Karyl, Charles, and the Birkman

Charles and I had been dating about six months in the fall of 2007 when God surprised us with an incredible opportunity to be in the pilot class for Chapelwood’s Birkman Personality Assessment six week course for couples. Fortunately, our good friend Bob Bolling would teach the course and we knew that Bob would make the course fun and informative. We both were divorced and truly motivated to do the work necessary to have a loving, happy marriage. 

I was familiar with the Birkman test because I had taken it several times with companies that I had previously worked for, but my companies had provided only a mere hour-and-a-half explanation of this rich, multi-faceted test. The Birkman Assessment is well known and has been widely used for decades in business as a tool designed to identify and optimize individual potential by teaching self-awareness and how one functions in relationships. Dr. Birkman became concerned about the state of marriage and wanted to adapt his test to help marriages succeed. The fact that the Chapelwood course would focus on different aspects of the test for two hours each week for six weeks was important to us because of the complexity of the test.

This course was truly transformational for our relationship by helping us understand better not only ourselves, but also each other in relation to our own key personality traits. The Birkman objectively measures strengths, needs, interests, and leadership styles, and contrasts differences in an impartial, unbiased way. By having our results compared graphically, it took the emotion out of the differences in our personalities. Bob would always emphasize “It’s all good” so we wouldn’t be critical of our own or our partner’s scores.

Other couples in the class that had been married for years discovered things about each other that they had never previously identified and would frequently say “That explains a lot!” The course also accelerated the natural process of learning about each other’s personality traits and we got married about six months later. 

Knowledge is power. What we learned from the Birkman course helps us to avoid taking it personally when the other is having a bad day because we generally know what unmet needs are triggering the problem. For example, I am an extrovert who needs a significant amount of social interaction to re-energize and Charles is an introvert who needs solitude to restore his energy. To help avoid stress, we agree on the number of our social events on the weekends.

Another beneficial aspect to the course was learning both our normal personalities (when needs are met) as well as our stress personalities (when needs aren’t met). Charles and I named our “bad selves” and have worked successfully to make sure that “Carlos” and “Karyl Ann” never meet! It was powerful to name our stress personalities because it helps us recognize them when they emerge. If one of us is stressed, the other one understands what is causing the stress and typically remains calm and doesn’t overreact. One of my stressors is if I am hungry, so Charles makes sure that I am fed regularly!

The Birkman also measures interests. Charles’ second highest interest is “Mechanical,” and I am dead last in “Mechanical.” My top interest is “Social Services” which is Charles’ lowest interest. Before taking this course, we probably would have judged the other because that person didn’t share our interests. Charles could have gotten really frustrated with me because I can’t fix things and he can. I could have gotten exasperated because Charles is not interested in social service projects, which I love. Now we value our differences and see how complimentary they are.

We are so thankful to the good Lord, Chapelwood, and Bob for giving us this wonderful chance to grow and understand each other in such a profound and loving way. Thanks to this course, we are so blessed to have the wonderful, successful marriage that we always wanted and strongly encourage others whether married for years or considering marriage to take this amazing course.

Karyl and Charles White