The Choleric Wife: Part 1
When Gerhard and I started discussing the temperaments to prepare for our podcast, we discovered something very surprising about me. Though I had been a passionate and feisty choleric when we were dating, I had intuitively remarked that my cholera was often an obstacle to our relationship, so I little by little removed it. We have been married now three years and I have realized for the first time that my husband loves the choleric side of my personality.
I had it in my mind that a wife should be dedicated to her family and super supportive of her husband. I held dear the idea of a woman who would make a family work. My choleric tendencies towards disagreeableness, conflict, and control were not what I considered compatible with a happy home life. So try as I might, I was agreeable, avoided most large conflicts, and let my husband make all the decisions. Needless to say there was a growing sense of dissatisfaction within me.
It’s not easy to be a choleric woman. Many people naturally link the choleric tendencies (dominance, aggression) with manliness. Nevertheless I knew I would find more freedom and peace if I allowed myself to be what I was. And when my husband challenged me to bring my cholera back into our relationship, I decided to try to figure out how be a choleric and thrive as a wife and a mother.
Strengths and weaknesses flower from the same rooT
Part of my “aha” moment was realizing that what I had thought were weaknesses (my quick temper, for example) were also my strengths (my passion). My strengths and my weaknesses come from the same root, from the same ingredients. This led me to the conclusion that my cholera contained many of the necessary ingredients necessary for being a great wife and mother. I firmly believe that I do not have to remove any part of my natural tendencies, just redirect them. Just like water can be both nourishment and destruction, so our natural makeup can be either life-giving or destructive to our relationships.
How do we recognize the potential of what we have and turn it into a strength?
As I take you on my journey, let us list out here the main characteristics of a choleric person according to Art and Laraine Bennett:
-Easily takes charge
-Loves overcoming obstacles
-Reacts quickly and intensely
-Hates wasting time
-Prone to pride and anger
-Naturally prefers things over people
-Avoids moments of vulnerability
There are some excellent qualities in this list, and others that seem nasty. And the more negative side of this list became more apparent to me when I entered into a long-term relationship. But I do believe that someone who has the above list of natural tendencies can hone her skills into being a bright and comforting light to others. I know this because all the temperaments have downsides to them. Cholerics maybe have it the hardest when it comes to relationships, but our weaknesses can also be our strength. Let’s apply our Type-A to relationships!
Apply Your Type-A to Relationships
What do we have working against us? Let’s take a hard look at the bottom of the above list: tendency to pride and anger, naturally preferring things over people, likes to avoid moments of vulnerability, and naturally egotistical. This suggests that in a moment of conflict, say with a husband, the choleric wife may naturally want to: get visibly upset, fight the injustice, avoid any blame, and refuse to forgive.
What do we have working for us? Let’s look at the top of the list: action-oriented, easily takes charge, extraverted, loves overcoming obstacles. This suggests that in a moment of conflict, say with a husband, the choleric wife may naturally want to: solve the argument as quickly as possible, take ownership of her actions, say exactly how she feels, and work with her partner to get back on the same page.
As you can see, different flowers of the same root.
Let’s go through this list more carefully.
Being vs. Doing: The Action-oriented Choleric
You are action-oriented: someone who likes to put plans into action and finish things. You may even define yourself by all the things that you do. You are proud of what you have accomplished in a day maybe more than the relationships you have developed. When you became a mother you may have found it hard to not check off your task list as quickly as you had in the past, or even to give up your career. You might have found yourself resenting your family for taking you away from projects and career goals that used to fill you with creative passion and energy. This is the tension between “being” and “doing.”
Phlegmatics know about being. They know that time “wasted” with others is never wasted. Sometimes you don’t even need to talk when you are with someone who is phlegmatic. They are content with your physical presence. They are not demanding that you “do” something together to be together. The “being” phase is all about presence and timelessness. It’s about defining ourselves as “who we are” and not what we do. In this world of high driven success, it’s hard to answer the question “what do you do?” and not feel inadequate. As a choleric, we have to tell ourselves that just being present to ourselves and to others is the most essential task of our life.
This tension was something my mother-in-law helped me resolve. She advised me, after my baby was born, to temporarily throw out my to-do list and just focus on being with my baby. This is a season, not the rest of your life. Lower your expectations. Try to accomplish one task a day for a week, and if you feel you have regained energy, then try two tasks a day.
Even after my baby got older, I still had to lower my expectations for accomplishing projects. I find I have to let go of time limits and reimagine how I work. I have less chunks of productive time and have to make-do with little bits.
Some helpful thoughts:
The best thing you can do for your family is help them to thrive, but don’t in turn steamroll your own legitimate needs. If necessary, get a babysitter, family member, or friend to watch your kids once a week (at least) so you can have the time to work on your projects. But watch yourself and remember to keep your family, not your projects, your priority.
The Mover: The Choleric’s Need to Take Control
You may have found yourself easily taking charge of groups of people in the past—either a class project or a sports team. Now that you are married, you may struggle getting on the same page with your husband and may find you have to stop yourself from being too bossy or disciplinarian with your children.
My husband and I struggle being on the same page with our finances. He’s a spender and I’m a saver. It’s very tempting for me to step in and dominate the scene, bulldoze my husbands needs, and make sure our family stays on the right track.
You might feel, like I do many times, that you can run the show on your own. What I have learned with our struggle to get on the same page with our finances (and not just get my husband on “my” page!) is that it’s not my marriage—it’s our marriage. Even if I might have legitimate concerns, we still have to work through it together. This team playing with something I take as seriously as our finances has been a huge hurdle for me, and I’m still learning!
One breakthrough we had was to be completely transparent with each other. I think deep down sometimes our need for control is motivated by fear and a lack of trust. I think to build a thriving relationship you have to be willing to hope that you’ll be able to work it out together and to build trust slowly but surely through deep, sincere conversations.
Some helpful thoughts:
If you find yourself wanting to take control of a situation, ask yourself what your biggest concern is. Be frank and open about your concerns with your partner/child. Be open and allowing of others’ mistakes and give them the chance to figure things out on their own. Discuss what you would like to have happen without sounding like you’ve figured it out already. Let yourself be open to change but don’t bend on what you feel is morally right/wrong. If your partner is not there yet, be patient. Remember they are often patient with you.
Prioritizing Relationships when you crave Independence
You may often find yourself leading, but really, you prefer to go at things alone. You may get overwhelmed with the emotional tangle you have found yourself in and crave those days when you were blissfully alone.
Instead of wedding planning, I used to dream as a child of becoming a career woman, traveling extensively, and living out of a suitcase. This dream became a reality for me a few years ago. I took a job on the other side of the world and worked as an English Instructor at a university in Russia. I knew no one there, had limited access to Internet, and with the 15h time difference I made a short phone call once a week.
I developed new friendships, but I realized pretty quickly that these relationships were superficial at best. There was no way to build a deep friendship like the ones I had back home in such a short amount of time. And these fun, fleeting acquaintances were nice, but they could not support me or speak to me like someone who really knew me. That’s a different kind of loneliness, the loneliness of not being known.
What brought me back home was the realization that I needed other people—and that other people needed me. I had a responsibility to the friends I had already made and I wanted to be there for the big and the small events of my family members. For the first time I glimpsed the value of community, and my part in it.
Now I may have gone to extremes to realize something a phlegmatic or sanguine recognize very naturally. But as a choleric, I needed to discover the value of relationships for myself, and when I did, I made them a priority above everything else (as a choleric will do!)
Some helpful thoughts:
If your husband is a team-player, let him teach you how to be a good team member. But also give yourself the space and the permission to do things independently of your husband and family, even something as simple as going for a walk or visiting a cafe. Give yourself quiet reflection time to feed your need to be alone. Help your family to get tasks done quickly and efficiently in a positive and encouraging way, respecting their various limitations, and making up for the difference yourself with your strong sense of inner responsibility. Be filled with gratitude for the people in your life and let that motivate you to put relationships first.
To Bark or to Bite: Thriving as an Extravert
You may find that you often have to stick your foot in your mouth. You may find that you are often regretting some sharp offhand comment that you partially meant to be funny, and partially meant to poke. As a natural extravert, the line between what is appropriate or inappropriate to say may seem a little fuzzy sometimes.
I often find myself in this situation! When I was younger I thought that other people were like marshmallows because they took what I said so seriously and offered no resistance. Other times I felt like a bull in a china shop, happy to tear things to pieces with my words. My thought was that if people disagreed with what I had to say, then they would speak up and tell me.
As I’ve matured, I realize that I value relationships more than my opinions. But importantly, I remain firm on issues I feel are life/death or morally correct/incorrect. In these instances, depending on the situation, I will speak firmly but not aggressively. I take the time to listen to others’ opinions—to really listen—and possibly even change my point of view.
Consider: both wild dogs and tame dogs have sharp teeth. The wild dog will bite unpredictably. The tame dog is gentle with those who are kind to her and will only use her teeth in moments of serious self-defense, and then, perhaps, only gently. Be at peace with your “teeth” and show people you have them if necessary, but only use them when you absolutely have to.
Not Shy for Conflict and loving it
Someone has told you “no” on a project you were determined to complete. You find a way to convince this person that the project should continue. If they still don’t agree, you go to another level of management. You keep going until you have done all you could to move your project forward. The obstacle is often not an obstacle to you, it’s motivation to keep going!
Over dinner the other night I noticed my husband do something that bothered me. I had noticed it before and meant to speak about it in private, but in the heat of the moment I ranted about how I disliked his manners and that I would not be seeing anyone acting in such a way at the dinner table—ever again.
My husband’s disgruntled reaction signaled that I had done something wrong. I took a step back. I apologized. But it was only later in reflection that I understood why it hurt him. In the heat of the moment I had felt like I was championing good manners, but in reality I was steamrolling my husband’s opinions and feelings in order to get to what was “right.”
Even though my suggestion was good (I still believe it!) in the future I’ll pursue getting my point across in a way that may take more time but will allow the person I’m correcting to know his/her feelings and opinion matter to me.
Consider: Your passion and charisma give you the potential to be an amazing coach to your kids and a strong voice of support to your husband. They will come to you with their problems, and you will help them to see, while respecting their freedom, that they can keep going, that they are capable. You will also find yourself unafraid to have contentious issues brought to the table either with your family, friends or colleagues. Without steamrolling other people, you can motivate them to get back on track if necessary, or motivate a group of people to get back on the same page again.
A “P” for Passion: A Guide to reacting quickly and intensely
Your tendency to fly off the handle especially when there has been an injustice is a noticeable trait of yours. You have tried to counteract it maybe by pretending to appear calm, but within you are a boiling pot of lava waiting to explode. If someone wrongs you, your first thought is to attack or take revenge, watch out!
While the sanguine may react quickly with positive energy, the choleric’s special emotion is anger. I have learned to be watchful of this emotion, which is now so familiar to me. There are many forms of it. Some anger is expressive, physical, and some of it is quiet and brooding.
I have found that the passionate side of me is great for intense conversations, getting people to go on adventures, and introducing my children to the beauty of life. When I am overwhelmed and have not had a moment’s break, I am more likely to react in an irritable or angry way.
After a few days of my son asking continuously about Paw Patrol and then having a fit when I said he couldn’t watch it, I was starting to deplete my reservoir of gentle admonitions and discipline tactics. It did not help that I had not had much quiet time to myself that week and there were other stresses on my mind. I was concerned that I was starting to dislike my son and detest being around him.
For the moment, I needed a new method. So I tried settling down on the floor and insisting we read a book together. This worked and allowed us to reconnect. When my husband came home I vented and he insisted that on the weekend I take some much needed alone time to recharge my batteries and help myself recentre.
Consider: when you are at peace with yourself, you will be at peace with others. Take time every day for silence and reflection. If you are feeling like you can no longer keep the lid on your anger and frustration, reach out for someone to help you with your tasks or children, whether husband, friend, mother’s helper, babysitter. I think asking others to help is difficult for the independent choleric, but so necessary for us at times.
I will continue this article in a part 2! If you are a woman and know you have a dominant choleric temperament, please comment and pass on some anecdotes in agreement/disagreement with what I have written. Don’t forget that we are usually a mix of temperaments, so as a choleric it’s normal that you do not identify with all these points.