Dear Vicki: I have 14-year-old twins who are as different as night and day. Ted is a low-key guy who has always been happiest alone reading or watching movies. Tammy is the exact opposite. For her, everything is exciting and should be shared and celebrated at high volume. With the onset of sheltering in place, my husband is working from home and the children are doing virtual classes here, which means the four of us are spending almost every waking moment together in our small house. It’s not going well. I’ve tried to create fun and inventive family dinners, but they have degenerated to the point that Ted no longer talks because he can’t get a word in with Tammy going on and on about anything and everything. Tammy thinks Ted is a downer and Ted thinks Tammy lacks substance. My husband, an attorney, thinks they’re both spoiled brats that I clearly failed to raise well as a stay-at-home mom. I know this is a stressful time in the world, and I’m deeply grateful we all still have our health, but do you have any advice for a mom trying desperately to hold her family together during a pandemic? Signed, Battle Weary Mom
Dear Battle Weary: Well, it sounds like your household is certainly not dull. But have faith. You are dealing with the logical extension of what I believe are four different elemental personalities confined 24/7 in close quarters while a deadly virus runs amok in the world. For most people, the pandemic has thrown everything on its head and created stressors that can bring out the best – and the worst – in all of us. But there are ways to make some sense of (and even improve on) what’s happening at your house.
First, we need to identify the elemental personalities interacting in your family. To begin with, I believe that as a stay at home mom desiring nothing more than peace in the family, you are a primary Earth personality. Your husband, an attorney who gladly delegated childrearing to you yet is quick to judge the results, is very likely a Metal personality. As for Ted, the fact that he is low-key and enjoys time alone, plus loves reading and watching movies, strongly suggests that he is a primary Water personality. And Tammy is clearly a primary Fire personality: she loves to be the center of attention, louder is usually better, and everything is worthy of celebration.
Knowing that Ted is a primary Water personality and Tammy is a primary Fire personality absolutely explains the way they interact and the fact that you consider them exact opposites. At an elemental personality level, they really are exact opposites. Let me explain.
Dear Vicki: My partner and I have quite a turbulent relationship. He is VERY Wood and can be loud, judgmental, and sure he’s always right. On the other hand, he can be the most generous, kind, and thoughtful person ever. Sometimes, even if he’s in a great mood, he gets quite loud and talks non-stop and can’t seem to calm down. He can be very overwhelming and interrupt a lot, too. I’m sure that as a Fire/Water, I have traits and habits that probably drive him crazy, but life with him can be so overwhelming. It’s especially hard when he’s in one of his judgmental moods because he doesn’t get all the facts before passing judgment. When my Fire is unbalanced, I overreact and this makes things even worse. I’ve learned that approaching him from my Water works much better. Even so, we’ve really been having a hard time lately and have talked about separating. Neither of us wants this, but after 7 years we are both feeling more than a little stressed that we just can’t get it together. Signed: A Frustrated Fire
Dear Frustrated Fire: You have summarized your issues well. On the surface, it seems that the two of you should have a great relationship: His Wood relates to both your Water and Fire on the Nurturing Cycle. This means that your Water feeds his Wood, and his Wood feeds your Fire. It would be interesting to consider your partner’s secondary element to see if there is any Controlling Cycle influence in your relationship. Right now, the only controlling factor is your own Water to Fire. Is it possible that he has a secondary Metal? You don’t mention his occupation, but the fact that you find him very judgmental suggests that Metal might be strong in him. Metals are the final discerners in a cycle; they decide what matters and goes forward to the next cycle, and what is released and left behind. They are the ultimate authority on fact, too, so if your partner has a poor relationship with facts, his Metal (whether secondary or further back) is likely out of balance. His Wood will also bring an impatience for moving forward without full preparation.
If he is a secondary Metal, he would have a Controlling Cycle relationship with himself just as you do – his Metal would control his Wood. His secondary Metal would also add a Controlling Cycle factor to your relationship because your Fire controls his Metal. This means that between the two of you, four of the five elements would be represented in your relationship. Significantly, the one missing is Earth, the element of relationships. And this isn’t as bad as it sounds. If neither of you have a strong Earth, you won’t miss it in the other. However, it does imply that the two of you must be pretty compatible to have stayed together for seven years without a lot of Earth, so let’s see if we can help smooth things out.
Dear Vicki: I’m a Metal with a Wood secondary married to a Fire guy who has a lot of Earth. I sometimes wonder how we’ve made it seven years when we’re so different, but we have. In the good times, Rory’s Fire keeps my Metal from getting too stuck, and I’ve definitely learned to enjoy life, laugh, and play more thanks to him. And he says he appreciates how I help hold things together for him. But lately, I feel like I’m the more masculine person in this relationship. I’m the one who sets boundaries, makes plans, keeps us on track, etc. I’m tired of that and angry with him most of the time now. I really wish he could be the man in the family, especially now when we’re facing financial problems that require careful planning and holding to a budget. I think I need to bring out his inner Wood so he can help get things done. How do I do that? Signed: Needs More Wood
Dear Needs More Wood: The issue you’re having with Rory is one of structure, so it makes sense that you would want him to manifest more Wood, which is the second most structured of the elements. Metal is the most. From a structure perspective, that means that you have as a primary and secondary the two most structured elements possible. Rory, as you know, is much less structured. In fact, his primary Fire is the least structured of all of the elements. Fire is really just light; it is heat made visible. No structure there. But Earth does have structure, and that is important.
I think it’s this issue of structure that’s fueling your belief that you’re more “masculine” than Rory. In our patriarchal culture, the masculine principle (yang) is always seen as more structured and “no nonsense.” The feminine principle (yin) is more diffuse and go with the flow. But the Five Elements model teaches us that any whole needs equal amounts of yin and yang interacting in a dynamic fashion to maintain balance. That includes the “whole” that is your marriage. As you stated in your letter, during good times you and Rory do keep each other pretty balanced. But now that you’re in a tough spot, you aren’t feeling very balanced. Let’s see what we can do to move your marriage back to balance and also provide you with support.