Do Opposites Attract? The Extrovert/Introvert Dichotomy

red magnet on tableBy 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.

However, natural differences exist in how extroverts and introverts perceive, process, and respond. These differences can lead to predictable 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Reference:

Thomson Lenore. 1998. Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual, p. 27.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mike Jackson, MFT, therapist in South Pasadena, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 7 comments
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  • lizzietaylor

    lizzietaylor

    February 19th, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    My husband and I are both extrovers and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I would find the introvert a little too much of a challenge to be around all of the time, like I was always have to drag something out of him. And that’s painful to me! I want someone hwo can share my exuberance and my excitement because those who are n’t that way always seem to need a little more than those of us who are just naturally more outgoing. Now I am sure that the introverts in the crowd will then say that we are exhausting and that they just can’t handle all of that, and that’s fine I get it. But I know what I like and what works for me and when I found it that’s what I determined to surround myself with.

  • ella

    ella

    February 20th, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    There is something that is sort of exciting about meeting someone your complete opposite and feeling this attraction to them.

    YOu wonder how this is all going to play out and if true love can actually be found between two people who are actually so different in terms of personality from one another.

    In the end I am sure that it can work but I can also see that there could be some conflict there too, like maybe one feels more comfortable in one type of situation and the other feels it totally differently. That could be a real struggle if a couple is not willing to keep the lines of communication open and honest.

  • Bo

    Bo

    February 21st, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    In the end it’s all about who you have a mutual attraction with and how they interact in certain social settings won’t really matter. Now I can see that a person shutting down when you are more of a person who wants to talk things through, well that could be problematic. But you can’t just say that oh he is too outgoing and friendly so I would never want to date him. He might be that way in his work or with others, but when you two have alone time he might have exactly the right mix that you need.

  • Vera

    Vera

    February 22nd, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Honestly I think that it matters less whether you are this or that… but what matters the most is if yu are attracted to one another and have super great feelings about each other. That’s what matters, not whether you wear this particular label or that one. So what you may be an introvert… you get around some guy you really like and are attracted to then that may not play out and you may be totally outgoing and friendly with him. Sometimes others can bring out traist in you and feelings in you that you didn’t know that you had. So I say who cares? If this is someone who means something to you then you should just go for it.

  • Randee l

    Randee l

    February 24th, 2014 at 3:56 AM

    “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.”

    That one quote pretty much sums up my husband and now that I have gotten stuck on reading it over and over again I think that it is the root of most of our problems. I wouldn’t say that I am the most outgoing girl in the room but way more so than he is and when he gets home I just want to talk but it is like he has used up everything that he has while working and then when he comes home he has nothing left for me. That’s very frustrating because i just want to talk and connect and him? He just wants to sit down and be quiet. I want to work through this but it almost feels like I would have to give up something that I need to let him be himself and I don’t think that I should have to be the one always making that trade off.

  • mark

    mark

    February 25th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    I think that we all know that they do attract, but the real question should be do they then stay together?

  • Mike Jackson, MFT

    Mike Jackson, MFT

    February 25th, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    I am the author of this article and would like to clarify a couple of things.

    1. I think the manner in which I presented this information left an impression for some that E-I couples may not be compatible. This is simply not the case. E-E couples and I-I couples also have natural areas of difficulty which also do not translate to incompatibility.

    2.This article is intended to help friends, couples and/or family members that naturally differ on this dichotomy make sense out of areas where their natural difference can lead to conflicts in a manner that takes finger pointing and blame out of the resolution process.

    3. I have been using a natural differences model with all individual, couple and family clients since 2000. Incompatibilities based on natural differences on one or more of the four dichotomies that have proven to be key determinants of individual differences have been rare.

    In the months to come I will provide additional information on natural differences as well as similarities that can lead to conflicted exchanges with the hope that this information can help readers make sense out of and resolve issues driven by their combination of natures in a less traumatic manner. Their is a five minute video at the top of the home page of my website, NaturalPersonalityInstitute.com, that provides a succinct overview of the natural differences approach to human understanding

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