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Is there compatibility in your relationship based on the five elements?

relationship compatibility five elements

People often ask me if the Five Element system can tell them about their relationship compatibility. It can indeed!

Everyone has a dominant five element personality type, as we talked about it in this post (if you haven’t yet, go read that post first and then come back here).

To put it simply, there are elements that naturally get along well together and elements that can tend to conflict and push each other’s buttons.

Have you ever experienced getting along with someone from the get-go? Not based on something the person has said or done. It’s just a feeling of ease and lightness, of resonance, with that person.

Similarly, you’ve probably experienced a time when you feel unsettled around another person, and you can’t seem to put your finger on why. The dynamics between the elements can often explain the subtle vibes that we can feel but not explain.

In Chinese Medicine, we describe this interplay between the elements as falling into one of four dynamics: “generating”, “controlling”, “overacting”, and “insulting”.

Let’s dive into the 4 types of patterns or dynamics.

1. The “generating” cycle, as its name implies, is a relationship of support between two elements. These elements tend to naturally hit it off and nurture each other. It goes like this: Water nurtures wood, wood nurtures fire, fire nurtures earth, earth nurtures metal, metal nurtures water. The way I easily remember the “generating” relationships is by thinking of how you’d water a tree to make it grow (water generates wood), if you burn wood you’d create fire (wood generates fire), then it would turn to ash (fire generates earth), which if left a very long time could turn into minerals and metals (earth generates metal), and then I think of water condensing on the outside of a cold metal water bottle (metal generates water). It’s a little bit of a stretch, but it works.

2. The five elements also have an offsetting “flow” to the Generating Cycle that keeps things in balance and ensures that no element is too strong. This is called the “controlling cycle” and looks like this: Water controls fire, fire controls metal, metal controls wood, wood controls earth, earth controls water.

3. The Controling Cycle is meant to keep things in balance and contained, but can lead to imbalance if the elements overexert their controlling force on the other. When this happens, we would say that one element is “overacting” on the other (some people call it “suppressing” or “destroying”). The way I like to picture it: water can control but also exterminate a fire; fire can mold but also melt metal; metal can cut and chisel wood and also tear it to shreds, wood in the form of a tree can help with soil erosion but can also break through the soil/earth to grow; and earth can contain or muddy/contaminate water. Again, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it also helps make sense of the difference between a balancing type of control versus an over-active control that’s more destructive.

4. You can also flip the direction of the Control Cycle around and you get the “insulting cycle”. If an element is overly strong and dominant, it can “insult” the element that is trying to control it. The way I think of it is the way the banks of a river (earth) contain the river water in a balanced control cycle, but the river water could instead “insult” this attempt at healthy control and flood the banks of the river, washing away the earth.

Here's a graphic that may help to visualize these dynamics:

five element relationships

The Generating Cycle and the Controlling Cycle represent balance and harmony between the elements. The other two cycles, the Overacting and the Insulting Cycles, represent imbalance and disharmony.

Based on these dynamics, we can gain insight into how relationships between people of certain elements can either hit it off or conflict.

For example, if a person is a strong Metal personality (let’s say such intense attention to detail that they’d be called anal-retentive), they might over-control a Wood personality type (who wants to be creative and move things forward quickly) just by being in the same room and having a strong Metal presence. It’s a subtle energy, not always something that we can place our finger on.

Another example is that Earth “generates” or supports Metal. As a result, a Metal personality type will naturally enjoy having an Earth type around them. Though they may not be able to articulate the reason why one is comfortable and the other is not. Yet it can be explained in the Five Elements.

The way I’ve found this helpful in my relationships is not in labeling one person as “good” or “bad” for me. But instead to gain insight into another person in order to feel compassion for their actions that I might have found difficult to understand, or to be more objective when I might have taken something personally.

If you’re wondering about a certain relationship in your life, and whether you two are compatible. What I’d do is first identify the dominant elements within each of you. If you two fall into the “generating cycle”, then wonderful. If not, then don’t fret. You could be in a healthily balanced “control cycle”. Think of an “opposites attract” kind of balancing act that can be supportive.

Wha to do if you feel like you're in one of the conflict cycles? Being mindful of the ways you two could tend to fall out of balance - with one of you “overacting on” or “insulting” the other – may be helpful. Here's what I'd recommend:

  1. Read through the description of their element.
  2. Consider how their personality, values, fears, weaknesses, and strengths could make you feel supported, balanced, challenged (in a good way), or overwhelmed by, controlled, demeaned, or triggered.
  3. Think about how you can love, appreciate, or forgive any traits of theirs that you don’t share or understand.
  4. Ask yourself how you could better express yourself and your needs, values, or desires to your partner. Consider if you could better hold your own boundaries for yourself.
  5. Ask them how you could better support them.

The five elements are a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our loved ones, and our relationships. They can illuminate our strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and triggers in an empowering way, which can help us to make our relationships even more nurturing and supportive.

Happy and healthy relationships are possible between all of the elements. Relationships are one of the best arenas for self-exploration and self-growth, and within these challenges and conflicts that often lead the way to self-discovery and growth.

And if you are reading this and thinking about these things, then you are already doing an amazing job my friend.

P.S. If you’d like to read more, you may enjoy this book.

2 Comments

  1. Irrelevant on August 13, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Looking to find out how Earth and Wood mesh afa elements go (Horse resp. Tiger), I fell upon your article. I have yet to find a clear and understandable compatibility conclusion though. Every site just explains those cycles, as do you. But what if the elements in question are not immediately subsequent, as in this case — would you please help? I just wish to know if those two elements work well together or not, basically, and how well (or badly). I know Horse & Tiger are one of two best matches for each other otherwise. Big thanks in advance.

    • Katie Altneu on August 14, 2019 at 2:57 am

      Hi! If the elements are not immediately subsequent, as is the case with wood and earth in your situation, then they fall into the (3.) Controlling cycle and (4.) Insulting Cycle relationship dynamic, as mentioned in the article. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is “doomed” per se. An Earth and a Wood person could balance each other’s energies out nicely, and not over-exert themselves or dominate the other person. I tried to paint this picture with my analogy about water and earth – how earth can help contain water, but if it’s too dominating it will muddy it. That element, when in balance, can help to balance the other element. Does that make sense? To give an example in the case of wood and earth, ambitions wood could be a little too domineering over an easy-going earth. Especially if that Earth person is a little out of balance and becomes a people-pleaser with poor boundaries. But perhaps the earth person is in balance and able to maintain their own boundaries and it is a healthy relationship…. or perhaps the domination and struggle with the wood person will inspire the earth person to learn to have better boundaries… and so on. So yes, no clear answer, it’s complex – that’s why I gave the 5 steps to help you work through the possibilities and ask yourself the important questions. I hope that helps!

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