It’s extremely common for a married couple to be comprised of one outgoing/extroverted person and another who is more introverted. My marriage is no exception, with me being the introverted one (as most writers are), and my hubby on the far extreme of extroverted.
I didn’t expect this to cause much conflict when I got married, but in fact this difference affects how you each wish to plan your days, your weekends, your vacations—pretty much your lives. That means, while I would love to be reading alone or taking a solitary walk to recharge my batteries, I host large or small groups of people in our home on a regular basis, because that’s what recharges my husband’s batteries. To be honest, I generally enjoy these gatherings and love our friends, but they require much more energy from me than for him. (I also have higher housekeeping standards, but that’s another post entirely.)
What defines an introvert or extrovert anyway? Introverts refuel their energy by spending time alone, while extroverts become fired up and energized when they are socializing with others. One can exhibit different personality traits depending on the situation. For instance, you may be introverted in a group of strangers, but extroverted at home with friends and family. Introverts generally have a longer attention span, are more private and less aggressive. Not all introverts are shy; they just don’t enjoy or thrive on social situations as extroverts do.
I’m fairly social for an introvert (partly because of who I married), but I can’t change my brain’s biology. Introverts and extroverts have different brain wiring then extroverts. Brain scans have shown that introverts have more blood flow to their brains than extroverts. In addition, they showed different pathways for the blood flow in the brain, with introverts showing a longer and more complicated path when involving internal experiences (i.e. problem solving). Extroverts’ brain scans showed their blood flow was shorter, less complicated and traveled to different areas. Clearly, introverts respond to internal stimulation, while extroverts respond to external stimuli.1
So, with the understanding that we can’t change one another, how can we best manage the disparity? It’s best to respect your differences, and negotiate or compromise when you disagree on events or schedules. My very spontaneous, social husband understands that he should check with me before inviting people over, because sometimes I’m just not up for it. And I understand that being social is part of who he is, so I encourage and make room in my life for that. We help balance one another. However, during the first five or more years of marriage, we were still figuring this out and wondering why the other person didn’t want to do what we did.
In most of the interviews I’ve done with happily married couples, one person has been introverted while the other is extroverted. They also had to learn to adjust to these differences over time through trial and error. Maybe one person leaves church or a party early, so the other can linger and talk. Or, one spouse takes more frequent outings with friends and allows his or her partner some time at home to rejuvenate. Resist the urge to separate your lives too much; we need to be involved in one another’s interests and friends—to be attentive, caring and interested. Read Pour Love on Your Spouse.
I’m glad I married someone different from me, because it stretches me out of my comfort zone. Maybe I even cause my partner to become more reflective at times. I think we are more interesting and better people as a result of our balancing act.
I’m curious… whether are engaged, dating or married, do you and your partner have different social tendencies? If so, how you have learned to negotiate that landscape? If they are the same, does it make you more compatible?
1 Source: Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., The Introvert Advantage (New York: Workman Publishers)