Understanding yours and your spouse’s differences in temperament is a major key to establishing happiness, peace and stability in your marriage.
Jackie and Musau might not be enjoying marital bliss today if they had not decided to take a personality test together. When they first started dating, the music was never too loud; the sky was just the right shade of blue and their love burned bright like a beach sunset. If Musau was the knight in shining armour, then Jackie was Queen Elizabeth herself. Neither of them could do any wrong.
And then they got married.
Suddenly, nothing Musau did was right and nothing Jackie said made any sense. She seemed bossy and petty while Musau was a happy-go-lucky soul with a go-with-the-flow attitude. If it wasn’t the way he folded his socks, it was the way he handled the clothes in the closet. Boiled cereals had to be stacked in a particular order in the fridge or she would blow her top and cause everyone to rearrange the whole fridge.
The light switches all had to be facing the same direction and the carpet had to be parallel to the floor tiles. Jackie ended up putting a notebook in Musau’s pocket listing all the things he was supposed to do, and how and when to do them!
“It was initially very frustrating. I like doing things in my own way and at my own pace,” he says.
What these two didn’t know then was that their temperaments were as common as salt and sand, and that the perfect ice-sculpture of their marriage was slowly melting into an unsalvageable puddle. Something had to give.
It was during a recent couple’s dinner at their church that the scales finally fell from their eyes. The dinner was facilitated by Fredrick and Wanjiru Korir, who are leaders of the couples’ ministry in their church, Crossroads Fellowship in Mombasa Town, and who have been involved in marital counselling for many couples.
During the dinner, couples were required to take a personality test together and then compare notes. To their amusement and enlightenment, it turned out that most of the bickering and misunderstanding previously experienced was due to a difference in temperaments.
There are many ways to measure compatibility in any relationship, but taking note of personality differences must be the most ignored factor when it comes to marriage. The predominance of any of the four main temperaments (or personality types) known as sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic and melancholic is responsible to a very large extent to how an individual reacts to things and to people.
In a lasting love relationship such as marriage, a clash between temperaments can be a cause of major conflict that might even lead to a parting of ways.
For Jackie and Musau, this was a light bulb moment. The test revealed that Jackie’s primary temperament is melancholic while Musau’s is sanguine. As a melancholic, she is a perfectionist. On the other hand, Musau’s sanguinity shows up in his happy-go-lucky and easy-going nature. He likes to tackle things as they find him while Jackie prefers to plan.
The two have been married for 13 years now and following the revelation about their different temperaments, it has taken a lot of understanding on both their parts, as well as accommodating one another’s personality and ceding ground.
“Nowadays, I will comfortably walk up the stairs in the dark to avoid leaving the light switches facing in different directions, which drives Jackie nuts!” laughs Musau.
But Peter* and Emma* (not their real names) weren’t so lucky. They separated in May last year after being married for just three years. When they were dating, there didn’t seem to be any gaps in their personalities. Just like Jackie and Musau, they are both Christians and did not live together prior to getting married.
“I’m a choleric while Emma is majorly a sanguine,” Peter says. He feels they were somewhat dishonest in the initial stages of their relationship, with neither allowing the other to see their true colours until quite late into the courtship and subsequent marriage.
“We had not planned for a big wedding; we wanted a simple 10-people event. Two weeks before we walked down the aisle, Emma’s dad insisted he needed a big wedding for his daughter. And that’s when we started having a major conflict,” he says.
When the fights escalated, Peter decided he would not go ahead with the wedding but the planning committee persuaded him otherwise. The differences in their priorities and general way of thinking started widening. Peter was organised and goal-oriented. Emma was living for the moment, not interested in planning or budgeting.
“She was buying stuff every week but not contributing a thing. Once, she bought a wall unit for Ksh30,000 while I owed Ksh80,000 in rent arrears,” he recalls.
As his business struggled to pick up, his wife refused to foot any bills, choosing instead to live large and buy things with her money. While Peter’s back broke under the weight of their living expenses, she did not appear to be moved even one inch. Frustrated by her lack of responsibility and unwillingness to change, he was on the verge of depression and they finally separated in 2018.
“You don’t have to kill each other or die from depression. For the sake of peace, I walked out. I had shared our issues with our best man and best maid as well as the pastor, but nothing ever changed,” he says.
When it comes to temperament, no one person is a pure breed in the sense of having strictly one. Instead, they tend to overlap, with some being more pronounced than others. However, there are some people who are just ill-mannered and narcissistic. Not everything should be blamed on temperaments.
“We are all in control of our actions, regardless of what our temperament is,” says Peter. “Our Christian faith should advise our actions. Christ should reign and balance the temperament. We have been saved to be changed and we need to work on our different roles in a marriage.”
Jackie advises on the need to be open to change.
“Over time, I’ve learned to loosen up and appreciate my husband’s nature. He too has adjusted to my personality type and we’ve had to meet half-way.”
In the course of counselling many couples, Wanjiru and Korir have seen just how much the understanding of personality types eases tension and sheds new light on how the other person sees things.
“All marriages face challenges with temperaments because a person’s temperament plays a huge role in decision making and almost every other aspect of life,” explains Korir.
“I’m a phlegmatic, which means I’m a people pleaser and slow in decision making. My wife is choleric – they are the movers and shakers of the world and don’t like missing any opportunities. They also see things more clearly.”
In such circumstances, it may seem like the man is henpecked if the woman is making all the decisions. This is what happened in their marriage.
Korir offers two main ways of maintaining peace and reason when a difference in temperaments threatens to sink the marital boat.
Seek to understand both your temperaments
Understanding your personality types and how you both behave in various circumstances will help a great deal in dealing with everyday issues as well as major events. It can be exhausting when a person does not understand their spouse’s idiosyncrasies. Despite the common notion that opposites generally attract, in marriage these differences can be the cause of serious conflicts.
Realise that different is not necessarily wrong
Realising that you are different and unique is really key to understanding your partner and how to deal with different situations. Study the four major temperaments and then study your partner.
“There is nothing wrong with your partner,” says Korir. “In marriage you cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.”
In addition, ask yourself how you can help your partner to be better. Work on yourself more as opposed to striving to change your spouse. In most instances, they actually don’t need to change; we need to accept them and learn to live with the way they do things.
How different temperaments behave in relationships
According to psycholgia.co, cholerics are highly independent and follow their own rules. Someone with a pure choleric temperament is goal-oriented.
Cholerics are practical, analytical, and rational. They tend to be straightforward, sometimes annoyingly so. They may even come across as unfriendly.
They enjoy deep and meaningful conversations and may dislike small talk. Cholerics will want to have their life planned out years ahead. They know where they want to be in the next 10 years.
What to expect if you marry a choleric:
The will budget for every little thing the house. They will be blunt in their speech, which you may interpret as rude. They have a plan for life – you either get on board or the train will leave you.
You will enjoy wonderful conversations with them. If you’re into small talk, you will be mostly talking to the wind.
A phlegmatic is a people person and will always tend to avoid conflict. Phlegmatics are compassionate and extremely optimistic, sometime unreasonably.
They are thoughtful, patient and tolerant. They are also consistent in their habits and make very solid and authentic friendships.
What to expect if you marry a phlegmatic:
You will have minimal fights, not because there’re no issues but because they’d rather be cremated alive than get into a confrontation with you.
They will have your back always.
A melancholic is social and loves tradition. They are the people who believe fathers have to close the doors at night and mothers have to prepare their husband’s bath in the morning.
They are also serious and introverted. They tend to be quite pessimistic about the world. They are not very sociable and prefer to do things by themselves.
What to expect if you marry a melancholic:
You will never do anything right. They are perfectionists who prefer to do things for themselves. The traditional ‘male and female roles’ will be in play. If you’re a gentleman, you’ll be expected to open doors and pull chairs. The women will be expected to iron clothes and change diapers on their own.
Sanguines are the life of the party. They are sociable, lively and carefree. They are very artistic and make friends very easily.
They struggle with maintaining one task and are easily bored. They also have zero time-consciousness and are chronically late. Sanguines are happy-go-lucky who swim with the flow and enjoy having a good time.
What to expect if you marry a sanguine:
You will rarely be early for anything. They will also probably change jobs every so often because it’s getting ‘monotonous’.
*This post first appeared on The Shepherd Newspaper, February 2020.