Looking Beyond My Emotional Self To Make Relationships Work


Stress prevents us from being the best version of ourselves and it can put a great deal of pressure on relationships. As I’ve touched earlier on a blog post about the enneagram, people who are healthy are usually comfortable with their natural essence and they strive to level up their game in life by overcoming their weaknesses and blind spots. I’m an Enneagram Type 4, for instances, and I incorporate positive qualities of Enneagram Type 1 when I’m in a good place and the negative characteristics of Enneagram Type 2 – insecurity, anxiety and codependency – when I get too overwhelmed or stressed.

There is enough research telling us that relationships per se can be a great source of stress. As people usually say, it takes two to tango and if one or two people are out of balance from an enneagram personality perspective there is a high chance for the relationship to become a bit rocky and bumpy, To be fair, keeping a relationship flowing and balanced is hard enough when life runs smoothly, imagine then how hard it can be when one or both partners are dealing with different stress factors on their own. It takes a lot of strength to hold on and to protect the bond against the negative consequences of stress, especially when partners have personalities that belong to different enneagram triads (heart, brain or gut-feeling).

When I’m anxious and depleted of resources, I get very emotionally sensitive. That’s when it gets hard for me to master my emotions and feelings because as a Type 4 (Heart Triad) I look for reassurance and connection with others in order to gain back a bit of balance. Not all enneagram types are touchy-feely though and they can even be overwhelmed by Fours due to their emotional intensity and dramatic spill over. This seems to be particularly true when Fours have partners whose enneagram type is brain-based (Types 5, 7 and 8). This enneagram triad tends to either avoid negative emotions or be detached from feelings, which Fours are very keen on exaggerating and exploring to great depth.

As a Four, I can assure that it is hard for us to manage our emotional needs, particularly when we’re stressed and overwhelmed. I personally end up being perceived as too demanding and rightly so, sometimes, because even if my relationship had a weekly score of 6 out of 10 points, I will focus on what went missing rather than on what worked out well that week. This evaluation gets even more dramatic if I feel or know that my brain-oriented partner is more dismissive and detached due to stress or increased cognitive load. If I’m out of balance, these behaviours function as a trigger for my disconnection issues as they have been strongly associated in the past with breakups and lack of care.

So my homework lately has been to keep stress at bay and prevent me from misinterpreting behaviours which usually trigger painful feelings and negative memories for myself. Such misinterpretations often lead me to withdraw and eventually isolation, two coping mechanisms to deal with abandonment and rejection. Changing these old patterns hasn’t been easy. I have made progress but fighting with myself and trying to keep things cool in a relationship without triggering the other person as well has been tough and exhausting. I have dealt with not only my triggered behaviours, feelings and thoughts, but also with the motivation to not overwhelm or invade my partner’s natural need for space and detachment. This is probably the trickiest part of the equation for me as I have to hold and contain my intense feelings by myself and avoid overwhelming others in the process, which makes me feel like I’m walking on eggshells most of the time.

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