Dear Vicki: My husband of two years is a sensitive, creative, artistic man. Bart makes pottery, hand-builds furniture, and paints a lot. When not involved in a creative endeavor, he can usually be found at a coffee shop with friends discussing some profound topic. The problem I’m having with Bart is his inability to stay focused long enough to finish projects and promote them. He’s had many offers to paint murals for people or make furniture, but he never does because he’s still working on his other projects. I do freelance marketing for small businesses and not-for-profit groups and really love helping people. I have tried to help Bart get his act together, but as you can imagine, my trying to structure him doesn’t go over well. Frankly, I’m getting a little frustrated that he can’t seem to finish anything and it’s beginning to affect our marriage. Can you help? Signed, Frustrated in Franklin
Dear Frustrated: You are at a key point in your marriage. The honeymoon is over and now you’re dealing with the nitty gritty of who you are at your core and how compatible you two really are. The good news for you and Bart is that you probably have very compatible elemental personalities. Bart clearly sounds like a primary Water personality. Water people are creative, artistic, and usually ready to discuss anything that seems big picture or philosophic. You, on the other hand, sound like a primary Wood personality. Your occupation in marketing – which is the ability to plan how to position and promote someone or something – is right up Wood’s alley. The fact that you are frustrated also speaks to Wood, because anger and frustration are where stressed Wood people usually go.
In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate to each other the Nurturing Cycle, with Water feeding Wood, which means you should have a happy, nurturing relationship. And you probably do; there are probably many times you feel loved and supported by your Water husband, and he feels the exactly the same about you. That is all well and good, but what you’re describing is a big issue that quite often creates tension in Water/Wood relationships and that’s the issue of structure.
As a Wood person, you probably appreciate structure unless it’s structure you don’t agree with or support. But Bart, as a Water person, will probably not. His relationship with structure will range from “What is it?” to “Who needs it?” Bart’s inability to focus enough to finish projects is the flip side of the energy that makes him so creative and open to inspiration. He’s really not unfocused, he’s just focusing with a wide-angle lens. Water people dislike structure because structure often feels stifling to them; they like to go with the flow or wherever their muses take them. Water personalities can go where the more structured elemental personalities (mostly Wood and Metal) couldn’t even imagine. That’s because Water people can imagine almost anything!
If you think of how water acts in nature, it will randomly spread out and flow anywhere and everywhere unless it’s channeled or contained in some way. And therein lies the primary clue regarding how you can best help Bart. In spite of their apparent dislike of it, Water people need structure. Water in nature dries up quickly if it is spread too thin. For a Water personality, this can translate to being spread so thin on a time or energy basis that their creativity dries up. In truth, Bart will welcome structure as necessary to his survival if it is the right kind of structure. But what kind of structure is right for him?
As we have said in this blog many times, one of the most important aspects of the Five Element model is that it utilizes the wisdom and truths of nature to ensure that every element stays balanced. The Nurturing Cycle brings energy to elements needing it and the Controlling Cycle helps decrease energy in elements with too much. And a Water person who can’t focus or finish things, a person who wanders all over the place, usually has too much unchanneled Water energy.
Looking at the Five Elements model, we see that the element that relates to Water on the Controlling Cycle is Earth, which makes perfect sense. What is it that nature uses to hold water in place and give it structure? It is always earth. Every lake, river, stream, ocean, pond, or puddle out in nature is embraced and shaped by the earth. This is the structure that water needs and responds to the best in nature. And this is the structure that a Water personality will respond to the best, as well.
You mention that you work with not-for-profit organizations and especially love helping people. This makes me suspect that you have a strong secondary Earth personality which, coupled with the planning and strategic skills of your Wood personality, makes you the perfect person to help Bart! Your love for him will help, too. The beauty of the Earth kind of structure is that it is gentle and organic in both nature and personalities. The truth is that Earth people possess gentle structure (vs. the more formalized structure of Wood and Metal people) and a skill at helping others with transitions. Ending (or finishing) is a form of transition, so once again, the Earth part of your personality is exactly what Bart needs. Here’s what you can try.
First, on your own, look at his projects and select one that you think will be the easiest to finish. You are looking for one where you can see an easy path to completion. Use the Wood part of your personality to do this because Wood people see the future, which makes them excellent at envisioning the best path from point A to B.
Second, pick a time when you haven’t recently argued with Bart over his stack of unfinished projects and, in your loving Earth personality way, offer to help while he finishes up that project. All he may need is your presence chatting with him while he finishes. Or maybe you can bring him lunch while he works. Perhaps even reading in the same room while he is working would be enough. You will know better than I what will be the best fit for Bart, but you want to be present to nurture and support (and gently structure) him in the transition from idea/creation to finished state. You will be using your Earth personality to ground Bart, and truly, it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
Remember that Water sits at the beginning of the cycle in the Five Elements model, and as such, is said to represent birth and children. We all know that children need encouragement and nurturing, which comes from the Earth element. If you can step out of the pragmatism and expectations that are so typical of the Wood personality and step into the nurturing and encouragement that is stereotypical for Earth people, I believe you will automatically bring to Bart exactly what he needs to narrow his focus and finish his work. And the smaller the stack of unfinished work becomes, the easier it will be for him to move from overwhelm to inspiration regarding working on them again. Blessings to you, and Bart!