Threes and Relationships

If I were in an addiction recovery community I would introduce myself by saying, “Hi, my name is David, and I’m an addict.” The community would respond by saying, “Welcome, David.” This simple but powerful ritual holds the key to being in a relationship with any three; they need to be able to introduce themselves as they authentically are, and they have to know we will lovingly accept them in return. This is the only way to break through the “shame-fear trap” at the heart of the three’s spiritual condition.

Threes came out of childhood believing it’s not okay to have your own feelings or identity. As children they heard, “You need to be somebody else, and you need to feel something other than what you feel.” Those messages are deeply shaming. Shame is the fear that you are unworthy of love and connection. Threes believe they need to be somebody else if they going to be worthy of love and connection.

When you live with the deep conviction that you won’t be loved unless you are someone else, it will be hard to bring your authentic self to your relationships. Threes do not intentionally check their true identity at the door before they grab coffee with you. They disassociated from that person a long time ago, but they are still partially connected to their authentic self, and they relate to others from who they truly are to varying degrees depending on their overall health and the safety of the relationship. Take intentional steps to make the relationship safe. If you talk negatively about other people to a three, they may assume that you will talk negatively about them as soon as they leave the room. Be transparent, sharing with them your true feelings and opinions so that they are not wondering what you really think or mean. Threes (along with twos and fours) care a great deal about what other people say about them. Give threes honest compliments, and recognize their gifts, but know that it means much more when you uplift them for who they are, not just what they do. Threes know they work hard to be exceptional, so praising them for going above and beyond may keep them in the box they are in—thinking they are valued for what they do, not who they are beyond the accomplishments.

Encourage threes to rest, and praise them when they do. Threes think they have to achieve in order to be worthy of love. Expose this belief as a lie by praising them when they rest. Threes want to be loved for who they are. When you communicate to them that it is okay to rest, you are in effect saying—“I love you when you sit there and do nothing. No need to achieve.” Loving a three for who they are is complicated; they have to be vulnerable and show you who they truly are in order to feel truly loved, but they fear if you saw the real “them” you wouldn’t like what you see. Therefore, threes may not show up for emotional relationships and remain stuck in their “fear-shame trap.” You can help them out of their trap by being loving and non-judgmental.

Threes are efficient. This works well for them at work and in most sectors of North American public life because efficiency is congruent with our cultural values. Unfortunately, efficiency is disastrous for relationships and will cause them to be more task-oriented than relational. Threes can be relational, but even that is generally converted into a task. They set aside a certain amount of time to be relational with you, but when your time is over, they will bring the meeting to a close. If you want to share something significant with a three, ask them how much time they can set aside to talk first.

You can relate to a three through a common project and shared activities because threes are uncomfortable if there is nothing to do. Sitting down and relating may feel like doing nothing. However, don’t plan on chatting the whole time. The three is planning on working hard and accomplishing a lot. You might get to chat briefly over a water break, and you can join them in marveling at the day’s accomplishments after the work is done. If you end up working closely on a project with a three, remember they want to complete each part of the project quickly and efficiently. They will become agitated if you don’t comply with their efficient strategy. Threes love others by working hard for them and accomplishing what needs to be done; appreciate them for loving you this way.

Be careful with a three’s feelings. They can become suddenly emotional because they actually have a lot of feelings but frequently suppress these same emotions. This can be difficult because their emotional episodes probably don’t come around often, and they might catch you off guard. When they become emotional, they need you to be far gentler than they typically require.

Professionally, threes are usually assertive, but they still need encouragement, and they want to receive honest, objective feedback gently. Threes will likely break down emotionally when faced with failure. This is a powerful moment to show them they are loved regardless of their success. You will know a three has failed when they 1) reframe their failures as partial victories, 2) shift the responsibility of the defeat to other people, or 3) flee the scene of their failure immediately. Watch for any of these signs, and gently invite them to reflect on what happened.

Threes don’t want to talk about their relationship with you too much because that can lead to some vulnerable conversation, but you can appreciate their optimism, energy and confidence, and try not to be negative. They will quickly become frustrated if you respond to their can-do attitude with negativity and roadblocks to their accomplishments.

If you live with a three encourage, them to leave some energy for relating with you at home after they come home from work. Threes work hard, but can come home with no reserved energy and go right to nine (e.g. zoning in front of the television). This is part of a strategy to work hard and not allow feelings to get in the way of their accomplishments. If you want to break out of this cycle, you must set time aside to connect emotionally, and the three must ultimately decide to risk emotional vulnerability. If they risk being vulnerable with you, treasure the moment, and respond by passionately and unequivocally accepting the person they have revealed to you.