Know Yourself, Know Your Spouse, Know Your Subortinates, Your Peers, Your Boss and Your friends

June 17, 2007

Know Yourself, Know Your Spouse

(Note: This article is also  applicable to subordinates, your peers, your boss and your friends. Edit if with microsoft word and try replacing Ron with your name and Stacy with your boss name or your subordinate name or your peer name.)

Understanding each other’s temperaments will help your love grow.
by Art and Laraine Bennett

Vivacious and energetic Stacy volunteers at her children’s school and for her parish, shuttles her five kids to their many activities, and runs a home-based sales business. Her husband, Ron, is a dedicated medical researcher—organized and efficient on the job and at home; he relishes time alone, reading or playing the piano.

When Stacy and Ron first married, they delighted in their widely differing temperaments. Stacy admired Ron’s depth of reflection and sensitivity, his meticulous attention to detail, and his sense of order and purpose. Ron chuckled indulgently over Stacy’s fun, impromptu adventures and enjoyed meeting her many social contacts.

But once the kids began to come and the pressures of work and family increased, Ron found the hustle and bustle of Stacy’s life draining. He needed time to “decompress” after work, while she wanted to talk about her day or rush off to a meeting as soon as he walked in the door. Ron reacted by withdrawing in unwelcoming silence, often heading straight for the computer. And because he found their home in constant disarray due to Stacy’s many commitments, he also began staying late at work.

By the time they sought help for their marriage, Stacy felt she was living in an “emotional vacuum.” Ron rarely wanted to talk, she said, whether about her day or about the kids. Ron explained that he felt badgered and couldn’t relax in a home that was like Grand Central Station.

The Big Four. Opposites attract! We like people who have temperaments similar to our own, but it often happens that we fall in love with someone very unlike ourselves. Stacy and Ron are a classic example. She is a talkative, easily distracted sanguine who lives for people and needs abundant interpersonal interaction. She was drawn to a deeply thoughtful, sensitive, and artistic melancholic—an introvert who needs abundant time for silence and reflection. In another common “opposite temperament” combination, the peaceful, docile phlegmatic seems made for a strong-willed, take-charge choleric.

The concept of these four basic temperaments—choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic—dates back more than two thousand years to Hippocrates, the “father of medical science.” He held that differences in personalities were caused by an individual’s predominant bodily fluid—hence, the rather unappealing names!

Though we no longer relate it to bodily fluids, temperament is still studied and used as a self-assessment tool today. In clinical practice and many years of working with married couples, we have found that problems like Ron and Stacy’s can be averted through an understanding and acceptance of each other’s temperaments.

Preloaded at the Factory. Temperament is most easily understood in terms of the dominant pattern of reaction that we are born with. God has given each of us a tendency or inclination to react quickly or slowly, intensely or calmly, and to hold on to that reaction for a long or a short period of time. Our emotional response, sociability, and prevailing mood are all affected by our inherent temperament.

How quickly do you react to a person or an idea? How strongly do you react when praised or chastised, or when pressed for an opinion? Are you quick-tempered or easygoing? Do you tend to look on the bright side, or do you take a more pessimistic approach? Do you tend to mull things over for a long time before responding, or do you fire off an opinion off the top of your head? Because our reactions are so habitual, part of how we are “hardwired,” we may not even realize that we are thinking, acting, or responding in ways that are typical of our temperaments. In fact, all of these reactions are tip-offs.

Another indicator—and a primary distinction among the temperaments—has to do with extraversion and introversion. Generally speaking, an extravert is one who tends to focus on and be comfortable with the external environment—people and events. An introvert’s comfort zone is the interior world of personal thoughts and emotions.

The choleric and the sanguine temperaments are the most extraverted: they are energized by social interaction and are comfortable expressing themselves. The phlegmatic and melancholic are the introverted temperaments, needing time alone to recharge their batteries and cautious about expressing their thoughts.

The boxes on pages A4 through A8 give nutshell descriptions of the four temperaments. As you look them over, though, keep in mind that no one fits neatly into a category! Most of us are a combination or blend of temperaments—typically, a primary and a secondary one.

Respect, Don’t Project. Often we are unaware of our own pattern of reactions. At other times, we assume that everyone reacts the same way we do. In fact, however, people with different temperaments will have widely differing reactions to identical situations.

Here is a simple example from our own life. We were seated at a dinner table at a fund-raiser for our son’s football team. Decorating the table were photographs and articles about the team; however, they were fixed upside down under a clear plastic tablecloth. Choleric Laraine immediately pulled up the cloth and peeled off the photographs in order to see them better.

“That’s the difference between you and me,” said phlegmatic Art. “I wanted to read the articles, too, but I didn’t think I ought to rearrange the table decorations. I resigned myself to looking at them upside down.” Identical stimuli, very different responses!

How do such variations affect a couple’s relationship? As with Ron and Stacy, differences that were initially attractive can soon become a source of irritation. Then, spouses may find themselves drawing apart in the way described by Drs. Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, pioneers in the study of temperament:
“What is of central importance is that husband and wife respect each other’s temperamental characteristics. . . . A marital problem can develop and escalate if one or both partners . . . assume that such a behavioral pattern is somehow a matter of choice and represents a willful refusal to make a change ‘for the better.’ ” [our emphasis]

In such a case, “the inconvenience or frustration that the one partner’s temperament creates for the other is interpreted as another evidence of willful intent to annoy and harass” (Temperament in Clinical Practice, The Guilford Press, 1986).

A Fresh Start. This is the downward spiral in which Stacy and Ron were caught: Each assumed that the other was intentionally refusing to honor their deepest needs. Once they discovered how deeply their individual reactions were rooted in their temperaments—which are God-given and, as such, inherently good—they could grow in mutual respect, acceptance, and empathy.

Ron stopped thinking of Stacy as a scatterbrained chatterbox as he came to understand her deep need for abundant and expressive communication. Stacy began to accept Ron’s periods of silence as vitally necessary to his well-being, rather than assuming he was being “antisocial.”

With their new understanding, each spouse learned to make practical concessions to honor the other’s temperament and needs. Stacy reassessed her schedule and commitments. She stopped pouncing on Ron the minute he walked in the door. Instead, she strategically chose times when he felt most refreshed—say, early on a Saturday morning, over coffee—to talk over significant issues. Ron made an effort to communicate more and complain less. As his need for personal time and space was met, he found more energy for joining Stacy in various social ventures.

Many Styles, One Goal. Every marriage has its own style. Some couples argue and others don’t. Some have opposite temperaments, others have similar ones.

But no matter what the particular marriage style, every couple can benefit from learning more about their temperament types. Increased knowledge about ourselves makes it harder to fixate on the splinter in our spouse’s eye, while overlooking the log in our own (see Matthew 7:3). It provides a way to improve our relationships by identifying the natural tendencies in ourselves that can either benefit us or trip us up. Then, with God providing the grace for change, we can more easily correct our own weaknesses.

Increased understanding of our spouse’s temperament deepens our appreciation of the unique person we married and can even rekindle the spark of first love. It fosters empathy, acceptance, and the attentive and “personalized” love that shows our spouse how deeply we care about them. Then we can become the “intimate community of life and love” that God calls married couples to be (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603).

Art Bennett is a marriage and family therapist and the Director of the Alpha Omega Clinic. Laraine Bennett is a freelance writer and speaker, with Art, on marriage and family issues. They co-authored The Temperament God Gave You (Sophia Institute Press) and are working on their second book, on marriage. They have four children—one of each temperament type.

12 Responses to “Know Yourself, Know Your Spouse, Know Your Subortinates, Your Peers, Your Boss and Your friends”

  1. agbasinillo Says:

    What’s Your Temperament?
    Take This Simple Test
    by Art and Laraine Bennett

    And remember: Most people are a combination of primary and secondary temperaments. Especially, keep in mind that temperament is not the whole of your personality, nor does it “put you in a box.” Quite the opposite. Understanding and accepting your God-given temperament will help you identify your natural strengths, as well as ways to grow in virtue.
    Are you extraverted, with your attention generally focused outwardly (choleric, sanguine)? Or are you introverted, with your attention more internally focused (melancholic, phlegmatic)?

    Do you react intensely (choleric, sanguine) or calmly (phlegmatic) to most things? (If you are a melancholic, you do not react immediately, but your reaction grows in intensity over time, until it becomes rather vehement.)

    Do you thrive on social situations (sanguine) or on time alone (melancholic)?

    Do you make most decisions based on principles (choleric, melancholic) or based on your relationship with those involved (sanguine, phlegmatic)?

    Do you tend to hold on to grievances (choleric, melancholic), or do you let go after a short time (sanguine, phlegmatic)?

    Do you have a hard time walking away from a disagreement (choleric)? Or do you have a hard time standing up for an unpopular belief (phlegmatic)?

    Are you a detailed person (melancholic), or do you prefer the big picture (choleric)?

    Does it really bother you a lot if things aren’t done a certain way (melancholics, cholerics), or do you prefer being flexible (sanguine, phlegmatic)?

    Is the glass half full (choleric, sanguine) or half empty (melancholic)?

    Do you dream of possibilities (sanguine, choleric) or fret about problems (melancholic and sometimes phlegmatic)?

    —Art and Laraine Bennett

    For a more thorough self-test and an in-depth look at the various temperament blends and how they affect marriage, parenting, and spiritual life, see the Bennetts’ book: The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord (Sophia Institute Press: http://www.sophiainstitute.com; 1-800-888-9344).

  2. agbasinillo Says:

    The choleric is the original “type A” personality

    The choleric is the original “type A” personality. He or she loves to take charge and welcomes a challenge. As choleric president Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it, “There is nothing I love so much as a good fight.” Cholerics have quick, intense, and sustained reactions to both external and internal stimuli. They are decisive, determined, and goal-oriented. They are dynamic, self-motivated, forceful, and confident. They are sometimes accused of rolling over people once they have set a plan in motion, of being stubborn and demanding, opinionated, argumentative, and irascible.
    Cholerics make great saints. . . or great sinners. St. Paul was a driven and brilliant Pharisee who laid waste to the early Christian community; after his conversion, he was equally zealous in spreading the gospel.

  3. agbasinillo Says:

    The phlegmatic is a peacemaker.

    The phlegmatic is a peacemaker. Docile and cooperative, this temperament type just wants everyone to get along. He or she hates conflict and would rather take the blame, even unjustly, than stir up controversy or pick a fight. Phlegmatics are dependable, polite, and even-tempered. They feel most comfortable in a small group of friends and enjoy quiet evenings relaxing at home. In relationships, they are steady and stabilizing, reliable and willing to make concessions. Under stress, however, they tend to withdraw. Because they do not react quickly and are not very talkative, it can be tempting to nag them.
    St. Thomas Aquinas is thought to have been a brilliant phlegmatic. He was logical and methodical in his work, trusting and innocent with people. He was careful in thought and speech, calm, quiet, and dry of wit. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in his biography of the saint, “His curiously simple character, his lucid but laborious intellect, could not be better summed up than by saying he did not know how to sneer.”

  4. agbasinillo Says:

    The sanguine is the classic “people person.”

    The sanguine is the classic “people person.” Who doesn’t love this fun-loving, affectionate life of the party? Sanguines are typically communicative, generous, energized by large groups, and on the lookout for new adventures and friends. They have quick, intense, but short-lived reactions and live in the present moment. As a result, they are interested, optimistic, and enthusiastic—but forgetful and sometimes “all talk and no follow-through.” They tend to be the ones who generously volunteer for many things and wind up over-committed.
    St. Peter was called by Jesus to be the unshakeable rock of the church (Matthew 16:18), yet he was a lovable but inconstant sanguine. When Christ appears walking on the water, Peter impulsively joins him—until he begins to sink (see Matthew 14:28-31). At the Last Supper, he fervently pronounces, “Lord, I am prepared to go with you to prison and death.” A few hours later, he denies even knowing Jesus (Luke 22:33, 56-60)!

  5. agbasinillo Says:

    The melancholic tends to value the ideal

    The melancholic tends to value the ideal—truth, beauty, justice, and all that is noble. People of this temperament are known for their deep introspection, the depth and vehemence of their sentiments, and their loftiness of purpose. They can be perfectionists. It is said that melancholics so long for heaven that everything on earth falls short! They are cautious, somewhat pessimistic, detail-oriented, and serious. They are choosy about friends and exacting on the job. Melancholics are persevering, thoughtful, unwaveringly faithful, and have long memories. They are drawn to the spiritual life and to noble causes; counselors, parish priests, humanitarians, and artists are often melancholics.
    It is suggested that St. John the Evangelist was a melancholic. The beloved disciple was the only apostle who remained at the crucifixion, and the one to whom Jesus entrusted his mother. Of all the gospels, his is the most poetic and deeply mystical.

  6. agbasinillo Says:

    When Opposites Attract
    Three Spouses Tell Their Tales

    I’m a talker, raised in a large, loud Italian family where arguing about politics and religion was something of an art form. When we fought about personal matters, we were spirited, aggressive, and often hurtful. My husband, Dave, is calm and easygoing, from a quiet family of soft-spoken Swedes who never argued openly or disagreed aloud and hid their resentments for years.
    I can’t even remember what our first argument as newlyweds was about, but Dave’s response was unforgettable: He put on his coat and walked out the door without saying a word. It was clear to me that my husband couldn’t face conflict and needed to learn how to be honest with his feelings. As for my own problems, though, it took the gentle and sure intervention of the Holy Spirit to make me aware of my learned response to attack and defend myself in a conflict. Fortunately, both Dave and I realized early on that we would have no unity in our marriage unless we called on the Lord as the third partner in our union. Two people of such different temperaments and backgrounds could not learn to love unless the source of all love was at the center of our teamwork.

    Many prayers and some months later, we began to experience the deep satisfaction that came from helping each other to feel loved. It was a huge effort to hold my tongue and tame my in-your-face anger—but if it meant that Dave felt loved, it was worth it. Meanwhile, Dave fought his innate tendency to “flee the danger” of confrontation. It took everything in him to stay and fight with a teary-eyed, articulate wife. But he stood his ground because he loved me. And as I watched him work so hard to express his anger, for both our sakes, I wanted to love him back. I wanted to change my patterns of striking out, my ploys of self-defense. I wanted to give him time to catch his breath, and then to express myself in a helpful way.

    Twenty-six years into our marriage, we still argue and we don’t always do it right. We have learned, though, that when we put love first, Love Himself will change us, mold us, and guide us to a resolution.

    A Marriage for Both of Us

    We were out for a run, my wife and I, and stopped to say hi to a neighbor. In our short, lighthearted conversation, he made this observation: “Marriage is a relationship where, after ten years, two people are living the way one of them wants.” Though he said it with a chuckle, I found the remark disturbing.

    “That’s not how you experience our marriage, is it?” I asked Sophie as we jogged away.

    “Don’t be silly,” she replied.

    But it kept nagging at me. In our eight years of marriage, Sophie and I had reached real agreement on major decisions. We took ample time to discuss and pray over where to live, what parish to join, whether to begin home-schooling our kids. On day-to-day matters, though, we tended to follow my habits and plans. Sophie generally went along—so cheerfully that I assumed she shared my enthusiasm.

    At times I had felt uneasy. Had she really wanted a car with manual transmission? A German Shepherd? Did she enjoy the videos I rented, or did it mean something when she laughingly inquired whether I had brought home “something depressing again”? And just how enthused was she about the canoe camping trip I was planning for the two of us? Sure, we had talked about it. But looking back on my passionate pitch about “the joy of the outdoors,” I wondered whether Sophie had had her say.

    “What about this canoe trip?” I finally asked her. “Be honest. Is it how you want to spend our vacation?” The conversation that followed was enlightening. When pressed, Sophie admitted that it wouldn’t have been her first choice—or even her third or fourth. “But I know I’ll enjoy it, because you’ll have such a great time.”

    We spent a week in Chicago instead. Took in a show, visited the art museum, went to daily Mass, shopped, ate ribs and sushi—had a great time. And we talked about how to build a more united lifestyle.

    Once I started looking for them, Sophie had more preferences than I thought. Often, though, they were buried under her desire to cooperate or keep the peace. Sometimes, they didn’t emerge until later—too late to make a difference. “I’m a slow reactor,” she explained.

    I learned to ask Sophie questions about her preferences and to press for more opinions. I learned to listen, to revisit topics, and to defer to her wishes more often. For her part, Sophie began identifying and expressing her desires and taking more initiative.

    Thanks to a neighbor’s unsettling remark, our marriage is now a relationship where, after ten years, two people are hopefully living the way both of them want.

    Savers and Discarders

    Not till I was taking down our first Christmas tree did I become keenly aware of an important difference between my new husband and me. Phil watched as I tenderly wrapped the special ornaments from family and friends, then with equal care, packed the cheap Wal-Mart ones back into their original packages.

    “Why don’t you just throw all the decorations away, Honey?” he asked.

    “Throw them away?” I laughed. “These are Christmas ornaments, Phil.” Then I realized he was serious.

    The man I married is practical, neat, logical—one of those people who recommends discarding anything you haven’t used for a month. Me, I’m a hunter-gatherer from a long line of hunter-gatherers. I’ve always saved everything. High school term papers, prom pictures, pom-poms from college football games, petals from the first rose Phil gave me—these were my treasures, but to Phil, they were “just junk.” Over the years, we have had little arguments and big ones over this issue.

    Twelve years later, when we moved into a larger house, we filled a large moving van with furniture, household goods—and box after box of my precious mementos. Watching the movers crate and load them, I realized that Phil had done more than his share of compromising about my huge collection.

    Spurred to reexamine my approach, I asked the Lord to help me see this issue with his eyes. I finally understood how hard it was for my organized and tidy husband to live with “clutter.” Despite his moans and groans, he had never insisted on a major purge. “I know your things mean a lot to you,” he had told me on more than one occasion. Looking at that stuffed moving van, I realized how I had taken his patient forbearance for granted. Now I saw that loving Phil in the present was more important than saving things from the past.

    My “saving” instincts are so deeply rooted that I am still working on this issue. But the Lord is bringing a new perspective: Giving things can be a show of love. Discarding things can be an even greater one.

    *All three authors have asked to remain anonymous.

  7. agbasinillo Says:

    Tea and Temperaments
    Seven Ways to a Stronger Marriage

    Increased knowledge about the four temperaments should make a difference in your marriage and family life. But how do you make the transition from “in your head” to “on the ground”? When we put the question to Art and Laraine Bennett, they suggested the following areas for practical application, along with guidelines for approaching them as a couple or on your own. (We suggest choosing quality over quantity and exploring no more than two or three questions at once.)
    Set aside some quiet time, brew up a pot of tea or coffee, and consider how to build up your marriage by using the temperament God gave you!

    For couples: Since some of these topics could tempt one to be defensive or to feel attacked, begin with prayer. Take the attitude that temperaments tell us something important about each other, and try to look at all aspects respectfully and with empathy. Keep your comments constructive and encouraging. Focus on positive changes for the future, and little (if at all) on past failings. If looking in the rear-view mirror is irresistible, try to restrict it to your own behavior, not your spouse’s!

    For individuals: Approach this exercise in the spirit described above. If your spouse prefers not to join you, you can still use it as an opportunity to grow in self-knowledge. In fact, everyone might benefit from reflecting alone on these questions prior to discussion.

    1. Respect and affection—the foundation of a happy marriage—are fostered when each spouse knows and feels understood and appreciated by the other. Keeping both your primary temperaments in mind, identify issues that tend to “push buttons” that undermine these critical elements in your relationship. How might you share this information with your spouse in a gentle, yet informative way? What can you do to help your spouse feel greater respect and affection?

    2. Our temperaments indicate our key strengths. For example, cholerics are goal-oriented and highly determined, melancholics have nobility of purpose and attention to detail, phlegmatics are harmonious peace-makers, and sanguines are joyful and generous. What strengths does your spouse bring to your marriage and family? Do you express gratitude for these strengths often and overtly?

    3. Understanding our temperament helps us identify the rough edges in our personality. Cholerics can be bossy and driven; melancholics can be critical; phlegmatics can be withdrawn; sanguines can be flighty. Do you know your rough edges? What personal changes can you make that would improve yourself and your marriage?

    4. Awareness of our rough edges helps us to target the virtues we really need to grow in. Most cholerics would do well to seek compassion and meekness; melancholics, supernatural hope and trust in God; phlegmatics, holy audacity in seeking Christ and his kingdom; sanguines, perseverance and indifference to the world’s approval. Which virtues would you particularly like to attain? How do you think God is calling you to grow in them?

    5. Each temperament type has key emotional needs which, if denied, can cause emotional distance in a marriage. Cholerics require genuine areas of control and loyalty; melancholics require quiet, space and order; phlegmatics thrive on abundant words of praise and affection; sanguines need fun and personal attention. Are you aware of your spouse’s emotional needs? Are you honoring them? What practical steps you can take?

    6. Because of the effects of original sin, no marriage is completely free of conflict or disagreement (see Catechism, 1606-1608). The question is how we handle these situations when they occur. In the happiest marriages, partners are able to express problems and concern with respect, forgiveness, and affection. Does this describe your own response to marital conflict? With your temperament types in mind, consider how you might show greater respect and affection when you don’t agree or see things the same way.

    7. Are some temperaments better suited to sanctity? At first glance, you might think so, but in reality no single temperament has the advantage. Everyone is called to holiness, and each temperament has its strengths and struggles in pursuing a life of prayer. The energetic choleric may find it challenging to spend time in silence and meditation every day. The melancholic may be drawn to prayer and acts of piety but may struggle with simple acts of charity and gratitude. The phlegmatic is often drawn to classic devotions, such as the rosary, but may need to boost his active service to the church. The sanguine may feel a natural attraction to prayer groups and to generously serving the church but may need to cultivate a deeper interior life. What helps to spiritual growth resonate with your temperament? With your spouse’s? How can you can help each other to grow spiritually? Where is the Lord inviting you to deeper communion with him?

  8. Elissa Says:

    Hi, thank you for your article. Can it be printed or is it copyright?

    Thank you.

  9. agbasinillo Says:

    hi Elissa,

    Thanks for appreciating the article. It is not copyrighted. Yes, you can print and pass it on to others.

    you can see the article at
    http://www.wau.org/family/article.asp?id=8044

    Greetings from the Philippines,

    Austri G. Basinillo Male 68

    God Bless you.

  10. Reindorf Owusu Bempah Says:

    I like this tuition and am reading family therapy at central university college.

  11. sanmaria5 Says:

    hi,i am a sanguine and am finding it hard to choose a college degree,what advice can u give me am running out of time cos i am 23 years of age already,please help me


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