Mark: We recently did a Dive Deep Interview with Beth and Jeff McCord for our No More Perfect Date Night members. It was such a fabulous interview that we decided to ask Beth if she would provide a Marriage Monday blog post about the enneagram and how it can help your marriage.
Jill: We’re just starting to learn about the enneagram ourselves, and we’re finding it to be incredibly helpful in marriage! We hope this introduction to the enneagram might be helpful for you too!
A Relationship Worth Fighting For:
How the Enneagram and the Gospel Can Guide Us To Better Conflict Resolution
By Beth McCord
Are you wondering what all the Enneagram fuss is about? Perhaps you’ve heard about this tool for awhile now, but you’ve assumed it’s just another personality test. You may have used those tests in determining if you’re an introvert or extrovert, or what career path might best suit your skill set. While those tests are fun, and useful in helping us pinpoint our particular preferences and tendencies, they usually stop there. They don’t get to the root of the motivations behind our behaviors, and they certainly don’t help us grow in our relationship with God and our spouses.
However, the Enneagram (pronounced ANY-a-gram) works differently. It reveals not only what we do, but why we do it. From the Greek words for nine (ennea) and gram (diagram), the Enneagram is a nine-pointed symbol. Each point represents a basic personality Type and a specific pattern of thinking. We study the Enneagram to learn why each Type thinks, feels and acts in specific ways and what that looks like when they’re in a healthy mental state or if they’re struggling.
What’s Your Type?
Let’s imagine you’re wearing a pair of glasses with a green lens. The person to your left has a blue lens, and the person to your right has a red lens. You’re all asked to look out the window and describe what you see. You’d see the same trees, buildings or birds, but you’d see them in a different color. That’s how the nine Enneagram Personality Types work. We’re all experiencing the same world but with different lenses or perspectives.
There are four factors that affect the color of the lens through which you view the world: your Core Fear, Core Desire, Core Weakness and Core Longing. We’re protective of our Core Fear but we pursue our Core Desire — the preferred reality we believe will alleviate our Core Fear. These drive and motivate our actions, thoughts and feelings. We use our personality’s strategies to protect ourselves from our Core Fear. For example, our strategy may be perfectionism, helping, achieving, creating, thinking, preparing, planning, protecting or withdrawing.
The Core Weakness is also called the Passion or Deadly Sin. It often trips us up, but as God’s grace is sufficient for us, and His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10). The Core Longing is the message each of our hearts longs to hear. We must surrender ourselves to Christ and depend on him solely to transform our hearts to be more like his.
The Enneagram names and addresses the core dynamics of our hearts. It invites us on a path of discovering and growing. By learning the nine different colored lenses, we discover our Core Motivations. As a bonus, we also grow in compassion in our marriages, and all your relationships.
If you’re ready to discover your Type, I invite you to go take my free assessment.
A Christ-Centered Approach
Identifying your Enneagram Type is your exciting first step to uncovering the power of the Enneagram as a tool for becoming your best self. But in order to experience real transformation and freedom, we must look at the world through the lens of the Gospel. The Gospel itself is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.
Without Christ, we respond to our awareness of our weaknesses and strategies with shame or contempt. However, the Gospel says we’re free in Christ, forgiven and received as righteous, adopted and loved, and filled by His Spirit with the power to become like Christ. When you bring the insight of our sinful strategies through the Enneagram and pair it with the truth of God’s word and work of His spirit, we experience transformed lives through the renewing of our minds.
When we focus on obeying externally, we fall short every time. But if we allow ourselves to rest in the finished work Christ accomplished on our behalf, then we can look at our inner world without shame, condemnation and fear. Real transformation begins when we own our shortcomings and ask for forgiveness and help from the Holy Spirit.
No matter your personality Type, God hardwired you for relationship. You were made to want and need community with others, and like it or not, you can’t lead a truly fulfilling life on your own. Relationships are a gift, and marriage is an especially beautiful gift that provides us an earthly representation of Christ’s love for His church.
But just as it is with every good thing this side of Heaven, sin can make its way into our marriages, stealing our joy, intimacy, and satisfaction and replacing it with resentment, misunderstanding, hurtful words, and wounding arguments. The covenant relationship God created for our enjoyment can quickly become riddled with and all too often ended by conflict.
So how do we resolve conflicts with our partners in a constructive way? The Enneagram viewed through the lens of the Gospel provides us with some extremely helpful insights. We can discover and explore who we are and who our spouses are until we’re blue in the face, and we can try to be the best people we can be in our own strength. But without Christ, we’ll never experience lasting freedom. It’s not enough to know who we are unless we first understand Whose we are, God’s cherished children.
The Bible tells us that our relationships should be characterized by the fruits of the Spirit, but living that out in our relationships is easier said than done! From my experience, the act of “assumicide” is so often what gets in the way of compassion and leads to the most conflict in marriages. Assumicide is the act of assuming you know why your partner says or does something, but a wrong assumption can hurt your spouse and the relationship.
Understanding the Enneagram and how our personality’s unhealthy perceptions can negatively impact our behaviors can stop the harmful cycle of assumicide. For my husband, Jeff, and me, this powerful tool empowered us to reject the lies of our internal wiring that don’t match up with what the Lord says of us. We learned to accept that we each view the world from completely different perspectives, but we can choose to harness our differences for good. Helping our spouse to become their best self isn’t about us changing them into who we think they should be; it’s about coming alongside of them and loving them as they are becoming who God wants them to be.
During the first few years of our marriage, it felt like we were trying to climb Mount Everest with no equipment. Something would activate us, and we would repeatedly react in ways that were harmful to ourselves and one another. Despite our best intentions to not “go there” and to have a thriving partnership, we kept hitting the same walls over and over again. By our fourth anniversary, we felt resentful, desperate, and hopeless. We simply didn’t understand ourselves, one another, and the fullness we already had in Christ.
God’s Plan for Relationships
The Gospel and the Enneagram changed everything! We learned to recognize the ways we would each think, speak, and act when we were out of alignment with the Gospel. We trained ourselves to combat assumicide and our personalities’ reactive instincts when a thought or feeling rushes in with these four steps:
- Take thoughts and feelings captive. When you see yourselves heading toward conflict, pause and ask, “How am I seeing this situation from the perspective of my personality? Does this perspective line up with what God says about me and my partner?
- Ask God to help. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit for patience, wisdom, and grace. He will give you all the compassion and discernment you need in that moment.
- Ask clarifying questions. Ask your spouse to explain their perspective, repeating back what you hear to reduce misunderstanding and make sure their voice is heard.
- Trust in the truth of the Gospel. Remember, Christ is the One who is renewing and redeeming us. He has restored us to a right relationship with Him. So, if Christ has restored us, how do we turn around and restore each other with the same love?
Changing our Dance
Jeff and I have discovered that much of the time, the root of marriage conflict stems from not truly understanding the hearts of our spouses and their Core Motivations, and insisting that our point of view be seen as right. God created us uniquely different so we can come together and bring Him glory, honor, and praise.
The belief that “we are right, and they are wrong” keeps us in unhealthy relational patterns. It’s like an old dance where we fall into the practiced steps of false thinking, resentment, and condemnation. Our thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and reactions seem stuck, and we don’t see another way. But when we shift our focus from being right to being restored, we can finally free ourselves from our old dance steps.
Imagine how your marriage (and all your relationships) would change if you really trusted the amazing news of the Gospel, believing that Christ is restoring you and your significant other. As you read this, Christ is reconciling you to Himself, advocating for you before the throne of God. He is showing God that he removed your sin and placed His righteousness on you, which means that you are in a right relationship with God.
God has an amazing plan for your relationship, and He put you with your spouse to accomplish His purposes. Conflicts are inevitable, but when we learn to navigate them using the Gospel and the powerful tool of the Enneagram, they give us the opportunity to experience transformational grace and abundant life.
Beth McCord is the founder of Your Enneagram Coach, a community designed to be a safe place for individuals to explore a Christ-centered Enneagram. In their new book, Becoming Us, Beth and her husband, Pastor Jeff McCord, provide a roadmap for couples to break free from unhealthy patterns, align their marriage with the Gospel, and grow into the couple God designed them to be. Learn more at www.BecomingUs.com.
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