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Relationships with Enneagram Eights

If you’re in a relationship with an Enneagram Eight, then you should know their ego is constantly telling them that if they let their guard down, people will take advantage of them. In the Eight's mind, only the strong survive, which makes toughness a primary concern. That’s not to say their romantic relationships can’t be a bundle of fun, it just means they’re a real force to be reckoned with.

Here are the five key relationship themes to know if you’re in a relationship with a Type Eight Challenger: intensity fuels intimacy, adversity breeds clarity, retreat is not defeat, autonomy is non-negotiable, and compromise vs. control.

1/ Intensity Fuels Intimacy

The most unmistakable character trait for all Type Eight Challengers is their intensity. Anything the Eight deeply cares about will become something they want to constantly consume, protect, or amplify in some way. They can be a bit obsessive because of the sheer amount of energy they bring to things they love. The dark side of the Eight's intensity is often describe as lust because they crave more of what they enjoy. It’s not enough to go skiing, they want to go heli-skiing. If they break their arm, they push through it and keep skiing.

The Eight's “lust” isn’t necessarily tied to excessive sexual activity, but rather a deep struggle to contain their raw energy that constantly seeks to expand. This comes from the Eight's place within the gut group of the triad centers. All gut types are guided by their primal instincts, and those instincts want to keep us alive by resisting or dominating the environmental forces that impact our survival like weather, predators, scarce food, etc. That instinctual resistance to their environment creates a lot of inner tension and aggression, which then mixes with the Eight's lustful vitality, creating their unique brand of intensity. That means Eights are likely to treat sex, arguing, working late, gaining wealth, and physical challenges in general as essential parts of a meaningful yet enjoyable life--and anything Eights enjoy, they tend to do in excess. That’s the lust at work. Their energy and eagerness can be a great thing if it you want to build a family business, stay up all night finishing DIY projects, or run marathons together.

As their partner, you’re going to have to be really clear when you need a break, because Eights assume that if they’re having fun, everyone must be having fun.

Lastly, when Eights fall in love, they tend to soften quite a bit, which makes the stereotypical Eight persona fade way. Eights take on the traits of the Type Two Helper when they feel secure in a loving relationship. This theory is called “the movement of integration” and it’s essentially a metaphor for the way we embody different traits when we feel secure vs. when we feel stressed. The Eight to Two movement looks like them taking all their intense energy and focusing it on the needs of their loved ones. Integrated Eights stop worrying about their own power, and instead focus on empowering their partner by supporting their goals or meeting their needs.

2/ Adversity Breeds Clarity

Enneagram Eights are called “the Challenger” because their ego drives them to establish their identity by dominating other people, solving complex problems, or just overcoming adverse experiences in general. Eights feel the most focused when they have something they can then react to. In boxing, you’d call them a counterpuncher, because they prefer their opponent to swing first, so they can slip and counterpunch before their opponent has time to block it.

In romantic relationships, Eights want to know two things:

  1. First, that their partner is too loyal to ever swing at them.

  2. Second, if life takes a swing at their partner, that they’re strong enough to defend themselves.

Eights will actively provoke their loved ones to see how tough they are, and make sure they’re not going to run at the first sign of adversity. They’re also horribly uncomfortable expressing their true feelings directly, so these aggressive interactions are a way of indirectly communicating their love. This is often why Eights are seen as argumentative or combative because they value the energy, intimacy, and the clarity they experience from conflict.

Eights love clarity. They are concrete thinkers that have no time for useless theories, irrational emotion, or mixed motives.

If Eights feel like their partner is not being clear about what they want or what they need, that feels like an attack on the relationship.

Eights take on many of the Type Five’s behaviors when they’re stressed--one of which is a heightened level of suspicion. When Eights don’t feel connected to their partner, they start to suspect that they’ve got one foot out the door, or that their partner is simply too weak to handle them. Eights have a deep fear of abandonment, often because they were abandoned by those that were supposed to protect them as children, and so they had to grow up quickly. This is also why loyalty becomes such an important virtue to them.

Eights are sort of like a far less extreme mafia boss in a relationship: they need to test you to trust you and any slightly suspicious activity could signal a catastrophic betrayal. The best thing their partners can do is accept that fighting is a type of love language for them, and that it’s better to be brutally honest because Eights will actually interpret that as a sign of commitment. On the flip side, as Eights become healthier individuals, they feel less of a need to push against people’s boundaries, and respect that not everyone is as energized by facing adversity, or dealing with conflict, as they are.

3/ Retreat is Not Defeat

As you encounter relational tension with an Eight, you’ll notice a pattern of them first moving against you, then moving away from you. It’s not necessarily tied to conflict as much as it’s tied to the Eight feeling like they’ve overextended themself in some way. Eights want to be energized and powerful at all times, and so they hate feeling tired, emotional, or overly vulnerable even with people they love.

When Eights feel drained, they tend to retreat into isolation, away from their heart, out of their body, and into their head, all of which is characterized by this movement of disintegration to the Type Five Investigator. Stressed or burned out Eights convince themselves that more information is the key to regaining their power and independence. It’s as if when the physical approach backfires, they turn to a mental approach. This could look like watching hours of YouTube, scouring the internet, and/or plotting a myriad of different ways to get their power back. Eights believe the right strategy is out there somewhere and they just need to hide away for a while so they can find it.

This isolating movement to Five also feels like the perfect combination of strength and safety. It’s their bat cave, and it feels impenetrable. The problem is Eights can get too comfortable down in that cave, which makes them increasingly suspicious, obsessive, and isolated. However, for most average Eights, they don’t go so far as to construct that mental or physical bat cave. What they do instead is compartmentalize their life so that they never feel too exposed in any one area, or with any one person. They keep their work separate from their marriage, their marriage separate from their friends, their friends separate from each other, and so on and so forth--like an intricate set of bridges connected to the Eight's island. Every relationship is a bridge to another island, and if the Eight should ever start to feel unsafe with anyone across that bridge, they just retreat back to their island and burn that bridge down. In long term romantic relationships, Eights can build some highly reinforced, disaster-proof bridges connecting them to their partners, but at the end of the day, that bridge is still connected to their own personal island. Party of one.

4/ Autonomy is Non-Negotiable

Enneagram Eights will not, under any circumstance, be controlled. They may restrain themselves for a moment if it behooves them in the long run, but they are wild animals at their core that need to run free. Like the cast of Yellowstone, Eights are often rugged individualists. While they can be big softies when they’re in love, they’re never so tied to the relationship that they won't wander off to pursue their own goals. Eights need to feel free enough to fight for what they believe in, and while they’ll protect their family at all costs, they won't necessarily be around for all the daily chores or picking up the kids from school. Eights know that emotions, like love, are binding forces that limit what you can and cannot do.

The ideal relationship scenario for Eights would be having an equally strong, independent partner that makes them feel totally supported without ever making them feel smothered or controlled.

(See Beth & Rip from Yellowstone.)

The Eight’s desire to be the boss of their own life also makes them resent anyone that questions their decisions, because a) they’re strong enough to do whatever they want, and b) questioning their decision feels like a judgement, which then feels eerily similar to a lack of loyalty--which is vital for Eights.

Another major aspect of the Eight's desire for autonomy is seen in their pursuit of financial independence. Eights are worldly people and they know all too well that money makes the world go round, so they do their best to either attain wealth, or totally minimize their needs so they can afford to live free without relying on someone else’s support. If Eights aren’t the bread winner in the family, they tend to feel uneasy as it puts their safety and security in the hands of someone else’s income. Even if that someone else is their spouse, it’s not ideal.

Eights are very much like Sevens when it comes to boredom. You don’t want a bored Seven or Eight in the house because they start breaking things. Again, Eights are wild animals that need to run free. If your Eight partner is getting increasingly irritable, it’s probably time to open the front door and send them out on some adventure somewhere.

5/ Compromise vs. Control

One of the various definitions of the word compromise is to “accept standards that are lower than desired.” To compromise something also means to weaken it, like having a compromised immune system, or to compromise your integrity. This type of compromise sounds like nails on a chalkboard to the Type Eight spirit. It’s an unfortunate reality for them that every healthy, loving relationship is built upon compromise.

The reason Eights have so much trouble in this department is because they have control issues. This usually stems from their difficult childhood when life felt unpredictable or downright dangerous. Many Eights have an absent father, so their mother tried to step in and play both parental roles, which usually means she did neither role very well. Eights may love their mom, but in general, they just have mixed feelings about the nurturing figure’s role in their life and don’t tend to respect their ability to navigate the real world.

This perception of their mother is at the root of why Eights lean so aggressively into the role of the protective, authoritative figure in their own relationships.

For Eights, “having authority” feels like being in complete control of your environment, which, also makes them feel safe.

Since feeling in control and feeling safe are so intertwined, Eights react harshly against anything that challenges their sense of control. This can turn small disagreements into major battles, and innocent mistakes can be cause for severe punishment. An unintentional, and somewhat ironic, outcome of all this controlling behavior is often that the Eight's loved ones become so fearful and submissive, that the Eight actually starts to lose respect for them. Unhealthy Eights dismiss those they’ve conquered as weak or irrationally emotional, and thus stop searching for a middle ground on which to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

The only thing that makes an Eight willing to acknowledge the unfair, oppressive nature of their need for control is when they have a truly humbling experience that makes them realize their need for forgiveness. Eights have the hardest time with forgiveness of all Enneagram types because their wounds are what they use to justify poor behavior, their need for control, and of course, their lack of compromise. Again, in their childhood, Eights felt like: “no one compromised what they wanted to help me, so why should I compromise what I want? Especially now that I’ve got the power.”

Grief work can be a huge factor in the Eight's ability to both forgive those who have hurt them, and compromise their unrealistic desire for control. Healthy Eights who have gone through this kind of soul work become some of the most loving, supportive, and sacrificial people you’ll ever meet, as they use their immense energy and power all for the good of others.

BONUS: 🧡Love Language

The five traditional love languages are words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, quality time, and acts of service. There’s always a slight difference in how we choose to show love versus how we receive it, but for Eights, quality time likely ranks pretty high in both areas. Eights thrive on intense connection--physical or mental--but that kind of intensity only happens when you’re spending real quality time together. It’s also probably safe to say that words of affirmation rank near the bottom of the list for most Eights as they believe actions speak louder than words.

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