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When Introverts and Extroverts Attract

4 things any 'mixed' couple needs to know.

In the early stages of a relationship between an introvert and an extrovert, the personality differences can charm: The introvert may be intrigued by riding the coattails of a more social partner, while the extrovert may find much that is delightful in the world shrinking down, even momentarily, to just two people.

Over time, however, differences can begin to wear, especially if each feels they are being asked to continually subsume their needs to the other. The extrovert, for example, may become frustrated by their mate’s reluctance to accept invitations from friends, while the introvert may feel overwhelmed by what feels like constant, exhausting demands on their time.

It can make for tricky relationship maneuvering. If your love interest is your polar opposite, here are a few things you should know about introversion and extroversion:

The introvert and extrovert need different things.

We have the psychologist Carl Jung to thank for the terms extrovert and introvert, which he defined in 1921 along these lines: Introverts are drawn inward to their thoughts and feelings and get their energy from time spent away from others, while extroverts plunge into the external world and are renewed by the experience. Although these notions continue to be debated and refined, psychologists generally agree that the introvert is easily over-stimulated, while the extrovert feels enlivened by stimulation. That means the extrovert may view connecting with others as not only desirable but necessary, while the introvert may view such connection as sucking away their precious energy supply. It’s easy to see how insensitivity to this mindset can lead to battles over how to spend time as a couple.

None of us is purely extrovert or introvert.

Instead, each of us has some introversion or extroversion, and where we are on that scale can differ from moment to moment. That means that with some effort we can tap into our opposite nature—the introvert may be able to find enjoyment in the occasional party, for example, or the extrovert might at times find a quiet evening at home appealing. A couple can also work toward creating middle ground—a ski trip where one can hit the slopes and the other can sit by the fire with a book, for example.

Extroverts and introverts are wired differently.

Don’t write off your loved one as being “wrong” when your desires conflict. Introversion and extroversion are not simply preferences; they reflect the influence of nurture and nature. In fact, studies with twins put the heritability of personality at between 39-58 percent.

Other research shows that introverts and extroverts process experiences in different ways. A 2013 study by Cornell University researchers, for example, found that the brain of the extrovert releases more of the feel-good chemical dopamine in response to rewards such as food, sex, social interaction, and earning money. That builds strong positive memories surrounding the activity. The introvert receives less of a dopamine boost and is thus less likely to associate the activity with reward. In short, the extrovert comes to view interacting with the outside world as much more worth the effort than the introvert does.

Neither is “better.”

Don’t get sucked into an us vs. them mindset about introversion and extroversion. Each has pluses and minuses, and each brings much to the table. It’s true that until recently, our society viewed the extrovert as the clear winner, tending to reward those who demonstrated its qualities of assertiveness, competitiveness, and sociability. But within the last few years, the introvert has become more researched and better understood. In her book Quiet, author Susan Cain makes a persuasive case that introverts are among the most powerful and productive members of society, and that we have undervalued their concentration, cooperativeness, and leadership ability for far too long.

Photo purchased from iStockphoto, used with permission.
Source: Photo purchased from iStockphoto, used with permission.

As much as you may want to “fix” the introvert or extrovert in your life, you are better off recognizing that they are the yin to your yang. While their overall style may never match your own, communication often leads to small challenges that open a universe of happiness. Remember, if you really wanted to choose someone more like yourself, you probably would have.

Dr. David Sack is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, and addiction medicine, and writes a blog on addiction recovery. As CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, he oversees mental health treatment programs at The Ranch addiction rehabilitation center in Tennessee, Lucida Treatment Center in Florida and Malibu Vista in California.