There’s a particular scene that used to be played on repeat in my marriage. It was my husband, approaching me – cautiously because he already had a feeling of impending danger about how this was going to unfold – with an invitation to this or that random event involving a group of people getting together.
I would say yes, because I felt bad to always say no, but I would regret it immediately. And at some point between accepting the invitation and the actual event, I would start an argument about it. Couldn’t we stay home just the two of us? Why the need for constant interaction that was mostly going to consist of superficial small talk anyway? What’s the point? Why is my presence necessary?
My husband, on the other hand, had a hard time understanding why I wasn’t more like him. All these people were so nice and so much fun. Why was I rejecting them? Why couldn’t I just sacrifice a few hours for his sake? What was the big deal?
The big deal was that my husband and I happen to have very different personalities – including the fact that I’m an introvert, while he is an extravert.
I’m an INFJ in the Myers-Briggs system and as introverted as an introvert gets. There is no such thing as too much alone time for me. And while I can sometimes act extraverted, my preference is definitely to hang out in the la-la land that is my brain. My picture should be slapped onto all dictionaries next to the word “dreamer”.
My husband is an ESFJ and he is the doer to my dreamer. He is an extravert and will quickly grow antsy without a mile-long activity list and likes the stimulation that comes from being social.
So how does a couple like this make a marriage work?
Well, I’ll be completely honest here and say that it hasn’t been easy and that it will be a work in progress for the rest of our lives. But with time and maturity we have figured out how to accept each other’s temperaments and live in harmony (for the most part anyway 😉 ).
Here are my seven tips for how to make it work based on 23 years and counting in an introvert-extravert relationship.
1. Be Aware
The number one – by LIGHT YEARS most important – ingredient of a healthy introvert-extravert marriage is awareness. Even with introversion getting quite a bit of press in recent years, bunches of people still don’t know that the differences we see in introverts and extraverts arise from brain differences that we are likely born with. And there is a whole lot of science out there backing this up if you do some googling.
To live happily ever after, it’s important that both parties of the introvert-extravert couple:
- recognize that their differences are normal personality variations
- stop thinking that there must be something wrong with the other person
- stop waiting for the other person to change
So just snap your fingers and make that happen!
Just kidding. 😉 In my own marriage, I did first snap my fingers, but then I also printed some articles I found online and
made my husband kindly asked my husband to read them. And then I danced around in a very extraverted way and shouted “SEE, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME!”
2. Respect Each Other’s Energy Needs
The most crucial difference between extraverts and introverts has to do with energy. Extraverts tend to feel energized by social situations and high activity levels. Introverts, on the other hand, will have their energy depleted faster in social situations. They usually need quiet and solitude to recharge after socializing.
The party that gets my husband all jazzed up leaves me with a tension headache. I like hanging out with people, but I need time to recover afterwards. And I don’t just sortofkindof need it. It’s vital for my well-being like air to breathe and water to drink. I have tried living without regular quiet time and the results are not pretty. First I get exhausted, and if it goes on long enough, I get depressed. Here’s how an extravert spouse can help:
- Give your introvert alone time to recharge without making him or her feel guilty about it.
- Don’t take your introvert’s need for alone time as a rejection of you or anyone else. It has nothing to do with you.
- Living in an extraverted culture can make introverts feel like they are crazy or there’s something wrong with them. Remind them that is not the case and they are fine as they are.
At the same time, my husband has energy needs too. An afternoon spent quietly reading a book gives me the warm fuzzies, while making him fall asleep from boredom. Just like I need quiet time, he needs a higher level of activity and more human interaction to feel his best. Here’s how an introvert spouse can help:
- Participate in as many activities as you can without compromising your need for alone time.
- Encourage your extravert to go to social engagements without you if you are not able to go.
- Don’t make your extravert feel guilty for doing things without you.
3. Make Sure Each Person Gets The Kind Of Socializing They Like
It would be easy to label introverts as anti-social, but few introverts are total hermits. Extraverts and introverts just tend to prefer different kinds of socializing when it comes to both the number of relationships and the style of conversation:
- Extraverts typically have a large number of friends and acquaintances, while introverts do well with a few.
- Extraverts are into fast-paced group discussions, while introverts usually prefer deeper conversation one-on-one.
My husband loves meeting new people and party-banter. He has no problem jumping from person to person and from one topic to another. Although he has a couple of closer friends, he also likes maintaining a giant (in my eyes!) group of acquaintances.
I like focusing on one person at a time and exploring topics in-depth. I would much rather sit on the couch at home and have a two-hour heart-to-heart with a close friend than spend those same hours chit-chatting with 15 different new people at a party. I’m actually very interested in people, but if I can tell that a relationship isn’t going to move beyond small talk and the acquaintance-level, it starts feeling a little time-wastey to me. I want relationships that get real and let it all hang out. All I need to be happy is one or two very close relationships.
The key to making a marriage like this work is accepting that we are different (again!) and figuring out how both people can get the kind of socializing they need and like. Here are a few things to ponder:
- There is no real good reason the extravert can’t go to the chit-chatting events by him or her extraverted self. My husband used to feel weird doing this because of the expectation that married couples do everything together. And I may have felt an occasional bang of jealousy over him having fun without me. But somewhere along the way we just decided to get over this kind of thinking and do what’s best for both of us.
- Remember that most introverts don’t want to sit at home by themselves ALL the time. Introverts just prefer smaller groups and more in-depth conversation. The danger of following the advice of the bullet above is that the extravert is out chit-chatting so much that the introvert starts getting lonely. So be sure to schedule lots of couple time as well for the introvert craving a deep connection.
- The type of conversation you like doesn’t just depend on degree of introversion or extraversion. Other personality traits play a role as well. As an INFJ, I’m not only an introvert but an intuitive feeling introvert. This combo of traits makes my yearning for the deep discussions about feelings totally insatiable. I could do it all day every day. My ISTJ mother, on the other hand, a sensing thinking introvert is going to sit down for a heart-to-heart about feelings the same day Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump decide to become besties and start hanging out. (Click here to learn about your other personality traits.)
4. Learn Each Other’s Languages
Yeah, I’ll be the annoying marriage-know-it-all who says it’s all about compromise and meeting in the middle. But seriously, you love this person, so how about learning a little bit about the other side’s communication style and trying it out every once in a while?
Extraverts and introverts process information differently. Extraverts often think out loud, while introverts usually process things internally before speaking. My husband likes to make sense of the world by interacting with it. I prefer to make sense of things by analyzing in my head.
How to speak Introvertese
- Pause in conversation to allow time for your introvert to participate. An introvert needs time to think and process what you just said. The pausing does not mean that the introvert:
-doesn’t have anything to say
-doesn’t want to share what’s on his/her mind
-is trying to hide something
-is ignoring you
-agrees or disagrees with you
Sometimes an introvert just needs a brief pause, but sometimes they may not have the answer until several hours or even days later. I’m famous for “you know how two weeks ago you said…” 🙂
- Don’t finish your introvert’s sentences or interrupt them.
- Show interest. Ask about your introvert’s feelings and opinions.
- Stay on one topic until it has been thoroughly discussed instead of jumping from one topic to another.
- Introverts are often more private than extraverts. Don’t share information about your introvert with others without the introvert’s permission.
How to speak Extravertese
- Listen to your extravert talk. Show interest and enthusiasm to make them feel heard.
- Extraverts think out loud. Allow them to jump from one topic to another and not always reach a conclusion.
- If you need time to think, let the extravert know and promise to get back to them instead of just leaving them hanging.
- Compliment your extravert a lot and let them know why you appreciate them
- Learn to share with your extravert even if it’s hard for you.
5. Harness Each Person’s Decision Making Power
You know that bit above about introverts needing to process and analyze things in their heads? And how extraverts think out loud? This can make it a little tricky to make decisions together. You see, if the extravert keeps thinking out loud non-stop, the introvert never gets to think at all. 🙂
Here are two common scenarios and how to handle each:
- MAKING BIG DECISIONS TOGETHER – Let’s say my husband and I are trying to decide whether to pack our bags and move to Timbuktu. If we simply have a conversation about it and make a decision at the end of that conversation, I never had an opportunity to really consider all the points he brought up, because I need time to mull things over in private. In order for me to make good decisions, I need to go hide somewhere and think about it by myself without any distractions. And yes, this may require several rounds of conversation + me going away to think about it. But it’s worth it, so we don’t accidentally end up moving to Timbuktu. 🙂 This may sound a little silly, but sometimes we actually go back and forth via texting because it’s easier for me to think that way.
- RESPONDING TO INVITATIONS AND REQUESTS – Let’s say we are at a party and someone invites us to another party the following weekend. Because in addition to being an introvert, I’m also a feeler people-pleaser, my auto-response is to say Yes! to any request that comes up. But when I go away and have some time to THINK about it, I often end up regretting committing to something I actually don’t want to do. So I’ve trained myself (and my husband) to switch the auto-response to “let me check my calendar and get back to you,” so I can think about it in private before committing.
6. Divide Responsibilities Based on Personality
Being married to your opposite actually has some benefits too. Like he doesn’t mind doing some of the stuff that you can’t stand and vice versa. Take full advantage of this and divide family and household responsibilities based on your personality differences. Here are just a few examples of how we have divided tasks at our house:
- grocery shopping
- running errands
- making phone calls
- taking kids to hobbies and birthday parties
- managing finances
- planning and scheduling
- cooking and cleaning
7. Change the Dynamic
Early in my marriage, my husband and I kept falling victim to the same dynamic over and over again. He kept pushing for me to be more social in the way he likes to be social. The more he would push, the more I would feel guilty and stressed and want to retreat.
Changing this dynamic has helped. The less pressure I feel to act in conflict with my true character and the more freedom I have to take quiet breaks when I need them, the more relaxed I will feel and the more likely I will be to actually WANT to be social.
Are you an introvert married to an extravert or vice versa? What do you struggle with the most? Any tips to add to my list? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 🙂