Gretchen Rubin

Self-knowledge Can Help You Strengthen Your Romantic Relationships

Self-knowledge Can Help You Strengthen Your Romantic Relationships

Valentine’s Day is almost here – and if you’ve been thinking about the relationships in your life, you may be thinking about some questions that I often get: "How do people’s Tendencies play out in romantic relationships? Are any pairings particularly strong – or particularly troubled? Can The Four Tendencies help me improve my relationship?"

If you don’t know anything about the Four Tendencies – whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel – you can take the free quiz here (more than 1.3 million people have taken it).

When we first meet someone, we’re often attracted to the very qualities that, over time, will drive us nuts. An Upholder might initially be intrigued by a Rebel’s refusal to play by the rules, and the Rebel may be drawn to the Upholder’s ability to get things done—but five years into the marriage, those qualities look much less attractive.

For instance, I’m an Upholder, and realizing that my husband Jamie is a Questioner dramatically improved our dealings. One common (ironic, annoying) aspect of the Questioner Tendency is that Questioners often hate to answer questions. Now that I know that fact, I don’t take it personally when Jamie refuses to answer a question. Also, I know I’m more likely to get an answer from him if I explain why I’m asking. "What time are we leaving? Because I’m wondering if I have time to go to the gym."

So if you know your Tendency and the Tendency of your sweetheart, that knowledge can help you strengthen your relationship, by alleviating resentment, boosting understanding, figuring out how to get things done more efficiently, and minimizing anger.

So what are some things to keep in mind about the Four Tendencies, in relationships?

Upholders:

  • They’re self-directed; they get things done on their own and keep to their promises
  • They embrace routine and may struggle to adjust to sudden scheduling changes
  • They can be very committed to meeting inner expectations, even when it’s inconvenient for you—"I know we have guests this weekend, but I need to go for my twelve-mile run." This can make them seem cold
  • They may be judgmental of those who won’t or don’t meet expectations easily
  • They can seem uptight or rigid

Questioners:

  • They put a high value on reason, research, information, and efficiency
  • They follow an "authority" only if they trust his or her expertise and may reject "expert" opinion in favor of their own conclusions
  • Spouses may become frustrated by Questioners’ persistent questioning
  • Questioners often dislike being questioned themselves
  • They resist anything arbitrary—like "We have to clean the basement this weekend"
  • They can suffer "analysis-paralysis" when they can’t make a decision or move forward because they want more, more, more information
  • When making a request of a Questioner, spouses should include plenty of explanation—"We have to get the car inspected or risk a big fine," not "Because I say so" or "That’s the rule"

Obligers:

  • They put a high value on meeting commitments to others, however...
  • Obligers readily meet outer expectations but they struggle to meet inner expectations, and while sweethearts sometimes count as "outer," they often count as "inner"—in which case Obligers don’t meet a spouse’s expectation
  • They require supervision, deadlines, monitoring, and other forms of accountability
  • They may have trouble saying "no" or setting limits on others’ demands
  • They may have trouble delegating, because they feel that an expectations attaches to them personally—"I can’t hire someone to mow the lawn; I have to do it myself"
  • Spouses should ensure that the desires and needs of their Obliger spouses get articulated and met, or face the risk of Obliger-rebellion if Obligers feel that they’ve been exploited, neglected, or unheard for too long

Rebels:

  • They put a high value on freedom, choice, and self-expression; they can do anything they want to do
  • If someone asks or tells them to do something, they’re likely to resist – something like "doctor’s orders" annoy them
  • Rebels can often be manipulated to act out of resistance: "I’ll show you," "Watch me"
  • They may choose to act out of love for you
  • They resist routines, schedules, and repetitive tasks; they like to act spontaneously—"It’s midnight, and now I feel like fixing that door"
  • They resist supervision, advice, nagging, or reminders; when you remind Rebels to do a task, you’re very likely making it less likely that they will do it
  • They’re may resist settling down in a particular house, city, or job
  • To inspire a Rebel to act, it’s most effective to appeal to their identity, or to use information-consequence-choice

Another common question is "How do the Tendencies pair up? Any particularly good combos or bad combos?"

Your Tendency is just one narrow slice of your nature. So many elements go into people’s attraction for each other, and the success of a relationship, it’s hard to make too many generalizations. But here are a few:

  • Obligers are "type O" – they pair up the most easily with the other Tendencies.
  • If your sweetheart is a Rebel, you’re probably an Obliger. Rebels almost always pair up with Obligers, whether in romance or at work.
  • The most difficult pairing is Upholder + Rebel. It’s not unheard of, but it’s unusual, and often includes special circumstances. The two types are just very opposite from each other.

Has understanding the Four Tendencies framework helped make your relationship stronger or more loving? I’d be very interested to hear how it played out in your situation if you feel like adding your comment. If you want to learn more about how to understand yourself and your sweetheart, order a copy of The Four Tendencies.

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