The personality differences have always amused me. I have read many marriage books, not because our marriage seems in need, but because I want to be all my husband needs ( 🙂 ). Although I have favorites, (What Did You Expect?, Love and Respect and Becoming the Woman of His Dreams) no books have done so much for my role in my marriage as Personality Plus (Florence Littauer). I could say that this book rivals for top position in all of my parenting books as well. Why? Because my own personality had blinded me, creating a distorted view heading for relational disaster…in most relationships. And don’t marriage and parenting rank as the most important relationships I have?
Though I highly recommend you read the book to get the full extent of how to work well with the personalities surrounding you, the brief summary of characteristics is this:
If we took a set group of people and played Twenty Questions with only yes/no answers, the population would fall into two groups: those who are task-oriented and those who are people-oriented. (Left and Right side of the diagram below.)
Those two groups can then be divided again into two groups: Introverted (enjoying being alone) and extroverted (comes alive in a group of people), shown as the top and bottom of the diagram. I am on the line between these two…depending on how much chocolate and/or sunshine I have had. 🙂
Of those four created quadrants, there are four personalities:
“Melancholy” is the task-oriented introvert.
- Strengths: detail-oriented, self-disciplined, can be musicians.
- Weaknesses: None. (just kidding – I am a Melancholy, and like to think I am perfect!) A Melancholy’s weaknesses are that tasks often get more attention than people’s needs. Can be obsessive-compulsive and inflexible.
- Motto: “Anything worth doing is worth doing perfectly!”
NOTE: I think it is funny that I wrote about Melancholy first. AND I put it in the top left quadrant – the premier place. I assume it is how we are: we put our own personality in the limelight and then adjust the rest around us!
“Choleric” is the task-oriented extrovert.
- Strengths: self-driven, gains followers quickly, gets the job done.
- Weaknesses: Can run over people while “getting the job done.” Can be bossy.
- Motto: “Get it done…NOW! And Hurry!”
“Phlegmatic” is the people-oriented introvert.
In other words: he or she loves and adores people, but doesn’t need to be in the limelight at all.
- Strengths: Gets along with everyone, great team player, easy to be with, flexible
- Weaknesses: Can be lazy, un-dependable or have difficulty making decisions.
- Motto: “Yes. Unless you prefer no, then no. Why is everybody going so fast?”
“Sanguine” is the people-oriented extrovert.
- Strengths: A blast to be around! Creative genius! Caring
- Weaknesses: Loses keys…to the car, to the job, to life. He or she may battle with dishonesty and lack of integrity – when facts are fudged, because frankly, it just makes the story better.
- Motto: “Wooooo hoooooo!!!!!!!!”
Of course, even with four groups of personalities, there are unlimited variations. I am mostly melancholy with a lot of sanguine – which means I am split between exact opposite quadrants. One book said I was “dysfunctional.” I always knew I was a “misfit toy”! However, it was the way God made me – and I will do my best with my “dysfunctionality”!
The first time I read the book, it was about ME. Therefore, I:
- Took offense that someone thought I deserved a label.
- Recognized a little of myself somewhere in it, and decided maybe the label fit.
- Was entertained by how much they knew me.
The second time I read looking for traits of family and coworkers. I realized my mother’s sanguine side is what made her invite the entire church over for lunch…with no notice except that she thought of the idea that day. Phlegmatic was the friend of my son (since opposites attract!) who wouldn’t tell me whether he wanted mustard or ketchup on his hotdog and instead looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.
The third time I read the books I had a goal to diminish my weaknesses and magnify the strengths in those around me. It became a game. Have fun with it! The purpose of the book is not to label someone into a box, but to learn how to best deal with people who are naturally in their own box. If I notice the only people I get along with are Phlegmatics (who get along with everybody!), then I may have a problem! If I realize that I only admire people who fall into the same quadrant as myself, then I better work to expand myself to see strengths in other quadrants! The Bible says we should go into all the world…not “make everybody come into my world.” Don’t read to find out who you are, but read to find out who you can be! I became a better wife and mother when I learned how to not only identify and diminish my weaknesses but truly appreciate the strengths of my husband and kids!
How did knowing personalities help my marriage?
I noticed that according to the book, a weakness of my Melancholy personality is that I can be oversensitive, or assume things are about me. (Really? There’s something not about me?! ) Someone can say, “The sky is blue,” and a hyper-melancholy will take insult because she has brown eyes, so the person is obviously saying that he doesn’t like her brown eyes. OK, I exaggerate, but you get the point.
Isn’t it funny that God would marry a Melancholy like myself with a Choleric? Watch the weaknesses line up: If a Choleric “runs over people” and a Melancholy “takes offense at small bumps” I was feeling dead on a highway under a steam roller. How’s that for a marriage?
After studying personalities, I started noticing the phenomenon.
I was cooking one day, obviously, stirring a pot on the stove, when my husband accessed the drawer on the other side of the stove to get out a spoon. He cut in front of me, bumped me backwards, so I obviously had to stop stirring, and he retrieved his spoon, never saying anything, or acknowledging me, and left.
The old me would have been hurt. “He did it on purpose to disrespect me. He obviously thinks cooking is not as important as whatever he is doing. He obviously doesn’t value me. (Aside: ‘Obviously’ was one of my favorite observational words back then, but I learned that “obvious” is not so obvious with other personalities. My common sense was not common – just “mine”!) Maybe I should let him be on his own for dinner tomorrow night, since he obviously doesn’t honor the role of cook?!”
Having the value of these personality books fresh in my arsenal, I said to my husband, “I know you didn’t do that on purpose to hurt me.”
He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. There was a LONG silent pause while I could see the gears in his brain turning, not sure if those were fighting words or what my intentions were. Then he gulped and said quietly, “Did what?”
It still makes me laugh. I would have been so offended – assigning motives and planning my next chess move, but the personality delineations explained he wasn’t even playing the game! He was just…getting a spoon…in a choleric way! Ha ha!
A melancholy might have begged the cook’s pardon before reaching to get the properly-sized spoon for the meal.
A sanguine might have bounded in, telling a story, grabbed a fork and come back for the spoon later – if she remembered why she needed a spoon.
A phlegmatic might have sat until the soup was cold before ever implying that he actually would have preferred to have a spoon.
A Choleric took the spoon.
In parenting, I have often realized how my interpretation was making me want to reprimand a child – when there was nothing wrong in his/her heart – only a difference in his/her personality. My sanguine daughter, for example, can drive me crazy with her messy room and lost articles. However, when I recognize her strengths – like the ability to make great art out of junk, or ability to LIGHT UP anybody’s world with her smile – it makes a lost sweater here and there nothing in comparison. Therefore, we have focused on her learning ways to remember where she took off her sweater (to one day help her find her car keys) or how to meet expectations of a clean room without dimming her bright light of a personality that has an amazing effect on our whole house!
At one point I even noticed that I had been using the personality terms in a negative way! UGH!! My kids made me realize it when the Sanguine said to her brother in a fight, “You are SO CHOLERIC!!” Bahaha! I am sure she picked that up from me! No personality is wrong – despite how my “perfect Melancholy” wants to make it seem that way. They are just different…the way God intended!!
When my oldest son was in high school, he complained about his vision, so I took him to the eye doctor for the first time. Of course, they immediately saw a solution in the form of glasses – and we ordered them. Within two weeks the glasses arrived, and I watched them transform his world into something I didn’t even know he was missing. He had never mentioned it. I remember almost crying feeling bad I had no idea that he couldn’t see. (I have never had glasses.) He put on the new specs and walked outside on that bright sunny day and exclaimed, “I CAN SEE!” In the car he asked, “Can we go back and watch every movie I have ever seen AGAIN, so I can really SEE them this time???”
That’s how I felt once I understood how my own personality was clouding my vision to see others. I wish I could go back and see, really SEE every person I had ever met, befriended, done business with, been in class with, or loved…because I feel like I could have made the relationship better.
Correct your vision utilizing personalities and you will see others through lenses for which God created them.
Romans 12:4-5: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”