Shifting Expectations: How The Enneagram Helps My Marriage

There were communication issues, and I constantly felt like I was hitting a brick wall. I just couldn’t connect with his heart. Was it even in there?

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Ah, yes, we meet again. The famous Enneagram.

I find it the easiest, most immediate way to get to know someone. The Enneagram doesn’t feel like a box to me but more like a window. I don’t look at someone and think, “You’re a three.” I think, “What kind of three are you?” It is not in an attempt to cage someone, but it’s more like putting on the proper filter through which you can more adequately view a person.

Now, if you don’t know what the Enneagram is, the easiest way for me to explain it is that it’s a personality test that categorizes people into nine different numbers. Each number describes the way in which a person interacts with the world, how their heart feels and mind thinks. It shows their deepest strengths and pitfalls. I particularly love it because it helps me be a better version of myself. You can’t fix your issues unless you can see them.

I was at a dinner party just this past weekend. There was a new couple there that I didn’t know, and as we were all standing around the kitchen, I asked them if they knew their Enneagram number. I was surprised to hear that they had just found them out. The husband was a three and the wife a nine. I loved that moment so much because, without having to spend weeks and months figuring out these people, I was able to understand a bit of who God had made them to be right off the bat. Now, all threes are not the same just like all three-year-olds are not the same, but it gives you a starting point and a grid to help you understand and love your fellow man.

I have particularly seen the benefits of the Enneagram when it comes to my marriage. I’m a four with a very strong three wing (wings are another way of further defining your personality). My husband is a five. A straight-up five. I don’t think he has a wing at all.

If you are unfamiliar with the Enneagram numbers, let me very quickly help paint the picture here. Fours are wonderfully emotional. They are deep and full of meaning, always wanting to connect with others on the deepest level possible. Small talk is insanely difficult for them (they pretty much find it pointless). They see what’s missing in almost any situation or person. It’s what makes them good artists and communicators. They seek to make everything the best it can possibly be. They have a hard time seeing past their emotions, however. They are often carried away by the sheer extreme of their feelings and lose sight of reality altogether. It’s not fun, let me tell you.

Fives are like intriguing scientists. They are constantly analyzing things and looking for patterns. They are fitting their reality into a premade framework in an attempt to break it apart and understand it all. They are observers and thinkers. They are the Albert Einsteins and the Bill Gates of the world. They are steady and calm, often retreating into their own heads to get away from the volatility surrounding them. They have hidden depths, but they are often very hidden, even from themselves.

So—you take an emotional four and marry them to a serene five—and you get a pretty fragile mess. I was constantly finding fault with him because I just couldn’t understand how he thinks. He was so caught up in the world of his mind that he wouldn’t see that the house was an absolute wreck or that I was falling apart. I was emotionally distraught because the lack of order and beauty around me was upsetting my thinly veiled mental balance while he could very easily live walking through piles of trash and never even notice they were there.

It was driving me crazy, and he couldn’t see the problem.

There were communication issues, and I constantly felt like I was hitting a brick wall. I just couldn’t connect with his heart. Was it even in there? I was so dumbfounded by his lack of emotional depth. (The truth is—he is a very deep man, but he likes to hide it). Because my heart was hurting and I felt alone, I would emotionally act out when my tornado of a soul lost its grip on stability. This would send my husband retreating deeper and deeper into himself, and I would come at him with my emotional shovel trying to dig anything I could get out of him. He felt attacked, and I felt trapped.

To top it all off he worked 60 to 80 hours a week, which meant we rarely got to talk about our problems. Eventually, the Lord brought the Enneagram into our lives, and that coupled with a job change for my husband gave us the tools and space to make some real progress. Now, finding out our Enneagram numbers didn’t change things overnight, but it certainly helped me stop finding so much fault with him! There was apparently an entire group of humans who acted like him! I was amazed.

God made him this way, and it’s not my place to try and recreate who he is. I am to honor the man God made while also speaking what I need. If there is anything the Enneagram has done for my marriage, it is shifting my expectations. I cannot be what he thinks I should be, and he cannot be what I think he should be. It has helped me give him grace by defining who he is without giving him too many excuses.

As his wife, it is my responsibility to help him see his blind spots. And over the years I’ve gotten better about asking him to pick up after himself without harboring deep inner frustration about it. If he doesn’t see the mess, then he doesn’t see it. I can’t change that, but I can change my response to his oversight and how I help him be a part of our world together. In the same way, it is his responsibility to help me remain steady when my emotions want to send me off the deep end. He’s really really good at that!

He calls me out of my spiraling emotional tornadoes, and I call him out of his retreating mental hiding place. Somewhere in the middle, we hash out our reality. We still have a long way to go. We’ve been married a little over four years, so there is still a lot to figure out. The Enneagram has given us a really solid place to start, and I’m so thankful.

If you are interested in reading more about the Enneagram, check out Ian Cron’s book The Road Back to You, and visit his site to take a free test and start your own Enneagram adventure!



Featured Image by James Hose Jr. 

The views and opinions expressed by Kingdom Winds Collective Members, authors, and contributors are their own and do not represent the views of Kingdom Winds LLC.

About the Author

Dawn King is a Carolina native with a Neverland heart. She's an Enneagram 4 that believes beauty can be found even in the darkest of places, light is always bright enough to outshine darkness, and love is stronger than any madness or evil. She values kindness and honesty more than most anything else. She will always believe that to change the world you must first change yourself.