As an introvert who has been in a relationship with an extrovert for a decade, I’ve had to develop some robust strategies to make our differences a strength rather than a reason for “irreconcilable differences.”
On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a popular personality assessment, I’m an INFJ and he’s an ESTJ. We got together before I knew anything about typology or cognitive functions. All I knew was he was decisive and confident, whereas I was constantly questioning EVERYTHING, and it took a pros and cons list to decide what to have for lunch. His ability to distill information down and make the most effective choice was like magic to me. I didn’t realize at the time he was equally in awe of my ability to read people’s emotions and give him warning when the energy in the room had changed to imply imminent drama that he needed to address before it all turned to custard.
(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality assessment.)
While at first, these differences were fascinating and exciting, the more time we spent together, the more we realized just how differently we saw the world. Eventually the day-to-day reality of entirely different processing strategies made us realize we needed to take action to protect all the good things about our relationship and mitigate all the things that were difficult to understand.
Finding out I am an introvert was like seeing the world move from black and white to color. Having words to describe my reality was validating and thrilling, and suddenly, I didn’t feel like an alien trying to blend into a civilization not meant for me. This epiphany came alongside the realization that my wonderful partner had strengths that I didn’t possess because he was wired almost entirely the opposite to me. Thank heavens for that common “J” in our personality types or this article may have been titled very differently!
How to Make an Introvert-Extrovert Relationship Work
After a decade of trial and error, here are the things I have learned that are essential in making an introvert-extrovert relationship work:
1. Get clear on what you need to recharge.
There’s a reason the words “know thyself” are inscribed on the temple of Apollo. Figuring out what you need is essential, because you can’t expect your other half to know it if you don’t.
After reading Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, I spent a few months tracking my activities and documenting what energized me and what drained me. These findings formed the basis of my self-care program. I know now that I need A LOT of alone time to reflect and process my day-to-day experiences. I found I was most relaxed and recharged after having alone time to read or being in nature.
This concept of recharging alone is foreign to my other half. He gets his energy from being around other people, large groups, busy restaurants, etc. Our heaven is each other’s nightmare. So step one is knowing yourself well enough to know what puts you into the red energy-wise and what recharges you. Which leads to my next point…
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2. Create boundaries around your needs and communicate them clearly.
Once you get clear on your needs, it’s important to sit down and discuss them together. Even if your partner isn’t on the personal growth bandwagon and doesn’t fully understand how you’ve come to these conclusions, he or she will appreciate the heads up and opportunity to know what makes you tick.
Creating boundaries around what you need as an introvert, like time to be in smaller groups or alone, is essential to your wellbeing. If your partner isn’t open to the idea that your needs are just as valid as theirs, then it may be time to re-evaluate whether the relationship is a positive thing. For me, this looked like sharing my discoveries about my personality type, and my many lists of activities that recharged me. It also meant asking him what he thought he needed to make sure he was getting his needs met, and being open to ensuring a balance of both types of activities in our time together.
3. Differentiate between essential and non-essential activities.
Being able to assess whether an activity is essential is an important aspect of energy management regardless of your personality type. My partner’s job involves a lot of social events and schmoozing with clients. Initially I attended every dinner and all the functions, but with time, I realized this was not sustainable. It was exhausting, and I struggled to make small talk with complete strangers about topics that didn’t interest me. The sensory overload of the large crowds also usually meant at least a day of recovery.
So we devised a system where he would consider whether an event was essential or non-essential for me to attend, and in this way, he protected me from unnecessary socializing. It was extremely effective, and we ended up using the same system for recreational activities like football games, movies, and get-togethers with friends. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being there… but then I go lie in the sun in the silence of my empty house and I know I’ll be a much better partner when he comes home — not the grumpy, exhausted mess I would have been if I had gone.
4. Find a tribe outside of your other half.
I spent a long time expecting my partner to fulfill all the major roles in my life, particularly my need for deep and meaningful conversation. Luckily, thanks to the work of Esther Perel and her incredible TED talk, “The secret to desire in a long-term relationship,” I wised up to the fact that this was not healthy. As an introvert, I recognize that I struggle to make new friends, and I’ve been guilty of diving too deep too fast when I find someone who I feel understands me — only to have them disappear.
That being said, making sure I have a small but supportive network of friends who I can sit in silence with, who will meditate with me, and who will have meaningful conversations about my frequent existential crises has been invaluable in not asking too much of my other half. I still ask him to let me know when he feels up to a deep and meaningful chat when I have something specific on my mind, but most of the time, I leave that to my introvert friends who will reflect with me without trying to offer solutions.
While making new friends is not necessarily our strong suit as introverts, there are so many opportunities now to create community with meet-up groups and online forums specifically targeted at personality and enneagram types. That means we can get our needs met without going too far outside our comfort zone.
5. Appreciate (and praise) your extroverted partner’s strengths.
We all want to be seen and valued for the unique skills and perspectives we bring to the world. There is so much that my partner is skilled in that I am not. He can walk into a room and make everyone feel seen, and he can talk to anyone about anything at the drop of a hat.
Being able to appreciate these things in ways that resonate with our partner is so important in encouraging a long-lasting relationship. The work on love languages by Gary Chapman has been particularly useful for me, because knowing how to target my communication in a way my partner can receive it is essential. For example, there is no point in me using words to communicate my appreciation if what he needs is quality time.
Ultimately, while there are horror stories about introvert-extrovert relationships going shockingly wrong, in the right circumstances, our differences can be a strength rather than a weakness. Being intentional about how you communicate with each other, and making sure there is balance in meeting both of your needs, means being with someone who complements your strengths — and that can be an incredible opportunity for happiness and growth.
Are you an introvert in a relationship with an extrovert? Here’s what to do when your partner’s hesaven is your nightmare.
You might like:
- Life’s Big Events Can Overwhelm Introverts, So Here’s How to Survive Them
- How to Make an Introvert-Extrovert Relationship Work (Without Killing Each Other)
- Here’s What Makes Each Introverted Myers-Briggs Type Angry
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