Distance Growing Between Son and New Husband

Dear Vicki: I read your post last summer about the woman whose new husband and son butted heads all the time. I have the opposite problem and wonder if you can help me. Last year I married Ted, a divorced father with joint custody of two very active teenage sons. My 10-year-old son Sam and I moved in with Ted and the blended family thing is working pretty well except for one big problem: Sam is miserable and pulling away from Ted. In an effort to bond, Ted wants to play ball with Sam and take him to sporting events or even war movies, but Sam just isn’t into those things. He likes his time alone to read and draw. I’ve tried to explain to Ted that Sam is different from his sons, but he just rolls his eyes and questions whether we’re going to raise a wimp. How can I help Ted and Sam get along? I love them both and want everyone to be happy in our home. Signed, Worried in Washington

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Dear Worried: First, let’s focus on the positive fact that Ted wants to do a good job raising Sam. That means he cares. Second, Ted is approaching the challenge of getting along with Sam like someone who has a lot of Wood energy in his personality. Competition is key to a Wood’s approach to life, and nothing says competition like sporting events and war movies. But Sam clearly isn’t a Wood person. Preferring time alone to read or draw sounds a lot more like a Water personality.

In the Five Elements model, Wood and Water relate to each other on the Nurturing Cycle, so you’d think the relationship between Ted and Sam would be naturally nurturing. And it can be.  However, this particular Wood/Water relationship is a parent/child connection (or at least step-parent) where the child’s Water feeds the parent’s Wood, and this will make a subtle difference in the dynamics of the relationship. We’ll come back to that later, but first we’re going to talk about the most dramatic issue between Wood and Water, and that’s the concept of structure.

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She Can’t Relate to Winter!

Dear Vicki: This isn’t really a question about a relationship with another person, it’s more about my relationship to a season. I hate winter and actually think I may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because I’m always so depressed during the winter month, no matter how beautiful people say they are. I hate being cold! Even worse, I’m pretty sure I’m a Water personality, which makes winter “my” season. Yuck! So why do I hate it so much? Dreading Winter

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Dear Dreading: This is an excellent question at an excellent time. Winter is just around the corner. In past posts we have touched on the fact that the seasons absolutely affect how our personalities manifest. During the season associated with our element, we often feel more “ourselves,” as if the incoming energy reminds us of who and what we are. For example, my Wood personality is all about getting things done, which is the hallmark of spring. So right around the middle of March, I usually do feel like I’m waking up from a long winter nap and am ready to take on the world. The incoming energy of spring helps me get going in a way that thrills my Wood.

We can also feel more balanced during a season that isn’t our primary energy, but is one that we really need. So if I’ve been going full speed ahead all spring and summer, the energy of autumn will help me slow down, not just because the days are shorter, but because it’s the energy of Metal, which sits on my Controlling Cycle. Autumn helps my productivity-oriented Wood slow down and stay balanced. And if my Wood is depleted, winter can be a great time because the Water energy of winter feeds the Wood element. But it doesn’t work that way for other elemental personalities, so let’s see what can be done to help you.

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Work Sucks: It’s Like Herding Cats!

Dear Vicki: I work for a large advertising firm and have been very successful at making good things happen for my company. I was recently promoted, but now things aren’t going so well. My responsibilities include managing a department of what we call “creatives” (the people who actually develop and produce the ads) and it’s a nightmare. They are excellent at what they do (we have won many awards), but they miss deadlines, skip conference calls, dress in an extremely casual manner even around our corporate clients, show up late, you name it. And no amount of chastising from me seems to work. I like my work and up until now have done an extremely good job for my firm, but managing this group is like herding cats and Im clearly failing. What can I do to get them to tow the line? Signed: Hates Cats

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Dear Hates Cats: I had to chuckle at your sign off.  In truth, I suspect you don’t really hate cats. Rather, you hate situations that are “out of control,” and that gives us a good idea of your primary personality. Both Wood people and Metal people have a strong relationship with the concept of control, but their needs are quite different. Metals need to feel that they are in control and Woods need to avoid the chaotic feeling of being out of control. The fact that you are good at making things happen at work suggests that you are a Wood personality; Metals are usually better at understanding why things happen than making them happen. As a Wood, you bring a great deal of structure to everything you do. In fact, of all the Five Elements personalities, only Metal has more structure. And that structure will usually stand you in good stead in any corporate environment. Unfortunately, you have landed in one of the few places where that isn’t necessarily true. When managing overly creative people, artificially imposed structure often doesn’t work. Let’s see how we can help.

Highly creative people usually have a lot of Water energy in their personality make-up. The two reasons for this are that imagination sits in the Water element and the Water element has very little structure. Think of water in nature: it has no structure of its own but will conform to any structure offered, be that water glass or riverbed. This is both the bad and good news for you. Left to their own devises, Water people will usually go with the flow wherever that flow might take them, which allows them to follow their creative muses as need be. However, it does make managing them a bit like herding cats. But just like in nature, Water people will usually take any reasonable structure offered them, so you should be able to impose some managerial structure. The key point here is that the structure must be reasonable from the perspective of a Water, not a Wood. We’ll come back to this later.

Another issue you need to consider if you are going to successfully manage a department of Water people is how you and your “creatives” relate to each other because this will set the tone for your every interaction. In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle with Water feeding Wood, so in theory, managing these Waters should be heaven for you. In nature, wood absolutely needs water to survive. An advertising agency is nothing without good ads, so in business, you do need your creatives. But going back to nature, too much water will rot wood every time and therein lies part of your problem. Rotting wood loses structure. Even though your creatives feed you with what you need to produce good ads, too much Water will weaken you (rot you, so to speak), overwhelm your structure, and create chaos. Because Woods need to avoid chaos, their response to this perceived lack of structure is usually to impose even more structure, which rarely goes over well with Waters. So what can you do?

First and foremost, I encourage you to build on the fact that you and your creatives absolutely can have a mutually beneficial relationship; it’s part of everyone’s wiring. So instead of coming on strong and demanding they “tow the line,” try approaching them as partners in a process that really does benefit everyone. It truly can be a win-win: you need their creativity and they need to be creative. Yes, the corporate world demands a certain degree of structure – deadlines must be met, budgets adhered to, etc. – but there is usually wiggle room in everything. Meet with your creatives and find out what they like about their jobs, and what they don’t. Create a team environment where they feel like they belong. Remember that Waters need outside structure, they can’t do it for themselves, but it needs to be reasonable to them. The Water personality is often compared to the innocence and wonder of a child, and children do well with reasonable structure. Find out what your group of Waters thinks is reasonable and try to make that happen for them. Just like children, Waters are usually appreciative of the people who create a structure that gives them space to play in the world of imagination. Plus, your Waters get paid for it!

Bottom line, if you insist on seeing yourself as their boss and implementing strict guidelines that must be followed, it will be like herding cats and you will fail. But if you can build an environment where they can work and create in a playful way, they will be happy and productive. Accomplish that and you will continue to be very successful at making good things happen for your company. Blessings to you!

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Is Her Partner Disconnecting?

Dear Vicki: I just read your excellent post on help for a Metal husband and Fire wife and I wonder if you could comment on the variation I think I have going on. I am a Fire/Earth and use Wood for structure. My partner is Metal, but he is an artist so I think there’s a fair amount of Water in there, too. Anyway, we’re having problems. I drive him nuts with all my home projects and inability to sit still for a whole movie or TV show. He drives me nuts with his laser-focused attention that resents interruption whether working or relaxing. He doesn’t understand why it bothers me when he doesn’t answer a question. He decides if he thinks it needs an answer, and if he doesn’t think so, he is mum. I’ve tried to be patient with him because he recently lost a close friend, but it’s not working. I worry he might be pulling back. When we first got together, I felt our Earths bond strongly, but over time this has become intermittent. When stressed, I am drawn outdoors where I work on significant flower and vegetable gardens and a flock of chickens and a few fish in the pond.  He hates gardening and yard work. Maybe you could suggest another way to bring up his Earth? Signed: Nuts in Nevada

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Dear Nuts in Nevada: This is an excellent question. On the surface, it does seem like the information offered last week to a Fire/Metal couple should fit for you and your partner. However, I believe that there are more differences between the two couples than similarities. First, I suspect that you are really an Earth/Fire, not a primary Fire. My reasoning for this is that when stressed, Fires rarely seek solace outside with gardens, chickens, and fish. Instead, they usually seek events with other people where they can feed their need for excitement and connection. So your question is more about making a relationship work between an Earth/Fire and a Metal/Water. And I can tell you right up front that more Earth energy isn’t going to help, so let’s look at what will.

First, as with most relationships, it’s important to understand the underlying dynamics between you and your partner. In fact, it is more important in your relationship than with many others. As you know, your Earth will feel good to his Metal because Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle. Metals expect this from Earths. However, your Earth relates to his secondary Water via the Controlling Cycle (Earth directs Water). More importantly, your secondary Fire relates to his primary Metal on the Controlling Cycle, (Fire melts Metal). That isn’t going to feel good to him at all. But turnabout is fair play, because his secondary Water relates to your secondary Fire via the Controlling Cycle (Water puts out Fire).

The takeaway from all of this is that the only Nurturing Cycle connection in your whole primary/secondary relationship complex is your Earth feeding his Metal. Every other connection you have with him is via the Controlling Cycle. Your Earth controls his Water, your Fire controls his Metal, and his Water controls your Fire.

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They Weathered the Crisis, but Their Relationship is Failing

Dear Vicki: Last September, my husband and I were in a serious car accident. We both survived and have recovered completely, but for six or seven months, life was a blur of hospitals, medicines, doctors appointments, and physical therapy. Initially, we seemed closer than ever. My husband Frank managed all the little details of the appointments, pharmaceuticals, live-in care, etc. for both of us. I didn’t have to worry about anything except keeping our hope alive and trying to stay optimistic. It all worked great, too, until we got back to “normal” the beginning of summer. Now, Frank seems preoccupied with his work and barely notices me, and I have to admit I’m feeling pretty depressed about everything. When we do interact, we disagree and fight. How could we have made it through the tough times and now be falling apart? Signed: Down in Denver

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Dear Down in Denver: It’s not uncommon to tough it out during a crisis and then fall apart afterward. It’s very instinctive to focus all of our resources on survival, but that leaves us depleted when the crisis passes. This certainly happened for you and Frank, not only physically, but also emotionally. You pulled together when you had to, made it though, and now are each retreating within yourselves to rebuild your resources. The good news is that each of you will likely build your stamina and zest for life back to pre-accident levels by the first anniversary of the accident. That happens automatically when we take care of ourselves and give ourselves time to heal. The concerning news is that healing after a trauma is not necessarily automatic for a relationship. You may need to help it along, so let’s look at what can be done to get you and Frank back to your pre-accident connection.

You don’t mention where you think you and Frank fall within the Five Elements model, but you have given us some excellent clues. The fact that Frank was good at managing all the details of your respective recoveries suggests that he has a lot of Metal energy in his personality. Metal people are excellent with detail; organizing minutia actually makes them happy. Your gift to the joint recovery process was optimism and hope. These are natural places to go for someone with a lot of Water energy in their personality. We also see your primary elements manifesting in out of balance ways after the crisis abated. When unbalanced, Metals can become unreasonably focused on work and dismiss anything unrelated, and Waters can easily become depressed.

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