By Mimi Kraus, LCSW-C
Introversion and extroversion are basic dimensions of temperament and differences between people in relationships can easily lead to conflict and misunderstanding. People who are on opposite sides of this continuum between shy and gregarious, homebody or party animal can feel incompatible or as if they have nothing in common. Problems getting along can occur between members of a couple, between friends, and among family members.
Introverts and extroverts differ in how they gain emotional energy. Extroverts gain energy from being with people. They may feel lonely or bored when by themselves and feel energized and happiest when socializing with others. Introverts, on the other hand, recharge their batteries when they are alone and may find solitary pursuits or one-on-one interactions the most satisfying. Extroverts often demonstrate talkative and energetic behavior, while introverts are usually quieter, calmer, and more reflective. They may be considered reserved and aloof. There also may be differences in how much external stimulation someone can tolerate, with an extrovert able to tolerate much more than an introvert. Most people fall in the center of this continuum, having traits of both introversion and extroversion, while some people fall more on the ends of the continuum.
Jason and Jane, married for five years, often find themselves at odds about what to do on the weekend. Jane has many friends and would love to make plans for an evening out with two or three other couples. She complains that all Jason wants to do is stay home and watch TV and feels that he is selfish, not considering her needs.
Sue and Linda are widowed friends who went on a cruise together. Linda felt abandoned when Sue wanted to “have fun” every evening, hanging out with other people after dinner, enjoying drinks and talking until midnight. Sue was insistent that partying was why she wanted to go on the cruise and that Linda was acting antisocial.
Michael, age 12, lives in a family with two boisterous brothers and outgoing parents who love to invite friends over the house. Noise levels are often high and there is something going on most weekends and evenings. Michael feels both overstimulated and suffocated by the constant commotion, often retreating into his room for some peace and quiet. Michael’s parents are worried that their son might be withdrawn or depressed.
While conflicts can arise between people of opposite temperaments, people in relationships are often drawn to others with qualities or attributes different from theirs, as differences create interest. Opposites often do attract. Most people would find it really boring to spend time with another person too much like themselves. However, it is often the very qualities that draw people to each other that become the points of stress and conflict.
There are ways for extroverts and introverts to manage their differences and create strong bonds, rich with caring and understanding, but it does take some work and maturity. You need to accept the other person for who and how they are and approach them with listening, caring, and support. It takes understanding that your friend, relative, or partner is different from you temperamentally, and that you each balance each other out. So here are a few dos and don’ts for dealing with your temperamental opposite:
- Do communicate your preferences and needs about how much socialization and external stimulation you like.
- Do listen and understand the other person’s needs and preferences.
- Do ask that your needs be considered as well as theirs.
- In negotiating, do try for a “win-win” solution in which both people feel considered, respected, and have some of their needs met. Jason and Jane could perhaps alternate weekend plans, sometimes staying home and other times socializing with a few others.
- Do plan ahead when going on a vacation or otherwise making social plans. For their next trip, Linda and Sue could discuss preferences and expectations ahead of time, so that a compromise could be reached about evening activities and both could feel their needs are important and met.
- Don’t judge or criticize the other person. There is no right or wrong about how much to socialize and how solitary to be. Michael’s parents met with a counselor who explained Michael’s needs for solitary time and fewer activities. Michael felt more valued and accepted and flourished in school and with his hobbies.
- Don’t pressure the other person to go along with your plans. Coercive behavior is a sure way to damage a relationship.
- And finally, do appreciate your uniqueness and your differences. As the French say, “Vive la Difference!”
Mimi Kraus, LCSW-C is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services.
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.