By 1915, Carl Jung had identified the key determinants of individual differences in psychological types on four behavior and process-opposite dichotomies. These dichotomies are:
- Extraversion vs. introversion
- Literal vs. possibilities
- Thinking vs. feeling
- Structured vs. open-ended
Seventy years later conventional psychologists came to the same conclusion, adding an additional measure for degrees of neurosis. Jung believed that an individual’s degree of response orientation on each dichotomy was natural and normal, present at birth, identifiable at an early age, and unchanging over time.
With regard to these differences, the question arises: Do opposites attract? Perhaps, but from my experience dichotomy opposites do not necessarily translate into harmony. I have been using a freeware version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, based on Jung’s four dichotomies, with people in couples therapy since 2000. Seventy percent to date have combined an extrovert with an introvert.
On the surface, this combination appears to be a good match. Extroverts are energized more when talking about what they are thinking and feeling, and introverts are energized more when thinking about what they are thinking and feeling.problems in communication when certain situations are at play. Extroverts, for instance, require external affirmations to feel internally grounded in their self separate from others.
When a difference in perception or priority triggers a conflicted exchange, those affirmations come to an end. When this happens, the extrovert will want to resolve the issue immediately in order to regroup. Feeling-response-oriented extroverts experience a need to resolve that is often greater than that of most thinking-response-oriented extroverts. In order to be able to resolve the issue and regroup, the extrovert has to find a way to get the introvert to agree with them—a response the introvert cannot provide if their perception regarding the issue at hand naturally differs.
Introverts’ sense of self is grounded in the conclusions they come to regarding the meaning of what they and others are thinking and feeling. Because these conclusions are experienced as self-evident, as factual givens, the introvert may not feel a need to express them (Thomson, 1998).
When a conflict arises with their extroverted partner, the introvert will attempt to explain why they differ. However, a justification for differing does not meet the extrovert’s requirement for resolving the issue and will often be interrupted so the extrovert can restate their own case in hopes of getting the affirmative response they require to resettle.
These interruptions can undermine the introverts’ effectiveness at expressing what they are thinking or feeling or cause them to feel that further discussion is pointless. When this happens, the introvert will usually attempt to withdraw, an action that usually further upsets the extrovert, who will not want to disengage until the introverted partner agrees with them.
The situation at play here is diabolical. The moment a conflicted exchange occurs in an area where the couple naturally differs requires a response from the other to resolve the issue that the other cannot provide. Believing these differences to be a matter of choice rather than of nature each believes the other could provide that response if they wanted to. Consequently, when they do not, each concludes that the other is choosing to withhold that acknowledgement for selfish or hurtful reasons. Debilitating debates ensue over who is right and who is not. Unable to validate or be validated, such couples can end up in an agitated state, disconnected from each other, believing their partner to be at fault in situations where natural differences in perceptions, priorities, values, or meanings are the real culprit.
Conflict Resolution Intervention
The information provided above helps most introvert/extrovert couples understand that:
- Natural differences were the actual cause of their difficulty, differences that are intricately connected to each one’s sense of self separate from each other.
- Choice in how they perceive, process, and respond is often not an option.
Extrovert/introvert couples that combine a thinking-oriented with a feeling-oriented individual or are both feeling oriented can have conflicted exchanges that are so explosive and destructive that a timeout rule is essential. Either partner can call for a timeout but must agree on a time to reconvene before disengaging.
Extroverted feeling-response-oriented individuals can have a particularly difficult time separating without resolution, no matter how destructive the exchanges have become. When working with couples dealing with this level of explosiveness, it is important to remind them that when interactions have reached this level of intensity no meaningful resolution is possible.
Another area of natural difficulty concerns the end of the workday.
Extroverts are usually energized by the events of their day, experiences they will want to share with their partner when they get home. This interactive process is necessary for extroverts to feel connected to their introverted partner. Most introverts start the day with a limited amount of social interactive energy. If that energy is depleted before they return home, they may require downtime to reconnect to their selves before they can effectively interact with their partners.
Without information required to make sense out of this difference, extroverts often experience their introverted partner’s lack of interactive energy as a lack of interest or caring and feel hurt and get upset. Introverts have no choice in how drained they are feeling at the end of the day. Consequently, when their partner gets upset with them for not caring enough to interact, they either feel guilty and bad (if they are feeling-response-oriented) or get upset at being unjustifiably attacked. One extroverted partner expressed with considerable angst, “You go off and interact with others all day long and then come home and have no time for me!”
Once again, each requires a response from the other they believe can be provided when it cannot. These misperceptions of meaning and intent can lead to a pervasive state of disconnect that affects every area of their life together.
Conflict Resolution Suggestions
Once most couples understand the actual cause of their difficulty, they are able to effectively adjust. The usual resolution comes from dividing their evening time in half with the introvert, getting their downtime first, followed by the extroverts’ connecting time.
A third area of potential difficulty is found in the extrovert/introvert couple’s social life. Extroverts are energized by interaction with others and usually have a larger network of friends in both their personal and professional lives than their introverted partner; friends they will want to get together with on a regular basis.
While an introvert’s network is usually smaller, these relationships tend to be of long standing. The frequency of contact, however, will usually be determined by the amount of energy the introvert has available for interacting. Roles of spouse and parent may limit the frequency with which they are able or willing to connect with their friends. Weeks, months, or even years may go by without contact and not disrupt the closeness of these bonds.
Extroverts are often bothered by the frequency of their introverted partner’s reluctance to participate in social activities—activities that are so integral to the extrovert feeling energized and engaged in life. This reluctance is often perceived as being selfish, antisocial, or as not liking their friends. These perceptions can lead to deep resentments.
Introverts do not understand why the extroverted partner keeps wanting to fill their down time with social engagements that further drain them. From the introvert’s perspective, they are caught in a double bind. If they say no, they are choosing to be selfish, antisocial, and/or hurtful. If they agree to participate, but are unable to generate enough social interactive energy to satisfy their extraverted partner’s expectations, they are intentionally ruining the experience for their partner. This conundrum can lead to deep-seated resentments across time.
Caught in a misconception of choice to be different, each ends up having to defend their right to be the way they naturally are—a justification that unavoidably invalidates the natural and normal interactive needs of the other.
Once most introvert/extrovert couples understand that natural differences are the real culprit, they are able to adjust and accommodate. If the extroverted partner requires more social interaction during the week than their introverted partner can provide or participate in, they can choose to fill this need by getting together with friends without their partner’s participation. Examples include getting together with friends for dinner or a movie, or participating in a book club.
As for weekends, taking turns usually helps. The introvert may choose to stay home and play Scrabble with their partner when it is their turn, and the extrovert may throw a dinner party for friends when it is their turn. By taking turns, each gets to do what they would prefer to do half the time, without having to defend their right to do so.
Once most couples that combine an extrovert with an introvert realize that natural differences exist in how each perceives, prioritizes values, and responds—differences that are natural, normal, and not subject to change—they are able to accommodate and compromise in areas that had not been possible before. The major assist in this regard appears to come from understanding that their partner is not choosing to differ; there is no act of intention to get their own way at play when the situations mentioned in this article come into play.
Thomson Lenore. 1998. Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual, p. 27.
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