The Enneagram for Relationships

Susanne Stabile’s The Path Between Us is a wonderfully readable application of Path Between UsEnneagram wisdom for relationships. Taking the reader gently by the hand, she leads from one Enneagram type to the next, showing how each particular way of being in the world shapes relationship.

The Enneagram teaches us that there are nine different ways of experiencing the world and nine different ways of answering these basic questions about life: Who am I? Why am I here? and Why do I do the things I do? How we build and maintain relationships varies significantly from one number to another. Looking through the lens of the Enneagram makes it possible to better understand ourselves and others, increase our acceptance and compassion, and navigate the paths between us.

This book will help in understanding how each of the nine Enneagram numbers sees the world, how they make sense of what they see, how they decide what to do, and how all of that affects how they relate to others (4).

This is Stabile’s second book on the Enneagram with InterVarsity Press. The Road Back to You, coauthored with Ian Morgan Cron, is more like a broad entryway into the Enneagram, while the The Path Between Us is tighter, more condensed, more focused on relationships. Her aim is less grasping the Enneagram as a whole and discovering your type, than it is applying Enneagram wisdom specifically to relationships.

Using myself (Kent) as an example, I’ll overview the chapter on my Enneagram type so you can see how the book operates. I’ve learned over the years that I identify most readily with Type 5 (what Stabile calls the Investigator). In day to day life, my 4 wing expresses itself in terms of creativity, a love for beauty, and the desire for authentic, deep relationships, though the loyalty dimension of my 6 wing is ever-present (if you know me, then you’re saying to yourself, “Ah, yes. That makes total sense!”).

The chapter devoted to Fives is aptly titled, “My fences have gates.” Fives are thinkers (even in relationships), Stabile points out, and we are careful to budget our relationship-energy.

Five respond to life by asking, What do I think? That’s a great response in moderation, but life presents itself to us in ways that require feeling and doing along with thinking. Joined by Sixes and Sevens, Fives manage everything in their heads (131).

This is pretty basic, but Stabile does more: she tilts Enneagram wisdom always toward our relationships.

Like an expert and gentle physician, Stabile shows us how to flourish in our relationships—and to show others how to flourish with us. For instance, Fives are often misunderstood by feeling types “who don’t understand the need to asses time and energy in relationships” and reminds other types that “time alone is a must if [Fives] are going to be comfortable offering themselves and their gifts to the world” (133). Fives struggle to believe that they have “enough inner resources to meet the demands of life, including relationships” (135).

Stabile connects the relationship dots, and that is the special gift of her book. Our most important relationship questions are lit under the particular light of the Enneagram: what does my wife, my closest friends, and my children need to know about me to help me flourish? What do they need to know about me so as not be confused or frustrated or in the dark when I do what comes most naturally for me? How can they help me thrive when I’m at my best and my worst. Critical questions.

Fives often look at life through a lens of scarcity: they withhold their resources so their needs will never present a problem for someone else. …

When fives are in excess in their number, their world becomes smaller and smaller. They become less concerned about the needs of others and more concerned about themselves and their overwhelming desire for privacy and security. And when the world of a Five is shrinking, there is essentially no room for other people. …

For Fives, relating to people is costly. It is not uncommon for them to need an entire day of solitude after being available and present to others. This time serves more than one purpose. As organized thinkers, Fives need time to process their experience in relation to what they already hold to be true. …

Fives have an unexpected capacity to bring delightful curiosity to the moment and the relationship. Their independence may appear impassible, but those fences have gates (135-36, 138, 140, 143).

See what I mean about Stabile’s dual focus? She always has in mind both sides of our relationships. She applies Enneagram wisdom to reveal me to myself as a unique person in relationship, and she helps others know how best to be in relationship with me. So helpful.

This truly relationship-focused application of Enneagram wisdom has two other features I want to point out. Every chapter has a helpful sidebar and two pages of comparison charts at the end. The sidebar directly addresses what other types need to know when they’re in relationship with the type Stabile is focusing on in the chapter (for instance, what 1s need to know or 2s need to know in order to be in relationship with 5s). The charts expand these insights into accessible, summary bullet points. One is “Relationships for           ” and the other, “Relationship with            .”

In case you’re reading this review Suzanne, thanks. You’ve helped me immensely. I know myself better, and I know how to better apply Enneagram wisdom to my most important relationships.

(Many thanks to IVP for providing a copy to review)

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