Ask Vicki: Relationship Advice Using the Five Elements

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Lately, many of you have inquired if the Five Elements can help manage the fear we’re all feeling regarding the global coronavirus pandemic. All of this is very understandable and yet I do think there are ways we can approach our lives now that will help mitigate some of this fear. And of course, I think the Five Elements can help....

“My daughter Kim is a high school senior this year and with the pandemic, she clearly isn’t going to have the same experiences that her older sister did when she graduated from high school three years ago. There will be virtual events, but we all know that just isn’t going to be the same. Missing so many of the events she has waited for is very hard for Kim. How can I help her process the loss and anger she is feeling?"...

“Having everyone at home all of the time is driving me crazy. I’m impatient, cranky, and overwhelmed. I’d love some help, but my husband’s job is more intense than mine, so I haven’t asked him. This means homeschooling our 10-year-old falls to me. I wish we could all go to our separate rooms and get work done, but Sammy wants to help me with all the meals, but she just makes it harder to get things done the right way. My normal perfection is out the window! What can I do to get better?”...

“During these Covid-19 times, as a working wife and mother of 2 children, I do think I’ve handled things pretty well on most fronts. My husband and I are getting along fine and we take turns managing the home-schooling efforts. I still manage the shopping and meals, but I like to cook. What I don’t seem to be doing well is the work from home piece; I can’t seem to get into a rhythm and wrap my mind around my job. I feel completely uninspired working on the couch at home. Plus, I miss laughing and kidding around with my co-workers.”...

There is no doubt that the concerns associated with COVID-19 have thrust most of us into a state of prolonged stress. When added to whatever stress we were experiencing in our individual lives prior to the pandemic, we are likely experiencing significant imbalance in our energies. But we have choices in how we address this stress, and the Five Elements model offers us informed options....

I’ve had several questions this week regarding challenges people are facing while isolating and/or practicing social distancing given the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the globe. Many of the places we usually socialize, like workplaces, schools, or restaurants, are also temporarily closed. That leaves us working at home, often surrounded by the children who aren’t going to the closed schools. How do we manage to stay productive, upbeat, and sane?...

“I’ve been dating an artist for three months and we’re really good together in many ways. We have great discussions and he takes my opinions seriously, which is a refreshing change. I like Craig a lot, but there is something about him that’s really hard to take. If he says he’ll call on Monday, he might not call until Wednesday. If he’s supposed to pick me up at 6:00 pm, sometimes he doesn’t show up until 7:00 pm.”...

“I’m writing about my son, Kirk. Last fall Kirk signed up for a drafting class with a teacher I’ll call Mr. Lane. Kirk loved the artistic aspects of the class and appreciated the structure Mr. Lane brought. All was well until Mr. Lane received our district’s Teacher of the Year award. According to Kirk, after that Mr. Lane began demanding greater accuracy and precision from this beginning drafting class. He also started bragging about the award and other accomplishments he’d had that the students would probably never obtain. Kirk is having a really hard time with this and wants to quit the class.”...

“I’m writing about my partner Lizzie. We’ve run a small auction business for several years and have done really well. I run our office, but Lizzie runs the auctions. Our auction house burned down several months ago and while I took it philosophically Lizzie was devastated. I’ve done everything I can think of to get her to see things the way I do, but nothing I’ve said or done has perked her up. Not even breaking ground for our new building. How can I help her get enthusiastic again?”...

“For three years I’ve served as the president of our condo association. We have a congenial board and I keep our meetings pleasant, but efficient. That all changed four months ago when “Laura” joined the board. We clashed almost immediately, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. The best I can say is that for every suggestion I make, she has an alternative version. She is difficult to work with (honestly, I’m angry with her most of the time), but apparently, she isn’t going anywhere, so what can I do?”...

“I’ve been dating Skip ever since we met at a friend’s party about six months ago and it’s been a blast! He’s funny, outgoing, and really exciting to be with. The problem is that I’m also funny and outgoing, so there are many times when we seem to be competing for the spotlight. We aren’t seeing other people anymore, but do we have a chance of staying together?”...

“My sister Cate used to be a pretty trusting, optimistic person. I love my sister but have noticed over the years that she seems more likely to assume the worst in a given situation, rather than the best. She doesn’t trust anyone or anything anymore (except her six cats) and appears really frightened about what’s going on in the world these days. Is there any way I can help her return to some version of her trusting, optimistic self?”...

“A supervisor at my brother’s company is retiring in the spring and Jim has been asked to apply for his job. My concern is that Jim is someone who has always loved starting things or making them better, and spends a lot of time in his current position doing just that. In a more supervisory position, I’m concerned that “hands-on” will be seen as interfering or controlling in a job where he’s just supposed to support ongoing operations. How do I talk him out of this change?”...

“Almost five years ago, my good friend Lanny and I started a business helping local restaurants get leftover food to homeless people. Lanny did most of the planning and was definitely the energy behind making it happen. I did the analysis and created the process necessary to get the food where it needed to go. Two years ago, my son became seriously ill. I had to leave our business, but Lanny kept it going. Several months ago, there was an article in our newspaper about the business with a quote from one of the people we had helped together thanking Lanny for all she’d done to make such a difference. She was quoted as thanking him, but she never mentioned me. I don’t understand why she didn’t acknowledge all I’d done to help start and run the business.”...

“My husband and I have been married 15 years and worked in academia for much of that time. Several years ago, Simon pursued his dream of going to med school and I kept working to support both of us. After completing his degree, he opened a successful practice. I no longer want to deal with the politics of academia, and do something more artistic. I expected Simon to be as encouraging regarding my potential change as I was of his, but he’s not. He suggests that I probably won’t be successful, that there are more talented people around, and that I should consider becoming his receptionist”...

“Max and I have been close friends since childhood. Growing up, Max was a quiet, go with the flow kind of guy and I was a quiet, go with the flow kind of girl. But during college, Max really started to change. I wondered what was going on, but he never mentioned any problems at school, so I never asked. These days, his easy-going nature is completely gone and he’s become very precise and rigid. What happened to my old Max?”...

“I love New Year’s resolutions! Committing to what I want to accomplish next year makes me happy. Unfortunately, my husband hates the idea. I’m dreading January because I know it will just be one more fight about resolutions. I could make them alone, but we’ve been together a long time and so much of what happens in my life involves him. How do I get him excited about New Year’s resolutions?”...

As we say goodbye to 2019, once again I’d like to offer you The Five Elements New Year Blessing. As I have mentioned in this blog many times, while our personalities will reflect a specific elemental flavor, we do have all five of the elemental personalities in our makeup. That means that the gifts of each element are ours to access as we need them. May we honor these gifts equally in ourselves and others during 2020....

“The Winter Solstice is approaching and that means the start of winter. The dark and cold always make me very unhappy, but my sister loves December. How can we be so different when we’re just one year apart? Could this have something to do with our elemental personalities?!”...

“It’s been a tough year for me in many ways and the whole idea of creating the holidays my family has come to expect overwhelms me. But the minute I decide to cut back on decorating and buying gifts, I feel guilty. And when I mentioned not baking Christmas cookies this year, my kids were shocked and now I’m worried they’ll be too disappointed if I don’t bake. I’m taking care of my own mother and working full time, and I just don't have the energy or joy in me to do the whole holiday thing.”...

“I’m writing because I’m concerned about my younger sister, Tina. She’s a junior in high school and is a quiet, disciplined, studious student. The problem is that our mother isn’t a normal mother – she’s an outgoing, fun-loving, partying lady! What concerns me is that Mom thinks Tina is letting life pass her by, so is encouraging her to attend parties where alcohol is served, go out with wild guys, all in the name of having fun. How can I help Tina not make a terrible mistake?’...

To paraphrase A Tale of Two Cities, the holiday season is the best of times, and the worst. The holidays celebrated from November through January, replete with tradition and meaning, guarantee that ceremony and fun will end up co-mingling with pushed buttons and dashed expectations. To help keep your relationships harmonious during the holiday season, I offer a brief summary of what will matter most to the people in your life, and what won’t. There are also a few suggestions here regarding ways to keep the season happy for everyone....

“I’m moving into a house on a lake that absolutely needs redecorating and I’ve always found that I have a strong relationship to the colors around me. The colors of my walls seem to either energize or deplete me and I’m wondering if this might have something to do with the Five Elements. When decorating a space, are there certain colors that are best to use based on one’s primary elemental personality?”...

“I’m wondering if the individual elements that make up my own elemental personality create “relationships” among themselves that nurture or control. I’m a determined (and some might say forceful) person. I also wanted things to be fair, so I often defended my mom against my dad when she couldn’t defend herself. I’m a serious gardener and manage a bakery, which I think means I have Earth as a primary elemental personality. But I don’t feel very Earthy around people. I never did growing up, but I want to now. Could something in my personality be affecting this?”...

“I’m writing because my husband and I have run out of ways to help motivate our son James. He has lots of ideas, but rarely puts anything into action. It’s like he gets stuck at the starting point and can’t get going. We had him tested and while the results came back in the normal range, we still need to make lists for him regarding what needs to get done each day. Fortunately, he’s an only child so we do have the time to focus on him. What will it take to help James accomplish things and succeed?”...

“After a long illness, my father passed away this summer and our small family held a simple, private funeral for him. My fiance, Shelley, attended with me and all was well. Recently, my father’s brother has decided to stage an extensive memorial service for my father in January. My uncle is very conservative and Mom has asked that Shelley not attend. Apparently, my parents never mentioned to Dad’s family that I’m gay. How should I handle this?”...

“My brother Joe is in his early forties and works as a cook, which is just his “day job.” His passion is music and playing guitar. About a year ago, Joe met a woman who runs a nursing home. Carol is close to his age, kind and caring, but also very exacting in how she approaches things. Since Joe moved in with Carol, he has changed in very positive ways. He’s less scattered, more organized, and even thinking about going back to college. I’m wondering if there is anything we can do to help Joe in his relationship with Carol. She is so good for him.”...

“I am writing about my father; we’ll call him Greg. He’s is a great father, just not very warm and fuzzy. He’s been in business, specifically marketing, for most of his career, and changed jobs two years ago to head up a national marketing and sales force. He’s had three administrative assistants during those two years. The third quit last week and now he’s complaining that he can’t find good help. Is there anything I can say to him that will help him find and keep a good administrative assistant?”...

“Abby, my close friend and business partner, has been acting very strange lately. Our business is stalling right now because Abby hasn’t been very organized or powerful lately. She’s been low-key, distant, and sort of stuck in the past. When I ask her what’s going on, she denies that anything is wrong. As her business partner, I feel it is my responsibility to let Abby know we need her to snap out of it. What can I do to help Abby get back in the saddle?”...

“I have been an elementary school principal for decades and love my work. Last year, I started at a new school and one of the teachers there was a real challenge to manage. She agrees to attend meetings, then doesn’t show up. Or if she does show, she’s kidding around so much we can’t get down to business. The students all love her and think she’s fun, but they don’t have to manage her. I do like her and want to do right by her, but I’m having a hard time keeping her in line.”...

“For 48 years, my parents had a happy marriage. They raised three happy children, loved their grandchildren, but always took time for themselves, too. Sadly, my father passed away a year ago and not unexpectedly, my mother has taken it really hard. Since then, she hasn’t been able to find joy in life and seems to have pulled away completely. In many ways it feels like we lost both of them when Dad died.”...

“My best friend in the world moved away six months ago for an exciting opportunity as a corporate planner with a large firm. Maisy loves the job, but I really miss her. I’ve been telling her how much I miss her and she always asks when we’re going to get together. I have three young children, and Maisy doesn't have much vacation time yet, so we haven't been together since she moved. Last night I told her again how much I miss her and she exploded, asking me why I keep telling her that if I’m not going to do anything about it.”...

“I’m writing because I had the great misfortune to fall in love with a wonderfully funny and outgoing guy. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, which is so not me. All of my well-ordered ways seem to have gone out the window since Tad’s been in my life. And while part of me finds this exciting, another part is afraid that I’m losing who I am.”...

“I’m having a problem with my sister, Anita. We are both working our way up the corporate ladder, and months ago set up to go to a business seminar together in a nearby city. We planned to drive there and back with each other and make a whole day of it. Last week she called and told me that while she will drive to the event with me, she’s going to go straight from it to a “girls only” party at a friend’s nearby cabin. I can certainly drive home alone, but it feels like she’s dumping me and part of our time together for something else.”...

“My husband of two years is a sensitive, creative, artistic man. When not involved in a creative endeavor, he can usually be found at a coffee shop with friends discussing some profound topic. The problem I’m having with Bart is his inability to stay focused long enough to finish projects and promote them. I have tried to help Bart get his act together, but as you can imagine, my trying to structure him doesn't go over well.”...

“I have two teenage sons who lately seem to be at each other’s throats. Jack can come off like a know-it-all but, in his defense, he is very smart. Timmy doesn’t like Jack correcting him or telling him what to do, but he’s still young enough to make poor choices. I think Jack is just trying to help him, but when he does, Timmy really blows up. I’m concerned because since we moved to a new city, they seem to be fighting more and more.”...

“At a family reunion last spring, my sister Leah and I decided we’d go see the fall foliage in New England this year. We thought this would be a fun thing to do together. Well, it isn’t turning out to be that fun. At least the planning stage. Leah doesn’t even want to plan! She just wants to get in the car and start driving. Every time I call her to discuss the trip, she says that part of the adventure is discovering what’s out there and we’ll take it as it comes.”...

“I’m very worried about my daughter and hope you can help. Karen is an attorney in her late 20s who is married to another attorney named Tom. Given she’s in corporate law and he’s a trial attorney, the only time they seem to spend together is when they work from home on the weekends. They live in an absolutely sterile apartment and eat take-out most nights. What can I do to help these two get a life outside of work?”...

“I’m having a difficult time with one of my best friends. Gail and I have been very close for several years now, ever since we met working at our community garden. She is usually a caring and thoughtful person and we have a lot in common, especially our love of gardening and our children. My husband and I welcomed our first grandchild a year ago. While Gail was initially enthused about Robby, for the past six months she’s seemed really uninterested. It’s gotten to where I can’t be myself around her and it’s ruining our friendship. What can I do?”...

“As a grief counsellor, I am interested in how each of the elemental personalities processes and deals with grief. Also, are there specific pitfalls for each of the elemental personalities as they grieve? Something that typically blocks their ability to process grief in a healthy way.”...

“My brother Ted is having trouble with a co-worker who appears very hostile toward him. They work with a group of people in an accounting firm where no one has private offices. Ted takes his job very seriously, but he also likes to socialize with his co-workers. The problem is that whenever he talks to anyone, this particular co-worker gets furious that he’s making noise. Do you have any suggestions?”...

“A few weeks ago, my husband James and I arranged childcare for our three children so we could enjoy a romantic dinner out. While we were holding hands in our romantic booth, my cell rang. Worried it might be the babysitter, I checked the number and saw that it was a coworker. Thinking something might be wrong, I picked up the call. This didn’t go over well with James. He said this was our personal time and I should have ignored the call once I knew it wasn’t the sitter. Who’s right?”...

To honor the anniversary of America’s declared intent to be an independent nation based on democratic principles, I would like to share a brief summary of how important each elemental personality was to the creation of America. Enjoy!...

“The Fourth of July is coming up and it’s turning into a real challenge. My daughter Joni wants to have a huge picnic and shoot off fireworks after dark. Stella, my twelve-year-old, hates noise and crowds so wants a quiet family gathering. My husband, thinks taking the whole family camping in the wilderness would solve the problem. But I’m the one everyone looks to for organizing and cooking on a camping trip, and it doesn’t sound like fun to me.”...

“I’m a bit confused by three girlfriends who each took a quiz to help them determine their elemental personality and all three came out as predominantly Fire personalities. I find that hard to believe because they are all calm, sensible, considerate, reliable people who tend to keep their inner thoughts to themselves. I can’t understand how these three women scored so high for a Fire personality. Can you explain this?”...

“I work full time as a corporate accountant, have a houseful of teenagers, a busy husband, and now my widowed mother has moved in with us. On the surface it’s going well, but deep inside I feel a great deal of resentment toward her. She was not a good mother when I was growing up. I never felt mothered by her, but now she is expecting me to mother her. I’m having a lot of trouble with that.”...

Dear Vicki: Dory and I have been good friends ever since we met while volunteering at a local pet shelter three years ago. We are a good team there: I organize the ever-changing base of volunteers and Dory keeps everyone upbeat and motivated. She always makes me laugh, and when I get really angry about something – which I tend to do —she has a way of cajoling me out of it. Dory thinks of lots of fun things to do and I really enjoy our time together, but there’s one small problem. Dory has a sister named Katie and sometimes Dory just spontaneously announces that she’s asked Katie to join us when we go shopping, out to a movie, or whatever. I hate this because when Dory and Katie are together, they kind of whip each other into a frenzy. I can tell they are having the time of their lives, but lately it feels like total chaos and craziness to me. How can I tell Dory that I really don’t like it when Katie joins us? Signed, Fried in Franklin Dear Fried: It is very interesting that you’ve signed your letter “Fried,” because I think that’s exactly what’s happening. I strongly suspect that both Dory and her sister are Fire elemental personalities and the two of them together are just too much heat for you right now. Usually everyone loves being around Fire people because they are fun, outgoing individuals who laugh a lot. But each elemental personality will react differently to prolonged exposure to Fire energy, especially a double dose. In the Five Elements model, the two elemental personalities most negatively affected by Fire energy are Metal people (fire melts metal) and Wood people (fire burns wood). Given it was easy for you to organize a significant group of volunteers, I suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Spontaneous organization comes easily to Wood people. And for the record, Metal people organize too, but they look at the past and identify patterns of organization. Wood people organize on the fly. They also succumb to anger. It’s understandable that Dory would want to spend time with you. In the Five Elements model your Wood energy feeds her Fire energy on what’s called the Nurturing Cycle. That usually feels great to the Fire person and not so great to the Wood person. However, given that you are both so dedication to the animal shelter, I suspect that you each have a lot of Earth energy in your personalities, too, and that is the key to the longevity of your relationship. As we’ve discussed previously in this blog, we each have a primary elemental personality, but we also have a secondary elemental personality that “flavors” our primary. I think your Wood energy and Dory’s Fire energy are each flavored by Earth, which explains your strong connection. Earth people bond easily and deeply with each other, really value lasting relationships, and also have a soft spot for animals. So even though Dory’s Fire burns your Wood on...

Dear Vicki: I’m writing about a problem I’m having with my husband, Scott. He’s an elementary teacher and a truly loving husband and father. As an attorney, I often work long hours and he is always there to take care of our children, and me. He’s perfect in so many ways, but he does have one trait that concerns me and I’m hoping you can help me understand why he does what he does. When we’re with friends, Scott tends to share aspects of our life at home that I would rather not have shared. It’s nothing incredibly personal, just little things that I feel other people don’t need to know. I’ve mentioned this to him before and he says he’ll change, but he hasn’t. I realize I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by this, so what can I do? Signed, Private in Pennsylvania Dear Private in Pennsylvania: This is an interesting issue. On the surface, if Scott is sharing minor details with others, it shouldn’t matter. And it probably wouldn’t matter to many of the element personalities. But it’s no surprise that it matters to you. As an attorney, you are most likely a primary Metal personality, and Metal people really value their privacy. They also tend to compartmentalize aspects of their life – clearly delineating what is public and what is private – to keep them separate. Most of the other elemental personalities don’t see a need to compartmentalize nearly as much, and I think that’s at the root of the issue with your husband. You say you want to understand Scott, so let’s start there. As an elementary teacher who is devoted to his family, it’s a good bet he is a primary Earth personality. For Earth people, life is all about connecting with others, and it turns out that sharing parts of themselves are easy ways to facilitate this connecting. They are also much less discriminating than some of the other elemental personalities, so are likely to share information in greater detail than others might find comfortable. For the Earth personality, a connection is a connection, no matter how it’s created or where it’s found. When your husband shares information or events from his life, it’s a mechanism for weaving a bridge between himself and others. And this can be such an automatic occurrence, he probably doesn’t ponder the issue of appropriateness before he speaks. So, what can you do? The good news is that the same “Earthiness” that compels Scott to desire connecting with others will help him shift the pattern of too much sharing. That’s because the only thing that matters more to Earth personalities than connecting is maintaining family peace and harmony. The bad news is that while there are ways to help him honor your request for more privacy, he will probably never be as private as you might like – Earth people can’t help it; they are wired to share. To help shift Scott’s pattern of excessive (to you) sharing, begin by acknowledging that the two of you have different...

Dear Vicki: When my mother passed away 10 years ago, my father chose to keep the family house and has done just fine living there alone. At least until now. Recently, he’s become a bitter, hopeless, and rather narcissistic old man, which is so not like my father. He was career military; always very logical, rational, kind, and even-keeled. But since he retired three years ago, that part of him has slowly disappeared and now he seems impossible to please. He’s also very sad, more so than he ever was, even when Mom passed. Is he becoming senile? I worry about him all the time, and often take meals over to him, but he hardly asks about me or his grandchildren when I’m there. Instead, he complains and almost seems to resent my presence. It breaks my heart. What can I do to help him? Signed, Worried About Dad Dear Worried: It is possible your father is becoming senile, so having him checked out by a competent health care professional would be a good idea. But that might not be what is going on for him at all. What I suspect might be happening is that, with his retirement, your father has moved from the life phase of outward productivity to a phase of slowing down and introspection. His choice of a military career suggests that he is a primary Metal personality, someone who embraces order, hierarchy, and perfection in everything. And while our primary elemental personality is ours for the totality of our life, we do move though different phases as we grow and age. This is a fascinating aspect of the Five Elements model: the idea that each of the elemental personalities can be seen in a specific phase of our life. I think a brief exploration of how this works might help explain what is going on for your father. In the Five Elements model, regardless of our primary elemental personality, we all move through five distinct phases in life. Birth and early childhood are associated with the wintery time of Water when potential is unlimited. Young adulthood, a time of exuberance and rapid growth, is associated with the intense spring energy of Wood. The process of maturation is associated with the warming summer sun of the Fire element, while the final ripening of our life relates to the fields of late summer and the Earth element. The end of our life cycle – the harvest of all gained from this cycle and storage of what will be used in the next cycle – relates to Metal. However, for many ancient teachings, instead of ending with Metal, our final stop is said to be a return to Water, as seen in the innocence and playfulness of a young child mirrored in the elderly. That’s why many philosophers claim that both birth and death sit in the Water Element. I have seen many seniors appear to return to a Watery phase after the productive period of their life ends. They lose their need for structure and productivity and...

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...