This article is the last of a four-part series dealing with each temperament and how to build relationships. See the previous three months of CM Magazine for the rest of the series.
“Have you all got something?” asked Christopher Robin with his mouth full.
“All except me,” said Eeyore. “As usual.” He looked round at them in his melancholy way. “I suppose none of you are sitting on a thistle by any chance?…It doesn’t do them any Good, you know, sitting on them,” he went on, munching. “Takes all the Life out of them. Remember that another time, all of you. A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Are you dating someone who is serious and high-minded, who strives for perfection? Does he or she follow the rules, read the fine print, and organize the closet by color and season? If so, you may be dating a “melancholic.” Melancholics love Clark Gable movies, follow Emily Post, and know how to dress to the nines. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, they say. Like Eeyore, they do have a certain reputation for, well, moodiness. But it’s not true that they are always blue. It would be more accurate to say that they have high expectations.
It is said that the melancholic so longs for heaven that everything on earth falls short.
Including, sometimes, their romantic interest. If you are currently dating a melancholic (see my earlier article, “To Date, Seriously”) then you already recognize (and appreciate) the noble characteristics of this thoughtful, introspective person. They may not always be overtly expressive about their deepest feelings, but their sentiments and loyalties run deep, making them dedicated and responsible partners.
But first, they have to decide. “To marry, or not to marry,” that is the question.
Melancholics can spend years trying to decide whether they should get married, or whether they have found the “right” person. They can take so long making up their minds that life (and love) might pass them by. Melancholics should watch out not to measure everyone (including themselves) against an impossibly high standard.
Once he has decided, however, the melancholic spouse will take seriously the noble tasks of providing for a family financially and for creating domestic order. Melancholics can create beautiful and perfectly appointed homes, but can be exacting and demanding in the maintenance of their high standards. If a melancholic marries a carefree and forgetful sanguine (opposites do attract!) and expects him or her to conform with the same level of perfection, domestic strife may ensue.
The idealistic melancholic can sometimes expect everything to be “perfect” in order to be “in the mood” for romance: flowers, wine, spouse’s good behavior, the alignment of the stars. And he sometimes expects you to do what he wants, without being reminded!
Here, communication is key: your spouse is not a mind-reader! It is better to let your spouse know about your feelings, your desires, and your needs than to brood about an insignificant remark or perceived lack of responsiveness.
Melancholic parents may be tempted to want to control their children and to create the “perfect” household: rows of perfectly behaved children in the front pew at Mass who answer “to know, love, and serve God” on cue, when quizzed on the Baltimore Catechism. These parents need to be careful that rules and order do not become oppressive. Children are notorious for making abundant mistakes, messes, and being ignorant! A melancholic’s high ideals and impatience for mistakes can be trying on other adults, but they can take an even bigger toll on children — because children are inherently not there yet.
A melancholic spouse needs to be on guard that the perfection he seeks is the perfection of love—not perfectionism. One melancholic wife used to leave her husband alone every Friday night to attend a Holy Hour, not realizing how this made him feel resentful of her deep faith. When they finally discussed this, she agreed to change her scheduled holy hour to a time when her husband was not at home, thus leaving more time to be available to him and to join him in his interests. One of the benefits of marriage is helping each other grow closer to the Lord, and this does not mean growing wonderfully “perfect” all by ourselves!
Each of the temperaments has its own strengths and weaknesses; often we discover that our spouse supplies the very strength we need! A scatterbrained, spontaneous, and carefree sanguine will often find his soul-mate and completion in the detailed, idealistic, and reflective melancholic. “[S]o they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mk 10:8).