We all know wonderful relationships where opposites attract. For example, one person might tend to the home and hearth, while the other cultivates the couple’s circle of friends. When both people appreciate each other’s contributions, their connection thrives! The whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. But sometimes it’s difficult for people to understand their partner’s priorities. When that happens, it helps to take a look at both people’s needs.
Learning the Enneagram Instincts teaches us the unconscious drives behind our relationship behavior. Instincts are biological and work to ensure our survival, individually and as a species. The Enneagram describes three that we share with much of the animal kingdom: the Self-Preservation, Sexual, and Social Instincts. These drives shape our behavior in both subtle and obvious ways. We all use all three of these Instincts, but one of them, our dominant Instinct, shapes our focus in life and relationships. It’s helpful to learn which Instinct is dominant for both ourselves and our partners.
The Self-Preservation Instinct is focused on survival, physical well-being, and maintaining a foundation in the world. This can show up as a focus on health, work and practical know-how, or domesticity. People with a dominant Self-Preservation Instinct value conserving energy, so tend to be more low-key in their activities. If your partner has a dominant Self-Preservation Instinct, they’re looking for someone to come home to and relax with–a source of solace. They appreciate having a partner they can build and savor a life with.
The Sexual Instinct is focused on stimulation, exploration, and having a person or passion to focus on intensely. People with a dominant Sexual Instinct are natural risk-takers, seeking to display, attract, and have their energy met. They’re compelled to “burn fuel” for the sake of creating something or reaching that next frontier. If your partner has a dominant Sexual Instinct, they’re looking for a relationship that provides an energetic connection. They appreciate having a partner who maintains excitement and novelty.
The Social Instinct is focused on cooperation, contribution, and maintaining awareness of the people around us. People with a dominant Social Instinct value bonding and shared play. They are adaptable and attentive to interdependence, but deliberate about which communities to participate in. If your partner has a dominant Social Instinct, they’re looking for a relationship built on reciprocity, shared interests, and mutual support. They appreciate having a partner who’s a teammate as well as a playmate.
In all relationships, it takes consideration and good communication to meet each others’ needs. When each person has a different dominant Instinct, conscious effort is important to understand what the other person values. What qualities do you each bring to the table, and how can you work together to ensure you both get your needs met? When both people share the same dominant Instinct, it’s important to understand how your views of that Instinct’s priorities are similar or different. What strengths do you share, and how can you work together to bring the other two Instincts into your relationship? Putting in this effort leads to rich relationships, with each partner bringing different, vital contributions.