The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse
By Art and Laraine Bennett
Sophia Institute Press, 2008
193 pages, $16.95
To order: sophiainstitute.com
About five centuries before Christ, Hippocrates identified four kinds of personality types: choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic. Like much of the classical heritage, Christianity used what it could of the concept: Many classical treatises on prayer and the spiritual life incorporated the temperaments as a way of understanding human psychology and anthropology.
Like so much else of value, the idea of the temperaments went into eclipse after Vatican II, as a whole generation engaged in psychobabble, convinced that Myers-Briggs had discovered something the Greeks knew two millennia earlier. The real aggiornamento is afoot today, as the current generation rediscovers so much of our heritage needlessly trashed by the culture vandals and marries the best of that tradition with the best of contemporary insights.
Art and Laraine Bennett do just that in terms of the sacrament of marriage in The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse: They bring together the classical notion of the temperaments with the best of modern marriage-counseling techniques to help couples better understand each other and jointly live out their marital vocation. “Understanding temperament helps us to grow in empathy, in understanding, and in delicate charity — enabling us to show our loved ones how deeply we care about them, so that we can become that ‘intimate community of life and love’ that we are meant to be.
“When we know ourselves (and our temperament) better, and when we know our spouse better, we will be able to live the sacrament of marriage more vibrantly and we will have a happier marriage.” Building on the authors’ earlier work (The Temperament God Gave You), this book shows how temperament comes into play within marriage.
Temperament affects how people “work, pray, argue, socialize, and show affection,” the Bennetts remind us. The book then focuses on communication skills needed to connect with each temperament type: “empathy, the softened start-up, the underlying positive, being open to influence, being specific, and expressing overt appreciation for our spouse.” The work spends almost 70 pages on various temperament matches in marriage: temperamental opposites, temperamental complements and temperamental kindred spirits. Useful summaries and communication suggestions are interspersed throughout the book.
Temperaments are neither good nor bad: They are how we are. What we do with our temperaments matters, because we always act freely. Hardwiring is no excuse for us to act like overbearing jerks, insufferable perfectionists, naive Polyannas or passive bores.
Although the authors caution against it, readers should still be wary about attributing undue weight to the temperaments. The Bennetts note that their book does not address psychologically-based problems, nor do they “underestimate the need for or value of professional counselling.”
The book is intended to help normal married couples and, with that caveat in mind, spouses will find useful insights in these pages into mutual understanding and communication.
Dr. John M. Grondelski writes
from Bern, Switzerland.