Introverts have long received the label of “misunderstood.” Some estimate that at least a third or more of the population are introverts. While this is a subjective estimation (everyone has some extroverted and introverted parts), it’s safe to say that most marriages will have one person who is more introverted than the other.
If the term “introvert” is an unfamiliar one, let me give a brief background to this personality type. Introverts tend to be more concerned with the quality of relationships, as opposed to the quantity. They also are more interested in the depth of understanding, not the breadth. Introverts are people oriented but usually require time away from large groups of people to re-energize. Whereas an extrovert would have more energy after a social outing, an introvert would likely be left feeling a bit depleted.
A common misconception is that introverts only like to be alone. Certainly this is sometimes the case, it’s more likely that introverts are more limited in their social energies than of their counterpart, the extrovert. “Intro” refers to inside, which means that processing happens internally. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a great resource for helping to shed light on which personality types best describe people.
So what happens in marriage when an introvert, one who tends to be quieter, slower, and more internal in their processing, marries an extrovert? A feeling of being overwhelmed with all the stimulation of having another person inside in their world.
As an introvert with four young kids (at this time, 10 years old and under), I’m continually faced with people getting in my business. Sometimes, it’s too much for me. Two of my older kids are extroverts, as is my wife, so I’m definitely in the minority. Prior to getting married, I used to journal 4-5 times per week. It was my therapy as I processed the ups and downs in life through written word. I used to fill up journals of content every year, but when I got married, I stopped journaling. Part of this is because I didn’t have any words left for my journal. I used them all with my wife. The other part was that I really didn’t know what to do with someone else in my world on a constant basis.
I was confused. I loved Stephanie, my wife, being there, but I wanted space. I battled guilt for sometimes wanting to be away from her, but at the same time I resented her. It was an odd time. You or your spouse might face a similar situation. Here are some suggestions about navigating this area of your relationship.
First, be forthright about the emotional and/or relational needs that each of you have. How much time do you need apart or where there is enough space to recharge? How often do social gatherings need to take place? What about travel to family events, or weekend plans? All of these questions will address the needs of both the introvert and extrovert. Because introverts tend to be slower processors, they need space to think and consider what is happening in life. Talk about the specific needs you or your spouse have, and agree together how to go about accomplishing these needs.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to split up on any given event. You both don’t have to be together at every social gathering. If the setup is that both go together or not at all, one is going to be susceptible to resentment. If one of you does stay behind, make sure to check in with one another after the event, or the following day. As with all things, keep short accounts with each other.
Lastly, trade off leadership responsibilities in regards to date night or social gatherings. This is a great practice to do outside of the conversation about introversion/extroversion. The helpful aspect of this is the chance to invite the other into your world and what it is that you enjoy doing. By trading the leadership in this way, both partners will be given freedom to express themselves to their spouse.
Introverts help us to slow down, to think things through, and to settle into helpful rhythms. Without a sense of care, an introvert will shut down and become removed from the relationship. Care well for the introvert in you and in your marriage, and enjoy the fruits of a deeper relationship.