Marital Survival Guide During the Coronavirus: Personality Differences Make a Difference

The Enneagram  is one of the original personality tools, and it is experiencing an astounding resurgence of interest by personality researchers, authors, counselors, and the general public. 

Noting that how we view and respond to people and life events is influenced by our personality, someone had some fun with suggesting how the nine different Enneagram personality types are inclined to react to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Response to Coronavirus Threat by Enneagram Number

Type 1 – Reformer: Has a perfect list of necessities but no time to shop.

Type 2 – Helper:  Worries about how to care for everyone if there’s an outbreak.

Type 3 – Achiever:  Wants to appear prepared, but also wants to be respected for their lack of worry.

Type 4 – Individualist: Broods over the indignity of possibly getting the same illness as everyone else.

Type 5 – Investigator: Listens to podcasts of virologists. Increases their daily potassium and magnesium.

Type 6 – Loyalist: Buys 150 pounds of dried beans while wearing a hazmat suit. 

Type 7 – Enthusiast:  Plans vacation and hopes for school cancellations. Will risk a great deal on a cruise.

Type 8 – Challenger: Annoyed by CDC updates. Washes hands less as an act of defiance.

Type 9 – Peacemaker: Can’t decide if they should be worried; takes naps instead. 

A comedy duo created a must-see short video about the nine Enneagram types under quarantine.  

The thing that makes parody funny is that there is some recognizable truth present in it. Though a parody is an exaggeration of the truth to the point of absurdity, we laugh because we see a bit ourselves or someone else in the portrait. And in the words of Mark Twain, “He who learns to laugh at himself will never cease to be entertained.” 

The Difference that Differences Make

Now that we’ve had a good laugh at Enneagram types, let’s get serious about personality differences for a moment.  Repeating an earlier phrase, how we view and respond to people and life events is influenced by our personality. Not controlled, but certainly influenced. 

And now let’s add to the equation something you already know, something really obvious, but something that has a major impact on your life—you and your partner most likely have two different personalities.  Duh! Thank you, Captain Obvious. 

But here is the reason why the obvious is having a subtle, perhaps even hidden, influence on your relationship.  Your personality differences will filter into and create a difference (and possibly conflict) in how you view and respond to the current pandemic.  And these differences will be accentuated, and the potential conflict heightened when couples (and possibly children) are spending so much time together under various levels of quarantine. 

Here are just a few of the ways that you and your partner’s personality difference is likely to express itself.

Rating the Level of Threat

It’s likely that for many couples, the two partners don’t see eye-to-eye on the level of danger that the pandemic poses to them personally, to their family, and to the community.

Responding to the Perceived Level of Threat

Not surprisingly, if two people rate the level of threat differently, then their reactions will be different. That will express itself in the level of their personal safeguarding (handwashing, wearing gloves, wearing masks, etc.) and the level of their social distancing (not just the general public, but friends and family)

Working Together from Home

Much has been written in recent weeks about the challenge many couples are facing who are suddenly both working from home at the same time during the pandemic. Marriages will be put to the test during this season of multiple stressors.

For example, when one spouse is a task-oriented introvert, and the other is a person-oriented extrovert, they will likely have differing expectations about how much connection and conversation will take place during the workday.  

Truths to Keep in Mind

Differences are not incompatibilities: Very, very, very few of the many differences that couples have qualify as incompatibilities. 

Differences can be negotiated: Whether you call it compromise or win-win, your differences as a couple can be negotiated. 

Differences must be negotiated:  If differences in likes/dislikes, preferences, needs, goals, desires, standards, and expectations, are not negotiable, then the result is power plays. The alternative to win-win is win-lose. Either I win and you lose; or you win and I lose. I often tell couples, “When only one of you wins, the relationship loses.”

Two Vital Ingredients in Good Negotiation

Good negotiation looks for the middle ground that is both Meaningful and Manageable for both partners. Meaningful in negotiation means that what I’m receiving feels sufficiently valuable to me.  Manageable in negotiation means what I’m being asked to give or give up feels reasonable to me. 

To get to Meaningful and Manageable for both partners means that the couple must keep talking and negotiating until they find the middle ground that they both can genuinely live with.  

Two Toxic Ingredients of Bad Negotiation 

The alternative to the harder work of finding a place and agreeing on a decision that both partners can genuinely live with is something that will produce Resentment and ultimately Resistance in the partner who feels like they conceded too much. 

The Problem with Keeping Score

The other thing that happens in that scenario is keeping score. If I feel like I conceded too much (you won, I lost) in the decision about how much we should spend on a new car, then the next significant decision that comes along (and it doesn’t have to be about money) I’ll likely feel that it’s my turn to get my way. Because you got your way last time, it’s now my turn. However, it’s unlikely that my partner is going to agree with that assertion.

If it’s something important to your partner, he/she will want to have a voice in the choice/decision. But you’ll be operating from the position of “But you owe me one.”  Keeping score is bad mathematics for a relationship; and it’s also bad geometry and bad physics for the relationship because the playing field never feels level, and the scales never seem to get balanced. 


Your personality differences will rise to the surface during the Coronavirus pandemic. Those differences can’t be ignored or eliminated. Instead, they can and must be negotiated for the relationship to be healthy. 

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Counseling Ambassador

Ramon Presson

Ramon Presson

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin, TN, and the author of several books. He has been a weekly newspaper columnist in the Nashville area for over a decade.

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