Count me among the mighty fortunate (or smart): I picked an excellent partner who understands and respects my introversion. He always has, intuitively—he’s part introvert himself—but since I’ve started writing about introversion and learning more about it myself, both of us have become clearer on how to avoid (gender-neutral) Bitchy Introvert Syndrome (BIS). You know what I mean—that testy, prickly attitude we can cop when we’ve completely depleted our energy stores with too much interaction.
The good news is that we can avoid the syndrome if we monitor and manage our energy. We're responsible for monitoring and catching ourselves when we start feeling depleted, but if you are in a relationship, your significant other can also help—as long as he or she knows what you need and why. I hope this post will open up conversations that will help everyone get their introvert-related needs met, including the non-introvert in the relationship. Yes, this discussion has to include your partner’s needs as well—where and how his or her feelings are hurt by your introversion; the lines you need not to cross and whether you can live with that; and what trade-offs will keep you both happy. Compromise is usually possible, but open communication is necessary to find it.
The first thing to explain is that nobody wants to be around someone seized by BIS, and that if your energy is properly managed, you're more fun to be around. Then you can talk about what your partner can do to help. Or at least not hinder.
1. Let you shut down when necessary. This can be one of the hardest concepts for non-introverts to understand and not take personally. But sensitive partners recognize the thousand-mile stare of an overextended introvert and tiptoe away, closing the door quietly behind them without feeling neglected or put out (as long as they're also getting needs met—this is a trade-off, of course). I need at least a little bit of me-time every day; often I get it by staying up late, after my husband has gone to bed. He gets his in the morning, since I’m a night owl and he’s an early bird. This helps.
2. Don't torment you with the telephone. My husband and I don’t agree on this. He prefers the phone, I prefer text. He has become generous about texting, though; he's so outnumbered in the world today that he’s given up the fight. However, I don’t expect instant responses from him, and if we have to exchange more than a couple of texts to work out a plan or something, I call.
3. Be gracious when you want to skip the party. Since I’ve learned to monitor my energy and save stores of it for exhausting events, I’m getting better at saying “yes” to energy-intensive events. But my husband is also perfectly cool with going places without me sometimes, and he’s wonderful about making excuses for me. When we do go out, he’s good about respecting when I’ve reached my limit and want to leave. (And sometimes I stay a little longer because I can tell he's having fun.)
4. Let you go alone sometimes. This isn’t common to all introverts, but I love traveling alone. It’s a touchy subject sometimes, since it involves spending money and leaving my husband to cope with the boring day-to-day stuff. Fortunately, I do make part of my income as a travel writer so I can justify some solo travel. Even more fortunately, my husband doesn’t grouse (much) when I do it. He gets it. You may not be a solo traveler, but you may prefer running, biking, or exercising alone; enjoy going to the movies yourself (like I do); or like cooking without any help, thank you very much. A partner who accepts this graciously is a keeper.
5. Stay cool when you're monosyllabic. This is a hard one for me to remember. My husband gets taciturn sometimes when he has things on his mind, and my brain goes immediately to “Why is he angry at me?” I have to remind myself that sometimes he goes quiet for reasons that have nothing to do with me. And vice versa. Often if I’ve gone silent, it’s because I’ve used up all my words on other people that day. For a while, at least, I need to just sit silently and play Candy Crush on my phone, or watch Everybody Loves Raymond reruns—or both. I feel so very loved when my husband leaves me to do this without fussing or worrying. I believe we both can do this because we trust that the other will speak up if something is genuinely bothering us. Sometimes I ask him outright, “Are you mad at me?” but then I believe him if he says no, he’s just got stuff on his mind. I listen if he wants to vent. Otherwise, I let him have his head space and go about my business.
Again, if your partner is feeling neglected, shut out, or otherwise unhappy with the effects of your introversion on your relationship, the best thing you can do is talk it out. As I said, I’m a night owl and my husband is an early bird. Usually he’s had a whole day’s worth of activity—made coffee, read the paper, walked the dog, biked an hour—before I even open my eyes. To really get me moving, he brings me coffee in bed. But he has asked that I not give him dirty looks when he wakes me in the morning. It seemed a fair request, so I try to comply. In turn, he tries not to chatter at me in the morning, while the gears in my brain are slowly grinding into action. It’s one of the bargains we’ve struck. And we’ve been together 30 years, so we must be doing something right.
Think this advice is useful? Check out my book, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After for more.
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