Temperament has been described as our How of doing things, rather than our Why. Research by psychiatrists Thomas and Chess back in the late 1950’s outlined nine different traits of temperament. Steven Stosny suggests that the dimensions of temperament most likely to create problems in long term relationships are intensity/energy level and mood, and writes about how to manage these differences in long term relationships. He suggests that the concept of “Opposites attract” is a myth and instead we are drawn to people with moderate differences in temperament looking for partners who “fill in our gaps.” Stonsy’s good news is that once people get over the hump of temperament conflicts (which he suggest takes 10-20 years without intervention!) they get back to appreciating their differences!
Temperament Clashes in Relationships
Steven Stosny, Ph.D.
Temperament clashes exist to some extent in nearly all relationships. They emerge around the 10th month of living together and often rise to crisis level in the second year. If the couple doesn't manage them well, they rupture the relationship by the fourth year.
Temperament has many dimensions that greatly influence tastes, preferences, choices, and decision-making. You can think of it in a shorthand way as your innate emotional tone - what it feels like to be you. In its more fundamental aspects, it changes little over a lifetime - temperament classifications of infants tend to persist into old age. But this can be misleading, as individual emotion regulation strategies create much of the variance we see in people. Shy children, for example, can grow up to make a living in areas like politics or public speaking, although they remain fundamentally shy, overcoming temperamental inhibitions with every speaking engagement. They will never be the life of the party, but they often develop the capacity to enjoy the life the party.
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