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Empathy as the Key to Romance

Samuel Hearn
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Help from the four temperaments.

Ten years ago this month, my husband and I had our first date. We usually make a big deal out of it as our own personal version of Valentine's Day. It's our time to reflect on what we were thinking back then and try to pull up some of the lovely memories from our earliest days together and fold them into our current appreciation of one another. When I look back at all of the things that have contributed to peace, happiness, and romance in our shared life, next to sacramental grace stands out one glorious gift: reading The Temperament God Gave You. (Be sure to read the description.) The concepts in this book totally changed my life and made my home safe for democracy. I don't remember which lady in my Catholic Mom's Book Club suggested that we read it, but I owe her my next born child (who may not ever exist without the help from this book! Ha!! J/k…j/k.). I had picked up snippets about the temperaments from reading lots of Shakespeare but had never thought to take them seriously as keys to better understanding everyone I've ever met. It is like the Philosopher's Stone of relationships. 

The Oracle at Delphi gave us the aphorism, "Know thyself." Jesus added to that when he said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Since the Church is really skilled at taking the good stuff from paganism and making it even better, I am celebrating one of my favorite instances of that here. For my money, one of the best things that anyone can do to achieve these lofty goals is to get to know the four temperaments—choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic—first described by the ancient physician Hippocrates and (once shorn of their association with the mistaken theory of the "four humors") just as relevant today. This is how the book works:  it teaches you to know yourself by offering a concise yet thorough primer on why you are the way you are. The more you know yourself, the more you can master yourself, the more you can give of yourself. It also teaches you to know your spouse better and helps you to build empathy for him or her. My husband and I have found the most impacting features to be the handy "Temperament Combinations in Marriage" chapter as well as the the very practical one titled, "How to Motivate Yourself and Others." By learning about the deeply rooted differences and similarities between yourself and your loved ones, you can make a lot of progress towards genuine empathy and greater love. 

Here's a quick breakdown of the four:


Choleric: Extraverted. Productive; zealous; pragmatic; intense; confrontational.

Melancholic: Introverted. Loves truth, justice, principles. Reflective; slow to react or initiate.

Phlegmatic: Introverted. Loves harmony, peace, cooperation.

Sanguine: Extraverted. Optimistic; interested; creative; adventurous; fun-loving.

(*Click here for the temperament test from the back of the book.)

Most people are a combination of two temperaments with one being dominant and the other secondary. Of course, there are many things which add further dimension to these bedrock tendencies. All of the nurturedfeatures that overlay these natural inclinations must be taken into consideration. The book is very eager to assure that personality is distinct from temperament in that it is the collection of cultivated habits and life experiences which further define our uniqueness. The authors are not advocating that their reader attempt to reduce others to their temperaments, setting aside all of the nuances there to be appreciated. Instead, it provides content—a springboard, if you will—for better communication. For example, I am a choleric-sanguine married to a melancholic-phlegmatic. We're a classic case of "opposites attract." Because my husband first captured my attention by being the life of a party one night, I assumed that he was just as extraverted as I am; so I proceeded to book social engagements for us about 4-5 nights per week. I couldn't understand why he would start panting and groaning when he looked at the calendar. So, we had a lot of stress in this arena of newly-married life. We couldn't figure out a way to level with one another.

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