The Malaysian Women’s Weekly (MWW): You advocate crisis management in marriage and dating. What would your advice be to a couple who is, at that moment, experiencing conflict? Especially in that 7-year itch period?
Cindy: Whenever we work on couples, they must first want to still make it work. Next, it’s to rekindle that curiosity towards each other. Because the last thing you want is, “Oh, I already know so much about this person.” So, I feel that what can really keep a relationship going is knowing you have more to learn about your partner, and how you can “bring it out” of them. Hence, some people may suggest going for a holiday. Basically, break out of the daily mundane routine, because sticking to routine will only reveal so much about each other.
Get out of that routine more often and try something different. Then, you’ll notice, “Eh, there’s more.” That’s why I also highly encourage couples to always improve themselves as an individual. If you’re growing as person, and so is your partner, you’ll realize that there’s a lot more to talk about. For example, today I discover more about myself, and I’m happy to tell you about my discovery. And then you’ll feel so happy that you’re also discovering something more about me. That’s what keeps the relationship going.
MWW: So, your advice is to be more open in learning about one’s spouse?
Cindy: Yeah, there must be the ‘want to come together’ kind of feeling. Rather than, “Oh it’s so boring, I’d rather go elsewhere.“ When you do something new and you’re discovering your partner, then you might also discover something new in the relationship.
MWW: One of the things that we also notice is the role of sex in a relationship. Do you think it’s true that a relationship can’t survive on just love alone?
Cindy: Some people may need sex more than others, but there’s definitely still a need for it. You have to negotiate the frequency and schedule time. Especially when the kids come along, you really have to make time. The first priority is to put the kids to bed, but then you’re so tired and don’t want to do anything else. So it’s really about making a deliberate effort to send the kids to the in-laws for one day, and going on a staycation.
In the enneagram, of course there’s a framework to explain the different priorities in people. Besides the main type, there’s actually a sub-type that touches upon instincts and where your attention goes to. So there are three groups: the social sub-type, the self-preservation sub-type, and the sexual sub-type. The sexual sub-type is most concerned with one-to-one connection and intimacy. On the other hand, the self-preservation sub-type may not see sex as passionate or for connection. They’ll just see it as self-preservation; for having kids, it’s more that way, and so, the definition of sex to them might be a bit different.
Let’s say I bring you to a restaurant and the food is lousy, but we had a really good conversation. The sexual sub-type, or one-to-one sub-type, will think this is still a good outing because we connected. But the self-preservation sub-type will think, no, this is a very bad outing, because the food is horrible. The focus is on different things. And of course, the social sub-type will be more concerned about how people view them, as well as going out together and bonding as a group.
So, the role of sex I would say is important. However, it’s true that not everyone sees it as that important. Couples need to find a compromise and make an effort.
Actually, to be a balanced individual, you need to have all three sub-types. You can’t just survive on one. It’s just that we tend to pay more attention to one sub-type. So, we’ve just got to work on that balance, and pay more attention to what’s lowest.
MWW: What is the most common issue that couples come in to fix?
Cindy: It always starts with a clash in personalities. We’ll get them to see these are two sides to the same coin. You fall in love with each other’s good sides, but now when the journey gets tough, you both see the ugly sides and say it’s a clash. In a sense, after understanding the enneagram, I do see that there’s no such thing. It’s all about knowing where each other is coming from and drawing boundaries.
I’ll give you one interesting example: there’s a type 7 and 6 couple. Type 7 tends to think of the best-case scenario. This type is the life-of-the- party, wants to try everything new, and doesn’t really like having any commitments. Type 6 is the stable, secure, slow and steady, and takes care of the family. They will be the one watching your back.
They marry because 7 is very optimistic, while 6 is relatively pessimistic — so they seem to complement each other. Now that they have a kid, 7 just wants to go out partying and not come home. Of course, 6 will freak out, and 7 will think 6 is being restrictive. Here, boundaries need to be drawn. For example, how many days a week it’s okay to go out, and how many are dedicated to daddy duties?
When people act out on their insecurities, misunderstandings tend to happen. So, I will say that it’s all about working out insecurities. And, after that, drawing boundaries.
MWW: Do you think that being married also equals to having good discipline?
Cindy: It does demand higher self-mastery.
MWW: What do you mean by self-mastery?
Cindy: It is being aware of your blind spots, feelings and surroundings. It’s also the ability to be versatile and get out of your comfort zone. So, that is what we call self-mastery. If you catch yourself doing something unproductive, insecure or self-sabotaging, you’re able to catch yourself doing it and decide how you want to react. It is a lot of work.
MWW: What would you encourage couples to do during an argument?
Cindy: It depends on the argument and enneagram type. That said, I think it’s very important to call for a stop, take a break, and then reconnect at an agreed time. They have to work out this conflict management system, where both parties will agree to call for a timeout before hurting each other even more. They can then recollect their thoughts and reconnect. The last thing you want is to sweep it under the carpet, which is the Asian thing to do. I think that’s not a very good practice. It’s always good to talk it out.