Studying Personality Types to Better Your Relationships

In the nine years that I’ve been married, I’ve read a lot — and I do mean A LOT — of books and articles about relationships. And out of everything I’ve read or tried in my marriage, if I could point to one tool that has made the biggest difference, it would be personality tests. That’s why we chose to talk about personality tests on this week’s podcast (episode 90).

I have this intense inner drive to understand people. I know that I, personally, am capable of greater kindness, compassion, and patience when I understand where a person is coming from. When I have context.

This is especially true in my marriage. My husband and I agree on a lot of big, important things. We have our faith and a strong work ethic in common. Our sense of humor and taste in movies, TV shows, and music overlaps considerably. But we are very different people.

Unfortunately, another thing we often have in common is our stubbornness. We both put a lot of thought into what believe, so when we arrive at a conclusion, we’re pretty convinced we’re right. Often we arrive at the same conclusion, but when we don’t… it can be hard to remember that we’re both reasonable people doing the best we can.

That’s where personality tests come in. The better we understand each other, the better we can connect and communicate — even when that means expressing negative feelings, conflicting ideas, or (hopefully constructive) criticism.

The Enneagram

By far the most helpful and comprehensive personality test we’ve taken is the enneagram. This personality test separates people into nine different personality types. It offers information about each type’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. It even provides insight into how you behave during seasons of growth and when you’re under stress.

I am a 1 on the enneagram — the Perfectionist. My husband is an 8 — the Challenger. We’ve both read The Road Back to You and The Path Between Us, and they’ve been incredibly helpful in helping us understand ourselves and each other better. Turns out, our experience as a couple is common for 1s and 8s. They have a lot in common, like a passion for truth and justice and the sense of obligation to improve the world. When they agree, they can accomplish big things. But when they disagree (which does happen, because 1s and 8s are also very different in how and why they do things, even if they have a common objective), they disagree very strongly and stubbornly. Which is probably why The Enneagram Institute describes them as “a relatively rare romantic pairing.”

Knowing that helps. Not as a reason to throw in the towel or make excuses for ourselves, but as a reminder that neither of us is trying to be difficult. We aren’t pushing each other’s buttons on purpose. We just have a different perspective and approach. Now that we know that, it’s easier for us to stop fights before they happen, de-escalate during a fight, or make up afterward. We can use conflict as an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and as a couple, instead of getting bitter or resentful.

Love Languages

Another personality test that helped us a lot, especially early in our marriage, was the five love languages. The basic concept here is that while there are endless ways to show that you love someone, everyone has their favorite. If you aren’t feeling particularly loved in your relationship, the problem might be that you and your partner are speaking different languages. You may each be following the Golden Rule, doing for each other what you would like done for you. But if your partner’s love language is physical touch and yours is acts of service, you might be failing to fill each other’s tanks. Once you know that, you can adjust.

Of course, the adjustment requires a bit of compromise from each of you. Your partner responds to physical touch, so you should try to express your love through touch more often. And when you’re feeling unloved, you can remind yourself that all of those small acts of physical affection are your partner expressing his love for you. Perhaps they don’t resonate with you as strongly as acts of service, but that doesn’t mean your partner isn’t being loving.

Other Personality TestS

Of course, there are plenty of other personality tests out there that can help you learn more about yourself, your spouse, and others in your life. The enneagram has been the most helpful to me, and the five love languages are definitely good to keep in mind. Ruth Soukup has a fear assessment that can help you identify the fears that keep your from chasing your dreams and working towards big goals. Sometime soon, I’d love to take the Clifton Strengths assessment (and have my husband take it as well).

No matter which personality test you take (or don’t), here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Personality tests are just a tool. Some may be more accurate or insightful than others. Some may not resonate with you at all. I think that, like any tool, they are neither good nor bad. What matters is how you use them. If they help, great! If they don’t, forget them. They’re not Scripture, so you can take them or leave them.
  • Your motives matter. Learning more about your personality (or your spouse’s personality) will not help your relationships AT ALL if you try to wield the results like a sword. Don’t use them to make excuses for yourself. Don’t use them to blame or criticize others. Use them to understand others better so that you can extend grace, compassion, and patience. Use them to understand yourself better so that you can grow.
  • Reading the books is worth it. If you find the results of a personality test helpful or intriguing, buy the book. Reading books about the enneagram (like the two I mentioned above) has been super helpful, and Ruth Soukup’s Do It Scared book is definitely worth a read. Books give you more context for your results and help you apply what you’ve learned properly. They also give you some insight into other personality types and help you see the bigger picture.
  • Apply what you learn to other relationships, too. Personality tests can be especially helpful in the context of marriage, but their usefulness doesn’t end there. You can apply what you learn to improve your work relationships and strengthen your friendships. Or you can use them to better understand your kids so that you can guide and love them the way they need you to.
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