Work, Family, Marriage: Can She Find the Balance?

Dear Vicki: A few weeks ago, my husband James and I arranged childcare for our three children so we could enjoy a romantic dinner out because our relationship is very important to us. Plus, I’d just finished a big project for the accounting firm where I work and James had recently been promoted to manager of his sales department, so we were both looking forward to celebrating. While we were holding hands in our romantic booth, my cell rang. Worried it might be the babysitter, I checked the number and saw that it was a coworker on my project. Thinking something might be wrong and I could fix it then let it go, I picked up the call. This didn’t go over well with James. He said this was our personal time and I should have ignored the call once I knew it wasn’t the sitter. Who’s right? Signed, Right or Wrong?

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Dear Right or Wrong: This is a great example of the significant differences between the elemental personalities and how they react in any given situation. Based on your occupations and behaviors as described in your letter, I’m going to guess that you are a primary Metal personality and your husband is a primary Wood personality. However, I also think you each have a great deal of Earth energy due to the fact that you both value your relationship so much and have chosen to have a family of three children.

In all likelihood, as a Metal person, you probably didn’t see any harm in taking a call to quickly dispense with a problem. But as you found out, your Wood personality husband clearly didn’t like his romantic dinner interrupted by your work. Let’s look at the dynamics at play here to help you better understand what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid this kind of thing going forward.

As a Metal personality, you have the enviable ability of being able to compartmentalize most aspects of your life. When you’re at work, you focus on work. At home, you focus on home. Most Metal people are great at detaching; none of the other elemental personalities can do this as well. So at dinner, it wasn’t hard for you to step out of the romance into work for a brief moment or two, fix the problem, then detach from work and step right back into the romance. Ah, that the rest of us could follow your lead.

However, as a Wood personality, James probably had pretty specific expectations for your evening. Wood people are great at creating expectations because they are wired to look to the future. And once created, expectations matter a lot to Wood people. When you picked up the call during dinner, James could have interpreted it as a message that time with him was less important than work. Also, the Earth part of his personality was likely invested in the two of you connecting at a deep level that evening and might have been hurt that you appeared not to feel the same way.

Once James felt hurt, the Wood part of his personality probably got pretty angry. Wood people don’t like to feel slighted; being important matters to them. And here’s where the dynamics between the two of you went off the rails. You and James relate to each other on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model. Your Metal controls James’ Wood. In the model, this means that to protect Wood from getting out of control (for a Wood person this might mean experiencing explosive rage), it is Metal’s job to reach across that Controlling Cycle and prune back a little of the excess Wood energy. So that evening at dinner, when James got miffed that you had taken the call, your response to his excess Wood energy was probably to bring in more of your own Metal energy which, unfortunately, can feel dismissive to an angry Wood. From there, the evening would have rapidly spiraled downhill.

The missing piece in this relationship equation is your Earth energy. Deep, lasting relationships are held together by the energy of the Earth element. When we have an abundance of Earth energy in our personality, relationships are usually the most important thing in our lives. And yet, we all have important relationships regardless of whether we are a primary Earth personality or not. The Earth part of your personality is certainly what drove you to check your phone that evening to guarantee that all was well at home, but then it seems that your Metal personality took over when you saw it was a work call.

In your defense, because Metal people compartmentalize everything and are pros at leaping from one compartment to another and back again, a Metal person would see nothing wrong with a quick call to handle things. But James wasn’t interested in a business dinner with the Metal part of your personality; he wanted a romantic dinner with his wife, a connection that could have easily happened if your Earth energy and his Earth energy had been able to connect.

Clearly, there is neither right nor wrong here for either of you, but I do have some suggestions to ensure that this type of thing doesn’t happen again. Metal and Wood are the two most structured elemental personalities. This makes them good at accomplishing great things, especially at work. However, it’s likely that while you admire and respect each other’s work, what holds you together in a romantic relationship is the Earth energy you both have in your personalities. When you are out on a date with James, you can and will discuss work, but please use the structured aspect of your personalities to keep the focus on each other. James was probably fine talking about work; it was when you shifted your attention away from him to take a work call that he became upset.

But what about being available for calls from the sitter? Today’s technology has the answer. Set a separate ring tone on your phone for the sitter and let all other calls go to voicemail. And if you know you might need to pick up a call from work, ask James upfront if that’s okay. As we said, Wood people are big on expectations. If he knows you may need to take an important call, he’ll be prepared to share you with work.

And since Earth energy is all about home and family, make sure that you (and James) emphasize your Earth-to-Earth personality connections in your personal life as often as you can with each other and your children. Do “Earthy” things together like enjoying food, spending time outdoors, gardening, and even hiking. This not only creates strong bonds between you, it will ground you all, as well.

Finally, use your Metal structure to guard against stepping into work on special occasions. Left to their own devices, Metal people can easily build compartments that separate them from others. In fact, too much Metal energy can end up isolating you from those you love. Embrace your Earth personality whenever you are with your family and all will be well. Blessings to you!


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