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Relationships with Enneagram Sixes

If you’re in a relationship with an Enneagram Six, then the first thing you should know is that they’re a bundle of contradictions because their ego is telling them that world is not safe, but you can find security by being responsible and doing what’s expected of you. But since so many people, authority figures, and institutions expect different things from us, they have a hard time making consistent decisions based on their own internal guidance system. As a result, they go back and forth between seemingly paradoxical behaviors based on whatever, or whoever, makes them feel safe and accepted at any given moment.

In honor of this paradoxical nature, each of the five relationship themes for the Enneagram Six is focused on one of their trademark contradictions: doubt vs. devotion, passion vs. ambivalence, ease vs. aggression, collaboration vs. competition, and independence vs. codependence.

1/ Doubt vs. Devotion

The first major theme is foundational to the rest. The Six's deep struggle with doubt may be surprising considering they’re nicknamed “the Loyalist” due to their naturally strong commitments to the ones they love. But Sixes believe even strong commitments need to be tested every once in a while to ensure they’re still safe, or at least that’s what their doubt says. Sixes like to poke at their loved ones to see if there’s any chance they might have one foot out the door. Doubt makes Sixes naturally suspicious, and suspicion likes to imagine the worst case scenario.

Oddly enough, Sixes feel more secure if they’ve spent some time thinking about these catastrophic outcomes. That way if something horrible does happen, like an affair, they can say, “I knew something was going on when he took that business trip last fall.” The suspicion is an attempt to guard their hearts, and it’s why Sixes need to air out their doubts every once in a while so they can feel intimately connected with their partner. If they hide their doubts, they become bigger and more irrational.

When a Six's partner calmly addresses their doubts head-on, it relieves the Six's anxiety, which then leads to the rock solid devotion that the Six is known for.

However, these healing conversations usually need to be sparked by the Six's partner, as Sixes tend to avoid any direct conversations that could make it look like they’re not 100% committed.

Lastly, if you’re the Six’s partner, you can help counteract their doubts about the relationship by being a sort of a “memory database.” Doubt is often fueled by a short term memory, so if the Six’s partner can help paint a picture of historical milestones--a plus if there's romantic storytelling to weave a thread through your time together--it can help inspire some much needed confidence about your future together. Birthdays and holidays are like a great time to do this. At the end the day, healthy Sixes have to determine if their doubts are justified, or if they’re devoting themselves to a relationship just because they feel scared to leave, not because they feel passionate about staying.

2/ Passion vs. Ambivalence

One of the things that makes the average Enneagram Six a great partner is they’re very open-minded and supportive of whatever it is their partner chooses to do with their life. At the same time, sometimes that open-mindedness comes from the fact that they’ve lost touch with their own unique perspective on things. Furthermore, Sixes can be agreeable simply because they know that’s how you win friends and get people to support you.

As soon as they give up being ambivalent about a controversial topic, or take a risk to pursue their dream, they expose themself to criticism, failure, and rejection. A simple way to say it is that ambivalence equals security, and passion equals risk. All Sixes are hyper-aware of risk, but they deal with it in two distinct ways:

  • Counterphobic Sixes use the adrenaline they get from taking risks or stirring up conflict to overcompensate for their ambivalent feelings about every day life, or general lack of direction.

  • Phobic Sixes prefer to settle into a more stable, totally risk-avoidant life filled with familiar routines and a career that’s satisfactory at best.

Whether a Six uses adrenaline or comfort to navigate their ambivalent feelings about life doesn’t matter unless they’ve learned to overcome their anxiety about making choices from a truly passionate, authentic place.

Many Sixes are actually attracted to more successful, ambitious partners because they embody the kind of decisiveness they wish they had.

However, this can be a real recipe for conflict because Sixes tend to take on a ton of responsibilities that they don’t necessarily enjoy out of a sense of duty. If their partner is at work all day doing what they love or grabbing drinks with friends after getting another promotion, it often reminds the Six of the dreams they’ve neglected in favor of a lifestyle defined by comfort, convenience, and security. Stressed out Sixes can even get very passive aggressive with their partner because they not-so-secretly resent the burden they feel has been placed on them in the relationship.

Ambivalent Sixes work hard to keep their emotions and impulses in check so they can be restrained and responsible.If their partner is trying to get a rise out of them, even in a romantic or playful way, it often feels immature or selfish. On the other hand, Sixes are great at sparking romance when they do feel truly content with their life and secure with their partner. Chalk that up to another Type Six contradiction!

3/ Ease vs. Aggression

All Sixes have a mixture of both phobic and counterphobic tendencies; it’s not totally one or the other. It depends on the certain area of life they’re dealing with--like a big, gruff Navy Seal that’s unafraid of getting shot at, but scared to death of crying in front his wife. In relationships, primarily phobic Sixes express their concerns more often yet more gently, while primarily counterphobic Sixes stuff their problems and can be downright rude or combative when confronted with something they did wrong. This is why counterphobic Sixes often get mistyped as Eights because they use aggression as a weapon to fight off their many fears in life.

All Sixes feel like they’re being vigilant in a healthy, normal way and they convince themselves that if they get too relaxed, they won't spot the danger coming around the corner. Ironically, things get tricky when Sixes start to feel stable because they take on the traits of the Type Nine Peacemaker during integration, embodying the Nine's calm, acceptance of life and people just as they are. That’s a beautiful experience for the Six, and for their partner, but it also makes the Six feel like they’re losing their edge because they’re no longer anticipating everything that could go wrong.

Their default ego message is saying “the world is not a safe place,” which makes them constantly search for a secure, stable place to defend themselves and their loved ones. However, this kind of hyper-vigilance can burn Sixes out, so instead of taking on the high side of peaceful Nines just basking in the joy of life, they take on the low side of Nines, which looks like them being aloof, spacey, and too unfocused to follow a simple conversation. Ultimately, a Six’s partner will see them span the gambit from outwardly aggressive and anxious, to so chilled out it seems like their soul has left their body.

4/ Collaboration vs. Competition

Whether it’s raising children, planning a vacation, furnishing a home, or just running some basic errands, Sixes are highly collaborative people. Healthy Sixes also have almost no ego when it comes to tackling the more thankless jobs in life because they value a sense of commitment over a sense of success.

Average Sixes also have a bit of “tall poppy syndrome,” and while they can be very successful, they prefer to put the shine on someone else, because being in the spotlight can expose them to attack as much as it can expose them to praise and affirmation.

In their relationships, the Six's spirit of collaboration comes out as a mutual sense of respect. They believe everyone has their strengths and weakness, so it’s all about finding someone strong enough to support you, safe enough to be truly vulnerable with, and everything else in between is A-okay.

On the high side, this can make Sixes very warm and accepting of people who are much different than they are. On the low side, it can make them collect dysfunctional people that are only safe sharing their weaknesses, yet aren’t strong enough, or even interested in supporting anyone but themself.

If the Six starts collecting a chorus of collaborative supporters, it can be a bit off-putting for their romantic partners that feels like the Six is more involved in the lives of other people than they are in their relationship. On the other hand, if Sixes start to rely solely on the support of their romantic partner, they tend to get hyper sensitive about feeling ignored, and that creates a sense of competition in them that’s explained in their movement to the Type Three Achiever in disintegration.

Insecure Sixes try really hard to look bright, beautiful, or badass to convince people that they’re worth loving and supporting. This can devolve into bragging about their partner even though the relationship is on the rocks, gossiping to their friends about other friends in their circle, or lying about their work opportunities to make it seem like they’ve got a thriving career. When Sixes get self-conscious in a relationship, they get jealous, which when mixed with their tendency to be suspicious, leads them to projecting a wandering eye onto their partner. Jealous Sixes feel like they have to compete against all the people their partner could possibly have an affair with.

Ultimately, most Sixes need to find someone worth competing for. Sixes are very comfortable with what’s comfortable, rather than going after what they truly want.

5/ Independence vs. Codependence

One of the Six's core motivations in life is to find supportive people and institutions to help guide them through life. Again, the Six's search for these external support systems is because they struggle to overcome their anxiety about navigating life on their own. This makes Sixes incredibly devoted to their loved ones because they provide a sort of north star to help navigate life. Sixes who don’t trust their own inner direction will attach to a partner that can make most, if not all of the major decisions in life and provide many of the essential resources, like money and a place to live. However, that kind of relationship comes with a price, and that price is the Six’s freedom.

All Sixes crave their independence, but since many Sixes don’t trust their ability to be alone, they tend to collect people, no matter how dysfunctional, so they can feel like they’ll have a tribe wherever they go. Unstable Sixes love phrases like “ride or die” and “family is everything.” Sadly, those platitudes can be nothing more than an excuse for codependent behaviors, and one of the Six's biggest struggles in life will be ending a bad relationship with someone they’ve been with for a very long time. For Sixes that have experienced a lot of dysfunction in the home and are no longer close with their biological family, they tend to develop this "us against the world" narrative with their partner, so ending that relationship would very much feel like ending their whole world.

That’s the extreme side of the Six's relational dysfunction, but most of the time the Six's fear of their own independence plays out as this push-pull pattern of people pleasing.

Sixes enjoy meeting the needs of their loved ones, but when they get sucked into playing the family servant, they start to worry they’ve compromised too much of their independence for the sake of their loved ones.

However, at that point, it feels like the norm and Sixes hate rocking the boat for the sake of something that ultimately just serves their needs. At the end of the day, all Sixes need some level of autonomy within the relationship so it can feel mutually beneficial, and hopefully their partner can respect that.

BONUS: 🧡 Love Language 🧡

The five traditional love languages are words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, quality time, and acts of service. Sixes likely have quality time as their first or second choice because they love being around the people they love. Sixes are so diverse and contradictory that it’s really hard to tell if they’ll see a gift as sign of generosity, or a bribe. Words of affirmation can be a real self-esteem boost, or just some superficial flattery. Acts of service can also be done from a place of true selflessness, or deep guilt to make up for something shitty you did. And of course physical touch can be romantic...or simply fulfill a physical need or hunger.

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