Personality tests are great ways to learn about yourself and others, and they can offer a lot of insight. But have you ever heard of the four temperaments? Learning about the temperament you were born with can give you a whole new perspective.. Understanding the temperaments can also be the key that helps unlock answers to why your friends, family, and your dates act the way they do.
The Catholic’s Guide to Temperament sums up what a temperament is: “Temperament is distinct from personality. While the personality refers to the entirety of a person’s behavior, emotions, and thought patterns, a temperament more specifically refers to our natural preferences and tendencies; it especially refers to how we react to things.”
When dating, temperaments can be more important than the place you meet and the clothes you wear. Your temperament, your date’s temperament, and how you compliment each other can help reveal the success of a future relationship.
What are the temperaments?
The study of the human personality is nothing new. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, defined the four temperaments of man back around 450 BC. He taught that every person is born with certain behavioral tendencies that are as much a part of our genetics as our hair and eye color. The four temperaments are:
While there are entire books written on the temperaments, here’s a quick summary of each temperament:
The sanguine is impulsive and pleasure seeking. They are often thought of as the life of the party because they are enthusiastic, excited, and fun to be around. They are creative, outgoing, compassionate, and enjoy being the center of attention. The sanguine tends to have a lot of energy and easily makes friends. They do not like being bored and are not fans of too much routine or structure. They are often late to things and can be frazzled and disorganized at home or at work.
The choleric is a natural born leader, ambitious and decisive from birth. They are goal oriented and driven. Often referred to as a “Type A personality”, the choleric is the strongest of the extroverted temperaments. They are sometimes referred to as control freaks because they like being the ones to make the decisions. Independent and strong willed, cholerics prefer to be in positions of authority. They are decisive and feel a duty to correct things when they see they have been done wrong. They prefer to rely on their own logic and reasoning rather than accept the blind teachings of others. Cholerics can be impatient, bossy, quick tempered and enjoy arguments.
Melancholics are the thinkers. Independent and self-reliant, they throw themselves wholly into their tasks. They can be very creative when it comes to the arts – music, literature, etc. But because they tend to see the glass as half empty, they easily get caught up in the tragedy of the world. They are purposeful, self-sacrificing and philosophical. Highly organized, they are list makers, schedule oriented, like things tidy and neat and always finish what they start. Melancholics feel deeply and are extremely loyal to their friends and family. Due to their desire for perfectionism, they can suffer bouts of depression due to dissatisfaction with their lives or those of others.
The phlegmatic is the easy going, cool, calm and collected person. They are tolerant, kind and unassuming. Phlegmatics prefer to avoid conflict and want everyone to be happy. They are often shy, and prefer the comfort of stability to a life of constant change. Phlegmatics are usually described as warm, compassionate, harmonious, relaxed, consistent, and rational. While they like the idea of contributing to society, phlegmatics can be selfish, living in their own world and sometimes a little bit passive aggressive.
The four temperaments and your love life
Often when building a friendship or dating relationship, we struggle to understand or interpret people’s actions. A guy who doesn’t offer to pay for your meal. A woman responds, “I don’t care” or “whatever” every time you ask where she would like to go out to dinner. Maybe someone doesn’t respond to your messages very quickly, even though you text back as soon as you receive a text.
An understanding of the temperaments can give you an entirely new insight into why people act the way that they do. For instance, maybe you’re a social butterfly who can’t wait to go out on the town every weekend. Your melancholic counterpart would rather stay in and watch a movie in the quiet of their own home.
Perhaps you are a choleric who is excellent about communication and messaging. If the person you’re dating is a phlegmatic, they may not get back to you for hours – or days! They don’t act this way because they don’t like you or want to be with you. Instead, they’re laid back and don’t experience the rush or urgency to return your calls.
Some temperaments compliment each other
The amazing thing about the temperaments is that, like personalities, they can compliment each other beautifully. Take the choleric and phlegmatic for example. This combination of temperaments can do a really good job balancing each other out. They make excellent marriage partners because of their different strengths.
The melancholic and phlegmatic temperaments compliment each other wonderfully in a relationship. They may not have an immediate and intense attraction to one another. But once they build a relationship, it is usually a strong and loyal one that can stand the test of time.
Some temperaments can easily clash
Just like there are temperaments that compliment each other well, there are those that require a lot of work to mesh. For instance, consider the sanguine and the melancholic. Polar opposite temperaments that can become heated with each other without much provocation. The melancholic may try and force the sanguine to settle down and not be quite so adventurous, while the sanguine may seem stubborn and flighty to the melancholic.
Does this mean that the melancholic and Sanguine can never work in a relationship, especially a romantic one? Absolutely not. But the waters will be much less turbulent if they each know and understand the temperament of the other – and honor it.
A great conversation starter
If you want to start getting to know a person right off the bat, ask them what their temperament is. If they already know about the four, they will likely excitedly jump into a deep conversation with you. Ever since Dr. Miravalle taught a class about the 4 temperaments at The Franciscan University of Steubenville, the study of the temperaments began spreading like wildfire among the young Catholic community.
If they are not familiar with the temperaments, chances are once you give them a taste they’ll want to learn more. People have an innate desire to learn more about themselves. Hopefully they’ll have just as much of a desire to learn more about you too!
You can train your temperament
The temperaments, Hippocrates stated (and studies since support) are innate. While much of who we are comes from the way we are raised and the environment we live in, because our basic temperament is instilled at birth, it doesn’t change.
While you are what you are as far as temperament is concerned, the good news is that you do have the ability to train yourself to excel in the strengths of your temperament while working to reduce the negative aspects. For example, you may be a sanguine. As fun as you can be, you may frustrate others with your frequent tardiness or failure to follow through with projects. With proper work and spiritual training, it is possible to become more efficient time managers and stick through tasks to the end.
The choleric will always have to work at overcoming their anger and hot temper. Through meditation, prayer and often the help of someone close to them, they can learn to fuel that passion into good.
The melancholic must learn to see the good and joy in all things, to overcome the negativity so easily experienced by their temperament. Choose a saint with a similar temperament (like John of the Cross!) to pray to for intercession is a smart choice in sanctifying their temperament.
The phlegmatic, known for be so calm and easy to get along with, can sometimes be too easy going and seem conviction-less. This temperament should always pray for a firm resolve to choose wise pursuits and to try to reach out more when it comes to others.
Journeying with others and the four temperaments
One of the best chances of success you will have in a dating (or any kind of) relationship is to have an understanding for someone’s temperament. Whether that is reading and studying them separately or talking about them regularly together, will largely depend on your temperament!
God created us for relationship with others. It only makes sense that we study, grow, and perfect our temperaments together. Self study can open and expand our spiritual and psychological abilities to connect with each other.
Ready to become a master of the temperaments? Here a few resources to continue growing in knowledge of the four temperaments. Genevieve Cunningham writes about the subject from a Catholic perspective. Reverend Conrad Hock has also written on the four temperaments. Finally, Dr. D. W. Ekstrand writes extensively on the four temperaments.