Opposites attract...but when you're spending this much time together with totally different personality types, it's going to take work to keep the peace

By L’Oreal Thompson Payton
November 23, 2020 04:25 PM
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The old saying “opposites attract” sounds great in theory. But when you’ve been stuck in the house with someone totally different from you for eight months, you may find that "opposites repel" - especially if you're an introvert/extrovert couple, who are handling the pandemic very differently.

“Extroversion and introversion is about how we charge our batteries. Extroverts get their batteries charged from being around others, and introverts get their batteries charged from being alone,” explains Emily C. Klear, Director of Couple Services at The Family Institute in Chicago. “So in a pandemic, both parties could have a hard time recharging their batteries. The introvert is like ‘I’m never alone, go away.’ And the extrovert who probably used to be fairly social is not having a lot of their socialization needs met.”

Just because you’re both losing your minds a little doesn’t mean you have to lose sight of what made you work as a couple in the first place. We talked to relationship experts and a real-life couple for tips on how to ensure your relationship makes it to 2021 and beyond:

1. What fills you up?

“People on the cusp of either personality type may not have realized what their needs were until the pandemic,” Klear says. “You might have someone who didn’t realize how extroverted they really are until they couldn’t be around other people.”

After acknowledging that you have different needs, it’s important to be mindful that your partner doesn’t necessarily have to meet them. For extroverts, Klear recommends getting out of the house for safe, socially-distanced activities, such as visiting your favorite coffee shop. For introverts, alone time could look like going into a separate room and closing the door to read or meditate, or going for a walk, run or bike ride by yourself.

Similarly, both parties could have their requirements met by being in the same space and doing different activities. “One of you could be reading a book while the other is on the computer,” Klear says. “Because the extrovert is going to get filled up from being in the same space and the introvert can be left alone to do their own thing.”

2. Communicate your needs

One you’ve gotten clear on what it takes for you to fill your own cup, it’s time to communicate those essentials with your partner in an open and honest conversation.

“The dialogue could look like, ‘I’m recognizing how introverted I am and I need some alone time every single day, especially since we’re working in the same house,’” says Klear, noting that in your conversation, you should show empathy to your partner’s needs as well and offer solutions that don’t require buy-in from the other.

The key is not being offended when your partner doesn’t want to spend time with you.

“It doesn’t mean something about you as a partner if the other person has needs that [you find] confusing or different from your own,” explains Klear. “I often encourage my clients to take a step back [if they react badly to the conversation] and say ‘I’m making meaning of the fact that you don’t want to be around me”

Austin-based licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor Adam Maurer of Moontower Counseling agrees.

“There’s this sense that because we love each other and we’ve chosen each other, then we ought to fit together easily,” he says. “Most people who are partnered tend to pick someone who complements them, which makes it great to take on issues outside the relationship, but makes it challenging when those things are within the relationship.”

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3. Adopt an “us vs. the stressor” approach

When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to lash out on the people closest to you, but Maurer recommends an “us vs. the stressor” mentality.

“It’s about asking: What do I need and what do you need? A lot of times when we talk about the conflict, people talk about the problem, but not what’s underneath it,” he says. “What is it we’re really longing for? Where are we flexible and inflexible in the conflict? If I understand where you’re inflexible, then I know what can be negotiated.”

4. Be prepared to compromise

As with any relationship, compromise is necessary. When each partner is on opposite ends of the personality spectrum, meeting in the middle becomes critical to the relationship's success.

Klear suggests taking stock of your must-haves, and then having a discussion along these lines: “Let me think about how we can come up with something that makes both of us feel good enough. Neither of us is going to feel great about compromise, but can we feel respected, heard and cared for?”

A real life extrovert/introvert couple, Stephanie and Devin Foster of Baltimore, have learned how to negotiate an approach social events in a way that works for both of them.

“Essentially there are three buckets: things you can accept, things you can’t accept and things where you’re willing to meet in the middle,” says Devin Foster, who identifies as an extrovert. “You have to weigh what’s important. Is her not socializing the way I would socialize a priority? … It’s not a high priority to ask her to attend a random Tuesday happy hour, but if it’s a networking event and I would like her to come, that’s different.”

It’s about being intentional and finding commonalities, according to Maurer.

“It’s saying, Here’s something small that we could connect with, that can be fulfilling for us both,” he says. “We live in a world that celebrates extroversion more … and there are times when introverts are resentfully agreeing to something that is not for them. Resentment is going to build up over time and eventually become contempt.”

5. Take time for yourself before reconnecting as a couple

With kids in the mix, compromise may look a little different. As Maurer mentions, there are three selves -- the individual self, couple self, and family self -- and all three require time, attention and space.

“Psychotherapist Esther Perel [says] kids take a lot of ‘erotic energy’,” he explains. “Eroticism is about being curious, hands-on and playful. People who are working from home and being home with kids are extending so much energy toward that, it doesn’t leave much time for individual or couple needs, which can lead to resentment.”

If your go-to place to reconnect was in the bedroom, you may want to consider spending some time apart before you hit the sheets. After all, the adage “distance makes the heart grow fonder” has some truth to it.

In her bestseller Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, Perel writes: “In order to bring lust home, we need to re-create the distance that we worked so hard to bridge. Erotic intelligence is about creating distance, then bringing that space to life.”

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6. Extend yourself (and your partner some grace)

“One of the greatest gifts is that each person is bringing a strength to the relationship,” says Klear. “The introvert can help the extrovert have more insightful time to themselves and the extrovert may help push the introverted person to be a little more social and engaged in a way that they may not normally. That has the potential to enrich both their lives. It’s about not viewing the differences as insurmountable incompatibilities, but as more complementary.”

Stephanie Foster, the introvert, agrees.

“You have to not only know yourself, but know your partner and honor that your partner is different from you,” she says. “It’s about being courteous to one another. What I don’t want to be is a hindrance to his personality. Why should I make him smaller? That’s selfish.”

Throughout it all, it’s important to show yourself and your partner grace.

“You can’t expect your battery to charge to what it would have looked like last February. It’s not going to happen,” warns Klear. “We’re all running a little depleted right now and you have to have compassion for yourself and each other.”