The Enneagram and Relationships

“What does this mean for my relationships? For that fight I keep on having with him? For finding the right relational fit?” These are some of the first questions many of us ask after we encounter the Enneagram, and they are good questions. Unfortunately, as a five, I might be among the least qualified to offer a response. Fives are the most socially contracted and withdrawn of all the types and we are the most cerebral. When you are a five and you are lost in your head, you miss the emotional texture that makes our relationships complete. While other types are engaging others in conversation and relationship, fives are moving away from others and having fewer relational encounters, thus stunting their relational experience and limiting their relational insight. They can (like anything else) study relationships, but no amount of study can substitute for experience. However, don’t despair fives, you can awaken your heart through contemplative prayer, you can do inner work[1] and you can engage in more relational encounters.

I have tried to both awaken the heart and do some relational study through the lens of the Enneagram. I offer the results of this work in this series on the Enneagram and relationships. Together, we will look at what each type needs in relationships and what they must learn and practice in order to grow relationally.

Before I begin to examine each type specifically in future posts, allow me to speak generally on the topic of the Enneagram and relationships in this introduction. There is a temptation with any personality schematic to attempt to decipher some type of personality algorithm that will ensure relational success. This is tempting because it promises to free us from the difficult inner and relational work that is actually necessary to achieve a greater measure of relational harmony and intimacy. Consequently, the short and rather unsatisfying answer to the question, “What types work well in relationship to each other?” is this: healthy people get along with healthy people. People who are aware, intentional and awake can find a way to make most of their relationships work as opposed to those who are blindly stuck in limiting and hurtful relational ruts. The truth is, we all have a way of relating to others that feels comfortable, safe and effective, so we relate out of that mode regardless of whether or not it is appropriate. Therefore, the answer to our question leads us back to the unsexy, but truthful fact that we have to identify and gain greater freedom from our habitual modes of being in order to grow any relationship.

There are potential relational pitfalls when certain numbers come together in relationship, and I will point some of those out in this series. However, the Enneagram in all of its complexity can also account for why a certain pitfall or characteristic might not apply to you. You might have a wing or a dominant subtype that might go against your type and balance you out as a person, or you may have simply learned that you needed to alter your personality some time ago in order to win the approval of others. As always, you will have to decide how the insights offered here apply to you and your relationships. Nevertheless, you should tuck away even the most seemingly inaccurate characterizations of your type because that very behavior might just be hiding in plain sight! If you keep it in mind, then you might discover your behavior pattern at a later date.

While the Enneagram does not offer a magic formula for relational success, it can point out some relational pitfalls, which, until named, observed and transcended can lead to some of life’s most painful events (relational schisms of all kinds, broken marriages and families). Conversely, the liberation that is experienced through these insights can be profoundly life giving. I hope you will join me as we explore relational and spiritual growth through the Enneagram.

[1]By “inner work” I mean a concerted effort that seeks to not only name and non-judgmentally observe damaging and limiting behavior patterns, but trace these behaviors back to their motivation. This long and multifaceted process can take a lifetime because most of our compulsions do not disappear, they recede until life events expose them again in a new form.