Introverts vs. Extroverts: How to Navigate Relationships When You Have Different Social Needs

The terms introversion and extroversion became part of our vocabulary through the work of Carl Jung and different personality studies. It is also one of the four areas identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a common test given to analyze personality and cognitive style. According to many personality theories, everyone has some degree of both introversion and extroversion. However, people often tend to lean one way more than the other. The difference between extroverts and introverts is how they gain their energy, how they deal with stress, and their preferred way of dealing with the world. For introverts, they gain their energy from spending time alone and value their own thoughts and feelings over the external world. Extroverts gain their energy from other people, use their energy to attract people to them, and they get recharged from social outings. But how do you navigate a relationship between an introvert and an extrovert? It may seem like you are total opposites, but I like to think of it is as being complimentary. One is not greater than the other, they just are different ways people process their feelings and where they place importance in the world.

What do you do when two different personality types combine in a loving relationship?

Communicate honestly and often.

It is important to be able to communicate your social needs to your partner. If you feel “trapped” at home or bored all the time while your partner is enjoying staying in, you aren’t getting your needs met.
If you are uncomfortable in large gatherings where you don’t know anybody or find yourself dreaming of your couch, some yoga pants, and your Netflix account while you are at social gatherings, you maybe aren’t communicating your needs to your partner. It may sound hopelessly difficult (won’t one person always be sacrificing for the other?). But there are ways to make it work! If you let your partner know that you aren’t comfortable or don’t enjoy settings for long periods of time, you can come up with a game plan together. Since you can’t avoid everything that you don’t love doing, find out what you CAN deal with.

Check in with each other. Set time limits.

Maybe you’ll feel better at a party if you know in advance how long you will be staying? Having a time limit can let the extrovert know when to begin winding down and the introvert has something to look forward to in a social setting. One way to check in with your partner or to communicate your needs could be coming up with a secret code word at a party to let the other person know that you are feeling flooded (i.e. “Hey baby, I think the Dodgers are playing tonight” *wink wink*).

What if you asked your partner if you could invite a friend over for movie night to create a social aspect to staying in? Negotiate how many nights a week you need to stay in (or go out) and find a happy medium that works for the BOTH of you. Most importantly, take time to really enjoy each others company (and appreciate the other person for being there with you), especially when the other makes an effort to assimilate to your social style for the evening. Don’t forget to set aside a few days for just the two of you!

Allow each other space to get their needs met.

If your partner needs more social time, would it be okay if they went out with friends without you? If your partner needed alone time, are you able to recognize that it may not be about something you did but that they may just need some space to unwind? Make adjustments so that your partner can de-stress effectively without sacrificing the needs of the other partner all the time. Sometimes taking ownership of what your needs actually are is the hardest part of making it work. I know that even in my own life I’ve had to realize that I align most often with extroversion. I’ve had to work out how to meet my social needs while still being attentive to my family. It is a constant negotiation, but well worth the fight.

Embrace the differences.

It’s like the old Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang; apparent opposites or contrary forces that are actually complementary (rather than opposing) and interconnected. They can give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another and form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than its individual parts. The introvert can create a peaceful home environment for the couple and initiate meaningful conversations. The extrovert can bring new friends into your lives and help initiate new life experiences that studies say can create lasting happiness in couples. Work together to create a life that is dynamic and healthy. With your powers combined…..!!!!!



Love and Other Drugs: The Twisted Love Story between “Fixers” and Addiction

Has anyone ever referred to you as a “fixer”? Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where you felt like you had to rescue them from themselves or were giving them support at the cost to your mental, emotional, and physical needs? This sacrifice for your partner’s happiness without getting anything in return has a name, codependency and enmeshment.

Codependency can arise in any type of relationship, but it can commonly occur in the relationship between an addict and their highly enmeshed spouse or partner. Drugs and alcohol can seem to provide an answer to the hole that the person is trying to fill. The relief that the addict feels from distressing emotions wears off and as use continues, more drugs will be needed more often to achieve the same effect. As dependence grows, addiction may result. When dating an active addict, the addict’s relationship to drugs can soon define and control your whole relationship if proper care is not taken, hence the CO- in codependency.

By denying the existence of a problem to others and themselves, trying to control the addict’s drug use or rescuing them from the consequences of their actions, and accepting blame when it is given, the partner enables the addiction. The enmeshed partner then feels needed and the addict continues to maintain their drug habit. It’s a  twisted win-win that actually ends up being lose-lose situation. I know this pattern all too well, having seen many clients needing support for a partner’s addiction, and even my own personal experience being in a codependent relationship.

“How do I know what enmeshment and codependency looks like?”

Many people who struggle with codependency feel a sense of responsibility for the thoughts, decisions, needs, and life satisfaction of others. Often in a controlling way, they try to solve other people’s problems and doing far more than they should to ensure the other person’s happiness. They put the other partner’s feelings before their own and can lose themselves in the process. They can become defined by the addicted partner’s emotions and become wrapped up in the other partner’s identity.

For example, if the addict is having a bad day, so is the codependent spouse/partner. They may have difficulty expressing and identifying their own feelings and may stay in a dysfunctional relationship for fear of abandonment and losing that feeling of being needed. Most codependent partners have difficulty setting boundaries with others, saying yes when they want to say no, and taking control when others are capable of doing so.  Many partners of addicts secretly (or not so secretly) wish to save them, to have their love for them be enough for them to change, but as much as you might want to, you can’t overcome the addiction for them. You CAN create a healthy, emotional environment for recovery to take place.

“Where do we learn codependent behaviors?”

Most people learn from role models growing up, especially if they were raised in an addicted or dysfunctional home. For example, about half of the children of alcoholics go on to marry an addict and duplicate the addict/codependent model they saw in their parents’ relationship. For most “fixers”, seeing the pain in others mobilizes the pain within them, either consciously or subconsciously. For example, if someone suffered a traumatic or painful experiences early in life, it can contribute to low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment and other codependent traits that mobilizes the need to “fix” the pain they see in others, essentially attempting over and over again to fix the pain that is triggered within ourselves.

Since enmeshment is the only way they know how to be in a relationship, few people recognize their own codependent patterns, instead labeling themselves selfless, loving or just “too nice.”

Although their efforts may seem noble and come from a honest place, they actually can hurt the recovery process of the addict and are in fact driven by the person’s subconscious need to feel needed. Serving others to the exclusion of their own needs and desires is the way that they feel valued and loved. All of this self-sacrifice can eventually build up to anger and resentment towards the addict, along with other mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse, as well as physical health problems.

“What can I do? “

Just like the addict needs help and support to stop depending on drugs, the codependent can benefit from counseling (what is the pain that keeps getting triggered for you?), support groups, books (I recommend Codependent No More by Melanie Beattie and Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood), so that they can become less dependent on the neediness of others.  It is not about the relationship with the addict, but more about forming a stronger sense of self.

It is learning how to be loving and care for themselves instead of trying to “fix” someone. Trying to fix someone is like trying to nail jello to a tree, it just doesn’t work.  For those people who love an active drug user: Let them know you understand the difficulty of the challenge they face, and that you are in their corner. Encourage them to explore the roots of their addiction with a professional; the drinking or drug use may seem like the main issue, but it is often a symptom of a deeper problem and keep in mind that relapses are also a part of the recovery process and should not be seen as a failure per say, but more of a set back.