Finding the right relationship is hard. It’s often harder for introverts, since we tend to go out less, meet fewer people, and make fewer casual connections than extroverts do. But we want companionship as much as anybody else, and we can struggle to find it. The result is that some introverts will settle for the first partner who comes along. I know I’m guilty of this myself.
Some of my early relationships were with people who shouldn’t have made it past the second date. Even when these relationships became toxic, I held out hope far too long. I wanted to believe they were the right person for me, at least partly because I didn’t really know who else I could find. As I grew, I started to learn what a healthy relationship looks like, and I recognized patterns in how I had “settled” in the past. And I realized that many other introverts might fall into the same trap.
I can’t pretend that my experiences will be true for everyone. But I have noticed five things that every healthy relationship needs. Unfortunately, introverts often go without some of these things–then wake up one day and realize the relationship isn’t truly satisfying. Here are the five signs you may be in the “right” relationship:
1. You’re attracted to the other person.
It might seem odd to start off with something that’s only skin deep. But physical attraction is an important part of any healthy romantic relationship, and it’s the part that introverts are most likely to overlook. Introverts tend to be creative and thoughtful, and we’re deep thinkers. We’re predisposed to look for people who check our intellectual boxes—which is great—but love cannot survive on a shared reading list alone.
For introverts who also feel socially awkward, the problem is even bigger. I grew up as your stereotypical “nerd” and I didn’t think of myself as handsome. My self esteem in my early 20s was somewhere between low and rock bottom. It should be no surprise that I wrote off the very idea of talking to the women I found physically attractive. Instead I was eager to get into any relationship that might come my way—and if I didn’t really feel chemistry with the person, who was I to complain?
But physical chemistry is part of what keeps couples together. If you don’t feel physical attraction from the beginning, psychologists say you’re unlikely to ever develop it. Sadly, this can cause a relationship to fail, because a lack of chemistry will likely carry over to the bedroom. Sexual dissatisfaction with a partner translates to higher divorce rates for married couples and even higher breakup rates for unmarried couples that live together.
Physical attraction means something different for everybody. Neither you nor your partner have to conform to society’s standard of beauty to be happy. But if you are beautiful to each other, it’s going to make your relationship happier and longer lasting.
2. You feel energized being around them.
I once had a summer fling with a charismatic extrovert (an ENFJ personality type). We had common interests and a shared sense of adventure, but a very different level of stamina. My ENFJ planned a party or social event for us almost every night of the week. She never seemed to wear out, but for me, even just three nights of this was too much—I’d find any excuse to sneak off on my own. By the middle of the summer, I was so drained I felt like I’d been drugged.
This is a common plight for introverts. People wear us out, some people more than others. But every introvert has met a rare individual that actually left you feeling energized. This is often someone who understands you, gives you time to express yourself, and is happy to meet for low-key, one-on-one activities. This kind of person can be an introvert or an extrovert (there are many extroverts that make great partners). When you first start dating someone, ask yourself: how do you feel after you see them? If you feel energized and wish you had more time together, it’s a good sign.
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3. Your relationship is rich with meaningful interaction.
Introverts don’t like small talk. Unfortunately, that’s what counts as conversation in some relationships. Every relationship will have some amount of it, from first date chitchat like, “Where do you work?” to routine prattle like, “How was your day?” The problem is when that’s the majority of the communication between you and your partner. If deeper, more meaningful conversations don’t interest them, you may find your relationship unfulfilling.
That’s not to say that every meaningful interaction has to be spoken. Couples bond and connect in many ways—from doing coloring books together, to cooking dinner for each other or creating special outings or “date nights.” Strong couples develop their own unique traditions and private jokes together. These are especially important for introverts because we tend to make a few deep connections, not lots of shallow ones, and we count on our partner to be one of them.
4. You have a sense of mutual respect.
Respect is a bedrock of all relationships, but it’s rarely mentioned when people describe their dream partner. Respect is very different from love. Both are positive sentiments, but respect means admiring the person for their qualities and abilities. You can respect someone even when you’re not happy with them, and the power of that respect can get a couple through the most difficult fights. Indeed, in some cases respect may be even more important than love for a relationship to survive.
There’s a lot of power in checking whether you feel respected in a relationship. There’s also power in only dating people that you deeply respect. Ask yourself: would I look at my partner with admiration, even if I wasn’t romantically involved with them? If the answer is yes, then you likely have a very healthy foundation for your relationship.
5. Your partner doesn’t make you feel guilty about spending time by yourself.
I wanted to put this one last, because there are so many other relationship needs that we forget. But there’s simply no substitute for having good, healthy alone time to recharge yourself as an introvert. Some partners get that, but others don’t.
This isn’t necessarily an introvert/extrovert divide. Some introverts are more social than others, and some extroverts will understand your needs—or they’ll learn with time. But not everyone is that adaptable. My ENFJ summer fling, for example, thought an hour of reading time a week was plenty. Needless to say, we didn’t last long.
Now I’ve found someone who understands this need and supports it. My current partner is a fellow introvert, an INFJ personality type, and we know we need time apart. Once a week I leave for a gaming night with my friends, giving her the apartment to herself; she reciprocates by going to a weekly happy hour on a different night.
What is your current or most recent relationship like? Do you feel that you’ve learned to recognize a healthy relationship, or are there certain traps you fall into again and again? Leave a comment and share your own story. What have you learned from the people you’ve dated?
Read this: If You Love an Introvert