Dear Vicki: My brother Joe is in his early forties and works as a cook, which is just his “day job.” His passion is music and playing guitar. When we were younger, Joe wanted to write songs for a rock band or be an elementary teacher. Neither ever happened. But about a year ago, Joe met a woman who runs a nursing home. Carol is close to his age, kind and caring, but also very exacting in how she approaches things. She’s always punctual, too. Since Joe moved in with Carol, he has changed in very positive ways. He’s less scattered, more organized, and even thinking about going back to college for a degree in early education. Our whole family is thrilled, and I’m wondering if there is anything we can do to help Joe in his relationship with Carol. She is so good for him. Signed: Caring Sister
Dear Caring Sister: It’s wonderful news about Joe, and no surprise that your family is so happy. In the Five Elements model, family sits in the Earth element. That means we’re all a little Earthy around our families. Deep, lasting relationships matter to Earth people. They also really want the people they care about to be happy. In fact, there appears to be a great deal of Earth energy in your family. Not only because you all want to help Joe and Carol stay together, but because I suspect both Joe and Carol have Earth as key parts of their elemental personalities. So, let’s take a look at them individually, then move on to their relationship.
Joe’s passion for music and songwriting suggests he has a primary Water personality. But his current job as a cook, as well as his desire to be in elementary education, suggests that he has a strong secondary Earth personality. I suspect Carol has a strong secondary Earth personality, too. Earth people make wonderful nurses. But to run a nursing home means that Carol has a more structured element as her primary personality: either Wood or Metal. And given her tendencies to be exacting and punctual, I suspect she has a primary Metal personality.
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
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.
Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m pretty sure that my best friend’s boyfriend is cheating on her. Bev and I have been besties since grade school. She’s sweet and kind, loves people and animals, and is studying to be a nurse. She and Jake (who spends more time skiing or playing ball than studying for the college business classes we share) have been together for a year and she’s convinced he’s “the one.” The problem is that lately I’ve seen Jake hanging with Ellie, the “hot” girl from our high school class, a lot. I’ve hinted at it to Bev, but she just smiles and says they’re old friends. They certainly look like more than friends to me, which really makes me angry! So what do I do? I want to shake Bev and tell her she deserves better than Jake. Why can’t she see it? Signed: Loyal Friend
Dear Loyal Friend: Bev is very lucky to have a friend like you. And as her friend, you are definitely in a difficult place. The relationship between Bev and Jake is private; it’s really no body’s business but theirs how they handle it. That said, it does sound like Bev believes it’s a monogamous relationship and Jake may have different ideas. The other issue at stake is your relationship with Bev. You do risk looking like you’re butting in if you pursue this too strongly. The last thing anyone in love wants to hear is that their best friend thinks their boyfriend is a jerk. So, you need to tread lightly here. But treading lightly doesn’t mean doing nothing, so let’s take a look at the relationship dynamics at play between you, Bev, and Jake and see what might make sense.
Your description of Bev indicates that she is clearly an Earth personality. Earths are usually sweet and kind, they usually do love people and animals, and they make wonderful nurses (and friends). You and Jake, on the other hand, both sound like Wood personalities. Your anger over Jake’s potential betrayal of your friend is characteristically Wood. Jake’s interest in Ellie, the popular girl from high school, is also characteristic of a Wood. Being important matters to Woods and they often borrow their importance from the people with whom they associate. Dating the hot girl could definitely make Jake feel good about himself. Finally, Woods are frequently drawn to business as an occupation – hard work can create significant personal success – so it makes sense as a career path for both you and Jake.
Dear Vicki: My brother’s wife pasted away two years ago and he really took it hard. It was like the light and joy went out of his life; my funny and outgoing brother became somber and cynical. He used to be the life of the party, but for a while he was pretty morose. Then several months ago, he finally begun dating and recently brought a woman (I’ll call her Hanna) to a family birthday party. We wanted to be excited for him, but Hanna was unpleasantly pushy and opinionated. Most members of my family are elementary school teachers, so we enjoy harmonious environments when not working, but this party ended up far from congenial. Hanna disagreed with my mother about when to start cooking a casserole (Mom is an excellent cook!) and questioned another sibling’s opinion about a movie. I think my brother could tell things weren’t going well because he stopped joking around halfway through the evening, then he and Hanna left early. I want my brother to be happy, but if Hanna is going to be part of the family, how are we ever going to get along? Signed, Overwhelmed in Ohio
Dear Overwhelmed: It’s good news that your brother has started dating again. The loss of a loved one is a difficult event to get over, and it can be especially hard for someone with a Fire personality like your brother. Fire people thrive on fun and excitement, but when they suffer a loss, their Fire quite literally goes out and it can take some time for the joy to come back. It isn’t surprising that Hanna was the person that relit his Fire, either. In the Five Elements model, the element that feeds (and therefore builds) Fire on the Nurturing Cycle is Wood, and Hanna is clearly a Wood personality. Wood energy is outgoing and accomplishment-driven which often makes Wood people seem pushy and opinionated.
On the other hand, I think you and many of your family members are Earth personalities. Earth people make great teachers, they revel in peace and harmony, and a loved one’s happiness will always matter. However, Earth relates to Wood on the Controlling Cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. That means that a room full of Earths could well feel overwhelmed by Hanna’s Wood energy. It’s no wonder that many of you were uncomfortable.
As far as all of you getting along with Hanna, that may be a non-issue because it’s quite possible your brother’s new relationship won’t last very long. Too much Fire for a constant length of time can literally burn out a Wood. If that happens, Hanna will most likely move on to calmer relationships. However, if the Fire doesn’t get too crazy, Woods can enjoy the upbeat atmosphere of life with a Fire, so Hanna could be around for the long haul. But don’t worry, there are ways for you to get along with Hanna and, who knows, maybe even like her!
Dear Vicki: In your recent post to Angry in Alaska, you mentioned that if a Metal person senses too much Wood energy in someone, the Metal will automatically want to “prune” that Wood. Is this true for all Controlling Cycle relationships? I’m a Fire and seem to have fallen in love with a Water. Jenna is serious and can be moody, but she’s also an amazingly creative author who has several published novels. We’ve been together for a few years now and I’ve noticed that when I’m dancing and having a great time at a party, Jenna does seem to throw water on my flames by saying something mean or cutting. It’s like she can barely tolerate me. When I ask her about it later, she acts like she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I love her, but it feels bad to be insulted in front of friends, even if I might have been a bit wild. Is this something Jenna does automatically because see thinks my Fire is out of control? If so, how do Controlling Cycle relationships ever last? Signed: Drowning in Downey
Dear Drowning: The quick answer to your question is that Controlling Cycle relationships last because we all need the balancing affect of control in our lives. Too much of anything, even something as wonderful as fun and laughter, isn’t good for us. Too much of anything is, by definition, a loss of balance and the Five Elements model is all about maintaining balance. The Controlling Cycle is the way the model addresses too much of something, while too little of something is addressed via the Nurturing Cycle. These reducing and building tendencies translate to our relationships, too. But in a culture where more always seems better than less, Controlling Cycle connections can seem harsh. Yet they are just as great a gift as a Nurturing Cycle connection. Sometimes, even more.
In your case, too much Fire can and will burn you out. In nature, fire has very little structure; it’s actually just heat made visible. At a personality level this lack of structure manifests as a tendency to have fewer boundaries than the other elements. Interestingly, as a Water, Jenna doesn’t have great boundaries herself. But water in nature is definitely more solid than fire, so Jenna will have more structure than you do. And her gift to you is to cool you down before you burn yourself out. She may do this in ways that seem mean – and we will come back to that in a minute – but she really can be acting in your best interest.