Couples? Know yourself!
Updated: Feb 15
Men aren't from Mars. Women aren't from Venus. A romantic relationship is not about two stereotyped genders coming together, but, a partnership between two unique individuals. It is a contract between personalities, and personalities transcend genders. To be a thriving couple, you should therefore first assess and understand your partner's personality, as much as your partner must assess and understand yours. How to do that?
Always interacting with each other is the obvious answer (duh!). But is it that simple? The simple fact there is a booming market around marriage counselling brutally pushes the answer forward: NO.
If interacting together was enough for mutual understanding, couples wouldn't go through clashes and misunderstandings; frustration would not set in; the feelings of being neglected and/ or disrespected never pop their ugly heads; and, power struggles never plague a relationship. Yet, this is exactly what usually happen! Lovers get together, then end up finding they are not like each other. The amazing 'love of your life' is not that amazing after all. The clouds evaporate. And the common complaints start to be voiced: 'how could he/ she do that!' 'How could he/ she say that!' 'How could he/ she be like that!' 'I loved him/ her but I don't get him/ her!' 'I HURT!'. The honeymoon is over. Welcome reality and being at loggerhead around even the silliest issues! This is, in fact, where couples fall into a trap so obvious no one sees is, the attitude John M. Gottman points to in his ground-breaking book 'The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work':
'Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend years after years trying to change each other's mind - but it can't be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.'
Is this inevitable?
Bluntly: no. Lovers bewildered (and frustrated) by each other's behaviours could here have benefited from a tool, completely, sadly, overlooked when it comes to love: personality tests. Personality tests are completely, sadly, overlooked because psychometric is a science we associate more with education or human resource departments than romance; whereas its goal is precisely to be useful in every field where interpersonal relationships are at stake... romance included! Its insights can be of life-changing value indeed. But where to start?
Many such tests are available. The most reliable I can think of is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and, so, that's the one I will deal with here.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was developed in the first half of the 20th century by two women, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, and it has been very influential ever since. I will spare you the science. Suffice to say that it defines 16 personality types, each summed up by four letters that serve as a rough label to who you are.
Are you extrovert or introvert? Quiet or expressive? Traditional or original? Analytical or emotional? A planer or spontaneous? The questions asked are wide encompassing yet focused. Such list of characteristics, depending on their emphasis, will above all put you into one of those 16 personality boxes which are truly helpful. Helpful because, by having such a summary of yours or your partner's personality you will gain a better understanding of how you and he/ she think(s), feel(s), behave(s), and what you and he/ she value(s) the most. You will have a better grasp of their strengths and weaknesses. You will therefore better be able to adjust to each other - no more 'how could he/ she do that!' 'How could he/ she say that! 'I don't get him/ her!'
Of course, psychometric can be fleeting, and, so, the MBTI is not perfect despite its remarkable accuracy. One easy mistake to avoid is to lock people into their personality type; the four letters no longer acting as a template for a better interpersonal understanding, but as prison bars to label someone. As I insisted in Part I (about genders) none of us is a stereotype. It's therefore very important to leave room to adjust, evolve, and grow. One example: me and my wife.
I scored as an INTJ; she scored as an ESFP. It means that I am an introvert valuing my independence so strongly I might come across as standoffish and cold; whereas she is a bubbly extrovert for whom the world is a stage, and is always the light of the party. I have a strong analytical mind who tend to value intelligence above all else, a computer-like type of person; while she just goes on with the flow, emphasising feelings and emotions, all the while being perfectly in tune with anyone else's. I value bluntness as honesty and have no patience for what I perceive as silly social rituals and rampant emotionalism; whereas she, on the contrary, is nurturing of other's sensitivity and is highly conflict-averse. I take life as a game of chess, having goals I am strongly determined to achieve according to my own plan, with no care for established structures, rules, and traditions; while she might be conventional, but is very spontaneous, taking life day by day, spur of happiness after spur of happiness. My aloofness can bore her as much as her social bubbliness can tire me! As you can infer, we have absolutely nothing in common. And yet...
We have been in a successful relationship precisely because, not only we are different, but, also, we value and appreciate our differences. We respect and complete each other, because we LEARN from each other. As my wife always says: it's not about agreeing, it's about accepting. I became more social and open, she became more grounded and focused, and, in the middle, we meet. As Gary Chapman wrote in 'The 5 Love Languages':
'Two people who are different can learn to live together in harmony. We discover how to bring out the best in each other. These are the rewards of love.'
Such harmony, though, can only come about through a dynamic where both partners feel valued. How to set up such a dynamic? This will be the topic of my next post on the subject...
'A Vow', my collection of love poems, is available on Amazon: