Through seven years of marriage, my wife and I learned many helpful tips for extroverts and introverts to live together happily. I wanted to call them rules but she insists that “guide” sounds more inviting. My wife is an extrovert. I am an introvert who, only recently, has come to accept and understand this unique personality trait.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introverts account for at least one-third of the population. Because the majority of people are extroverts, we introverts often feel maligned, criticized, and simply misunderstood. I can’t fault them for not understanding us. If most people in your circle of friends are like you, it is understandable to be confused by anyone different.
That is why I think it’s helpful and necessary to provide advice to extroverts who live or work with an introvert.
Extroverts, please take note: This simple advice will make life easier for both you and your beloved introvert. Keep in mind that no two introverts are exactly alike, so this advice may not apply to every introvert in equal measures, but this is a good start.
1. Accept, even if you don’t understand.
This may be the most difficult, but it’s also the most important. Extroverts and introverts may never fully understand each other, but we can still choose acceptance. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand extroverts, as much as I try. I have wrongly assumed that they’re needy or insecure because they constantly want to talk or be near people. It’s challenging, but I must accept that my wife (and many of my coworkers) need to converse often and be around others to feel energized.
Introverts don’t need to make a lot of chatter; sometimes the less you talk, the more connected we feel.
Accept that we don’t always want to be social. And don’t worry, when we go quiet, chances are that everything is okay — we just don’t feel like talking at the moment. It’s not something that we “need to get over” or a bad habit that you “need to break.” We’re not mad or upset, we probably just need some quiet time. Many introverts have been unfairly criticized by friends and family and ostracized out of ignorance, making acceptance incredibly important, even if you don’t fully understand. It is critical to our relationship that you acknowledge our need for solitude.
2. Observe both verbal and nonverbal cues.
You may notice your introverted spouse or coworkers respond with short or one-word answers. Again, we aren’t mad, we simply ration our words and avoid “wasting” them on mindless chatter. We’re hoping you pick up on that because we don’t want to have a conversation about not wanting to have a conversation. Our brains are sometimes occupied elsewhere, so there are limited resources available for conversation. You’re better off waiting for a time that works for both parties.
Whatever you do, please don’t resort to talking “at” us. We want meaningful two-way conversation, just not in that moment.
Pay attention to what we’re doing. If you see an introvert engaged in a quiet activity like reading, writing, or playing a video game, it’s good practice to ask if they’re willing to talk. I realize it sounds ridiculous to seek permission to speak, but asking to interrupt an introvert demonstrates respect. My wife has found a way to do this without asking; she simply says, “Let me know when it’s a good time to chat.” It may seem trivial, but it shows that my needs are valued. This has a tremendous impact on trust.
3. Give us space; please don’t pursue or push.
When introverts are sending signals that they don’t want to talk, please stop trying. If we aren’t in that mental space for conversation, it won’t go anywhere. Forcing a conversation in that moment would be like trying to watch an hour-long YouTube playlist on a phone with three percent battery. It’s only going to leave us both frustrated and unsatisfied.
In fact, the more you push, the further away you’ll be. We know this may seem selfish of us — like we’ll only talk when we want to — but quiet is not a desire, it’s a need.
My wife once said to me, “If you just told me, then I’d give you space.” Her suggestion sounds reasonable but it’s not that simple. If it helps you understand, think of introverts as having a daily word limit. If we run out, we’re finished for the day. This means introverts spend a lot of time rationing their words. The odd time (like special occasions), we can push past the limit but then the next day starts at a deficit. Rest assured that we still care about you, and we will come back to you when we can.
4. Make your time together worthwhile.
Introverts love meaningful conversation and quality time. We enjoy talking and sharing with people we trust. Introverts hold relationships in high regard. We acknowledge that small talk helps build rapport, but if our time together consists only of gossip and other trivial topics, we’ll stop coming to you. Introverts are hesitant to use up limited energy on matters of little importance.
This doesn’t mean that every chat needs to be life-changing or soul-searching, but we need that potential to exist for us to pursue the relationship. Because introverts think deeply, care deeply, and share deeply, we want to give ourselves fully. This means we choose friendships carefully. Introverts are protective by nature and will only grant access to a proven few, so try to make your time together worthwhile for both of you.
5. Allow time for routine solitude.
With an extroverted wife, two young daughters, and a job that forces me to talk a lot, my daily word count is often exhausted. Having time alone restores the energy I need to spend quality time with my girls. My wife allows me to do this once a week and it is a lifesaver, for me personally and also for our marriage.
It is essential for introverts to have regular “loner time” to enjoy solitude guilt-free.
Introverts desperately need quiet time, and by having it consistently scheduled, it helps us to better ration words and energy. We will freely give ourselves to you when we can bank on loner time. Without quiet time, though, you will never get an introvert’s full attention because we’ll be watching our energy meter. Trust that if you let us have our time, we will come back with much more to give to you.
It may always be challenging for introverts and extroverts to peacefully coexist, but we must find ways to better understand each other. Though our needs differ, we are still capable of love and acceptance. I hope extroverts find this guide helpful for life (or work) with introverts.
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