Holiday Squabbles

You have heard the old saying, "opposites attract." This is often quite true in the case of opposite temperaments. The fun-loving, people-oriented, outgoing sanguine may find himself irresistibly drawn to a deeply introspective, highly organized, and thoughtful melancholic. A dynamic, opinionated and driven choleric finds just what he is missing in the peaceful, agreeable, gentle phlegmatic. But, even though opposite temperaments often attract, they can on occasion find themselves bemused or confused by their very differences. Sometimes these differences can lead to misunderstandings.

Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, Jim, a sanguine friend of ours, has the same debate with his melancholic wife: when to put up the Christmas tree. Jim argues that the tree should be decorated and ensconced in the family room no later than December 1st. Maureen, on the other hand, reveres the German tradition of putting up the tree on December 24th. She insists that it simply isn't appropriate to decorate the house during the penitential season of Advent. Jim counters that he wants his young children to experience the anticipatory joy of the Savior's birth, and that a dour Advent would crush their spirit.

Another couple we know had a similar argument; in this case, sanguine Mary wanted to attend a lot of Christmas parties during December and wanted her melancholic fiance' to go with her! He, however, reminded her that the Christmas season does not commence liturgically until December 25th! He felt it would not be appropriate to attend Christmas parties during the penitential season of Advent. She wondered: must I go to all these parties alone? Isn't Advent also a period of joyful expectation and preparation for the coming of Christ?

After learning about the four temperaments, both couples learned that their temperament has a lot to do with how they feel about Christmas decorating and parties! The fun-loving sanguine temperament is more extraverted, seeking active participation with family and friends. The melancholic, on the other hand, is naturally drawn to introspection and quiet reflection. He looks forward to the deeply meditative liturgical season of Advent, in which we are drawn as a Church family to wait for the Lord, to draw ever closer to Christ in simplicity and childlike trust.

Yet the Church, in her infinite wisdom does not dictate whether or not we can attend a pre-Christmas party or two! She does not mandate, as the Pharisees might, how many lights we may string on our porches! We neither wish to be Scrooges, nor do we want to give ourselves over to the consumer mentality of the world of shopping, parties, and over-indulgence. We Christians are in the world, but not of it. So what is our solution?

Our couples with their opposing temperaments discovered that compromise was indeed possible! Each decided to generously give the other a gift of self-denial: each denying his own preference. In fact, though each believed that he or she was right in his or her view, each decided to practice that very delicate charity that comes with true love. So long as it is not sinful, why not concede the other's wishes?

So they forged a compromise. Jim and Maureen now put up their Christmas tree on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, when the priest wears rose-colored vestments symbolizing our joy and gladness at the nearness of the Lord, a foretaste of joy and gladness in encountering Christ, our Savior.

Mary now curtails the number of parties she attends with her fiance': she asks him to escort her to only two of the most important events, and she attends the others with girlfriends or co-workers. He willingly accepts two parties, and goes with a positive attitude, knowing that he isn't going to be dragged to several parties each weekend of Advent! The couple makes a commitment to attend Holy Hour each weekend, and to avail themselves of the sacrament of Penance, thus balancing out the joyful aspect of the season with the penitential.

Understanding differences in temperament helped these couples with opposite temperaments to gain empathy for each other. At first, sanguine Mary thought that her boyfriend was just denying her the opportunity to have fun! She didn't realize how important it is to his temperament to have quiet time for reflection and meditation, especially during this liturgical season. Similarly, he hadn't realized how important it was to Mary to be with her close friends and family at this joyful time of the year. After understanding the temperaments, they began to realize that their own reactions were temperamentally-based and that their partner was also reacting from a temperament bias-not out of spite or stubbornness!

With new ways of understanding one another, we grow in empathy. Empathy is putting ourselves in another's shoes, and withholding judgment: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Mt 7:3) Love is giving of ourselves, for the sake of the beloved: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15: 12).

Next month, I will take a look at other intriguing temperament combinations and some interesting situations that can ensue.


Laraine Bennett has a master's degree in Philosophy and is the Communications Manager for the National Council of Catholic Women. She has co-authored 6 books with her husband, Art, and one solo book, A Year of Grace: 365 Reflections for Caregivers. She helped create the popular The Bennetts reside in Northern Virginia, have been married for 40 years and have 4 adult children and 3 grandchildren.

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