I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility. Not this ‘In order to love you, I must make you something else’. That’s what domination is all about, that in order to be close to you, I must possess you, remake and recast you.
― Bell Hooks, Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies
My ex-husband and I differed on everything. He loved facts, specifics and numbers. I loved stories, big picture, and words. He always used logic and strategy to make decisions. I looked to personal values and other’s feelings to guide me. Scheduling and closure pleased him. Empty schedules and experiencing buoyed me.
He was the director. I was the helper.
He was an extrovert. I was an introvert.
I valued his gifts but didn’t tell him enough. He eventually understood mine but didn’t tell me enough.
Different, not better
I wanted so bad for the phrase, Different, not better, to fit our mismatched traits but I never felt I was on equal footing. I’ll take responsibility for part of this.
It was exhausting trying to communicate in the foreign tongues that were each other’s personality types. Constantly going against my nature to align and engage with him left me empty and drained.
In the end it was quite sad. The tension I felt when he walked in the room was palpable. My body did an internal flinch. I couldn’t bear any more forced effort or extrovert stimulation. My mind was numb and my spirit was dragging. That didn’t stop him from trying to connect by talking, dancing or cooking in the kitchen with me, which could have been beautiful if I ever got to lead or if I didn’t feel skinless and wired. It all felt like more to give to him.
What I most wanted was respect, support and space to renew.
When I finally grew brave and articulate enough to express what I valued as an introvert (solitude, reflection, thoughtful speaking, meaningful listening, low stimulation), my points were misunderstood and considered secondary to productive doing and deciding. I never felt they were valued as much in our home.
If I wanted respect, I should be more like him.
How to make an introvert/extrovert relationship work
1. Support your partner’s self-esteem. It is not a zero-sum game. If you win, I do not lose. Both the introvert and the extrovert bring valuable contributions.
2. The introvert needs to learn how to protect themselves from the extrovert’s intensity, language and presentation style. Understand it is not a personal affront. It is just their way. Walk out of the room (after excusing yourself) or lighten the scene with humor. Speak calmly but firmly when engaging an extrovert.
3. The introvert should appreciate how their extrovert gets them moving and more involved in the world. The extrovert should appreciate the insightful contributions of ideas and possibilities the introvert uncovers during reflection time.
4. If introverts are willing to talk then extroverts need to listen attentively. If an introvert is not heard they may stop talking altogether and leave the relationship.
5. Times for solitude and times for socializing need to be defined. There should be a balance between the two. For example, an introvert who works all day with many people may require an hour to themselves when they get home. Extroverts should feel free to schedule dinner parties every other weekend or whatever is acceptable to them and their partners.
6. Divide household and life responsibilities based on preferences. For example, the introvert may prefer to do more computer work like managing the household finances. The extrovert may be more suited for negotiating pricing with salespeople or talking to other parents at school functions.
7. The extrovert can help the introvert translate his ideas into action. The introvert can help the extrovert find her center and act from it.
8. Accept and appreciate the differences between your temperaments. Always acknowledge the equality of your gifts. Your personal styles are merely different, not better.
How have you made an introvert/extrovert relationship bloom? What were some of the challenges? Do opposites make the best couples?
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