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Relationships with Enneagram Ones

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

If you’re in a relationship with an Enneagram Type One, then you need know their ego is constantly telling them that a good life is earned by being a good person, which usually starts with a strict sense of morality and incredibly high standards for almost everything they do.

On a deeper level, Ones feel responsible to improve the world around them, which is why they’re called The Reformer--it’s more nuanced than being a nit picky perfectionist.

The five key themes for relationships with Enneagram Ones are all about their good behavior, criticism, anger, productivity, and pleasure.

1/ Good Behavior Comes Standard

Enneagram Ones have a strict definition of good behavior. Whatever is considered to be mature, respectful behavior, traditionally speaking, is what Type Ones try to embody. They value being clean, being on time, being humble about their success, being financially responsible and, of course, prudent about all things sexual.

Ones love it when you affirm these things about them, but they’ll also expect these things from their partner, and pretty much everyone close to them. Within the Enneagram, the theory of the Hornevian Triad groups every type based on their social patterns and preferences (think of it like a more nuanced version of extroverts and introverts). Within the Hornevian Triads, Ones are in the compliant group along with Twos and Sixes, so generally speaking, they treat every social situation, including the home, as a time to follow the rules of whoever is in charge. That’s not to say Ones can’t be rebellious, but rather that if they are, they must believe their rules are better than the rules of whoever is supposedly in charge.

If a Type One’s partner wants to call them out for their bad behavior, things can get a little dicey because Ones pride themself on being hyper vigilant, which makes it painful to admit they somehow failed to catch an impulsive or improper behavior.

As their partner, you may want an apology for something small, but it tends to come across like a major indictment to the One whose ego is telling them that being wrong, or causing embarrassment, will ultimately lead to getting severely punished--or worse, being totally rejected by the ones they love most.

Since childhood, Ones were made to believe that good behavior doesn’t necessarily merit a reward, but bad behavior will most certainly be punished. That’s a big difference between Ones and Threes, as they both tend to look like perfectionists, but Threes are in it for the praise, while Ones are in it to avoid punishment. Ones are so jumpy about getting in trouble that they’re even afraid of punishment coming in to their life via their partner’s bad behavior.

Ones are deeply committed people because commitment feels like a virtue, which is great for their partners until they feel the weight of this moral burden pressing up against their “loving commitment.” All that to say, if you, as the One's partner, are not living up to their high moral standards for good behavior, you are going to hear about it early and often.

Ultimately, healthy Ones are people that have embraced the mercy and forgiveness from their loved ones or a higher power, and can slowly start letting themselves, and others, off the hook of these unrealistic fears and expectations.

2/ Criticism is a Love Language

Ones are critical people at their core. They can’t help it, but they criticize because they care--this is perhaps the hardest thing about being in a relationship with Enneagram Ones because it requires such a strong sense of self to endure and embrace the One's ever critical eye. The good thing is you never have to wonder where you stand with Ones! In a relationship, there is no such thing as flattery. Their word is their life, and their life is all about integrity. For Type Ones, lying to someone is equal to hating them because they’re not only hiding the truth, they’re also leading them astray.

Ones feel it’s their duty to use their powers of discernment for good, and they can either be skilled surgeons cutting away precisely at the tumor, or a one-man demolition team taking a sledge hammer to your most sensitive wounds.

The One’s critique of their partner is meant to be a sign of commitment and trust, because they know it requires a safe, intimate space to expose such powerful, often painful observations.

Ironically, Ones are incredibly sensitive when it comes to their partner’s critical comments--Ones are so hard on themselves that they leave almost no room for anyone else to be even slightly tough on them. So, if you’re going to critique a One, the compliment sandwich is helpful (compliment - critique - compliment), or else you may get hit with a sudden, abrasive wave of justification--or worse, their total grievance recall, which is their unique ability to remember everything you’ve ever done wrong because they’ve been rehearsing it (for this. very. moment.) in order to defend themselves from any unexpected or “unfair” punishment.

3/ Anger is a Signpost

Ones are in the gut or body group of the Triad Centers along with Type Eight Challengers and Type Nine Peacemakers. Triad Centers are a theory about the main tools we use to navigate life, which are the logic of the head center, the emotions of the heart center, and the instincts of the gut center. We all have some mixture of each center within us, but for Ones, and all instinctive / gut types, the main struggle is with anger because the instincts are driving them to resist whatever negative or dangerous forces exist around them, and find a way to control what’s happening so they can survive and protect what they love most. In short, anger isn’t inherently bad. It’s natural, but for Ones, they feel like their anger is wrong, or will get them in trouble, so they fight to suppress it in order to look well behaved. However, this just makes them physically rigid because they’re constantly fighting to keep a lid on their simmering rage.

In romantic relationships, the One’s partner will need to become a solid anger interpreter because anger, or that physical rigidity, will be your first sign of a deeper disappointment or buried emotion.

Ones typically weren’t allowed to express negative emotions as children, which makes them a bit stoic on the surface despite being very emotional people. Most of the time, Ones cover up heavy emotions, like grief or sorrow or shame, with anger. That’s because sorrow and shame feel weak, but anger makes Ones feel clear, confident, and justified in their actions. Average or unhealthy Ones can even start relying on their angry outbursts as a way of relieving physical tension produced by their unprocessed grief. So, if you’re more of an avoidant personality and you’re in a relationship with an average One, just know that the longer you go without a good, honest conflict, the more their anger is slowly festering inside of them.

Lastly, a common red flag for Ones in a relationship is not their anger, but their total silence. Ones go silent either to wallow in self-pity, or because they’re planning a major counter offensive--or worse, they’re starting to consider a “scorched earth policy,” which entails burning every bridge with someone they have no intention of forgiving. That starts to get into the One's movement to the Type Four Individualist in disintegration.

4/ Productivity is a Compulsion

Type Ones have a very active mind. That’s because they spend the least amount of time cultivating the strengths of the head center, as they live primarily through the instincts of the gut center, which they justify through the emotions of the heart center. So their mind is left to chatter on in the background while the gut and the heart make all the decisions. However, that mental restlessness works its way down through the heart and out through the body, which manifests as some compulsive productivity.

Ones are very physically active people that mix their sense of propriety with their desire for efficiency. They're very protective of their time, which they never seem to have enough of, so if you ask your Type One partner to do something around the house or to go to an event they hadn’t planned on attending, they’ll probably push back pretty hard because: a) they’ve already filled up their own to-do list, and b) if they felt it was important, they would’ve either done it already or put it on the schedule. If there’s a common chore you want Ones to take care of around the house, it may be wise to create a concrete list of who is expected to do what, and when, so you can avoid some needlessly repetitive arguments.

Furthermore, Ones tend to dive into more physical tasky-ness when they need to numb their painful emotions, or anxiety, similar to the way they use anger.

If there’s a big issue or decision looming in their life and they don’t know the exact right way to handle it, they’ll avoid doing anything about it by filling up their time with more meaningless, time-consuming tasks. It’s a sneaky way of procrastinating, so don’t let them off the hook if you know there’s a passion project or big decision in their life that they’re just too scared to tackle.

Ones see productivity as a moral virtue, so too much free time or relaxation can actually start to feel like a bad or wasteful thing. This gets difficult in relationships, for example, if their partner works hard all week and then just wants to spend the weekend lounging around watching Netflix. The One often feels like “Saturdays are for cleaning” or “Sundays are about prepping for Monday.”

5/ Pleasure is a Problem

Ones love a good reward system: work hard, do the right thing, then you get a treat. On the flip side: if you don’t work hard, or do something immoral, then you will, and should be, punished. This is a fair and rational system to your Type One. The problem is they set incredibly high bars for what deserves a reward, and super low bars for what deserves a punishment. It’s like 90/10 in favor of punishments.

This shows up in their relationships in things like going on vacation, doing self-care, going out for drinks, watching TV, playing video games, and especially having sex--all of those things can be tinged with judgement as they’re not inherently noble or virtuous activities. It’s not that they’re bad or “sinful” things, it’s just that they feel like they’re in the reward column, and they need to do plenty of good, responsible, or selfless things before they can start enjoying the fun stuff. Ones anticipate punishment if they let their high standards slip even a tiny bit--e.g., if they buy a fancy pair of shoes they don’t necessarily need, then they expect an IRS bill to come in the mail as a form punishment for being financially irresponsible.

The simplest way to say it is that guilt follows pleasure.

This makes it super difficult for Ones to ask for what they want, and instead they hope their partner will intuit their deep desires or physical needs. But that’s an almost impossible task because Ones have worked so hard to look self-reliant that their partners often assume they don’t need anything!

The sign of a healthy, happy One is when they’ve accepted pleasure as a necessary part of life, and they start taking play time as seriously as work time, which is why they go to the Type Seven Enthusiast during integration.

BONUS: 🧡 Love Language

The Five Love Languages are acts of service, quality time, gifts, physical touch, and words of affirmation. This is by no means the same for all Ones, but in general, their preferred love language is either quality time or acts of service.

Ones want to perfect their relationship and you can’t do that without real quality time together. Ones also don’t like to ask for what they need, but really appreciate it when you help, so going out of your way to serve them will likely foster deep appreciation. Also, Ones are definitely minimalistic when it comes to physical touch, and words of affirmation are trumped by the idea that “actions speak louder than words.”

That leaves gifts somewhere around the middle or bottom of the pack because Ones don’t want to be seen as materialistic, although they probably really appreciate feeling seen by those who buy them a super specific, or useful gift.

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