She Can’t Stand Her Brother’s Girlfriend

Dear Vicki: My twin brother Peter and I were very close growing up, but he went to college out of state and never moved back home. We’re 23 now and he’s hinted about getting engaged to Jessie, a girl he met while a student in college. She, however, was not a student – she is six years older than we are and was a waitress when they met. He’s clearly in love and has their whole life planned out, but the few times I’ve met her have given me grave concerns regarding their potential life together. Peter’s a serious guy, a real homebody, who works for an animal rescue service in the town where he and Jessie live. She is still a waitress, but apparently likes to go out with friends when she gets off work and sometimes doesn’t get home to Peter until after midnight, which is so not right. How is this going to be any kind of a marriage? He’s talking about children with her, too, but what party girl makes a good mother? That’s not the way things are supposed to be, but Peter defends Jessie no matter what I say. It’s absurd! I’m too busy with my job as a programmer to go try to talk some sense into him again, but what can I do? Signed: Disgusted in Detroit

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Dear Disgusted: Bless you for wanting what’s best for your brother. As twins, it was probably very hard for you when he went away to college; twins are used to being and staying close. It’s also probably hard that Peter has chosen not to move back home and is, apparently, creating a new home with Jessie. Clearly, this is not what you think should be happening and that’s understandable. However, from a Five Elements perspective, it is also understandable that Peter would be attracted to Jessie, that Jessie would be attracted to Peter, and that you would have problems with their relationship. So let’s see what we can to do help you understand what is going on.

To use the Five Elements model to help sort of the relationship issues between you, Peter, and Jessie, we need a sense of the primary elemental personalities for the three of you. Your upset that Peter hasn’t done things the way you think they’re “supposed to be,” along with your job as a programmer, suggests that you likely have a primary Metal personality. Metal people work well with detail and have the focus and thoroughness necessary to be a good programmer. They also expect life to follow a prescribed pattern and unfold in an orderly fashion. When that doesn’t occur, they can easily become upset and sometimes judgmental.

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Where They Meet Will Make a Difference

Dear Vicki: I’m in my mid-20s and live by myself in Manhattan where I work as a legal advocate for a refugee organization. My mother recently informed me that my cousin (her sister’s son who’s around my age) will be moving here to take a job as a trial attorney. Mom asked if I would help James find a place, get settled, and meet people. I understand that he is family, but since we were children, I’ve never really liked James. He always seemed like a wild, pushy, “my way or the highway” kind of guy. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed his company; he’s exhausting to be around. There’s no way out of it though, so do you have any recommendations regarding what I can do to stand him for however long it takes to get him settled? Signed: Cornered in Manhattan

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Dear Cornered: Ah, the things we are called to do in the name of family. I agree that you probably are stuck with helping your cousin get settled in the big city. And while you will probably never really enjoy James, there are ways to manage your interactions with him to make things less painful. That said, the first step is for you to understand why he exhausts you and rubs you the wrong way. Of course, I think it has everything to do with your elemental personalities.

It’s interesting that you and James are both attorneys. One might expect that a shared profession would make relating to each other easier, but given the type of law you each practice, I can understand why that hasn’t happened. You are radically different from each other and the way this has manifested in your career paths offers insight into your elemental personalities.

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They Don’t Need Another Mother

Dear Vicki: I am writing regarding a family problem in the wake of my mother’s passing one year ago. Mary, my mom’s younger sister, was incredibly close to mom and often acted like she resented that mom had three children and a husband to attend to. Mom adored us all, but our family’s relationship with Mary was often quite difficult. Since mom died, even though the three of us are adults with our own children, Mary seems to think she has to play the role of our mom now. She gets very annoyed if we don’t call her or get in touch. She always wants to know what we’re doing and has strong opinions about whatever it is. My sister and I can find a place to connect with her because we’re both artists, but my younger brother Frank feels very frustrated by her constant questioning of his life and the choices he’s made. He’s actually quite angry with her and just recently snapped at me, “We already had a mother; we don’t need another one!” If it helps, Mary lives the artist’s life nearby and doesn’t need work beyond that because she parlayed an excellent investment into a permanent income stream for herself. None of us really enjoy Mary, but she is the only member of my mom’s family left and families should get along, right? Do you have any suggestions for how we can get on better with her? Signed: Pretty Fed Up

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Dear Pretty Fed Up: Ah, the joy of family interactions, so often fraught with misunderstanding and tension! Please remember that even though you are all from the same family, that in no way guarantees that getting along will somehow be easier. In truth, the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt often applies to families. The more acquainted we become with a person, the more we know their shortcomings, making it easier to dislike them. But it doesn’t change the issue that Mary is family, and as you have discovered, there is rarely an easy answer regarding how to shift unwanted behaviors. However, we do have our trusty Five Elements model to help make sense of the relationship, so let’s see what we can work out to help you change what is going on with your Aunt Mary.

As a full time artist, Mary likely has a primary Water personality. Creativity and imagination sit in Water, as does a tendency to have poor boundaries. In nature, water conforms to any container offered, but lacking a container, it flows all over the place. Mary clearly has never had good boundaries regarding her relationship with your family. Our culture generally gives priority to marriages and the families they produce, but while your mother was alive, Mary apparently felt her sibling relationship with your mother should be the top priority.

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What Kind of Boundaries Do You Have?

Dear Readers: Today we offer yet another opportunity to better understand yourself and the people in your life. Or at least a chance to better understand your elemental personalities. As I have mentioned here numerous times, at a very deep level the energy of the Five Elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal) helps shape our personalities. That’s because the energy of these five elements is stacked up in our personal energy fields and the order of this stacking determines which of the five affects us most. This dominant or primary element is called our elemental personality and the more we know about it, the more we know about ourselves. Even better, the more we know about the primary elemental personalities of the people in our lives, the better we can understand them. And best of all, because the Five Elements interact in predictable ways based on the ancient Five Elements model, we can use this model to predict the highs and the lows of every relationship we have.

This means that an important key to good relationships is the ability to determine the primary elemental personalities for ourselves and the people in our lives. And I believe that the best way to do that is to recognize yourself (and your friends and family) in basic descriptions of the elements and their behaviors. As I have suggested before, your primary personality is like being born into a secret club. All members of the Wood club will have similar tendencies, as will all members of the Metal, Water, Earth or Fire clubs. How members of these different clubs get along in relationships has been the primary focus of this blog for years, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to know yourself and what matters to you. When you do, your relationships will automatically start making sense, too.

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Alone Time and Relationship

Dear Vicki: My husband of 15 years and I divorced two years ago. It was his choice and very difficult for me; I crawled into a hole for quite some time. Recently, I’ve started dating a nice fellow I’ll call Tom, but I’m having trouble figuring him out. Sometimes he’s sensitive and caring, and sometimes he’s aloof and distant. When he’s in his caring place, we get along great. But when he’s off on his own, I tend to drift away, too, which I don’t think speaks well for a future together. I do love time alone – I’m an art therapist so enjoy my painting – and Tom is an attorney who spends a great deal of time at work. Do you think we have a chance of making it work? Signed, Can This Work

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Dear Can This Work: First, let me say that I pretty much believe any relationship can “make it” if both parties understand the dynamics of their connection and are willing to work with them. There will be ups and downs, of course, but these can be predicted based on your elemental personalities. Knowing what your personal tendencies are in a relationship will always help build on the ups and smooth over the downs.

It sounds to me like you may have a primary Water personality given your love for art and an appreciation of time alone to paint. Creativity of all kinds sits in the Water element. But the fact that you use your talent to work as a therapist suggests that you also have a strong amount of Earth energy in your personality, too. Earth people love helping others, and they also value home and family. Your concern about being able to “make it work” with Tom speaks to a desire for a long-term relationship, which is also very important to Earth people.

As an attorney, it’s very likely that Tom has a primary Metal personality because it takes an appreciation of detail and hierarchy to practice law. Metal people also require time alone to work, which would explain his tendency to distance himself from you at times. And when Metal people become overworked or tired, they can come off as aloof, so I think it’s a pretty good guess that Tom is a primary Metal personality. However, his sensitivity and caring with you suggests a good amount of Earth energy in his personality, too.  Bottom line: In your relationship with Tom he brings Metal and Earth personality tendencies and you bring Water and Earth personality tendencies.

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