can you guess the orientation to time here? 5’s are oriented to the present and 8’s are oriented to the future. Now that we both understand each other better, our conversations sound a little different. Here’s one that just happened:
8: “I want to do something special for our anniversary. Let’s plan something together. I’m just throwing out ideas. Where would you like to go? It should be a big, special trip for our 10 year anniversary.”
5: “Yeah, let’s think about some places to go. What about Japan? I really want to take you there one day.”
8: “Oh, that would be fun! Let’s start looking into it now, so we can plan it over the next few years.”
I just wanted to dream and live in the future. And now that my 5 understands this, he can dream with me without getting caught up in details. Because I’m more aware of his orientation to the present, I can preface my ideas with a little disclaimer, something like, “Hey, I just want you to dream with me for a second…”
The biggest help from the Enneagram has been learning not to take things so personally.
Now that I really understand his different ways of thinking, processing, and planning, I am less defensive and more supportive. Now that he understands my reasoning, he can better help me reach my goals and dream all those dreams with me.
Learning the Enneagram has helped my marriage grow. It’s improved our communication and deepened our compassion for each other. I’m so thankful we have the Enneagram in our relationship tool kit!
If you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram, here are some good books to help you on your journey.
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut
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Originally published March 2020.