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Relationships with Enneagram Threes

Updated: Nov 24, 2023



If you’re in a relationship with an Enneagram Three, then you should know that their ego is constantly telling them that you earn love by looking successful. Threes feel naturally inadequate apart from their achievements, which is why they’re nicknamed “The Achiever.” They struggle to feel loved just the way they are, apart from all their accolades or shiny exterior. The way Threes handle this ego fixation will determine the quality of their romantic relationships.


The five key themes to know if you’re in a relationship with a Type Three Achiever are: image is everything, success is a shield, move fast / feel slow, authenticity fuels intimacy, and purpose comes from position.


Note: I’m married to a Three that comes from a long line of Threes, so I've got front-row insight!


1/ Image is Everything


Threes want to look good at all times and in all ways, which obviously includes their relationships. Threes expect their romantic partner to be a means for enhancing the quality of their life, not detracting from it. This isn't abnormal--you don’t want your life to get worse when you get married--but there’s also an expectation that Threes have for when they present their partner to other people. It’s typically not desirable enough for Threes to say “This is John, he’s worked the same job for 10 years as a mid-level accountant, helps the kids with their math homework, and plays golf on the weekends.” Threes need someone a bit spicy, someone who embodies excellence, or has an immediate intrigue factor--that, or John needs to be 6’4” with a perfect body and a great sense of humor.


As the cornerstone of the Heart Triad, Threes have a pool of shame around their identity, and an intimate relationship jumps right into the deep end of that pool. Threes try to overcome their shame by crafting an ever-adaptable image that fits into any and every social circle. They’re often called chameleons because of their unique ability to blend in with totally different kinds of people in wildly different environments.

Threes make great politicians because of their adaptability, but it can put an odd, implied pressure on their partner to keep up with the ever-shifting goal posts of acceptable behavior.

As their partner, if you’re prone to lobbing out controversial opinions at cocktail parties, you should know that’s like Kryptonite for the Type Three's soul (trust me, I’ve been there). Threes exude poise, charm, and confidence, which is probably what attracts you to them in the first place, but it also leads to conflict if you’re not used to the game of social politics the Three plays with their various communities.


Threes feel like it’s a good thing to win people over, but their partners are often quick to notice when Threes are stretching the truth--even a little--in order to gain an important person’s approval or affirmation. Ultimately, Threes believe their romantic relationship should look like a positive, productive collaboration amongst two highly capable individuals, even if things are totally on the rocks.


2/ Success is a Shield


Success is a major part of every Enneagram Three’s identity, and they often become workaholics because they’re deeply identified with their career success. Threes put their heart into their work, and any threat to their success at work, is a threat to their heart. Threes also believe that no one loves a loser, so you have to win... or at least look like you’re winning. To harken back to the first theme, it’s all about having a successful image for Threes.


Unfortunately, a successful image often becomes a shield, which both blocks Threes from learning the valuable lessons failure can teach us, as well as becoming a heavy burden they have to carry through difficult times.

The slippery slope for Threes is when they start convincing themselves that they’re only loved for their achievements, not who they are, they develop a narcissistic obsession with hiding all their mistakes, failures, or flaws.

This can lead to getting constant plastic surgery to maintain the illusion of youth, or maxing out credit cards to maintain the illusion of wealth. Whatever illusion seems the most effective is the one Threes will pursue, and it leads to Threes getting a ton of attention, while lacking integrity.


The obsession with hiding mistakes can also make it impossible for the Three's partner to hold them accountable for any wrongdoing, as fragile Threes can’t bear the fact that they’re lying to the people they love the most. As a result, they typically shift the blame to an uncontrollable circumstance that fueled their poor behavior.


Typically, the shield of success has to crumble before Threes will finally expose their true self to the ones they love. Many Threes say that it took a huge career setback or personal tragedy of some kind to make them the success they craved was really just an illusion of control. Ultimately, romantic partners that endure this kind of hardship alongside the Three will find them to be incredibly open, honest, and committed like never before.


3/ Authenticity Fuels Intimacy


Threes can make incredible leaders because of their strong social instincts. They pick up on people’s subtle reactions and have a keen eye for what they like or dislike--this is amplified if they’ve got a strong Two wing. Their intuitive read creates a dilemma for Threes: either adapt their persona to what they know people will like, or remain authentic and risk being rejected by the people they so badly want to impress. In romantic relationships, this characteristic makes Threes great at the initial dating phase where it’s generally accepted that both people are showing an unrealistically positive side of themselves. Threes are super slow to let the "positive-only" phase transition to the next stage, which requires a peek behind the curtain into all our past indiscretions and family drama.


Threes are well practiced when it comes to tuning out their darker emotions in order to stay upbeat, charming, and attractive.

Average or unhealthy Threes have a hard time coping with their shame and other heavy emotions, so they become deft at compartmentalizing.

Once those emotions are all boxed up, Threes pretend the heavy emotions aren’t there at all, which is a total lie--which is the core “sin," if you will, for Type Threes. They lie, or rather, they deceive people, and moreover, they deceive themselves. Average Threes aren’t deceptive because they’re malicious, and many Threes aren’t even aware they’re lying at all. The deception is triggered by their subconscious fear of their own emotions, which they believe are a major threat to their impressive reputation. Threes know that if they had to feel their real feelings, they may have to walk through some crippling grief, sorrow, shame, and/or depression that might not help earn them a promotion anytime soon.


A Three’s partner can’t force them to rip open that festering box of emotion and then feel paralyzed for months on end, but what they can do is be patient yet persistent in their pursuit of emotional authenticity within the relationship. Threes often don’t change something until someone else notices it, and then lovingly calls them out for it. They're pragmatists, after all!


4/ Move Fast, Feel Slow


One of the most obvious traits Threes have is their tendency to move fast. They are the kings and queens of multitasking. Threes have an ever present to-do list filled with everything from major life goals and catch up calls with friends to everyday errands. Much of the Three's energy to accomplish their list comes from a desire to outrun their feelings. If Threes slow down, they start to feel things, and they don’t like that. Feelings can be paralyzing, and when Threes start to feel overwhelmed with emotion, they start to disintegrate to the worst characteristics of the Type Nine Peacemaker, which looks like going totally numb in front of the TV with a bottle of wine, or maybe something stronger.


Threes struggle with complex emotional situations, like the ones that normally come up in a romantic relationship. As a result, Threes start treating their partner’s satisfaction like a goal to be accomplished. Things can get very transactional: "tell me what you want, we’ll do it, and then I’ll go back to my other work, okay?"

This makes unhurried quality time with a Three pretty hard to get, because Threes don’t want to just be in the relationship, they want to do the relationship.

Another reason Threes like to move to fast is because speed increases their focus. Like race horses with blinders on during a competition, Threes enjoy the feeling of clarity mixed with speed. The problem with blinders is you miss a lot of detail, and Threes don’t mind cutting corners if it gets them across the finish line faster. This can lead to a lot of half finished tasks around the house, or some things getting totally ignored because the Three got swept up in something more important. When a Three's partner calls them out for this kind of behavior it can actually have the opposite result they intended, as criticism just makes Threes move even faster, work harder, and neglect more things.


Threes prefer a quick solution to every argument, so they’ll often be more than willing to throw out a flippant “sorry” if it ends the fight and lets them move on. However, real reconciliation is a slow, uncomfortable process in which Threes have to face both the ways they’ve hurt their partner and the ways they’ve been hurt. Threes are often so skittish about conflict that after a few fights in a row they start seeing the relationship as a sub-optimal pursuit that needs to be left behind in favor of a more successful venture. They think: “we tried, no hard feelings, let’s just move on.” That or they just become plutonic business partners with their spouse. This reaction is often just the ego’s fear of intimacy (see above). Be ready to slow things down in your relationship with some healthy conflict if you're seeking emotional clarity from a Three.


5/ Purpose Comes From Position


One of the most important things you can do in a romantic relationship is support your partner’s passion, and Threes are deeply passionate about their work, as it gives them an existential sense of purpose. This passion mixed with their inherent leadership potential leads them to take one of two very different positions: leading from the front, or leading from behind.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with being the head honcho and leading from the front, but many Threes crave leadership positions because it fuels their narcissistic tendencies. That kind of ambition doesn’t motivate or inspire people the way that a genuinely humble leader does. Threes that have a healthy sense of self take on the best traits of the Type Six Loyalist during what’s known as the movement of integration.

Integrated Threes shift their focus to the good of the group, the needs of the family, and developing other people into their best self.

Threes with a healthy sense of purpose don’t crave fame or popularity, and they certainly don’t mind shining the spotlight on other, more deserving people. That kind of humility coming from someone as charismatic and capable as the Three is what makes them the most influential and inspiring leaders possible. This movement of integration is unmistakable to their partners because healthy Threes become incredibly committed to the relationship and will endure profound adversity together, even if it means some public scrutiny. Healthy Threes feel calm and at ease with life in a way that lets the family feel like everything is going to be okay. Leadership will always be a part of the Three's DNA, but with a slight adjustment in their position, they find a love that creates a sense of fulfillment that the spotlight could never provide.


BONUS: 🧡 Love Language

The Five Love Languages are acts of service, quality time, gifts, physical touch, and words of affirmation. When it comes to the preferred Love Language of most Threes, words of affirmation is probably near the top because they’re relentless in their motivation, support, and encouragement of their loved ones. Words of affirmation also take the least time out of their day, which, on the flip side, is why quality time or acts of service would probably be lower on the list.


When it comes to the Love Language Threes prefer to receive, it's likely also words of affirmation, with a mix of either physical touch or gifts following closely behind. Threes love affirmation, so physical touch and gifts can both be like a tangible form of that affirmation, or like a prize for their success.


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