Ask Vicki | Relationship Remedies Using the Five Elements
Ask Vicki is an advice column blog run by Vicki Matthews ND. Vicki is an author, teacher, and naturopathic physician who is passionate about using ancient wisdom to re-establish balance at all levels of life. Relationship Remedies Using the Five Elements offers a simple yet profound approach to getting along better with anyone, whether with friend, colleague, child, spouse, or neighbor.
Dear Vicki: Brad and I met our senior year at college and have been friends for over 5 years now. We both found jobs in LA after college where I love working as a station chef for a well-known restaurant and he’s in computers. It’s never been romantic between us; we just have fun hanging out and are there for each other in tough times. He helped me through the loss of a very special aunt, I stood by him when his programming job was eliminated. Last week he announced that he’d developed what he thinks is a fantastic new software program but needs start-up funds. He knows I inherited money from my aunt, so asked if I would back him and assured me it will be a great investment. I really like Brad, and I really, really want to help him, so do you see any problem with lending him the money? Signed: Likely Lender in LA
Dear Likely Lender: It’s a wonderful gift to have a great friend like Brad. Friendships like yours are very important personal relationships; we all need them in our lives. However, you are contemplating entering a business relationship with Brad, and that is a horse of a different color (as the old saying goes). It’s clear you like Brad, but how well do you really know him? Do you know what kind of business man he will be? Does he have any financial savvy? Is he a good salesman? Does he understand marketing? These are things you should know before investing in his business. But since you really, really want to help Brad, let’s look at whether a business relationship with him might be a good idea for you.
It’s an easy guess that your primary elemental personality is Earth. Wanting to help someone is a very Earth thing, as is excellence in the kitchen. It’s no wonder you love working as a station chef; it truly is right up your alley. Brad, on the other hand, sounds like he could be a primary Metal personality. Skill with computers and software design usually requires the precision and detail-orientation that are very characteristic of the Metal personality. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Metal relate via the Nurturing Cycle, with Earth feeding Metal. This is another big reason you really want to help Brad – an Earth personality’s attention and energy naturally flows toward Metal personalities. It would also explain why Brad came to you for help. Metal people are used to Earth people helping them. But just because a partnership of some sort feels natural to both of you, is a business relationship a good match?
In many ways, the difference between a friendship and a business connection can be seen in the expectation and timing of what is exchanged between the people involved. In a friendship, one of you may call the other more frequently for a while, then the other may be the one who calls more often. He helped you when you lost your aunt, and then some time later you were there when he lost his job. Friendship is a seesaw kind of give and take that is quite organic. A business relationship, however, should be anything but organic. And that is the issue here.
Business relationships should be defined by clear representations of what each person is bringing to the arrangement. There should be specific time frames, definitions of success, and minute details regarding what each party will do and by when. Issues like interest on the loan, timing of payments, penalties for missed payments, etc. need to be discussed and agreed on. And all of this should be in writing and signed by everyone who is part of the business relationship. The good news is that Metal people will love this kind of detail and concreteness. The bad news is that Earth people usually won’t. They don’t want to “insult” someone by creating a contract that implies the person won’t make good on their word. It feels unkind. They also aren’t likely to demand that the person they care about stick to the agreement if they know they are having trouble.
However, the act of putting down in writing what each person can expect from the business relationship actually serves to protect the personal relationship, especially when Earth personalities are involved. Not only will you naturally want to trust Brad, unless you have a strong secondary Metal or Wood personality (both of which bring a lot of structure), you won’t be particularly facile regarding what you should expect from Brad in a business relationship. Without that structure, and maybe even with it, you risk the possibility of damaging your personal relationship with Brad if things don’t work out well and he loses the money from your aunt. History shows that half of all new businesses fail within 3 to 5 years, so you absolutely should never loan out money you can’t afford to lose, either. A very wise Metal person (Shakespeare) once offered this warning: “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”
The bottom line is that there are reasons people suggest never lending money to family or friends. When the payments aren’t timely or the venture isn’t successful, what to do about the lost money gets very messy, very quickly. Damaging your personal relationship with Brad will be especially hard on you as a primary Earth personality because lasting relationships are everything to Earth people. If you have your heart set on lending the money to Brad, at the very least please enlist the assistance of an attorney to draw up a contract between you and Brad regarding the terms of the loan. But think long and hard about doing this because, as Shakespeare warned, you run the risk of losing both the money and the friendship if things don’t work out well for Brad. Best of luck to you (and Brad)!
Dear Vicki: Sammy and I met at the restaurant where we both work and something clicked between us. Even though we’re pretty different (Sammy is really loud and laughs a lot, I’m much quieter and more of a slow mover), our friendship has been growing for almost a year now and I’ve come to think of her as my best friend. But lately, I’ve caught Sammy lying to me which is something I would never, ever do. It hasn’t been big things, but it’s made me question if I can trust her. For example, we agreed to buy a birthday gift together for another girl at work, but then Sammy went in on a gift with someone else. And just last week we set up a time to meet for dinner, but she never showed and didn’t answer my texts. Later, I found out she was at the movies with her brother. Sammy is such an outgoing, funny person that it’s super having her as a best friend, but the lying is a big problem. Relationships matter a whole lot to me and I need to trust my closest friends. What can I do about Sammy? Signed, Needs Honesty
Dear Needs Honesty: It’s never easy to discover that someone is intentionally not telling us the truth. It does make it harder to trust them, and trust sits at the core of every relationship. While it is never really okay to lie, there are different kinds of “mis-truths” and different reasons they happen. One person’s “exaggeration” is another person’s lie. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes truth, and that’s especially relevant to our elemental personalities. I think if we take a closer look at the elemental personalities of you and Sammy, we might see where some of those differences stand.
You describe Sammy as someone who is outgoing, funny, and laughs a lot. That is a very apt description of someone with a primary Fire personality. You, on the other hand, are likely a primary Earth personality given your strong need to trust your closest friends and the importance you place on relationships. And it’s no wonder you two clicked. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle, with Fire feeding Earth. As an Earth person, a connection with Sammy will have an undercurrent that feels nurturing to you, something Earth people value. And Sammy probably appreciates her relationship with you because in nature, an earthen hearth is a very natural and safe container for fire. She probably feels very supported by you. The combination of your Earth stability and Sammy’s joyful Fire is sure to be good for both of you.
What I think is going on for you and Sammy is something that occurs in every relationship: the newness is wearing off. That means the focus on good behavior and making a good impression is relaxing. This isn’t to say that Sammy doesn’t care about you as much, it’s more that she trusts your connection enough to relax into more of her real self. And for her, that means more of her natural Fire energy will begin coming out. That can be good news or bad, depending on how you look at it. Most importantly, you need to understand Sammy’s behavior.
While Wood personalities focus on the future, and Metal personalities focus on the past, Fire people live most of their life in the “now.” The past and the future are rarely top of mind for them. The freedom to be spontaneous also matters a great deal to primary Fire personalities. I have known many Fires who make plans for the future with every good intention of following through, only to become distracted by something else in the now and miss the planned event entirely. Fires can also forget that they ever gave a yes to someone about something (like going in on a gift) and will later give a conflicting yes to a different person.
In truth, I serious doubt that Sammy is blatantly lying to you. I think she probably had every intention of going in on a gift with you as planned, but forgot she’d agreed to that and then leapt (in a Fiery way) at a different gift opportunity presented in the now. The same is likely true about your movie date. Dinner with you was a great idea, but then along came her brother and suggested a movie and off she went, forgetting about your date. That is often the way of a Fire; they love spontaneity and just don’t have a lot of structure, so don’t do well sticking to plans.
I encourage you to accept Sammy’s fiery ways as part of who she is. That is, after all, the definition of our primary elemental personality. It is who we are at a deep level. However, you don’t need to (and in fact, should not) put aside who you are as a primary Earth personality. Trust and dependability matter to you, and Sammy would probably agree that they are important. It’s just that what trust and dependability look like to a Fire person will be different from what they look like to an Earth person.
For you, trust and dependability probably come from repeated experiences where you have learned that the person will be good to their word, show up as planned, and demonstrate that they have your best interests at heart. You learn this based on the passage of time. Sammy, however, focuses on the now. She will be more likely to decide she can trust you based on how she feels about you now, not something from the past. Your Earth is a safe container for her Fire, and as odd as this may sound, she will sense this about you, so will feel good about you and will trust you. And the dependability? That’s the middle name of every Earth personality on the planet. Earth people are nothing if not dependable! You have probably demonstrated this to Sammy from the day you met. But more importantly, she feels you as dependable.
There is another basic difference between you and Sammy at a primary personality level that I think will help you better understand Sammy. Both Fire people and Earth people care deeply about connections. For both of you, connecting is a top priority, and that is great news. However, as an Earth personality, you will care about deep connections that last over time. But Sammy, not so much. Her Fire will care more about quick and fun connections in the now. This is an important difference and one that you need to accept as part of who Sammy is.
This doesn’t mean your friendship with Sammy is doomed. But it does mean that you can’t assume you’re on the same page regarding your relationship priorities. I suggest you have a talk with Sammy (not too heavy – her Fire will flee), sharing how much she means to you and that you really want to be able to count on her honoring her commitments; it matters to you. Because she cares about you, she will want to do that, it will just be harder for her. And since your Earth has much more structure than her Fire, a kind act on your part would be to contact Sammy the day of your plans to remind her. For Sammy, that will feel like support, something she counts on from your Earth. And when you do get together, you will have the fun and laughter that you count on from Sammy. Blessings to you both!
Dear Vicki: My husband loves working in his firm’s Human Resources department, and they love him. In fact, they have asked him to head the whole department. He’s excited about the promotion (and the hefty raise that goes with it), but I’m not excited at all because it means we have to move to California. We dreamed of moving there when we were first married and started our jobs (I worked as a secretary for 5 years), but now we have two small children (ages 3 and 5 years) and I don’t think it’s fair to disrupt their lives with such a huge move. It also means selling our house and leaving our friends and families. I’ve asked him to be reasonable, but all he says is that this is his chance to move up in the world and he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity. We’ve always seen eye to eye on most things, but not this. How can I convince him that he should stop being so selfish and pushy and just stay put? Signed: Happy Here
Dear Happy Here: Change is never easy, but it’s easier for some people than others. In the Five Elements model, the Wood elemental personality is the one most likely to embrace forward-moving change, especially if it relates to personal accomplishment. Moving forward is what Wood people are wired to do. The Earth elemental personality is often the least likely elemental personality to embrace change, especially if the change involves relocating. Earth people are wired to care deeply about family, friends, and home, and leaving them behind is often unbearably hard. I suspect that you are an Earth personality and your husband is a Wood personality, so let’s see what we can do to help address the situation.
First, let me say that there is no perfect fix for your dilemma. Wood personalities will always be happiest moving forward and Earth personalities will always be happiest with a settled home life. But I hope that if you can better understand what is going on around this issue, you might be able to work with your husband to make these difficult decisions together. Also, it’s also important to acknowledge that in the Five Elements model, you and your husband relate on the Controlling Cycle with Wood controlling Earth. That means that there will be times when your husband’s enthusiasm for something will seem to threaten the security that matters so deeply to you. That fact that you find him “pushy” on this issue suggests that this is probably one of those times.
Anyone with a lot of Earth energy in their personality will never voluntarily choose to leave their home and friends. These things are the bedrock of who they are and what matters most to them. However, there are other things that also matter deeply to Earth personalities, including taking care of others, providing important people with the best life has to offer, and supporting the people who matter most. I suspect you already know that about yourself; your concern for relocating your children illustrates this well.
But I encourage you to step back and look at what your husband is really proposing. He is asking for the opportunity to better himself and, by extension, you and your family. He is offering you the fulfillment of the dream of moving to California. He is asking you to stand by him and support him as he moves forward in his career, something that is very important to Wood personalities. In exchange, he will be able to help you create a family home and life that has the very likely possibility of improving opportunities for you and your children. I’d like to suggest that if it didn’t entail moving out of state, your Earth personality would completely embrace what he is offering; these are some of the very things that matter most to Earth people. And while moving out of state is never easy, I wonder if you are reacting to the fact that his Wood energy feels threatening, possibly even competitive, to you.
Part of the problem here could be that you and your husband are energetically very similar. He is clearly a primary Wood personality, but the fact that he loves Human Resources work suggests that he probably has a secondary Earth personality because Human Resources involves taking care of people. And your work as a secretary would likely have involved a great deal of planning and managing, which speaks to the possibility that you could have a secondary Wood personality. Two Earth people together will create a very tight and loving relationship. Two Wood people together will compete with each other at times. I encourage you to check in with yourself and see if one reason you are opposed to this move is that it would mean he has won and you have lost in the battle for what each of you wants.
As the sole breadwinner in your household, your husband should have the opportunity to provide as best he can for his family. If he needs to move to do this, now is the perfect time given the ages of your children. They are both under 6 years, so have not started elementary school and thus have not formed deep friendships. Children their ages are usually very resilient and handle changes like this well if their parents handle the changes well. As a primary Earth personality, this will be your challenge. It does mean you will be leaving friends and family behind, but perhaps the hefty increase in salary the new job entails can be used to visit them regularly. And trust me, many of them will be thrilled to come visit you in California!
I know a move like this will not be easy; your Earth energy will not want to leave your house and family behind. But if you can focus on what this will mean for your children and husband – and step gently around the idea that moving means your husband has “won” this one – I do believe your Earth personality will see the rightness of it because it will mean so much to the very people who are most important to you. Many blessings to you and your family!
Dear Vicki: My sister recently shared something that has me really upset. After less than a year of marriage, her daughter and new son-in-law are having marital troubles. Betsy is a nurse, Stuart is an architect, and the problem is that Stuart has very little tolerance for clutter around the house. But sweet Betsy excels at creating clutter because she loves her doll collection and has plastic sacks of projects (sewing, knitting, etc.) strewn all over. Really, the few times I’ve visited I have to agree that their house was sort of a cluttered mess. But my sister said that the final straw was when Betsey wallpapered Stuart’s home study with a cheery floral print. Apparently, Stuart not only didn’t like her choice of paper, he was also quite miffed that she left the ladder and brushes in his study. I love my niece, and she seems very happy in this marriage, so how can I help her? Signed, Anxious Auntie
Dear Anxious Auntie: The issue of “clutter” is an age-old problem that frequently defies definition because one person’s cozy decorating is another’s overwhelming clutter. As individuals, we have fairly ingrained behaviors regarding how we manage our personal space. But when we marry, or even just decide to cohabitate with a group of friends, we suddenly merge two (or more) personal spaces into one. Sometimes that goes smoothly, but usually it’s a humbling lesson in the art of compromise. How many marriages hit the rocks because the cap isn’t on the toothpaste? How many squabbles stem from dishes left in the sink? The short answer is a lot, so let’s see what we can do to prevent Betsey and Stuart from becoming another statistic in the category of failed marriages.
Based on your descriptions, it seems likely that Betsey is a primary Earth personality and Stuart is a primary Metal personality. Nurses are walking examples of the tender caring that Earth people love to shower on others. And Stuart’s skill at architecture speaks to the logic and rationality inherent in Metal people. The good news is that they are in love. The not so good news is that Earth and Metal people will usually clash on what they want in terms of the look and feel of the space they inhabit.
Primary Earth personalities usually like a cozy, lived-in look. It comforts Earths to have their “things” around them, usually in plain view, because these things frequently serve as mementos of important people or times in their life. That scruffy, handmade doll was a gift from a dearly loved but now deceased grandmother. To put it (or any of her other special dolls) in a cabinet would be tantamount to putting Grammy in the cabinet. That pile of letters represents all the wonderful friends she has and will someday correspond with again. You can’t stuff those in a desk. And let’s not even discuss that lovely scarf she is knitting for her best friend. Keeping it in a plastic sack on the couch makes it easier for her to work on, putting love into every stich.
A primary Metal personality, however, will not view the clutter as connections to people and places that deserve to be seen. Metal people are the followers of protocol who live by the old adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Order and organization matter greatly, so to them environmental chaos is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Simple, streamlined, usually somewhat modern décor will appeal most to a Metal person’s need for order. They are not cold or unemotional people, but sentimentality for sentiment’s sake just doesn’t matter to them. This means they will fail to see the need to have their environment populated by visual reminders of significant people, places, or things.
So how can you help your niece? First, remind her that marriage is about compromise. That’s true whether married for one year, or fifty. In fact, relationships that last the longest have mastered the art of compromise. The good news for Betsey and Stuart is that in the Five Elements model, they relate to each on the Nurturing Cycle, with Betsey’s Earth energy feeding Stuart’s Metal energy. Even better, this will feel very natural to both of them, which means it’s something they can build on. Betsey’s Earth energy will want to take care of Stuart and he will want to ensure Betsey stays happy so she keeps taking care of him.
Second, I would encourage your niece to consider how she might feel if, without consulting her, someone who meant well came in and decorated the interior of her house completely in black and white. I can guarantee she wouldn’t like it because Earth personalities usually love color and floral prints. Metal personalities, however, usually lean toward the sparseness of black and white.
Third, help Betsey understand that even though two people are deeply in love, they most likely will have different elemental personality styles which will create different environmental priorities. The goal is to work with both of their needs in a conscious and kind manner. To honor Stuart and his preferences, she might offer to work with him to select a different décor for his home study and then make sure it’s re-done to his tastes. Metal people like to have control over their environment, so the fact that he wasn’t consulted regarding his study décor may be just as egregious to him as the floral paper itself.
Finally, if Betsey and Stuart work together to address the clutter, I have every confidence that they will come up with solutions that satisfy both of them. For example, Betsy’s favorite dolls look like chaos to Stuart when scattered all over the house, but if organized, they become a collection. A special glass fronted cabinet just for the doll collection will insure that they still feel accessible to Betsy but will seem organized to Stuart. In the same fashion, a wooden box or other container to hold Betsy’s letters will turn clutter into a decorative accessory. A large basket for the knitting keeps it accessible – but out of sight – and is an upgrade to the plastic bag on the couch.
For there to be peace at home, both Betsey’s and Stuart’s style priorities need to be honored. And Anxious Auntie, this won’t be as hard on Betsey as it might sound. Metal personalities excel at organizing and simplifying, but because Earth feeds Metal in the Five Elements model, they also secretly like a bit of the “hominess” that Earth personalities provide as long as it doesn’t get out of control. If Betsey and Stuart work together to help organize the clutter, they will be able to create a homey space that brings comfortable order to the current cluttered chaos. Blessings to you, and them!
Dear Vicki: My twin brother Peter and I were very close growing up, but he went to college out of state and never moved back home. We’re 23 now and he’s hinted about getting engaged to Jessie, a girl he met while a student in college. She, however, was not a student – she is six years older than we are and was a waitress when they met. He’s clearly in love and has their whole life planned out, but the few times I’ve met her have given me grave concerns regarding their potential life together. Peter’s a serious guy, a real homebody, who works for an animal rescue service in the town where he and Jessie live. She is still a waitress, but apparently likes to go out with friends when she gets off work and sometimes doesn’t get home to Peter until after midnight, which is so not right. How is this going to be any kind of a marriage? He’s talking about children with her, too, but what party girl makes a good mother? That’s not the way things are supposed to be, but Peter defends Jessie no matter what I say. It’s absurd! I’m too busy with my job as a programmer to go try to talk some sense into him again, but what can I do? Signed: Disgusted in Detroit
Dear Disgusted: Bless you for wanting what’s best for your brother. As twins, it was probably very hard for you when he went away to college; twins are used to being and staying close. It’s also probably hard that Peter has chosen not to move back home and is, apparently, creating a new home with Jessie. Clearly, this is not what you think should be happening and that’s understandable. However, from a Five Elements perspective, it is also understandable that Peter would be attracted to Jessie, that Jessie would be attracted to Peter, and that you would have problems with their relationship. So let’s see what we can to do help you understand what is going on.
To use the Five Elements model to help sort of the relationship issues between you, Peter, and Jessie, we need a sense of the primary elemental personalities for the three of you. Your upset that Peter hasn’t done things the way you think they’re “supposed to be,” along with your job as a programmer, suggests that you likely have a primary Metal personality. Metal people work well with detail and have the focus and thoroughness necessary to be a good programmer. They also expect life to follow a prescribed pattern and unfold in an orderly fashion. When that doesn’t occur, they can easily become upset and sometimes judgmental.
Based on your description of Peter as a “homebody,” he likely has a primary Earth personality. Loyalty in relationships is very common for Earth people, too, and Peter seems very loyal to Jessie. Earth people also love working with animals. Jessie, on the other hand, seems to be a rather prototypical primary Fire personality. Staying out late with friends is very much a Fire thing, as is their ability to make easy connections with others. Fires actually love to connect with people, which would probably make Jessie very good at waitressing.
The most interesting part of this issue is how each of you relate to the others, and for that we turn to our trusty Five Elements model. As a Fire personality, Jessie actually could be an excellent match for Peter. Fire feeds Earth on the Nurturing Cycle of the model, which means that Peter will feel happy and attended to by Jessie. She probably does light up his life. And because the energy in the Five Elements model flows from Fire to Earth, an Earth person can be a perfect fit for Jessie’s wild Fire personality. In nature, an earthen hearth is a natural container for fire. A relationship with Peter probably feels safe and comforting to Jessie. However, the relationship between Jessie’s Fire personality and your Metal personality is a different kettle of fish. In the model, these two elements relate on the Controlling Cycle, with Fire melting Metal. It’s very understandable that you would not only dislike Jessie, but possibly even feel threatened by her.
At one level, this is Peter’s life to live. As an Earth personality, he is wired with a strong desire for a stable home, but stability is not something usually associated with Fire people. They can become bored rather easily and jump to the next fun adventure. This may happen with Jessie. She may tire of life with Peter and move on to someone new and exciting. If so, it will be important for you to be there to help him through the loss. Family matters most to Earth people and you are clearly his closest family. However, the fact that Jessie has been a waitress for at least the four or five years Peter has known her suggests that she is capable of some degree of stability, so she and Peter may have a wonderfully exciting and lively home together.
If this happens, you need to make peace with the fact that your twin has not followed the rules as you see them, but instead, has followed his heart, which is very characteristic of an Earth personality. The question to ask yourself is if you can support him in his choice of life partners. And I can tell you right now that your answer will ultimately be yes. How do I know? Because Metal personalities will always lean toward doing the right thing. It is deeply wired in them to respect and honor what is right. And if Jessie loves your brother and makes him happy, and he continues to love her, there can be nothing more right than that.
For now, I encourage you to detach from this issue as best you can, which is also something Metal personalities can do well if they set their minds to it. Just let it go and see what happens. Your twin will eventually need you, either to help him through a break-up or celebrate a wedding. And either way, you will do so brilliantly because that will absolutely be the right thing to do. Blessings to you!
Dear Vicki: I’m in my mid-20s and live by myself in Manhattan where I work as a legal advocate for a refugee organization. My mother recently informed me that my cousin (her sister’s son who’s around my age) will be moving here to take a job as a trial attorney. Mom asked if I would help James find a place, get settled, and meet people. I understand that he is family, but since we were children, I’ve never really liked James. He always seemed like a wild, pushy, “my way or the highway” kind of guy. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed his company; he’s exhausting to be around. There’s no way out of it though, so do you have any recommendations regarding what I can do to stand him for however long it takes to get him settled? Signed: Cornered in Manhattan
Dear Cornered: Ah, the things we are called to do in the name of family. I agree that you probably are stuck with helping your cousin get settled in the big city. And while you will probably never really enjoy James, there are ways to manage your interactions with him to make things less painful. That said, the first step is for you to understand why he exhausts you and rubs you the wrong way. Of course, I think it has everything to do with your elemental personalities.
It’s interesting that you and James are both attorneys. One might expect that a shared profession would make relating to each other easier, but given the type of law you each practice, I can understand why that hasn’t happened. You are radically different from each other and the way this has manifested in your career paths offers insight into your elemental personalities.
As I have said here many times, the ability to survive law school requires a great deal of structure. The two most structured elements in the Five Elements model are Wood and Metal. Because of this, attorneys usually have either Wood or Metal as a primary personality. For James, I suspect his primary elemental personality is Wood, especially since you remember him as a “pushy” child. That’s a word often associated with Wood people, and it is certainly a characteristic that would make for a good trial attorney. You, on the other hand, are likely a Metal personality because successful advocacy often rests in knowing the minutia of law and precedent. Metal people do this type of detail brilliantly.
Normally, knowing our primary elemental personality is enough to help explain our positive and less than positive relationship tendencies. But in your case, I think an understanding of yours and James’ secondary elemental personalities will make a difference. Your desire to use your legal skills to help people at a disadvantage in society suggests that you probably have Earth as a secondary personality. As a Metal/Earth person, you will be excellent at helping the people who come to you in need. On the other hand, I suspect that James has Fire as his secondary; Fire people are often described as “wild.” A Wood/Fire combination would give him a personality able to push for what he wants in a showy (and dare I say entertaining) way.
So how might one expect a Metal/Earth personality to get along with a Wood/Fire one? Well, I think you’re living proof of the answer. It will be exhausting for the Metal/Earth, and here’s why. In the Five Elements model, Wood and Metal relate on the Controlling Cycle, with Metal controlling Wood. This means that whenever James displays what seems to you to be excessive behavior (a good way to describe a Wood person with too much energy), you would innately feel like it is your job to “prune” him. Constantly needing to do that around him can be draining for your Metal. But it gets worse, because James’ Wood relates to your Earth on the Controlling Cycle, so being around him would zap your Earth. And finally, his Fire relates to your Metal on the Controlling Cycle, which would zap your Metal. No wonder he exhausts you!
But as we have said here many times, there is hope for every relationship as long as we know where to look. And for you and James, it means looking to your Earth and James’s Fire. When you get together with James, the best thing that can happen is for you both to check your primary personalities at the door (his Wood and your Metal) and try relating as an Earth personality to a Fire personality. Not only will James’ Fire feed your Earth (which, by the way, will then replenish your Metal), Earth is where family sits and the only reason you’re connecting with James is because he’s family. The other thing you have going for you by staying in Earth and Fire personalities is that you might actually have fun! Your Metal and Wood energies won’t be demanding center stage and keeping things structured, so you and James might actually relax and enjoy some time together.
To make sure you stay in your Earth and Fire personalities, instead of meeting at the kind of quiet little bistro that Wood and Metal people might enjoy, seek out a lively environment with excellent food. The lively environment will encourage James’ Fire personality, which you might actually find engaging if your Metal isn’t around to feel threatened, and the good food will literally (and figuratively) feed your Earth personality. It is highly unlikely – although not impossible – that you and James will ever be best buddies; you just have too many Control Cycle dynamics between you. But by focusing on fun and food the few times you need to meet, and avoiding overly serious topics (like politics) that could engage your Metal or Wood personalities, you should be able to honor your family and help get him settled without too much trouble. Just remember: fun and food wherever you meet! And good luck!
Dear Vicki: I am writing regarding a family problem in the wake of my mother’s passing one year ago. Mary, my mom’s younger sister, was incredibly close to mom and often acted like she resented that mom had three children and a husband to attend to. Mom adored us all, but our family’s relationship with Mary was often quite difficult. Since mom died, even though the three of us are adults with our own children, Mary seems to think she has to play the role of our mom now. She gets very annoyed if we don’t call her or get in touch. She always wants to know what we’re doing and has strong opinions about whatever it is. My sister and I can find a place to connect with her because we’re both artists, but my younger brother Frank feels very frustrated by her constant questioning of his life and the choices he’s made. He’s actually quite angry with her and just recently snapped at me, “We already had a mother; we don’t need another one!” If it helps, Mary lives the artist’s life nearby and doesn’t need work beyond that because she parlayed an excellent investment into a permanent income stream for herself. None of us really enjoy Mary, but she is the only member of my mom’s family left and families should get along, right? Do you have any suggestions for how we can get on better with her? Signed: Pretty Fed Up
Dear Pretty Fed Up: Ah, the joy of family interactions, so often fraught with misunderstanding and tension! Please remember that even though you are all from the same family, that in no way guarantees that getting along will somehow be easier. In truth, the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt often applies to families. The more acquainted we become with a person, the more we know their shortcomings, making it easier to dislike them. But it doesn’t change the issue that Mary is family, and as you have discovered, there is rarely an easy answer regarding how to shift unwanted behaviors. However, we do have our trusty Five Elements model to help make sense of the relationship, so let’s see what we can work out to help you change what is going on with your Aunt Mary.
As a full time artist, Mary likely has a primary Water personality. Creativity and imagination sit in Water, as does a tendency to have poor boundaries. In nature, water conforms to any container offered, but lacking a container, it flows all over the place. Mary clearly has never had good boundaries regarding her relationship with your family. Our culture generally gives priority to marriages and the families they produce, but while your mother was alive, Mary apparently felt her sibling relationship with your mother should be the top priority.
However, your comment about Mary’s ability to create an income stream for herself through astute financial management suggests that she also must have a good amount of Metal energy in her personality. It’s rare that a Water person would be that interested in – or clever at – investments. And while it’s likely that Mary is naturally a primary Water personality with a strong secondary Metal, I suspect that the Metal part of her personality is taking a more dominant role these days due to her grief at the loss of your mother. Grief and letting go sit in the Metal element, and lots of Metal energy can make Mary pushy and insensitive. As artists, you and your sister probably also have primary Water personalities. In the Five Elements model, Metal feeds Water, so Mary’s excess Metal energy probably isn’t bothering you that much. But your brother Frank is a totally different story. Given that he responds to Mary with frustration and anger, he sounds like a primary Wood personality. In the Five Elements model, Metal chops Wood. No wonder Frank is bothered by Mary these days!
Given the parties involved, it seems the best way to get on better with Mary will be to help reduce her excess Metal energy. If you can do this, she will likely revert back to the more comfortable “go with the flow” primary Water personality that you’re all used to, so it should make things a bit more comfortable. However, I’m not sure how easy it will be for you and your siblings to address Mary’s excess Metal because it doesn’t sound like any of you have a lot of Fire energy, and Fire is what is needed. Fire controls Metal.
The absolute best way to bring in Fire energy is to do fun and exciting things. Play! Laugh! Dance! But that’s often the last thing a group of Waters or a Wood will want to do, especially if they are still mourning the loss of someone dear. Playfulness and partying are the polar opposite of your comfort zone (Water is pure yin to Fire’s pure yang), plus Fire activities often feel frivolous to Waters and Woods. So, let’s look at less active ways to help balance Mary’s Metal.
One possibility would be to build her personal Fire energy by surrounding her in red. The easiest way to do this is to gift her with red clothing (perhaps a scarf, blouse, or t-shirt?) and hopefully she will like it well enough to wear it. Other simple ways to shift Mary’s Metal energy include: a) Gifting her with jewelry made from stones known to balance Metal. This includes hematite, snowflake obsidian, and goldstone. As part of the gifting, encourage her to wear them 24/7. b) Buying her eucalyptus and lemon essential oils because they also balance Metal energy. Encourage Mary to wear the oil or diffuse it into her home. c) Offering Mary tea. Red clover and elecampane tea balance Metal energy, so you could give her a healthy supply of those.
These suggestions will all help balance Mary’s Metal, but probably the best way to address the issue with Mary is to share with her the truth of how you all feel. Metal people often change behaviors rather easily if given a rational reason for the suggested change. This may be difficult for you, but if you could share with Mary that you are uncomfortable with her trying to be your mom and you would rather just have her as your aunt, she might well respond to that. I loved your brother’s comment about already having had a mother and not needing another one. It might be terse, but shared in a kind way, Mary’s Metal should respond to that truth. Metals value truth above almost anything else.
The bottom line is that if you don’t take some kind of action, the situation is likely to continue deteriorating to the point that it creates a rupture in the family that could be even more difficult to address. Helping your aunt see the truth now will be an important step. I wish you and your family all the best.
Dear Readers: Today we offer yet another opportunity to better understand yourself and the people in your life. Or at least a chance to better understand your elemental personalities. As I have mentioned here numerous times, at a very deep level the energy of the Five Elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal) helps shape our personalities. That’s because the energy of these five elements is stacked up in our personal energy fields and the order of this stacking determines which of the five affects us most. This dominant or primary element is called our elemental personality and the more we know about it, the more we know about ourselves. Even better, the more we know about the primary elemental personalities of the people in our lives, the better we can understand them. And best of all, because the Five Elements interact in predictable ways based on the ancient Five Elements model, we can use this model to predict the highs and the lows of every relationship we have.
This means that an important key to good relationships is the ability to determine the primary elemental personalities for ourselves and the people in our lives. And I believe that the best way to do that is to recognize yourself (and your friends and family) in basic descriptions of the elements and their behaviors. As I have suggested before, your primary personality is like being born into a secret club. All members of the Wood club will have similar tendencies, as will all members of the Metal, Water, Earth or Fire clubs. How members of these different clubs get along in relationships has been the primary focus of this blog for years, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to know yourself and what matters to you. When you do, your relationships will automatically start making sense, too.
So without further ado, here’s another up-close comparison across the five primary elemental personalities. This time we’re looking at how each of the elemental personalities relates to structure and boundaries in their lives. Trust me, you can learn a whole lot about a person based on how structured they are (or are not)!
Water Structure and Boundaries
In nature, water has no boundaries of its own. It will happily flow anywhere and take any shape offered, be it drinking glass, swimming pool, or lake. This lack of boundaries is seen in Water Club members’ tendency to be laid back types who go with the flow. They are usually happy conforming to the structure of others as long as they can still move. And truthfully, they need structure from others. In nature, the only way water provides structure is to freeze, which markedly inhibits flow. When Water personalities try to create structure this way, the lack of flow always leads to problems.
In spite of what seems like aimlessness, water will end up where it wants to go. Engorged by flooding rains, a previously calm river can overspill its banks and claim any land in its path. Water people can be the same way; you may tell them no, encourage them to give up, but they won’t. Instead, they’ll keep at it, slowly wearing down all resistance until they get their way. Persistence and tenacity come naturally to Water people.
Wood Structure and Boundaries
There is exquisite beauty to trees. Their branches reach for new heights driven by a sense of unlimited potential while their roots anchor deep into the ground guided by a sense of home, the place they belong. And the organic nature of their structure allows them to bend to withstand winds of change. This same tendency towards structure is seen in members of the Wood Club. Driven to accomplish, they depend on flexibility to maintain their all-important forward movement in the face of obstacles. When Wood personalities lose this flexibility, their stuck rigidity creates problems.
Wood people have the courage of their convictions and the capacity to hold their ground no matter what. Because of this, members of the Wood Club are often called upon to provide structure and boundaries for others. This is easy for them to do. In fact, most Woods do this without thinking. Wood people are very dependable.
Fire Structure and Boundaries
Just like water, fire has few boundaries in nature. It can jump a road, turn a bend, or take flight and burn a tree from the top down. Unlike water, which can be directed by offering a container, fire is very hard to focus or control. This lack of structure is seen in members of the Fire Club’s tendency to act spontaneously and be easily distracted. They love the excitement of constant action so much that they will actively seek it out. Fire personalities don’t appreciate anything that tries to corral them (except for an occasional Earth person). Even if it’s for their own good, structure tends to cramp their style. However, too much flaming energy will eventually burn out even the hardiest Fire person.
In spite of the fact that fire can create chaos in nature, for millennia managed fire has warmed us all. When Fire people do what it takes to remain balanced, their genuine warmth and immediate connection is a gift to all they encounter. They easily give joy and receive it back in kind.
Earth Structure and Boundaries
Earth in nature has structure, but it’s the deep structure of a moveable matrix. In this way earth is different than the other four elements. All of life, including the elements, depends on earth for their existence. Earth embraces water to give it flow and structure. Earth is the medium that anchors and nurtures wood. Earth is the hearth that helps contain and support fire. And earth feeds the minerals from her being to create metal. Earth personalities are the same way – left to their own devices, they would embrace, nurture, support, and feed the world.
Earth people are rarely quick to do anything. Their movement is usually very methodical, which can seem painfully slow to others. But once set on a direction, they stay true to course. Earth people usually have an overwhelming desire to help others and when they do, they can find themselves caught in the middle of a situation that was really not theirs to handle. However, as a substance, earth can be manipulated for prolonged structure. One of the oldest man-made building materials is mud brick. And just like bricks, if Earth people stay balanced, they can stand strong and do their job of holding us all for a very long time.
Metal Structure and Boundaries
Metal is often associated with the majestic mountains where most metals are mined. Reaching toward heaven, yet firmly grounded in the matrix of the earth, mountains are monuments of strength and endurance. The saying, “To move mountains,” is used to express the difficulty of a task for a reason: Mountains don’t usually move. This lack of flexibility translates to Metal personalities whether using a mountain as the metaphor or a steel building. Both are strong and practically permanent. This tendency is seen in Metal people regarding higher truths, morality, character, and anything else they deem of monumental importance. They have excellent boundaries and don’t budge from what they know to be true and right.
Much like Wood people, Metal people have the strength and determination to hold their boundaries. This allows them to provide structure and boundaries for others willing to function within the confines of their rules, ideals, and/or morality. Maintaining this level of honorability matters deeply to Metal people.
So, did you recognize yourself or your friends in these descriptions? Maybe even your boss? Remember, the goal is that these comparisons help provide clarity regarding your primary elemental personality and the elemental personalities of the people in your life. And remember, we have all five of these elements in our personalities, so even if you aren’t a primary Metal personality normally able to hold strong boundaries, there absolutely will be times you can visit that Metal clubhouse to find the additional structure you need. That’s what is so wonderful: We can borrow any of these beautiful ways of creating structure and boundaries from a different clubhouse whenever we want. Blessings!
Dear Vicki: My husband of 15 years and I divorced two years ago. It was his choice and very difficult for me; I crawled into a hole for quite some time. Recently, I’ve started dating a nice fellow I’ll call Tom, but I’m having trouble figuring him out. Sometimes he’s sensitive and caring, and sometimes he’s aloof and distant. When he’s in his caring place, we get along great. But when he’s off on his own, I tend to drift away, too, which I don’t think speaks well for a future together. I do love time alone – I’m an art therapist so enjoy my painting – and Tom is an attorney who spends a great deal of time at work. Do you think we have a chance of making it work? Signed, Can This Work
Dear Can This Work: First, let me say that I pretty much believe any relationship can “make it” if both parties understand the dynamics of their connection and are willing to work with them. There will be ups and downs, of course, but these can be predicted based on your elemental personalities. Knowing what your personal tendencies are in a relationship will always help build on the ups and smooth over the downs.
It sounds to me like you may have a primary Water personality given your love for art and an appreciation of time alone to paint. Creativity of all kinds sits in the Water element. But the fact that you use your talent to work as a therapist suggests that you also have a strong amount of Earth energy in your personality, too. Earth people love helping others, and they also value home and family. Your concern about being able to “make it work” with Tom speaks to a desire for a long-term relationship, which is also very important to Earth people.
As an attorney, it’s very likely that Tom has a primary Metal personality because it takes an appreciation of detail and hierarchy to practice law. Metal people also require time alone to work, which would explain his tendency to distance himself from you at times. And when Metal people become overworked or tired, they can come off as aloof, so I think it’s a pretty good guess that Tom is a primary Metal personality. However, his sensitivity and caring with you suggests a good amount of Earth energy in his personality, too. Bottom line: In your relationship with Tom he brings Metal and Earth personality tendencies and you bring Water and Earth personality tendencies.
The good news is that this can be a great relationship! In the Five Elements model, Metal and Water relate on the Nurturing Cycle, as do Earth and Metal. This means that his Metal energy will feed your Water and your Earth energy will feed his Metal. The result of this type of connection is that both of you could feel very supported by your relationship. However, you also have relationship interactions on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model. In this model, Earth controls Water, so it is possible that his secondary Earth could seem controlling to your Water, which won’t feel good and might make you want to drift away. But I don’t think that will happen, and here’s why.
As a primary Earth personality yourself, your Water energy is already used to having Earth around and knows how to manage it. Plus, Tom’s Earth energy will feel comforting and deeply connecting to your Earth energy. In fact, two Earth people together will love nothing more than being with each other. This suggests that staying in your Earth energies with each other all the time will make the relating easier, and it absolutely will. But please don’t do that. There are two major risks with trying to relate with each other only from the Earth parts of your personalities.
First, it will be impossible to do, especially if Earth is only a secondary personality aspect for each of you. If you only have Earth time together, both your Water and his Metal energies will speak up loud and clear demanding alone time. When this happens, it will be hard to discern whether you don’t want to be with Tom because you need alone time or because you just don’t like Tom. The easier assumption will be that you don’t like Tom, but that might not be the case. In truth, it’s far more likely that the need for alone time is coming from the Water part of your personality, or in his case, the Metal part of his personality. And this is why it’s always important to understand our own personality tendencies, as well as the likely tendencies of the people with whom we relate. If we don’t understand, it’s easy to make assumptions that just might not be true.
For a relationship with Tom to last, you will probably need to consciously plan some alone time up front so both of you expect it. If not, when one of you decides they want alone time but the other one is in an Earthy place, the one of you in the Earthy place might well agree (Earth people are usually very agreeable), but they will do so with hurt feelings. Nothing hurts an Earth person more than feeling rebuffed, and too many hurt feelings too often could drive a wedge between you. Just plan and agree on when you will have your alone times and all will be not only well, but very compatible.
The second major risk with all Earth energy all the time when you are together is that Tom’s Metal personality brings the only real focused structure the two of you have. Some structure is a good thing, but neither Water or Earth are very structured energies. Ideally, you can communicate often and honestly enough to identify those times when structure will help your relationship (and your lives). Set times to meet and then really hold to them. Stick to budgets, plans, and agreements. Don’t just go with the flow about something the two of you have planned. This will likely alter the plans which could really upset the Metal part of Tom’s personality.
The bottom line here is to appreciate and embrace some degree of structure in your relationship and honor your need for alone time. I promise that if both are agreed on ahead of time, they will feel like gifts to your Water/Earth personality. With awareness and some guidelines, your relationship with Tom has a strong likelihood of making it work in a wonderful, wonderful way! Good luck!
Dear Vicki: I am writing because I’m currently at a point of overwhelm. For years I had a solid, well paid career in finance, but when it became apparent that I could not juggle work, home, and 5 children (one with complex health needs), I quit work and have been caught in caring ever since. For the past 18 years I have been the one at home who manages everything for the rest of the family. I do think I have a lot of Earth energy, I love my family, yet I feel I have let them down. I do not yet have full time work because I still have an adult son at home who can be demanding of time and attention due to his health issues. I have reached a point of sadness and frustration over this, but when I try to explain my feelings to my husband (who I think is a very Metal personality), he simply has no idea what I’m talking about. He doesn’t understand my sense of guilt over not contributing to the household – he has apparently never felt any guilt in his life – so does not know how to help. I know I can’t change the situation, but do you have any thoughts on how I can change the way I am dealing with it? I would love to find contentment. Signed: A Mom in Crisis
Dear Mom: Bless you for your willingness to be there for your family, especially the one who needs special attention. You probably do have a primary Earth personality; the desire to have a large family usually indicates an Earth personality, as does the fact that you made it a priority to stay home with your family rather than keep your job. However, that you had a career in finance for many years suggests that you probably have a good amount of Metal energy in the mix, too. You are correct that you likely can’t change the basics of your situation, but you can certainly change not only how you are dealing with it, but also how much help you have in dealing with it. There are many ways to do this, but first let’s look at what might be going on for you to create the sadness and frustration.
When Earth people are faced with a crisis at home, they usually do whatever it takes to make sure everyone and everything is managed as well as possible. The fact that you have some Metal energy in your mix will help drive a desire to do things not only the “right” way, but the best way possible. That’s because Metal people not only strive for perfection, they also honor the wisdom of the past, a wisdom that tells them what is “right” and what is “wrong.” This sense of what is right added to your Earth need to raise your children well is probably why you couldn’t manage a large family and a full-time job and do both perfectly. Not surprisingly, your Earth personality’s desire to do the best for your family won out.
It is interesting that, in your current situation of needing to be home for your special needs child, your response is sadness and frustration. Sadness is a Metal personality attribute and frustration is an attribute of the Wood personality. That you are feeling this way suggests that these energies are strong in you right now, which is not particularly good news. In the Five Elements model, both Wood and Metal deplete Earth. Wood relates to Earth on the Controlling Cycle with Wood controlling Earth. Metal relates to Earth on the Nurturing Cycle, but it is Earth that must feed Metal. You have already identified your husband as a Metal personality, so in addition to your own Metal energy, the extra coming from him could well be mean there is too much Metal energy around you and it is draining your Earth.
As far as Wood energy goes, your frustration alone might be enough to “overcontrol” your own Earth. However, you mentioned that the adult child who is home with you can be demanding. That word is often used to describe Wood personalities, so I wonder if the son still at home might be a Wood personality. If so, then the relationship you have with him could be yet another way that your Earth is being depleted. Both of these powerhouse elements draining you have surely left you with less Earth energy than necessary to do all that you need to do during the day. But the good news is that there are ways to address this, and we will go there next.
First, in the midst of being there for everyone in your family, please find time to nourish yourself. Earths are notorious for not taking care of themselves as well as they take care of everyone else. Whatever makes you happy, please find time to fit it into your life multiple times a week. Meeting with friends is usually fun for Earths. And speaking of fun, please have it! Fun and laughter sit in the Fire element, and in the Five Elements model it is Fire that feeds Earth. You need more fun and excitement (Fire) to help increase your depleted Earth.
Second, I encourage you to dialogue with your husband regarding your feelings and need for support. As a very rational Metal person, he probably thought it the most logical thing in the world that you would retire from your job and stay home with the family. In his world, it was the “right” thing to do, therefore, case closed. However, with all that’s going on in your family, you need support, so please have a rational and logical discussion with him and come up with ways he can help you. Metal people are exceedingly kind; I’m sure he will be happy to step up in ways that work for both of you as long as you help him see what those might be.
Third, until these new patterns of doing fun things for yourself and added help from your husband are well entrenched, I encourage you to do what you can to build your own Earth energy back up to a normal level. In this blog we have previously discussed many ways to do this: wear yellow or earth-colored clothes (even undergarments), spend time out in the garden or with animals, surround yourself with flowers (yellow ones, if possible), avoid cool, damp places (which should get easier as the weather warms), wear tigers eye or citrine jewelry so that the stones touch your skin 24/7, wear peppermint essential oil (or diffuse it into your house), drink ginger or lemon balm tea, and generally do whatever it takes to be good to yourself.
Finally, do not allow the Metal part of your own personality to judge yourself poorly because you are not working outside of the home on top of everything else that you are already doing. You do have full time work, it’s just inside the home! I believe that once your Earth energy is built back up, the guilt you are feeling over this will be a thing of the past. But until then, guard against it because guilt will only further deplete Earth. Instead, cultivate acceptance, then move forward and enjoy life. The blessing of peace and contentment is usually found in Earth energy. May it be yours again very soon!