Personality Type Tips for Couples in Long-term Relationships (And for Those Who Want to be)
Have you ever attended or taught a long-term relationship seminar based on personality type? I recently taught one with Carol Kallendorf, Ph.D. Carol and I have been married for 20 years and we work 24/7 (Don’t try this at home ). Here are some insights using personality type as a tool for successful long term relationships.
We begin with the American children’s book classic, Cinderella, which ends with the pronouncement, “and they lived happily ever after.” “And they lived happily ever after” let’s you know that it’s really a fairy tale because neither you nor I have experienced it quite that way. I’m not really a cynic, however, about relationships, because with the right motivation and tools, you can live the life of “Happily Ever After.”
The story in a nutshell is that Cinderella, a poor girl abused by step-mother and step-sisters, has a Fairy Godmother that sends her to the Prince’s Royal Dance in a pumpkin turned carriage with mice turned into footmen. This offer expires at 12am like a bad Groupon Coupon, and the carriage turns back into a rotten, shriveled jack-o-lantern.
Cinderella is forced to return to the cruel home barefoot, because she lost her glass slippers. The prince doesn’t know who she is, but sends his folks out to look for the foot that fits the glass. When they come to Cinderella’s house, the shoe slips perfectly onto her foot, and she goes back to the castle for a new life where princess and prince charming “live happily ever after”—or so the story goes.
So inquiring minds want to know, “How did palace life work out for Cinderella?” Was the mother-in-law snarky? Did the people at court turn up their nose that Cinderella only did a couple of years at University of Phoenix? Did the siblings demand a pre-nuptial agreement? Did the step-mother and sisters sue for breach of charwoman services?
Long-term relationships, as opposed to the intoxication of newly formed relationships, are notorious for the sense in the couple that “this is nothing like I thought it would be.” High hope turns into “buyer’s remorse.”
Too many people who get into a long-term relationship face a new and unpleasant reality. It’s something like the old 1930’s song, “Makin’ Whoopee.” The song first describes the once starry eyed bride. “She sits alone most ev’ry night / He doesn’t come home, or even write.” Then it goes on to the once tuxedoed groom, “He’s washing dishes and baby clothes / He’s so ambitious / He even sews.” They’ve clearly gone from swoon to gloom.
The moving parts in a long-term relationship make courting seem like that wonderful, simple time. Things soon become complex and ever-changing.
There are an incredible number of complexities that act on one another moment by moment: genes, experience, expectations, hormones, and careers; parents, in-laws, siblings, friends, and babies; bills, hobbies, interests, values, triumphs, tragedies, and different views of boundaries. That any two people could navigate just a few of these areas is amazing.
Personality type is an integral part of my changing and growing relationship with Carol. Personality type is a great predictor of what a person might do in each of the areas I’ve named above. Perhaps more importantly, personality type is a huge predictor of what a person won’t do, and what will probably keep them from ever doing what you think they should do.
I don’t have anything against eHarmory.com, and in fact, I have a friend who just formed a relationship through the website. I just dislike their offer to find you a ”perfect match.” More than a perfect match, you might need someone who can move at the speed of a Nascar driver, or who is as clever as a Houdini escape artist.
The following are tips and insights about how to use personality type as a tool to foster successful long-term relationships.
Learn about the personality type of your partner to the point that you can channel your partner’s type. It was really weird when I started putting myself into the head of an ENFJ, as is Carol, my wife/partner. Some of the biggies have been being direct vs. being indirect. For me as an ENTJ, whatever comes to my mind gets blurted out. It takes too much time to hint around and try to get the point across by hoping someone will catch on to my non-verbal distress signals. I found out the ENFJ style of taking an indirect approach to issues makes them feel that everyone has saved face by not owning up to blame and the possibility that I made an egregious error. I’ve finally developed a feel for the ENFJ way to say something in a way that they will not consider to be a frontal aggressive attack. Then learn about everyone you interact with on a regular basis.
Remember that you are now your own parent, professor, and coach. You may not be surprised that the process of raising you is not over, no matter what your age—and you are the primary person raising yourself. Until you became an adult, you had people all around in charge of making you the person you are today. Kids that didn’t know when to sit down, listen, shut up, and learn were lost causes. So what’s so different today? In so many ways we are still children in the process of growing up. I don’t understand people who think they’ve passed the point of learning and growing. Decide it’s not just the children you’re raising. You’re always in the process of raising yourself.
Find the way your two types work together—and don’t work. One area Carol and I have leveraged each other’s type is in making decisions, blending ENTJ with ENFJ. I’d always lived my life with one of those Franklin T-squares. You know, you draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list the advantages and disadvantages to the problem at hand. Six disadvantages and five advantages? That’s easy. You don’t do it. Someone has a problem? Show them the square. They don’t like it? Well, it’s time for them to get over it. Carol, on the other hand, started with the people. She didn’t start with the T-square, but it thinking about people’s reaction to the decision. Yuck! It’s time consuming and illogical. Over the years, however, we’ve blended our decision making styles.
Respect, love, and commitment are the basis of applying personality type theory. The person beside you is the person you respect, to whom you commit, and the person you believe first. Sometimes you have a relationship where people feed their own pathological egos by picking on their partner. I’m not talking about that. It’s important working in a business together, as well as being life partners, that Carol and I don’t always agree. We’ve learned to have serious disagreements during the day and to go out on a date that night. Sometimes Carol tells me things I don’t want to hear, that I’m stepping over people or that I have food on my face. It’s not always easy to hear what you don’t want to hear.
Personality type is a framework for living the life of “happily ever after.” When the dance is over, the mice begin multiplying and eating you out of your home; when the kingdom is at war and the kids have just gotten their license to drive a carriage, you have a tool to take you through—if you’re willing to use it.