There’s a theme among my new clients. It is extroverts alone after a breakup with an introvert. The extroverts wonder what made their introverted mates leave and if they will ever come back.
In the beginning
With my new clients, the beginning of the relationship was heady and incredibly satisfying. They spent lots of time together. Their partners were like no one else they ever dated. They saw something in each other they really liked. They talked every day. Some met online. Some met through mutual friends. All of them were combinations of introverts with extroverts.
Polarity is sexy. Opposites attract like crazy. The other person is different in an interesting and helpful way. They surprise each other with behaviors, gifts and expressions of affection.
In my clients’ cases, the introverts wrote sweet notes to their mates and kept track of important things about them in notebooks. The extroverts introduced their introverts to their family and friends. They lavished them with affection.
Then the honeymoon phase ended and the misunderstandings and hurt feelings began. Just like they do in all relationships but with specific introvert/extrovert challenges.
A little about introverts and extroverts
Introverts constantly reconcile what is going on in the outer world with what they believe to be true in their inner world. If they encounter a lot of dissonance between the two, the reconciliation process uses up energy. They may need to get away to re-charge.
Extroverts need to hear their own thoughts in the outer world to process them, which is why they often think as they talk. They process as they hear their words/thoughts.
If an introvert continuously hears an extrovert’s thoughts before they are well formulated, it can be draining. The introvert is filtering, filtering to get to the point and figure out whether it resonates with his or her inner world. The filtering is draining and if the mate’s words don’t line up with their values there is reconciliation to do. Interestingly, according to personality type profile expert, Antonia Dodge of Personality Hacker, introverts often monopolize conversations because if they are the ones doing all the talking, there is less reconciling to do. The content is safe and aligned with their inner worlds.
When it works
Introverts appreciate the overt energy the extrovert brings to the table. They ride that energy wave when they go out socializing with their extrovert. The extrovert may get them out of the house more. The extrovert’s enthusiasm and communication skills literally charm the pants off the introvert.
The extrovert appreciates the introvert’s ability to slow things down and reflect. The extrovert finds that calming and it helps them review their own inner realm. The extrovert finds a vessel to pour their energy into. The performer (Es) and audience (Is) dynamic plays out and both feel satisfied. The talker and the listener work well together. Their differences add sparkle and enrichment to their lives.
When it doesn’t work
The trouble comes when the quantity versus quality ratio does not match for the partners.
The introvert may assume he or she is giving their partner adequate attention and affection by spending one or two nights a week in intimate endeavors with them and the rest of the time doing their own thing. Quality versus quantity.
The extrovert may expect interaction and affection every day throughout the day in brief encounters, more like touching base. They may also wish for more assurances regarding the health of the relationship. Quantity versus quality.
Stress and emotions
Introverts and extroverts often deal with stress and emotions differently. Introverts under pressure, like to pull back and assess in private without distractions and further stimulation. Emotions, words and physical interactions are all stimulation to an introvert. This is not to say they don’t want to work things out with their partner but they prefer to reflect first before they engage. Part of that is their reluctance and often poor ability to speak off the cuff due to their long neural pathway processing.
Extroverts tend to want to talk through the problem right away. It feels good to get their feelings out into the open where they can process them. The extroverts in my client cases kept asking the introverts for feedback, for confirmation that everything was alright.
If the stress is chronic within the relationship’s environment the introvert may become less demonstrative and disconnect more and more to stop reconciling inner and outer worlds and conserve energy. Not surprisingly, this feels like rejection and withdrawal to the extrovert.
In two cases I worked with recently, insecurities due to lack of affirmation from the introvert and the subsequent emotional outpourings by the extrovert, caused breakups and permanent withdrawal by the introvert.
How to make it work?
How to be in an introvert/extrovert relationship and still honor your needs and be true to yourself? You’ll need three things: Self-awareness, self-soothing and self-expression. These are very similar to the three legs to the self-stool (self -awareness, self-esteem, self-expression) required for personal fulfillment.
Self-awareness means knowing yourself. Knowing your non-negotiable needs. What would you fight for? What will you not concede on? I’m going to be honest, most of the time you have to figure those out by going through strife in relationships. Self-awareness also means knowing your shadow side, the part of you that surfaces when you’re stressed. It’s your weakest link. The things that you may have shame around or feel inferior expressing. It’s vital to also seek understanding about your partner’s non-negotiable needs and shadow side. Having an inkling of their perspective is priceless. Relationship coach, Jayson Gaddis, always says a very important question to ask your partner during rough patches is “What’s going on in your world?”
Knowledge and understanding of your partner’s way of being transforms resentment into gratitude. Now you can appreciate what they bring to the relationship. You can appreciate their perspective even if it differs from yours. You know they aren’t just behaving like that to annoy you. It’s how they are wired.
Understanding and non-judgment go a long way in soothing hurt feelings between introverts and extroverts.
What can I do to get them back?
One thing I’ve noticed when helping introvert/extrovert couples navigate their relationships, is that the extroverts ask how they can change to make the introvert come back to them. They will give them more space. They will let them spend more time in their heads. They will stop contacting them as much. They will live with less love affirmation.
I give them credit for working to understand their introverted mate but I also ask them if they believe that behavior is long-term sustainable. Will you be satisfied with less interaction? Will you be satisfied seeking extra interaction outside the relationship? Extroverts have non-negotiable needs that should be honored too.
Self-soothing means learning how to shore yourself up. Figuring out how to be happy without relying on the input and approval of others. This is a developmental stage. Not everyone reaches it. In Self-Soothing and Not Giving a F*ck, I said it is a relief to loved ones when they sense that you are relaxed and don’t need anything from them. To self-soothe you have to be able to not lose your integrity within relationships. You have to maintain boundaries and not lose yourself in the pressures and demands of others. To self-soothe you also need to know how to stabilize your own emotions. Do you have a self-care plan? Do you know your emotional triggers?
Self-expression requires the ability to take everything you’ve learned, distill it down into nuggets of wisdom and clarity and communicate it to your partner. It’s being able to honestly and vulnerably answer your partner when they ask, “What’s going on in your world?”. It’s being capable of making your point without putting your partner on the defensive. There’s maturity, tact and openness involved.
One way to get more openness from introverts is to encourage expression through writing. Introverts generally love writing. They get to edit and formulate before they present the message. I’ve seen introverts convey extremely painful and vulnerable information via the written word.
A tip to extroverts when communicating with introverted partners, less is more. A firehose of information and emotions is going to overwhelm them. I recommend doing your own distilling and editing prior to expressing. I also recommend emailing over texting. Texting feels urgent and an introvert will feel pressure to respond quickly (which they won’t like). I also recommend texting over an unexpected phone call. Introverts like to prepare. Texting at least allows for a prepared, well thought out response.
Introvert/extrovert relationships can work beautifully. The key is for both parties to be willing to do the work necessary to promote the growth of the relationship.
Are you in an introvert/extrovert relationship? What challenges have you encountered? How have you resolved them?
If you are an introvert/extrovert couple and would like more information and guidance regarding the differences in communication, stress management and intimacy needs between your types, please contact me here.