Understand how you can have a more meaningful relationship with your spouse or partner using the Enneagram theory. Cindy Leong tells us how.

Cindy Leong uses her expertise in Enneagram Personality Profiling to give couples clear and effective solutions. The Weekly team caught up with Cindy to learn how couples can have a healthier and purposeful relationship using Enneagram.

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.

MWW: When a couple consists of two different sub-types, what is your advice to them? How would you advise them to reach a compromise?

Cindy: Okay, for example, I’m a one-to-one while my husband is a self-preservation sub-type. We’re the exact opposite, meaning his one-to-one is the lowest, while my self-preservation is the lowest. So what we did was pay more attention to the one that is lowest. When it’s his birthday, I would bring him to a really expensive restaurant. I’ll never spend that much on myself, as to me it’s just a meal. But he appreciates really good food, so I’ll do that for him. I’ll also buy practical gifts for him, even though I think a practical gift is not really a gift; it’s more like trying to fix a problem.

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.

MWW: Ranting on social media is something people are doing now…

Cindy: Talking about your husband on social media only makes the issue even harder to fix. The more you tell people how bad your spouse is, the more you demean him in front of everybody, including yourself. I’m not saying to hide a problem, but solve it within your ability when you still can. If you really can’t find a counsellor, find someone mature to help mediate.

MWW: Do you see a growing number of Asians going for marriage counselling?

Cindy: Yes. People are more educated as well and don’t see counselling as a bad thing. It helps them clarify where the problem is, because in order to solve the problem, you need to first pin-point it. For example, I had one case where the wife said, “Cindy, how can I ask my husband to stop doing the things I don’t like him to do?” That’s very vague, so I questioned her further. She said, “I don’t like him touching my butt in public.”

When I heard this, I could see that it’s a problem with her, not him. She had body image issues, and hence, wasn’t comfortable with her husband’s actions. I told her, “No, for guys when they do that, it means he desires you. He’s thinking of you, he wants you, and that is a good thing” I spent the next four, five sessions with her talking about self-esteem and working through the issues she didn’t solve when she was single.

MWW: What if a spouse cheats?

Cindy: There must be a reason, and many a times it takes two hands to clap. There must be something that one party is not doing enough. Of course, I’mm not denying that there are people who cheat not matter how good the wife is. But it could also mean that the wife is not assertive enough. She’s just being too nice and condoning this behaviour.

We find out more, and then give them ‘homework’ to do with their spouse. They then come back again after three months as a couple. The one-to-one session is usually where we get the most information. Everyone has insecurities which we are dealing with, or have not dealt with. Add to it handling a relationship with another person who also has insecurities. This the part where it gets really difficult to build the relationship.

MWW: How long have you been doing this and how did you get into it?

Cindy: Seven years, by the end of the year. I studied psychology, and after graduating, at 24 years old, I got a divorce. It was the worst point of my life, and I thought to myself, “How come there’s no course to help people with relationships?” It’s how I chanced upon the enneagram, and I saw that it really worked. It helped me understand myself and my blind spots. I went to the US to learn more, and the rest is history. I made it into a business to help other people. It’s not just a business, but really a life calling to help people with their relationships, because I failed in one.


This article is featured in HerInspirasi. Written by Eena Houzyama on 22 July 2019.

Cindy Leong
Cindy Leong
Cindy Leong is a sought after bilingual (English and Mandarin) Enneagram Personality Coach and Corporate Trainer in Asia, who can help you make sense of your professional and personal relationships. She is a member of International Coach Federation (ICF) and Singapore Psychological Society (SPS). Besides a Bachelor Degree in Psychology (majoring in Communications), she also has a Diploma in Business and has done in-depth research and studies in the areas of Organisational Behaviour and Gender Communications, both in Singapore and Taiwan. Through her expertise in corporate executive coaching, personal development, and relationship coaching, she has helped many professionals in their walk through challenging times, particularly in the areas of identity searching, relationship building and career breakthrough. Aside from being a published author of 2 books, she has also been invited by several radio stations and magazines as an expert guest speaker to provide insights into Enneagram, workplace conflicts and relationships.
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