If know your zodiac sign or Myers-Briggs type, you probably also know which signs or types you’re most compatible with in work, friendship, and love.
But do you know which element you are—Wood, Fire, Earth, Water or Metal—based on the world’s oldest “personality test”? We’ve spoken with Dondi Dahlin, author of THE FIVE ELEMENTS, to find out more about this ancient personality type system, including how understanding our element and that of those around us can help us build stronger relationships.
Plus, take Dondi’s quiz after the Q&A to discover your primary and secondary elements!
Dondi, your book THE FIVE ELEMENTS is based on the world’s oldest “personality system,” the Chinese philosophy that everyone expresses varying levels of five core elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. In the book you discuss various types of relationships—work relationships, relationships with our children, etc.— but people will be largely interested in what The Five Elements can tell them about their romantic relationships. What is it about love that makes us want to use these kinds of tests on our partners?
I think it is human nature to want to change other people before we decide to change ourselves – unless you’re an Earth type, of course. It feels less threatening if it is the other person’s problem. The advantage of the Five Elements is that it opens the possibility that no one has a “problem”; it could be just a clash of the elements.
The beauty is that we can help ourselves (as well as our partner), and the Five Elements is a tool that makes the journey easier. It is an incredible system because it is a surprisingly easy system to understand. The Five Elements is meaningful to apply to others in our life but it also illuminates our own personal triggers, challenges, and vulnerabilities in a way that helps us to understand our own personal story. When we understand the unfolding of our story and why we do what we do, we can begin to evolve our own narrative and add awareness and compassion to our relationships, including the one with our self.
The good news is that, even with our well-rooted personalities, we can become more aware and more observant of ourselves and others. We can laugh at our idiosyncrasies and learn to not allow other peoples’ idiosyncrasies to impact us negatively. With the Five Elements, we learn that our partners’ behaviors are not intentional just so that they can annoy us. This can make all the difference between living a life of stress and irritation to living one of joy and ease.
How can The Five Element system tell us if we’re compatible with our partner?
There are elements that naturally get along together and there are elements that push each other’s buttons. This is called the “flow cycle” and the “control cycle”—the cycles are vibrational energies in relationships that most people can feel but not explain. Probably everyone has had those times when they get along with someone from the get-go. It isn’t based on what a person has said, what they have done, or how they have acted. It is simply a resonance a person has with another person, which makes the relationship have a natural ease and lightness about it. Likewise, there are times when a person feels unsettled around another person, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason why.
For instance, in Chinese medicine it is said that too much Wood insults Metal (the Control Cycle). This can mean that if a person is a strong Wood personality type, they might insult a Metal type just by being in the room and having a strong Wood presence. It is a vibrational energy – not always something that we can pin on words we have used or actions we have taken. Another example is that Fire supports Earth (the Flow Cycle). Because of this, an Earth personality type will naturally enjoy having a Fire type around them. Though they may not be able to point to a specific reason why one is comfortable while the other is not, it is because of the energy within the Five Elements.
What would you say to a couple who may not have the most compatible primary elements?
There are many couples who thrive because their secondary, not primary, elements resonate with each other. It is a beautiful dance that can take place when two people in a relationship have a sense of humor about the limitations of their primary elements. If they can shift gears to their secondary elements and use them as a sort of oasis for peace between them, then they may turn out to be a terrifically strong couple. For instance, my mom always jokes that her and her husband should never have made it as a couple. Their primary elements are Fire (her) and Metal (him), which can push each other’s buttons all day long. But, their secondary elements are Earth (her) and Water (him) which will always have the utmost appreciation for each other, even when times are tough. When they can shift to their secondary elements of Earth and Water, especially when arguing or under stress, it can save the relationship. If two people are willing to go the distance with each other, they will search for strengths in their secondary and even tertiary elements to keep one another afloat.
Who is your favorite celebrity couple you think makes perfect sense as a pair, considering their main elements?
It is easy for me to see why Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are still going strong, based on their elements. Will has a lot of Fire and Jada has a lot of Wood. The Wood element provides a generative force for Fire and these two elements will have an easier time withstanding the stressors of life together. Fires can bring Woods out of their very serious nature and help them to not take life too seriously. Woods can act as a solid foundation for Fires who can get scattered or have a difficult time staying focused. Fire and Wood are a great combination of roots being planted firmly in the ground while having the excitement and warmth of the dancing flames.
And who is an example of a celebrity couple that at first glance don’t seem to fit together but, looking closer, you can see why they work?
People see photos of David and Victoria Beckham and question how they can be together. David easily smiles and speaks with a warmth and sincerity behind his words. Victoria is often seen with a grimace or a scowl and doesn’t speak freely. They are both physically beautiful, but people wonder why “such a nice guy” would be with a woman who looks so unhappy. In terms of the Five Elements, David has a lot of Water and Victoria has a lot of Metal. Water personality types always look softer and more approachable than Metals who can seem cold or aloof. However, in the Five Elements, Metal generates Water. These two flow together and there will be a peacefulness between them – a deep friendship and connection that the rest of the world may not see by looking at the glossy photos.
Find out your type with the FIVE ELEMENTS quiz.
Check out more on The Five Elements, available at these retailers: