Opposites attract, they say, and often it’s true. I’ve met many couples, the two partners of which are quite different in personality. Usually that makes for a more interesting and healthy relationship – vive la différence, after all – but sometimes it can be the source of problems.
A common issue I am asked about is the compatibility of introverts and extroverts, particularly when they end up in a long term relationship together. Many people find this type of union interesting, in particular the way they fall in love in the first place.
One partner is lively and outgoing, wanting to spend lots of time at parties or public events surrounded by other people, while the other is shyer and prefers to stay home and watch TV on the couch or read a good book. One likes to go to trendy restaurants with a line around the block, while the other prefers bringing home take out.
Because they are drawn in different directions, this can lead to conflict. How can they work out their differences and remain together?
First of all, let’s be clear that there are lots of different personality types out there, and they’re all OK. Gregarious, convivial people aren’t better or worse than shy, introverted ones. Both partners need to respect each other completely from the start.
As in most relationship problems, communication is really the key. Talking clearly and honestly to your partner about what you want will solve 90 percent of your problems. But it isn’t always easy to be honest. Sometimes we even have trouble being honest with ourselves.
If your extroverted partner invites you to a big party on Saturday night and you really don’t want to go, then say so. Be honest. Own it. Just say it: “I don’t want to go to this party.”
Then be prepared to negotiate. Once you’ve been honest about your feelings, then you can talk with your partner to work out a compromise. Perhaps you will end up agreeing to go with your partner to this party in exchange for some quiet time together another evening. That’s fine. Both of you make sacrifices to the relationship, the way it should be.
Remember, you can tell your partner anything you want, and it’s a good idea to be honest about how you feel. But once you’ve said your piece, as a wise friend of mine once advised, you have to be willing to let it go.
Be honest about not wanting to go to the party, but then let the discussion go. Your partner now knows you don’t want to go, and understands that if you agree to go anyway, you are making a sacrifice for the relationship. You don’t have to remind them of this. Because you were honest, you helped avoid one of the most toxic relationship killers – resentment.
Think about it this way: Your partner invites you to a huge party on Saturday night. You don’t like big parties because you are naturally shy and feel uncomfortable meeting lots of new people and struggle to make small talk. But instead of telling your partner how you feel, you agree to go to the party out of a secret feeling of obligation or guilt.
Days go by and Saturday draws ever closer. You wish you didn’t have to go to the party. You really hate the idea. You chew on the problem all week. You resent having to go. You feel like a victim. This feeling builds and by Saturday night, when it’s time to go, you’re unhappy and you sulk while you’re getting dressed. You snap at your partner and maybe pick a fight.
When your partner responds testily, you scream, “I never even wanted to go to this stupid party!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” your partner replies.
And I have to agree. Why didn’t you tell your partner you didn’t want to go? Letting that resentment build up all week resulted in an ugly fight and an unhappy Saturday evening for both of you.
Now, let’s be clear here. I am talking about better communication between you and your partner. If you are honest about what you want, but also willing to compromise, you will eliminate most of those dangerous, festering resentments. I’m not saying you won’t ever have to go out to parties and meet people and make small talk. After all, it’s good for you, as an introvert, to get outside your comfort zone sometimes, to do something different. But it should happen when you agree to do it, not when you feel secretly guilty or obligated.
And the same is true for your gregarious partner – they should spend some quiet nights at home with you, too. As long as you both communicate clearly, you’ll both feel better and get along without so many unpleasant arguments.
Are you going through a similar situation but with a different challenge? Are you fighting over the same things over and over again or having difficulty communicating your needs to your partner? If so, don’t let resentment build up. Reach out to me via my coaching program so I can help you get your relationship back on track.
Freyd, M. (1924). Introverts and Extroverts. Psychological Review, 31(1), 74-87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0075875
- Thanks to Christopher at TheSocialMan.com for inspiring me to write on this topic (see his related blog post here).