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Introverts and Extroverts in Love

Can an introvert and an extrovert find happiness together?

In a recent column by the excellent advice columnist Carolyn Hax, a woman worries about her tendency to criticize and harp at her boyfriend. She writes:

This is the most loving, caring person I know, but we seem to move at different speeds, with wanting to do things and needing time together, with others, and alone. It's a clash of introverted vs. extroverted personalities. But the fundamentals -- trust, love, great communication -- are all there.

"Well, I can't think of anything more fundamental than your personalities," Hax responds, before heading off in another direction in her typically thoughtful and thought-provoking way (you can read the column here if you register with the Washington Post).

But of course, this--as well as e-mails I've received from readers--has me thinking about introverts and extroverts in love. Can they live happily ever after?

Wel, I don't see why not. But like everything else in a long-term relationship, mutual respect, compromise, compassion, and empathy are essential. My husband is not an all-out extrovert but he's not as introverted as I, and after more than 20 years together, we've figured a few things out. So here's some amateur advice from a professional introvert.

Remember that your way is just one way: Introversion and extroversion are of equal value. One is no better than they other; they're just different. Once you recognize the differences, respect them in yourself and your partner. No eye rolling, no snide remarks, no guilt trips, no apologies, no shame.

Embrace the differences: Yin and yang, make it work for you. The extrovert can bring new people into your lives, the introvert can create peaceful spaces in the home and the relationship. The differences can enhance your relationship if you work with them rather than fight (over) them.

Set guidelines for socializing: If you don't want to socialize much, then your extrovert is entitled to the freedom to socialize solo, no guilt trips. And if you like deep, intimate conversations with your friends, do you really need your partner there? The rule in my marriage is that neither of us is required to participate in any particular social event, but we do grant special requests when the other says "pretty please."

Take responsibility for your comfort outside your comfort zone: First, figure out how to make the best of any situation, since you can't avoid everything you don't love. Maybe meeting new people is easier if you do something--flea market, street fair, gallery opening--rather than sitting around making get-to-know-you chit-chat. Maybe you feel better about parties if you and your partner agree in advance how long you'll stay, or even take two cars. Then speak up, step up, take responsibility, no whining. The same goes for the extrovert.

Figure out the phone: The telephone can be a surprising source of tension. Must one person answer every ring because the other doesn't want to? My husband uses his cell phone exclusively so if I don't feel like answering our home phone (as is the case 97.9 percent of the time), he doesn't care. And while he will e-mail during the day for necessary discussions (i.e. dinner) , I call sometimes, too, since that's more convenient for him--although he agrees that I'm terrible on the telephone.

Negotiate quiet time: My husband is an early bird and I'm a night owl so we each get daily solitude that way. (I work alone, but that's different from unwinding alone.) I also travel alone on business and he doesn't mind being an occasional bachelor. Actually, he kinda likes it. Some solitude is important for everyone, especially introverts.You don't have to apologize for this, but you do need to be gracious about it. For example, insist on quiet time after work if you need it, but your partner should then get your undivided attention for equal time. If you have kids, which we do not, you have another layer to the negotiation.

Have I hit the important bases here? What other stressors do you have in your mixed marriage? Got any tips to share?


My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, 2012, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.

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Photo by Yukari via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Copyright 2010 Sophia Dembling