From time to time, I receive despairing emails from extroverts about their relationships with introverts.
One woman turned an empty bedroom into a "man cave" for her introverted husband, who rewarded her by spending all his time there—and sometimes even sleeping there—leaving her alone and lonely. Another woman said that her husband refused to socialize with her, and while she didn’t mind socializing without him, she didn’t like doing it all the time and found herself staying home more than she preferred. And I’ve heard from multiple guys trying to woo introverted women and wondering how much chasing was necessary, or intrusive.
An extrovert recently griped on this blog about how one-sided it is. "What about the needs of extroverts in relationships?" he wanted to know. While this blog is one-sided, I still feel
compassion for these out-in-the-cold extroverts, and I do want to address some of the issues they raise.
Here are five things extroverts can consider when dating introverts (or hoping to):
1. Be patient. Introverts feel feisty right now.
People who pay a lot of attention to cultural trends might feel like the “introvert-positive” movement is about a day away from jumping the shark, but in reality, many introverts are only just realizing that their introversion is OK. After a lifetime of feeling like they were deeply flawed—and I recently received an email from a woman in her 70s—introverts are exuberant to learn that they’re just fine. And so all this "Introverts rock!" hoopla is a pressure release. For some, it’s a celebration and a venting of frustration and anger. It’s people who have walked in shame realizing that they don’t have to be ashamed anymore.
It will pass.
Eventually, the venting will be over, and the differences between introverts and extroverts will be understood and accepted. We’ll learn to work with the delightful variety, and all will be well. Let us blow off steam for a bit.
2. Respect an introvert’s rights, but do not give up yours.
You may be just learning about an introvert's needs. I am truly moved every time I hear from an extrovert who says, “I am trying to respect my partner’s need for solitude (or less socializing or quiet time).” Your effort and thoughtfulness are exactly right.
Being respectful of your partner’s needs, however, does not let them off the hook for not respecting yours. You are entitled to say sometimes, “It’s important to me that you come to this party,” or, “I understand that you need solitude, but it’s not OK with me for you to spend every evening alone in your man cave. We have to find a compromise." And compromise is a two-way street.
3. Sometimes you need to ask (and then listen).
It is helpful to ask specific questions. What does your introvert hate doing the most? What kind of socializing is least problematic for him or her? What are your parameters? You may or may not have ever given the specifics much thought. But maybe if you ask some questions, you’ll start figuring out the middle ground to get both of your needs met.
Perhaps you need to go to big parties alone or with friends, but your partner is OK with small dinner gatherings. Maybe your partner actually enjoys big parties, as long as you’re not always trying to cajole him out of his quiet corner. And maybe she's really fine with whatever you want to do, as long as you play social director.
And what about you? Maybe you’re fine with going out by yourself, but dislike the chill you feel in the air when you get home. Or you would prefer that your introvert stay home rather than agreeing to go out and then looking pained. Maybe you need to know how often you can invite people to the house each week or month without annoying your partner (but "never” is not an acceptable answer).
4. Do not avoid important discussions.
Introverts can be overwhelmed by what feels like extroverts' emotion dumps, and they often need a little time to process before they can get into sensitive discussions. That’s fine. But I believe that if an introvert asks for more time to think something through, it becomes their job to reintroduce the topic when they are ready. It’s not fair to force you to raise issues in the first place and bring them up again, making you feel pushy and naggy. In a perfect world, the introvert asks for time to reflect (which you would grant) and then returns to say, “I thought it through, and here’s how I feel…”
Too bad we don’t live in a perfect world.
Regardless of what I believe is fair, you might need to be the person who brings things up again. I’m sorry, but one of my favorite phrases from my book, Introverts in Love, comes from Kristen, an introvert who cops to her tendency to try to sweep problems under the rug. Married to an extreme extrovert, Kristen says that her husband often has to drag her out of her “silent, angry corner” (that’s the phrase I love) to deal with issues and that she appreciates it. She says it’s the healthiest relationship she’s ever had.
If you take on the responsibility for bringing problems up, then you are to be thanked and appreciated. If your partner grumbles, because you don’t let important matters go, that’s not your problem; you’re doing what needs to be done. (Recognize the difference, though, between helpful confrontation and haranguing.) Tell your partner that avoiding problems is not the same as not having problems and that not discussing problems doesn’t make them go away. If you keep hitting a brick wall anyway? That’s a problem in itself. Read John Gottman (see below).
5. Consider whether you have a relationship issue.
An unwillingness to compromise or meet your needs is not an introversion issue, it’s a relationship issue. If you have expressed a genuine need, and your partner refuses to meet you at least halfway, then you are dealing with something other than an introvert being an introvert. “Because I’m an introvert” is no get-out-of-jail-free card; if it’s being used as a reason to avoid spending time with you, doing things you want to do, or discussing important matters, then you have my permission to call your partner out on that.
The problem could be the relationship if:
There seems to be no end to the amount of solitude your partner needs.
The person you’re dating shuts down on you often.
You have to beg for attention.
You might hear something you don’t want to hear if you try to get to the heart of the matter, but if you want to fix a problem, you have to know exactly what the problem is.
Just as it's inappropriate for introverts to use their introversion as an excuse for not meeting a partner’s needs, it's not productive for you to attribute deeper problems to the extrovert/introvert gap. If a nascent relationship is not taking hold, you might need to take the hint and let it go. If a marriage or another important relationship is struggling, consider professional help.
Some books I think can be particularly helpful for couples in trouble include:
My book, Introverts in Love, of course
The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
The Five Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
(By the way, men—no law says that only women can read relationship books. Your most manly parts will not suffer if you pick one up now and then.)
So what do you think, extroverts? Any other issues you want to vent?