“Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the things I love most about the Enneagram is that it gifts humanity a common language. It’s a tool that reminds us that everyone sees and interacts with the world in different ways, and it invites us to grow as individuals while also encouraging us to better understand others.
With the Enneagram, we open ourselves up to awareness. No longer do we view the world through a narrow lens. Instead of demanding that others see and do things as we see fit, we learn to celebrate each individual number. Moreover, we gift one another permission to engage in relationships as our most authentic selves, moving beyond accusations and combative language in conflict. In doing all of this, we can experience deeper connections and thrive together.
Not sure what number you are? Start here.
Embracing Imperfection as Perfection
Strengths & Challenges | A number led by the relentless inner critic, Ones live to make themselves and the rest of the world better. Their greatest fear is that they are innately bad; thus, they are always striving to improve themselves. In relationships, healthy Ones are fun, carefree, and easy-going individuals. While still driven by perfection, they have more grace for self and others. When not in health, Ones face the challenge of being be overly critical, stubborn, and resentful towards others.
Ones Relating to Others | You notice everything, and you’re committed to inner and external perfection. The phrase ‘done is better than perfect’ does not apply to you. Your moral compass and need to reform the world is a powerful trait when positively channeled. Resist the urge to criticize yourself and others though. Understand that, while you believe criticism is necessary for growth, not everyone resonates with that way of thinking. Practice letting things go. Seek peace in your relationships instead of perfection and remember: you are not responsible for others. The sooner you embrace imperfection as a normal part of life, the sooner you will find peace and discover the strength to cultivate healthy relationships.
Relating to Ones | When relating to Ones, it’s essential you remind them that they are innately good. Because they see flaws everywhere, it’s necessary to help them shift their thinking, to give them an abundance of kindness as they learn to silence their inner critics. Ones are also tidy characters, so they appreciate when you respect and honor their need for order and cleanliness. More than anything, be incredibly gentle with Ones when delivering criticism, and don’t take their nitpicking personally. On the hard days, remember this: however critical Ones are towards you, they are that much harder on themselves.
Care for Others by Caring for Yourself
Strengths & Challenges | Twos are naturally intuitive to the needs of others and, out of all the numbers, they are the most empathetic and caring. Relationships are everything for Twos—they carve their way through the world via connections—and their identities are built based on their interactions with others. As an example, Twos will call themselves by many names (Parent, Partner, Friend, Employer), but they will often forget they have a personal identity apart from their caretaker roles.
Healthy Twos know how to balance self-care with care for others in their relationships, while unhealthy Twos can be disingenuous. Despite believing their motivations are selfless, they will take care of others solely to stroke their own egos. The challenge for Twos in relationships is to remain grounded in their individual identities even while serving others.
Twos Relating to Others | You can find it difficult to express your own needs in relationships. You know how to give until you have nothing left to offer, and even then, you will ignore your needs. You know that proverb about how we can’t pour out from an empty cup? Make it your goal to prioritize self-care and fill up your cup. Meeting your own needs will only allow you to better care for others.
You will thrive in relationships when there is a mutual give and take. While it’s easier for you to ignore your own wants and needs, this will only lead to resentment of others. Trust that your loved ones want to care for you, and they love you apart from your caretaking superpowers. Lean into your relationships and let your guard down. This is where peace is found.
Relating to Twos | The best way to love a Two is to help them love themselves. Remind them that they are not a bottomless well and that their identity is not wrapped up in who or what they care for. But don’t just tell a Two to stop and care for themselves—help pave that path for them.
Twos are also verbal processors, so being an excellent listener and engaging them in conversation is essential for a healthy relationship. Because they fear the expression of their needs and wants, Twos needs people to fight for them, and to remind them, “I'm not going anywhere.”
Shapeshifting Into the Real You
Strengths & Challenges | Threes are shapeshifters. They can wear numerous hats to fit various roles in society, and they long to be celebrated for their successes. The danger of this is that, if Threes aren’t careful, they can lose touch with their true selves and begin to believe their constructed images are authentic representations.
Threes are go-getters and goal-setters; they know how to motivate others to achieve seemingly impossible tasks. On the other hand, they can be highly competitive and demanding of praise and recognition. Relationships with Threes can, at times, feel fake and dishonest, especially when they disconnect from their feelings and the present moment.
Threes Relating to Others | You are image-conscious and driven by the need for recognition. You are prone to making work the center of your life, and you’ve probably had more than one relationship suffer because of this. Remember, the people in your life love you—and not the successful shapeshifting you, but the real you. You are not what you do, and while there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best, it’s crucial to practice healthy work boundaries.
Also, engage with your feelings rather than burying them inside. Focus on the present moment rather than the future. Peace and rest will come when you learn to disconnect outward success with your value as a human being. With this mindset, your relationships will begin to thrive.
Relating to Threes | The Threes in your life feel an urge to create a facade they believe you’ll love. They do this because they don’t think they are valuable as they are, and thus they resort to performance. This is why it’s essential to discourage shapeshifting in your relationships with Threes. You can do this by acknowledging their successes, but not attributing these achievements to their worth. Vocalize your love for them as they are and discourage constructed personas.
Moreover, take note that Threes are future-oriented and can seem distracted in conversations—don’t take this personally. They don’t like dwelling on the past or diving too deep into feelings, despite being in the feeling triad on the Enneagram. Give them their space to work hard (they’re really good at it!) while also encouraging them to practice healthy boundaries and engage in non-competitive activities.
You Belong Because You’re Unique
Strengths & Challenges | Fours live for connection and relationships, despite their belief that they don't belong. Even though Fours often believe they are too much, too complicated, and too messy for most of society, they are resilient and relentless in the pursuit of authentic connection. Many Fours are also artists; they often gift their communities with profound and moving creations.
At their best, Fours can help others to engage with their feelings, to lean into the dark corners of life. Challenges come when they trust their emotions as truth, mainly because their feelings often tell them they are innately flawed. When this happens, Fours can become moody and unappeasable, detaching from the world and spiraling into a state of melancholy.
Fours Relating to Others | You are tempted to conform for the sake of belonging, and you live in tension—you want to be embraced by society but you also long stand out. This tension leads you to believe there is something wrong with your wiring, and it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll never thrive in relationships or have genuine connections. Thus you envy—you envy other relationships and you crave the comfort other numbers have found in the world.
Remember though, the ordinary moments are just as beautiful as the extraordinary ones. You are not too much, and it’s okay to be misunderstood. It’s also okay to have a small circle of intimate relationships rather than a large group of friends. Not everyone is going to get you, and that is perfectly fine—you’re unique, remember! You thrive in relationships with people who can appreciate all of your layers. Discover peace by embracing the ordinary and pushing through your fear of abandonment.
Relating to Fours | Having a relationship with a Four can be overwhelming if you’re not ready for the complexity of their emotions, but sticking with it is so worth it. Fours offer profound connection and gift the other numbers on the Enneagram a safe space to engage with feelings. They know how to hold joy and despair in the same hand, which can seem overly sensitive and moody—don’t point this out though. Fours know they experience all of the emotions, and they prefer it this way. You don’t need to match their mood, just be true to who you are. Few things more meaningful to Fours than authenticity. Don’t try to conceal your feelings or, even worse, minimize theirs.
Also, Fours prefer one-on-one conversations to group gatherings, and they need to be told that they are understood. In discussions, be intentional to listen. Remind them that you seen and known. Assure them that they belong in society, feelings and all.
Balancing Your Isolation with Belonging
Strengths & Challenges | Fives are private, self-reliant, and analytical people. They gather information and knowledge before committing to almost anything, including relationships. For them, relationships can feel risky, and it can be challenging for them to open up and share their feelings. While a Five brings numerous strengths to relationships (vision, insight, curiosity, intellect), they struggle to show up at all. Even when they do, they have a limited well of energy to spend on others. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Fives Relating to Others | Relating to others can feel impossible, and you may find yourself contemplating whether relationships are worth the cost (they are). You are brave for showing up despite your fears and preferred state of isolation. While some relationships will require more from you than others, you’ll be glad you pressed into connection—Fives that have come before you promise as much.
Because of your need for alone time, self-care is crucial. Don’t feel ashamed for needing a personal day after connecting with others. You thrive in relationships when you practice balance, whether it be balancing solitude with relationships or balancing your thoughts with feelings and actions.
Relating to Fives | In relationships, Fives need space to process. They need time to translate their feelings into thoughts before responding, and they desire conflict to be minimal and straightforward. Moreover, they need a gentle push to engage with their emotions. Fives will often revert to thinking, so keep nudging them, and remind them that their vulnerability is not a burden to you, but a gift.
Additionally, Fives like to keep a small circle of friends. This is because they have limited energy and need to spend it on those they are closest with. Fives can be sarcastic, and they are comfortable with stimulating routines and life rhythms (although they dread repetition). Foster a healthy relationship by respecting and nurturing these traits.
Braving Fear to Find Community
Strengths & Challenges | It is thought that there are more Sixes in the world than any other number on the Enneagram, which is a beautiful thing because Sixes are concerned with the common good. They are also a number deeply committed to loyalty. In relationships, Sixes are sincere and engaged, and they value authenticity and genuine connection. But they also struggle with fear. Sixes face a unique challenge in that they struggle to forgive and forget. To them, forgiveness is a sign of weakness, and they believe they must guard and protect themselves from potentially hurtful people.
Sixes Relating to Others | You are not wrong for your skeptical nature, but there is something beautiful to be gained by embracing the unpredictable moments of life and messy relationships. Practice trusting yourself first and foremost, and accept that you have all of the tools you need to handle situations and relationships outside of your control. You don’t have to conquer your fear; just tell it to get in the backseat.
Most importantly, slow down and breathe before responding to others. This will help you to get out of your head and make more grounded decisions. Cling to this truth: the world is made up of mostly good and honest people, and they desire to connect with you. Once you learn to trust yourself and trust others, you’ll thrive in your relationships.
Relating to Sixes | It would be a mistake to tell Sixes that they don’t need to worry. This is a truth they must discover themselves, and they don’t need others belittling their fears. Instead, remind Sixes of your commitment, and encourage them to trust their own experiences. Sixes are not insecure but calculated, and sometimes they struggle to see the best in others. Foster loyalty by avoiding too much spontaneity, and respect their need for routine. It’s useful to remember that Sixes struggle to vocalize their thoughts in real time (they need space to evaluate their feelings), so don’t write them off as indecisive. They just need time to think through their decisions.
Embracing Feelings as Your Next Adventure
Strengths & Challenges | Sevens are wonderful friends, partners, and co-workers. They are fun and optimistic, driven by adventure and a lighthearted spirit. They are experts at connecting with their inner child and they remind the rest of us how to play.
As fun as they are though, Sevens struggle to confront their feelings, especially when they perceive their emotions as negative. At their best, Sevens are foragers of hope—they long for a safe world and choose to see the best in people. At their worst, they can be hardheaded and opinionated, failing to see details and rarely following through on commitments.
Sevens Relating to Others | You are light and joy in your relationships, but your continuous pursuit of pleasure can make your loved ones feel like their presence isn’t good enough. Because you are future-oriented, you seek the next best experience in life. True peace will only come when you learn to balance this energy and embrace the present moment for what it is. Pay attention to who you’re with and what you’re doing. When hardship and pain comes (and they will), try to sit with those feelings. Your natural instinct is to reframe negative experiences into positive ones, but remember pain has something to teach us, too.
Relating to Sevens | Just like Sevens can teach other numbers how to play, other numbers can show Sevens how to make room for holding their emotions. By nature, Sevens believe they are simple creatures with few feelings (this isn’t true). Showing a Seven that all humans are complicated with a vast array of feelings is one of the best gifts you can offer them.
Because Sevens are naturals at repressing negative emotions, it’s essential to be aware that their pain can manifest itself as anger or shame. Furthermore, as energetic and driven people, they need a lot of alone time to balance out their time spent with others. Sevens don’t do well with codependence and can feel trapped by the needs and expectations of others. Having your own hobbies and activities is necessary for a healthy relationship.
Losing Control for the Sake of Love
Strengths & Challenges | Eights are action-oriented leaders. You know them (or are one of them) because they love to take charge and are always on the hunt for solutions. Eights are high-energy people and find meaning in standing up for the underdogs in the world. At their best, they are supportive, playful, and generous in their relationships.
When not in operating health, Eights can become aggressive and combative; they can find it especially difficult to relate to thought and feeling-driven numbers. Eights are mistakenly typed as bullies or bossy characters (this is especially true for women who are Eights), and their intentions are misunderstood. Eights fear being controlled and distrust their emotions. They tend to guard themselves in relationships and avoid any vulnerability that will expose their weaknesses.
Eights Relating to Others | You’re a born leader, and people want to follow you, but sometimes they will go along with your plan because they feel like they don’t have a choice. Remember that not everyone else is action-oriented. For some, pausing to think and feel before committing to action is how they’re wired. Listen and observe to others before reacting, and include them when making decisions. Ensure you are clearly articulating your expectations and making others feel seen and heard. If you can allow yourself the freedom to be vulnerable with others, you’ll find yourself thriving in relationships.
Relating to Eights | Eights need to be met on their level. They value honesty and straightforward communication (don’t beat around the bush). Remember that their aggression is not personal—more than likely they’re not thinking about you but instead trying to protect themselves and control their environment.
To have a healthy relationship with an Eight, be direct, and stay true to who you are. While you can’t force an Eight to be vulnerable, you can create a safe space for expression. Earn the respect of an Eight and you may find yourself in an incredibly deep and stimulating relationship. If not though, don’t worry. Eights are guarded with their emotions and only have room for a small circle of intimate relationships in their lives, and that’s okay! If you aren’t in this circle, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you, rather they have maxed out their current capacity for emotional connections.
Adding Your Voice to the Conversation
Strengths & Challenges | Nines are the chameleons of the Enneagram, and they are experts at adapting and relating to all of the other numbers. This is both a strength and a challenge; while Nines know how to make everyone feel seen, it's not uncommon for them to lose themselves in relationships.
Nines cling to the lie that neither their presence nor their opinions matter. This can make them seem like easy-going characters, when in fact they are erasing themselves for the sake of keeping the peace. Their challenge in relationships is that they can become distracted, aloof, and passive aggressive towards others. At their best though, Nines know how to risk conflict for connection and bravely assert their opinions when it matters most. The most unique characteristic of Nines is that they know how to validate the autonomy of each number, they just sometimes forget their own.
Nines Relating to Others | Your extraordinary power is that you can see all the sides in any conversation. While this can make it challenging to find and assert your own voice, you are excellent at articulating everyone’s feelings. You also take notice of those who are being left out (do this for yourself, too!). Remember that there is no such thing as conflict-free relationships, and avoiding conflict is counterproductive—it just instigates more conflict.
Lean into the hard conversations and name your feelings. Take small steps by voicing your desires to the people you feel safest with. They are asking about you because they are genuinely interested. Your voice matters. Once you find it, your relationships will know no bounds.
Relating to Nines | When relating to Nines, there are a few things to remember. First, include them in your decision-making processes. Because they will naturally gravitate away from voicing their opinions, encourage them and present multiple choice questions rather than open-ended ones (as these can be overwhelming). For example, ask “Would you like to go here or here?” rather than, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” Nines also need affirmation when they are honest, so celebrate the moments they do speak up for themselves.
Second, learn to recognize a Nine’s passive-aggressive nature. They don’t explode with built-up rage like Eights. Instead, they bury it inside and let it out in nonverbal and indirect ways. Help to foster positive expression by cultivating peaceful environments and giving Nines time to process. Understand that they will not be as direct in conversations but will eventually share their sufferings with you once they feel safe. When they do try to bury their emotions and pretend like everything is fine (this is instinctive), gently remind them that naming their hurts will lead to health, healing, and more profound connection with others.
* For further reading on relationships and the Enneagram, check out The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile. She is a trusted source for accurate teachings about this sacred tool. Her book paired with my favorite Western & non-Western Enneagram resources helped to construct this article.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.