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Complementary Styles – and Different Approaches

In the course of counselling recently, I came across the concepts of Maximisers and Minimisers which I thought might be of interest to some, and even, who knows, some help!

In his newly published book Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It (Random House May 2014), Dr David Lewis suggests that Maximisers are “perpetual optimists with an unshakeable belief in their ability to eventually emerge triumphant, no matter how seemingly risky the situation.” (p. 100)

Always eager to move on to the next situation, Maximisers are typically loathe to waste time on regrets or recriminations when wrong decisions have been made. When the reality of repeated failures finally catches up with Maximisers, however, it can have a sobering effect and make them more open to other opinions.

I can think of a number of risk-taking businessmen who are highly impulse-driven, swinging between the wildly inspired and the spectacularly mistaken. At worst these tendencies veer towards irresponsibility (gambling even), but at best, these Maximisers display all the hallmarks of courageous and highly successful pioneers.

By contrast, the Minimiser tends to be of a far more cautious nature. They believe in first identifying, and then analysing the risks involved before committing themselves. Concerned to avoid incurring unnecessary loss, Minimisers are well aware that things not only can go wrong but indeed often will go wrong. They feel deeply upset when, as it seems to them, time, effort and resources appear to have been wasted. Their whole strategy therefore tends to be based on protecting themselves and their enterprise.

Sometimes this is nothing but wisdom, but at other times it can reduce them to a state of paralysis and leave an impatient Maximiser to table thump in frustration because it looks for all the world as though nothing is ever going to get done.

Needless to say, these tendencies often come to the fore when there is a likelihood of material or financial loss if the wrong course of action is pursued – or, in the case of an extreme Minimiser, if no course of action is adopted! All this can bring Maximisers and Minimisers into considerable tension!

In between these two extremes lie what Dr Lewis calls the Mini-Maxer, who look for ways to make the most of situations, whilst incurring the least loss. Mini-maxers tend to be acutely aware of what might have been achieved but has, in fact, not been. This can lead to regret and frustration. They therefore hope and plan for the best whilst being aware that they need to keep something in reserve to handle matters that work out less than perfectly.

Human nature being what it is, there is nothing to say that we will automatically respond according to type in every situation we face, either as Maximisers or Minimisers. Circumstances and our general levels of trust and sense of well-being may incline us to take either greater or lesser risks, as will our levels of trust and sense of well-being.

I have noted that Minimisers often bear the burdens of those who either cannot or will not see certain things for themselves. It is very easy for them to allow such burdens to get wound round their soul, causing frustration and deadlock in their spirit. It has proved a great help and kindness to pray for such people that the burden they carry is repositioned and taken to the Cross, so that they are not being weighed down in the wrong way.

Which category do you relate to more? Are you a Maximiser? A Minimiser? Or a Mini Maxer, who falls somewhere between the two?

The following article provides us with valuable insights into how Maximisers and Minimisers can understand and complement each other. It can be found at joanemerson.com

(See also Why men and women don’t hear each other)

As part of my training in Imago Relational Marriage Counselling, I had to bring (= drag) my husband to a weekend couples’ workshop led by Imago therapists. Along with other couples, we were led through exercises that helped us recall our first attraction and how early life experiences might have drawn us together; we reaffirmed what we valued in the other along with the patterns that cause us difficulty; and we learned how going through the suffering that a relationship invariably entails could help us arrive at what is called mature love. We were taught that the initial phase of romantic love always fades, a power struggle always ensues, and, just when things are feeling bleak, the opportunity to really get to know each other and strengthen the marriage presents itself.

One of the most liberating exercises of that weekend had to do with me finally accepting a pattern that apparently is present in every couple: in Imago terms, one partner is the ‘maximizer’ and the other is the ‘minimizer.’ Maximizers, in general, are the more socially outgoing, the more extroverted; minimizers tend to be more passive and leave it to others to initiate social contact. In the relationship, the maximizer is the pursuer, the partner who initiates emotional connection and the one who always wants to talk about things, while the minimizer is the withdrawer, the partner who needs space, the listener.

After this was explained, and we nodded in recognition, all the maximizers were asked to walk over to one side of the room, the minimizers to the other. We each knew our role immediately, and without a moment’s hesitation, without even meeting our partners’ eyes for confirmation, we picked ourselves up and walked to our designated side. I, along with two men and four women, stood as maximizers, facing our spouses, the minimizers.

This exact issue had been an annoyingly recurring pattern in my own marriage, and as the maximizer, I just couldn’t understand why my husband needed to be alone at times to mull over his life, why he was more passive in managing our relationship, and why he didn’t seem to need or want the same intense connection with me that I did with him.

Now, here I was with five other people who knew exactly what I was talking about and had the exact same complaint. As a group, we were asked to try to describe the pain we felt to always be the one who wanted more. We got pretty vociferous about it, and it felt great.

The freeing thing, though, was to hear the other side. My husband and five others, all with mixed personalities and genders, expressed the pain they felt to be pushed, nagged and found wanting by us. They, too, wanted the same intimacy and closeness, just at a different pace than the maximizers, who could be bullying and angry. Hearing it from all of them, admirable and likeable people in their own right, somehow legitimized the minimizer role as just different, not less evolved, as I had wanted to see it.

Then, with the help of the therapists, we tried to understand how we had each come to our roles based on some wounds, or worst-case scenario worries from growing up in our family of origin. We all had some greater understanding of at least one upsetting pattern.

Nowadays in our marriage, my husband and I can see it coming, because it still does, but most of the time — not all of the time — we can agree to some compromises and head off the worst of it.

Communication is what suffers most if couples don’t learn how to accommodate these differences, and it is up to both sides to learn the compromise. Maximizers have to slow down and soften up if we want to get our need for more closeness met. And, regarding communication, we must have a standing rule that the talk in which we share our feelings stands by itself, and what we do about our differences is a conversation for another time, when we both feel ready. We have to make sure our partners talk when they feel prepared, not before, and that they can trust that it is safe for them. To create safety, we have to listen without reacting, show appreciation for their attempts, and, as they speak, make it clear that we’re aiming for understanding of how they’re seeing things since, by definition, their feelings are just as valid as ours. We must show that we can be satisfied with short talks and that we’re not just endlessly needy. In general, we have to create an atmosphere that is inviting, safe, and rewarding. With these ground rules rather sacrosanct, minimizers must take the risk of engaging in these talks and being vulnerable. If we feel more connected with each other afterwards, we’ve done it right.