For a minority of lucky people, finding and keeping love has been easy.
Maybe you are one of these fortunate souls. Perhaps you met the love of your life during your college/University years, and you’ve remained happy – more or less – ever since.
I am not one of those people.
The long term relationships I’ve had prior to now have followed a pattern of relatively brief periods of excitement and happiness, followed by longer periods of rumbling doubt and discontent.
Partly it’s been a case of bad pairing. And partly it’s been me.
In my previous relationships, I’ve had specific ideas about how the relationship should be – how they should be. I hadn’t learned how to truly accept another person. Throw in some low level insecurity and general small thinking, and it’s a grim prognosis.
I’m not one of those people that expects permanent bliss in my relationship (I’m not stupid). But I often wondered hopelessly if it was possible to enjoy the kind of love I wanted.
It turns out that it is possible, and a lot of that is under my control.
It’s true that there is no replacing great compatibility. But relationship satisfaction, intimacy and connection also take skill- skills that most of us only learn way into adulthood, and by our own volition. The basic skill is mindfulness, and working on knowing yourself and your emotional reactions very well, such that you are able to identify them as they happen. Not easy stuff.
I believe that personality psychology – a branch of psychology that studies personality and its variation among individuals – also helps with the prognosis. Quite a lot.
This post contains just a few examples of how I’m using personality psychology to balm areas of potential conflict in my relationship currently.
How I use personality psychology to improve my relationship
My partner once remarked “you’re so laid back compared to my previous girlfriend”.
But I’m not quite as laid back as I appear. I’m sensitive and easily hurt, although not easily offended. That’s the key. And the reason is that I believe that I understand him (it helps that we are similar in lots of ways, meaning we harmonize relatively effortlessly).
I definitely try to do that.
All of us have ways of being in relationships that are potentially hurtful.
My partner is an introvert to my extrovert (this a reference to the Myers Briggs system). He needs more alone time than I do. I knew this piece of information about him from our very first date. I therefore do not worry or take it personally when he disappears for a few days, or occasionally breaks our plans. Him and I have different energy management needs. Introverts are generally slower to share their thoughts and perspectives, and I’ve taught myself to respect that too.
Now something from the Enneagram. My guy has one of the passive personality styles: he’s an Enneagram 9 to my assertive (or aggressive) 7. This makes him laid back and easy going (it’s great). Another way it manifests is he is relatively slow to make plans that involve us. Bar our first few dates, I am much more “the initiator” of plans.
Before I understood personality psychology, I may have been tempted to make this mean he didn’t prioritize us enough to want to make plans. I may have even thought he just didn’t want to go on holiday, etc., with me. But taking him as a whole, I can act confidently knowing that this isn’t the case.
The final example I am going to mention is to do with survival instincts, a theory within Enneagram theory. My partner is clearly driven by an overall dominant social/belonging instinct. He is naturally community oriented, and has a large network of close friends. He’ll tend to prioritise the interests of the group or the whole over the self. As a self preservation dominant type, I’d always prioritise him, along with close family members. It’s a slightly different values system that needs conscious attention if it isn’t to cause upset.
These are just three examples of areas of potential conflict that I can now navigate more skillfully due to personality psychology awareness.
You could fairly argue that a person doesn’t need knowledge of personality psychology – the same result(s) can be achieved through simple understanding/compassion. I’d agree with that. But still, I have found it to be useful during those moments where I can feel myself on the verge of being upset/disappointed. It is very difficult to take things personally when you understand why people do what they do.
No matter how compatible we are with our partners, there will always be these differences to handle. We can either do that with a clear head or not. Learning about eachother’s personalities helps.
I use knowledge of my partner’s personality type to avoid his potentially hurtful behaviour from making a negative impact. It helps me to appreciate and even celebrate our differences.
I would always say prioritize knowing yourself before seeking to know others intimately. Also never just assume you understand them because you know their Myers Briggs and Enneagram type – it goes without saying. Always check the conclusions you’ve reached with your partner, and maintain an open dialogue with them.