Understanding Each Other Now

Dear Vicki:  I know these are difficult times for all of us, but I’m having trouble with my husband. We both work outside of the home (he manages a printing store, I’m a librarian) so used to spend time together just on weekends. But now with stay at home, we’re together almost 24/7. I think the problem is that I’m a pretty go with the flow kind of person and my husband is not. We’re all stressed, but lately my beautiful, kind, intelligent, hardworking guy has turned into a fussy, opinionated jerk who rants continuously about everything (politics, viruses, no business, you name it). I’m actually enjoying the quiet time at home to catch up on reading, but he’s like a caged animal. How do we get along? Signed, On the Edge

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Dear On the Edge: That’s the question, isn’t it? How do people who are so different manage to get along? I believe the short answer is that we start by understanding each other. Especially now with the stress of Covid-19, we are all going to have times when we behave less than perfectly. And there are ways to manage that, but let’s start with understanding each other first. It sounds to me like you are a primary Water personality and your husband is a primary Wood personality, so let’s take a look.

Your husband, as a Wood person, will care about things like politics, will always have opinions, and will “rant” because frustration and anger are where Wood people go when they’re stressed. And politics usually stress the Wood personality; the concern that the “wrong” party or person is creating chaos frustrates them. And given what’s going in the world, I can guarantee that you’re not the only household where ranting abounds these days.

I have no idea how long you’ve been married, but the fact that you also know him to be a “beautiful, kind, intelligent, hardworking guy” says that you’ve likely been together a while, so his behaviors probably aren’t a total surprise to you. Rather, I think perhaps they’re wearing on you more heavily now than at previous times because, as you say, you are together 24/7. As a primary Water personality, you will tend to go with the flow more than most, or even let the flow go around you, leaving you unfazed. This will be a real asset for you moving through these coronavirus times.

Sadly, your laid-back approach isn’t something your Wood personality husband will necessarily understand. Wood people usually try to make things happen, and to do that they often have opinions about everything. The ability of a Water person to be philosophical, to look at a situation like the current pandemic and take an “it is what it is” approach, will be completely foreign to a Wood personality. Hold on to your ability to be philosophical, though. It will serve you well as you navigate the relationship with your husband. And understanding how you two relate is where the Five Elements model can help

In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate on the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle in the model below), so this connection can have a nurturing feel to it. Note that I say “can” have a nurturing feeling. How a Nurturing Cycle relationship feels will vary greatly depending on the elements involved, who is “feeding” who, and if the interactions are casual and fun or serious and stressed. In your relationship, it is your Water that is feeding his Wood, so he should feel happy with that.

The Five Elements Model

And as long as you stay balanced so as not to over or under supply the relationship with energy, it can and should be a happy connection. It’s likely that the differences between you and your husband are heightened right now based on what’s going on in the world. Said another way, you’re probably having trouble with the fact that your flow is running smack dab into a wooden wall of ranting and fussiness that interferes with your calm.

There are several ways for you to approach this. First, your Wood personality husband might be surprised to know that his ranting is upsetting you as much as it is, unless you have already told him. Ranting is a natural expression for a frustrated Wood person; it’s an emotional energy release for them that often doesn’t include their brain. If you haven’t already shared with your husband that you’d rather not experience his rants or fussiness, then please do so. Wood people are usually very rational individuals who can comprehend that something they’re doing is a problem. Your husband probably won’t be able to change completely, but at least he’ll understand when you choose to remove yourself from the discussion, the room, or the house when he’s in one of those moods. You doing this might be the encouragement he needs to alter his behavior, too.

Second, you need to honor yourself. Like any healthy Water personality, your sanity will often depend on your ability to maintain a steady, calm flow so that you can go deep down to where the inner life of the Water personality exists. Make sure your Water energy is balanced. If you have too much Water energy, you could actually be contributing to your husband’s heightened frustrated state because, as we’ve said, Water feeds Wood. Once you’re sure you’re balanced, determine when your husband is most likely to be ranting or fussy (watching political shows on TV, perhaps?) and avoid those times and places. You can read a book in another room while he watches TV or does whatever it is that upsets him so much.

Finally, request that certain rooms in your home can be declared “neutral zones.” This means no intense discussions allowed. Rooms to label as such might be the bedroom and the dining room; anything that happens in either of these rooms usually doesn’t benefit from ranting or fussiness. If a conversation with him gets to be too much, retreat to one of these neutral zones and hold your line.

I suspect that if you do this a few times, the “beautiful, kind, and intelligent” part of him will get what’s happening, become more aware of his behavior, and ideally change it accordingly. He is always going to be a Wood personality, and you are always going to be a Water personality, but the relationship between the two of you doesn’t have to be  contentious. It can be loving and deep as long as you understand and honor what each of you brings. Blessings to you! Stay safe and well!



She’s Overwhelmed by Sheltering in Place

Dear Vicki: I have always thought of myself as a good accountant, wife, and mother, but having everyone at home all of the time is driving me crazy. I’m impatient, cranky, and overwhelmed. And I only have one child! I’d love some help, but my husband’s marketing job is more intense than mine, so I haven’t asked him. This means that homeschooling Sammy, our 10-year-old, falls to me, too. I wish we could all just go to our separate rooms and get work done, but Sammy wants to be wherever I am. She also wants to help me with all the meals that are suddenly needed with everyone home, but honestly, she just makes it harder to get things done the right way. I’ve talk to my sister about this and even though she has three children at home, it sounds like she’s sailing through the whole thing. They all cook together! They make homemade gift wrap together! My sister has always been a great artist and kind of a go with the flow person, but why is she doing so much better with this shelter in place stuff than I am? My normal perfection is out the window! What can I do to get better? Signed: Overwhelmed

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Dear Overwhelmed: This may not help much immediately, but please know you are not alone. So many people I have heard from lately are overwhelmed. They are not used to being wife (or husband), employee, cook, housekeeper, teacher, mom (or dad), spouse, boss, and sane all at the same time in the same place with a house full of other people and no clear end in sight. So please, take a deep breath and some immediate comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Far from it!

Your question as to why your sister seems to be managing a husband and three children at home better than you are managing one child at home with you and your husband is a good one. The short answer is that you and your sister are clearly very different people with very different tendencies and priorities. And as you might imagine, I believe this can be traced back to the primary elemental personalities of everyone involved. So, let’s take a look at those because I think you will find not only the answer to your questions, but also some important guidelines regarding how best to survive this “shelter in place” phase most of us are in.

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Managing the Stress Created by Coronavirus

Dear Readers: Thank you so much for your positive response to last week’s blog offering insights into how each of the elemental personalities might handle the isolation and confinement associated with the coronavirus pandemic. I am deeply grateful for your positive comments.

I’ve also heard from many of you that the stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic has been hard to manage. Certainly, it is stressful to worry whether you and your loved ones will manage to stay healthy as the virus spreads around the globe. It is stressful to wonder if there will be adequate healthcare should someone you love need it. And it is stressful to ponder how best to keep your household running and adequately supplied when faced with layoffs, shortages, and shelter in place orders.

There is no doubt that the concerns associated with COVID-19 have thrust most of us into a state of prolonged stress. When added to whatever stress we were experiencing in our individual lives prior to the pandemic, we are likely experiencing significant imbalance in our energies. But we have choices in how we address this stress, and the Five Elements model offers us informed options.

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Coronavirus, Isolation, and the Five Elements

Dear Readers: I’ve had several questions this week regarding challenges people are facing while isolating and/or practicing social distancing given the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the globe. Of special import is how to help children who are used to socializing at school and are now confined to a much smaller universe of interaction, oftentimes just their homes. And for adults here in the U.S., many of the places we usually socialize, like our workplaces or restaurants, are also temporarily closed. That leaves us working at home, often surrounded by the children who aren’t going to the closed schools. How do we manage to stay productive, upbeat, and sane?

It won’t surprise you that I believe how we manage to make it work will depend on our elemental personalities and the elemental personalities of the people who are at home with us. Each of the five elemental personalities handles isolation and confinement differently. With a basic understanding of what does and doesn’t work for each elemental personality, I believe it is possible to create scenarios where we not only make it through these difficult times, but cherish some of the precious moments made possible by our time in isolation.

It goes without saying that we are already doing everything in our power to stay physically healthy (right?), so let’s look at ways to help each of us stay emotionally and mentally healthy as more and more of us “shelter in place.” But before we do, we will need to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding our understanding of the Five Elements personalities, so please bear with me as I quickly review key points regarding the Five Elements model and the elemental personalities associated with that model. If you already know this material, just skip down to the Managing Confinement and Isolation section.

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