I met my husband on the dance floor in a Seattle ballroom, where we each frequented several nights a week to salsa. A good friend of mine had finally worn me down, convincing me to give latin dance a try. I was self-conscious, lacking confidence along with whatever gene graces the people who can move their hips without looking like a box. My husband, born and raised in Mexico to parents who loved to dance, however, was lacking neither this gene nor confidence.
He won me over, not with his hip swaying abilities, but with his thousand-watt smile and the way his confidence in no way made me feel small. On the contrary, I began to shed self-consciousness when I danced with him, daring to take up space on the dance floor. His playfulness elicited laughter. Before we knew anything about each other, let alone the other’s personality type, we spoke the language of dance — and it worked for us.
But we’ve had a lot of work to do.
The Introvert-Extrovert Relationship
It was clear, from the beginning, that we were an odd match-up, complete opposites in almost every way. I’m an introvert, and on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, an INFP personality type (the “Mediator” or “Healer”). He’s an extrovert, an ESTP, (the “Entrepreneur” or “Persuader”). Whereas he is pragmatic, a problem-solver, the life of the party, winning everyone over wherever he goes, I am sensitive, deeply empathic, self-aware, and avoid parties like the plague. I excel at diving deep; he prefers to be light-hearted. He cracks irreverent jokes and I cringe at the insensitivity. He walks into a business, throws them his winning smile and sells his services without breaking a sweat. I rehearse a script in my head over and over, take deep breaths, and meditate before making cold calls.
One source describes our two personality types as “challenging opposites,” followed by this enlightening statement: “People of the following types [INFP included] present the most potential for personality clash and conflict with the ESTP, but also the best opportunities for growth.”
Truer words have yet to be spoken.
And this may be true of so many personality match-ups, the ones that don’t necessarily make sense on paper but are still choosing to build a life together — as partners or in friendship. I’ve got a little rebellious streak in me that loves a worthy challenge and takes pleasure in proving wrong any statistic that would predict the failure of said challenge.
So, the question isn’t so much, How on earth did we end up together? as it is, How do we make this last without killing each other?
4 Tips for Introvert-Extrovert Couples
I have some thoughts on this, based on my experience, but I think so much of the work of nurturing these kinds of challenging-opposite relationships happens in the place where we overlap. Here are four ways introvert-extrovert couples can learn to meet in the middle:
1. Instead of handing over all the power to your differences, search for harmony in the intersection, the space where your personalities meet.
It’s easy to give the most attention and power to differences in a relationship, because they stand out more visibly than your similarities. The real challenge is looking for the gap, that intersection of personalities where together you shine.
I’m definitely the more serious of the two of us, but I have a playful side that only comes out around certain types of people. My husband is one of those people. There’s a boyish mischief about him that melts my heart and begs me to play, to laugh, to remember not to take life so seriously.
When life has worn us down, we often return to our first language: dance. We turn on the music and hit the floor, not in a ballroom but in our kitchen, and dance it out. Even if it’s only one song, this coming together is our overlap.
Another area we overlap is in our creativity. We both love to create, and how this is expressed is vastly different, yet complementary. He’s an engineer type, I’m a writer. We’re both good at creating designs, but from different perspectives and styles. When we’re in this sweet intersection together, we make a thoughtful team.
Wherever you notice you and your opposite come together best as a team, nurture that.
2. When the going gets tough, write out the ways the other’s personality has helped fill you out as a person.
In the early years, the learning curve for conflict was steep between our ESTP and INFP personalities. My husband is assertive, loud, and passionate, and he has a tendency to spit things out without thinking. In other words, he’s not known for being Mr. Sensitive. I hate conflict, loud voices, and feeling misunderstood, so this can easily lead to butting heads and hurt feelings.
However, over time (and loads of honest conversation), we’ve both noticed something beautiful. I’ve developed a thicker skin and the ability to speak my mind, while he’s become more empathetic and thoughtful. Having a husband who is not easily offended has given me a safe space to practice conflict as well as being direct, without that fear of hurting his feelings that has plagued me in so many other relationships. He’s willing to hear critical feedback, something that has been a refreshing change from the defensiveness I’m used to.
His confidence, paired with his tireless positivity, have also worn off on me and helped me step beyond my comfort zone into the world of entrepreneurship. The different ways he sees the world, without judgment, have given me space to breathe, shed old versions of myself, and continue evolving. He doesn’t hold me back; in fact, he propels me forward.
When I really think about it, I’m filled with gratitude for the ways knowing him has filled me out as a person, perhaps in ways someone with a more similar personality type could not have pulled off.
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3. Celebrate the quirks that aren’t worth fighting over; laugh, let go, move on.
Need I really say much on this? I mean, we all know the personality quirks of our partner or dear friend that drive us nuts (and of course we have them, too). Still, we’re human, and these quirks can become something bigger than they need to be if we focus on them.
My husband tends to have two speeds: turbo and passed out. He works crazy long hours and always has a dozen things on his plate, let alone his mind. It’s hard for him to remember relational details, even ones on repeat. So, if I have to tell him the same things over and over again — like “Please turn on the bathroom fan while you shower” or “Would you mind not dropping your clothes throughout the house?” — it’s really a small thing, isn’t it?
We’ve learned to chuckle about a lot of these, especially each time I pop into the bathroom and flip the switch on the fan while he’s showering, before quietly slipping out (usually flickering the lights and affecting my best Stranger Things voice). It’s just our spiel now, and it’s so much nicer to laugh about it than beat my head against a wall, wondering why he can’t ever seem to remember. I don’t want to waste my precious energy on things that don’t really matter, and this just doesn’t (classic INFP, yeah? I thought so).
4. Be committed to finding your own language as a pair, to work through the differences that may be divisive, and deepen your understanding of the other.
Not only have my husband and I had to merge two vastly different personality “cultures,” but we’ve also come from two vastly different family cultures, different countries, different religious influences, even different native languages. We’ve worked REALLY, REALLY hard at finding a communication style where we both feel heard and valued. It’s a work in progress, but one of the most valuable works we have invested in.
When two personality types come together that are considered challenging opposites, chances are high that two opposite communication styles come along for the ride. If you see this as a headache, I guarantee it will be one. If you choose to see it, instead, as an opportunity to expand as a person and throw yourself into the work, it will not disappoint.
My husband and I have each adapted our styles through our years together, though we continue to be quite different. He has learned to think first about how to say what he needs to say with more awareness of my feelings. I have learned to say what I need to say from a less emotional place, with a more straightforward and logical delivery. We have both learned that we may not get it right the first time around in a heated discussion (especially at night when we’re tired), but we are really good at circling back once things have cooled down and trying again until we’ve each been heard.
The key ingredients for us in communication have been honesty, respect, persistence, humility, and forgiveness. Keeping these in mind, I refuse to believe any personality opposites can’t find the door to communication if they truly want to.
Beyond communication, the same could be said of nurturing these kinds of opposite relationships in general. If we keep stirring in the key ingredients, with love, we may be surprised by the beautiful connections we create together in the world from the unlikeliest of pairings.