Despite what I thought going into it, the most frustrating moments in my marriage aren’t the tough discussions about finances, future plans and holiday arrangements.
While my husband and I certainly have our share of disagreements, it’s the squabbles of everyday life that wear me down — the times when my husband and I just miss the mark on communicating and understanding what the other is trying to say.
As a newlywed, I assumed those interactions would get better over time if we just kept doing what we were doing. Yet both of us kept having the same frustrations with one another, and I wasn’t sure what to do next.
Sometime after our first anniversary, I started learning about personality typing systems. I realized they were an important tool I was missing from my relational toolbox — a tool I wish I’d acquired while dating.
What is a personality typing system?
Personality typing systems are psychological classification systems that are used to understand differences between individuals. Each personality system focuses on a unique aspect of what it means to be human and how we’re wired.
In her forthcoming book “Reading People,” Anne Bogel describes personality systems this way:
“Understanding personality is like holding a good map. That map can’t take you anywhere. It doesn’t change your location; you’re still right where you were before. But the map’s purpose isn’t to move you; it’s to show you the lay of the land. It’s the tool that makes it possible for you to get where you want to go.”
My selfishness and lack of wisdom can keep me from seeing the motives and patterns behind my and my husband’s behavior and ways of thinking. Because of this, we aren’t always able to address our deeper differences and move forward constructively. Personality typing systems, as Bogel explains, provide a map that shows us our patterns, tendencies and differences so that we can grow in our marriage and learn how to complement one another.
Three personality typing systems have been particularly helpful: Enneagram, Myers-Briggs and the Four Tendencies. Each focuses on a different facet of our personalities and provides insight into why we do what we do the way we do it.
The Myers-Briggs looks at how we engage and approach the world around us. The Enneagram looks at our inner drivers and how we’re oriented to the world around us. The Four Tendencies looks at how we respond to expectations from ourselves and from others. Each system highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each personality type within that system.
In my relationships, these tools have shown me how to love others well. In my marriage, these tools have given me a map of how to improve daily life with my husband.
For example, the Four Tendencies helps me understand why I’m OK with saying no to attending a party while my husband always thinks we should go. The Enneagram articulates for me the particular ways my husband and I respond to stress. The Myers-Briggs shows me why we each want to talk about different topics over dinner at the end of our day.
These typing systems haven’t solved our differences, but they have given us a map to direct us toward the place we want to be in our relationship.
Where are we going?
The end goal of learning about personality systems isn’t self-enlightenment so we can “live our best lives now.” In an article about the Enneagram for Christianity Today, John Starke says that how Christians use the Enneagram differs from mainstream users, “who use the tool to find the ‘authentic you.’” He continues,
A strong cultural narrative says that healing means finding your authentic self and living out of that reality. But Christians believe we will be our ‘true selves’ insofar as we are truly living out our new life in Christ…
The strength of the Enneagram is that it exposes where we might need healing and what vices might be causing division with others and even within ourselves. As Christians, we use the Enneagram as a tool to find healing not by becoming our true selves but by finding ourselves more truly in Christ. And we become more virtuous not by authenticity but by imitation.
Although Starke is specifically talking about the Enneagram, his words ring true for all personality typing systems. Personality typing systems articulate how we’re glorious image bearers of God, and they show us how sin has uniquely left its imprint on us as individuals.
But personality systems aren’t simply guides to becoming our best selves. They’re maps that help us understand the road of sanctification we’re walking as we seek to faithfully follow Christ and love those around us.