Jennifer is a psychologist; Charles is a former Information Technology professional. Can you guess who is the extrovert, and who is the introvert? Extroverts gain energy from interacting with other people, and usually like to process information with others. Introverts generally gain energy from quiet time spent alone, and usually like to work things out themselves before sharing with others.
When we meet our partner in midlife, we are more likely to be thoughtful about our communication process, especially if we have experienced poor communication in previous relationships. When you are committed to a lasting relationship, it is worth taking the time and effort to learn about your own personality style and that of your partner.
Most of us know our own styles reasonably well, but we don’t always think to convey that information clearly to our partners. When an introvert and an extrovert get together, it is really helpful to take some time to share how each person prefers to get information, make decisions, and spend time.
Here are a few tips that we have discovered to be helpful.
For the extrovert:
- Let your partner know that when you say something, you are not wed to that idea. You are just letting it float by, and you may very well change your mind.
- Give your partner time to process information before pressing for a decision. If nothing is on fire, you can usually wait a couple of hours or a couple of days for your partner to think things through.
- Find some other people to hang out with. Your introverted partner will probably not want to socialize as much as you do, so make sure you are okay with going to social events on your own or with a friend.
- If you want to know what your partner thinks, you are probably going to have to ask. Then remember to pause and breathe so you can hear the response before you contribute your next idea.
For the introvert:
- Let your partner know that you are mulling something over, instead of tuning him or her out. Just say, “I’m glad you brought that up. Let me have some time to think about it, and let’s talk about it after supper.” Then remember it is your responsibility to circle back to the topic as promised.
- Help your partner understand that time alone nourishes you, and it is not a rejection of your relationship when you want to do something on your own.
- Realize that your partner will probably need time with others.
- Your partner will sometimes want to run ideas by you and work them out by talking. If you are not ready to offer your own ideas, say so and focus on being a good listener.
Don’t assume your partner’s behavior means the same thing as it would if you acted that way. For example, extroverted Joanne is sure that her partner Frank is angry at her because he has hardly spoken all evening. In fact, introverted Frank is simply contemplating a work-related dilemma, and isn’t the slightest bit angry at Joanne. He is so focused on his own thoughts that he has barely registered her presence. When she blows up at him for ignoring her, he is completely surprised. The ensuing argument could possibly have been avoided if Joanne had said, “I notice you are very quiet this evening. Is something on your mind?” Frank often avoids bringing up his concerns because, in his view, Joanne wants to “talk it to death” and he is often not ready to do that. He could communicate effectively by saying, “Yes, I’m just thinking through a situation at work. I’ll be glad to talk about it with you later on, but right now I just need some time to think it through. It’s nothing terrible, but I need to chew on it a bit. Okay?” If Frank can take a break for a few minutes and give Joanne a smile and a kiss, she is more likely to feel comfortable with his having the time and space he needs.
If you are interested in finding out more about personality styles, you may enjoy reading I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You: The Real Meaning of the Sixteen Personality Types by Roger Pearlman and Sarah Albritton or Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
Above all, remember that neither personality style is “better” than the other. We have learned that introverts and extroverts have a great deal to offer each other when we can respect and appreciate our differences.
Northwest psychologist and author Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, and her husband Charles Peck are writing a book for baby boomers, seniors, and those over age 40 looking to create and maintain a romantic relationship that is wonderfully thrilling at any age. Their column, Magic at Midlife, appears regularly in www.northwestprimetime.com. You can participate in the creation of their book (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships. Follow Magic at Midlife on Facebook or Twitter @MagicAtMidlife. Northwest Prime Time is a monthly publication for retirees and those contemplating retirement. It can be found in the greater Seattle area and other Puget Sound locations. For more information, call 206-824-8600 or visit www.northwestprimetime.com.
Copyright 2013 by Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck and Charles Peck