He’s an Introvert, I’m an Extrovert. Are We Doomed?
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Dear Social Suzie,
Thank you for this question. Handling the extroversion/introversion combination in a couple is something that many couples face. I’ve seen it quite frequently in my practice. Your “opposites attract” reference makes a lot of sense to me in understanding this dynamic. In the early days of dating, the extrovert/introvert match can create a certain ease in the interaction—the introvert can sit back, observe, and reflect on how he/she is experiencing the date while the extrovert can process his/her experience of the date by talking, sharing, asking questions, and driving the conversation. After the first couple of dates, the introvert can go home and quietly reflect and the extrovert can go home and talk about the date with friends and family.
Everything moves along quite smoothly until casual dating turns into a more serious relationship. At this point, some of the challenges of the introversion/extroversion combination start to become clearer. That seems to be where you and your boyfriend are now. Like most extroverts, it sounds like you thrive on having a very active social life and you want your boyfriend to be a part of that social life. But, like most introverts, he probably thrives in a quieter environment with more solitude.
Extroverts tend to have a preference for, and gain energy, by engaging in an external world of people and things. Introverts tend to have a preference for, and gain energy by, engaging in an internal world of thoughts and ideas. It’s important to understand this concept because it can help both of you avoid taking these things personally. Absent this understanding, your boyfriend might feel controlled and scheduled by your attempts to include him in your social life, and you might feel rejected by his hesitation. Another benefit of fully understanding this concept lies in the word preference—neither of you is dealing with an inability here, and that means you can both compromise. For example, when you are hosting, maybe your boyfriend can be there for an hour or two and then he can slip out and return when the gathering is over. Or perhaps there can be an agreed-upon limit on the frequency or duration of the gatherings.
I think open and honest communication is going to be the key here. If you two can develop a deeper understanding of where you are each coming from and the role that your preferences toward introversion and extroversion are playing, you’ll likely be able to come up with some compromises that feel agreeable. Working through this process together may even improve and deepen the relationship that you have with each other. If you find you are having trouble getting through these conversations on your own, consider enlisting the help of a couples therapist. I know you mentioned your boyfriend was not interested in individual therapy, but perhaps he would be agreeable to couples therapy that focused on addressing this issue in your relationship.
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Laurel G.June 20th, 2014 at 11:54 AM
No, I don’t think that you are doomed at all.
MY husband and I have the exact same dynamic and actually it is kind of nice to have that dynamic most of the time because I think that for us it helps us balance things out probably a little better than we ever could on our own. It has taken me some time to get used to the fact that he often feeds off of his time alone whereas I dervive a lot of my energy from being around other people, but in the years we have been together I think that we have become used to what the other needs and somehow we are always able to provide that for one another. It is kind of nice sometimes when I am tired and would still feel inclined to go out to have him encourage me to stay in and we get to have some time all for ourselves.
dariaJune 21st, 2014 at 6:11 AM
My only concern would be that eventually you are going to get tired of feeling like you have to meet his needs by staying home all the time or he might be pressured to be something that he isn’t if he wants to be with you all the time.
SebastianJune 23rd, 2014 at 4:26 AM
If this is already a problem now, I can promise you that this is a problem that will only continue to grow and get worse. This is one that you need to address now before the relationship goes any further because no matter how much we may think that we can change people, it never really happens like that. You see, we are who we are and really we need to look for those who enhance that and embrace that instead of those who always seem to be working against that. I think that this is something that probably a lot of couples struggle with but I believe that it is better to know from the very beginning what you are getting and understand the things that you can put aside and live with and those that are ultimately deal breakers.
debbieJune 24th, 2014 at 3:25 PM
it could possibly be time to start learning from your differences.
DJune 26th, 2015 at 10:53 AM
This post, your response, and your Bio are speaking to me in a huge way right now. My boyfriend and I (who have known each other for 20 years, been together for 5, living together for 3.5) are in a broken record cycle of annoyance and frustration. We love each other deeply, have a great time when we’re both “up”, and talk about the next steps of marriage, buying a house, vacations, etc. often. But our day-to-day routine is breaking down into lots of bad moments and disagreements. He says it’s because he’s such an introvert, but I sense there is more going on. I would describe myself as an Ambivert. I enjoy talking to my small group of close friends on a regular basis, and when exciting things happen I can’t wait to share them, but I looove my alone time and while I used to be a “social butterfly”, I’m much happier now that I’m older (33) and don’t bounce around from party to party anymore.
Anyway, I recently graduated with my MA after 5 straight years of juggling full-time school and almost-full-time work. I am exhausted, confused, and right smack dab in the middle of this huge transition. I need to talk. I don’t have friends who are available when I need to work things out, because ALL THREE of my close friends had babies this year and their lives are sorta chaos right now. My boyfriend can’t be my everything because it exhausts him, (and no one can be our everything), but moreso it seems he almost never wants to talk with me. He has a morning routine that can’t be interrupted, he hates social media, doesn’t enjoy discussing current events, and likes to spend his evenings in his little computer cave working on projects. I’m lucky if I get 30 minutes of quality time over dinner each night. So here I am, feeling adrift and abandoned, which only makes me more needy. You can see the trouble here…
The boyfriend has agreed to begin therapy to start working through his issues (he gets annoyed very easily, gets depressed for days on end, and has some borderline OCD anxiety issues) and I think I’m in need of a really great life coach-type therapist to help me through this transition and deal with my own anxious, depressive issues. I would be calling your office right this second if I didn’t live all the way across the country. So here is my question: Can you recommend anyone as wonderful as yourself out here in San Francisco?? I would be forever in your debt.
If not, your wonderful advice is more than welcome.
GoodTherapy AdminJune 26th, 2015 at 12:30 PM
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jjSeptember 12th, 2015 at 11:26 AM
I am currently facing the very same issue as yours, just with a little difference that my boyfriend is extremely Extrovert and I am Ambivert. He is always involved in friends and never likes to talk. We have nothing in common as interests. What should I do?
DSeptember 14th, 2015 at 9:05 PM
I’m sorry to hear you two are struggling the same way. Honestly, I think you have to have clear, honest communication without any guilt trips or judgements. If you’re both in this for the same outcome – a healthy, stable relationship that benefits you both – you should be able to meet in the middle.
After many, many, many tear-soaked conversations over the last 5 years, my partner finally agreed to seek counsel from a mental health professional, and after I lovingly, carefully nudged a few times, he finally acted on it. Its been almost three months and our relationship has healed immeasurably. I don’t feel like I can give solid advice about personality differences because our situation turned out to be so much more. His work with his psychiatrist has made all the difference. If there is no reason to suspect mental illness in your situation (we knew long ago it existed in both of us) I would suggest couples counseling and see where that goes. It certainly can’t hurt. I wish you the best.
AminaAugust 8th, 2015 at 4:42 PM
How to keep a long distance relationship with an introvert? It’s kind of driving me crazy. I feel like I’m being to pushy, and a bit annoying. My boyfriend, who’s an introverted person, doesn’t seem to feel the need to comunicate with me even weekly, and after september, we’ll be spending each day with each other, like before the holidays. My question is, is it possible that he doesn’t love me at all? Or there are people with that kind of personality, and he is one of them? Or both. How to figure it out? What should I do?
JaneMarch 31st, 2016 at 11:45 PM
Im an extrovert living with I am pretty sure an introvert, reading all of this has been helpful. My partner hardly engages in conversation unless you ask a question, is socially awkward and prefers time on his laptop or emersed in books. I then become frustrated and make him feel its all his fault! Reading comments above has helped. I will now communicate and compromise more and appreciate his kind and loyal nature. X
LonelyApril 23rd, 2016 at 4:01 AM
Hi there. I struggle with the same issue. My boyfriend of two years was also a friend for many years. The friendship was really good as he was an ear when I needed to talk. Now that we are in a serious relationship I am starting to feel lonely. He admits he is an extrovert and extremely anti-social.
I am pretty much an extrovert and most of the time I’m happy. According to him my happiness steal his energy.
He tries to listen to my daily stories but his face changing half way through a story and I can see that I’m taxing his system.
The other problem is that he prefers to go to this one hang out spot and I’m getting bored. I have seen my friends about 5 times in 2years. Whenever U suggest we go visit them he gets kind of uncomfortable. He also doesn’t want me to go out without him. The result I never go out anywhwre.
I love him and I know he lives me but currently I’m feeling suffocated.
Im from another country so can you please just give some advice? He won’t go see a couples therapist.
AnnaMay 24th, 2016 at 10:43 PM
I have a similar issue. I have an MA in Clinical Psychology and experience working with people with anxiety. I’m not an expert, and like most people, how I act in my personal life is not how I conduct myself in my professional life, but I have an understanding and awareness on how to go about dealing with people with anxiety disorders. I understand I have to make compromises, but having everything be a compromise is getting to me. I don’t want to grow resentful but I fear I’m beginning to.
I’m not the biggest extrovert, but I do have a pretty active lifestyle. I come from a big family, have a good amount of friends, and have a drive to go out, travel, and do different things. My boyfriend is the opposite. He likes to go to the gym and stay home….and that’s it. Going out is always a compromise. I understand that I do have more functions/events/and parties to go to than the average person, so I only ask him to attend the very important ones or I choose an activity that plays into his interests and provides the least inconveniences. But it leaves me going stag/single to many events, compromising on the events that I do get him to agree to, and worrying about anything that may trigger his anxiety/frustration (i.e. long lines, traffic, etc). When I do get him to go to a social activity, everything has to be planned out, we have to be home before midnight, and there is usually an agreed time span on how long we’ll stay out.
It’s a constant compromise. I love him but I feel like some resentment is starting to grow. I still go out on my own to keep up with my own self care, but it usually leaves me being the 5th wheel and I wish I could enjoy experiences with him. Also, seeing how involved and easy going my friends’ and family’s S.O.’s are doesn’t help. I get frustrated being the one who has to initiate any and all activities, and still have him react painfully to the thought of going. I’d like to go out without there being a battle and with both of us being excited and happy to do something. I understand that every time he goes out, it is a compromise for him as well because he only goes out for me. This is the only main issue we have. Other than this, we get along really well and balance each other out. I love him but I’m stuck on how to get over this hurdle without growing resentful in the constant compromising.
SandyJune 28th, 2016 at 4:30 PM
I have a boyfriend who has got serious issues. He does not like anything artificial and wouldn’t even say you look nice when you braid your hair.He talk less and hates going out.we had known each other for almost 2 years now and we have gone on a date once.I am really confused because I have compromised all these while.i also feel like breaking up because I am afraid I cannot take it when we get married.
ChristinaJuly 8th, 2018 at 6:05 AM
I think it is important to recognize introversion as a personality trait, not a mental issue that requires therapy. It’s just a difference in personality in that some people derive energy from being around people while it expends the energy of others and they refuel by spending time alone. I agree with the responses that couple’s therapy might help, but in no way is this only an individual problem. It’s something that you both have to work at to understand.
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