Opposites attract (and react): Navigating personality differences within your marriage

You want to go out with a group of friends; she wants to stay home and read.

You want to talk about the issue now; he wants to take a walk by himself to think it over.

Have you experienced similar scenarios? If so, you’re familiar with the challenges of communicating when your spouse’s personality is different from your own. This is especially true for relationships between introverts and extroverts.

Take comfort knowing that you’re not alone. According to Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman and Joan DeClaire, approximately 68 per cent of perpetual arguments in marriage are due to differences in personality. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to a lifetime of frustration.

How can you navigate through these communication challenges? We chatted with relationship experts and personality specialists to help you better understand your own personality, communicate your needs to your spouse and gain a fuller perception of how your spouse interprets your actions.

Understand your own needs and tendencies

To get why you and your spouse sometimes have difficulty communicating, you need to understand your own personality and identify your interpersonal tendencies. Introverts – people who often need time to themselves – are at one end of the personality spectrum, while extroverts – those who get energized by being around others – are at the other end.

“[Introverts] like to choose where, when and with whom they will socialize,” say marriage experts Dr. Daniel and Penny Loosenort, authors of We Promise: 18 Foundational Stones for an Unshakeable Marriage.

“They believe in quality, not quantity,” adds Angel Tucker, a certified human behaviour consultant, noting that introverts generally think through issues on their own before discussing the matter with others.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are verbal processors who typically resolve matters by including others in the process. According to Tucker, “[Extroverts] give quick responses but may change their mind on how they feel.”

“We honestly don't know what we're thinking until we've talked out all sides of an issue,” says Marc A. Pitman, a certified fundraising coach and self-proclaimed extrovert.

How can you identify which personality type you most relate to? Family and marriage therapist Dr. Fran Walfish, also a psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, recommends asking yourself a series of questions:

  • Do I immediately react out loud? (Extrovert)
  • Do I doubt myself? (Introvert)
  • Do I hover rather than give my partner necessary breathing space? (Extrovert)
  • Do I struggle to set boundaries and say “no” to people? (Introvert)
  • Do I get restless when I’m alone? (Extrovert)
  • Can I easily connect with others or do I naturally maintain a certain emotional distance? (Introvert)

Keep in mind that while each personality type possesses both strengths and weaknesses, neither type is inherently good or bad.

“Remember to be kind to yourself as you self-evaluate,” advises Dr. Walfish. “The less judgmental you are with yourself, the less judgmental you will be with your spouse.”

Communicate your needs to your spouse

Once you have a basic understanding of your own personality, you can then explain your needs and thought processes to your spouse. If you faced communication difficulties before, this opportunity can help sort through past and current conflict. Take advantage of the opportunity to communicate honestly, but rather than dwelling on past hurts, focus on how you can move forward in a positive direction.

“Most people are willing to adjust and compromise for someone who loves and accepts us,” says psychotherapist Dr. Stephanie Weiland Knarr, author of MarriageBiz, “but if you start out without a positive compliment and then you elaborate for a long time about your complaint, your spouse is more likely to feel unloved.”

Try to understand your spouse and learn how to respond to their needs

As you’re communicating your needs to your spouse, remember that they have their own unique needs. Be sure to affirm your love for one another during this process.

“Happiness and the ability to get along in marriage is greatly dependent on how well each spouse understands his or her partner’s temperament and how willing he or she is to meet that partner’s temperament needs,” the Loosenorts say, adding the following warnings:

  • If extroverts are away from people and activities for too long, they can become irritated. Introverts need to allow their spouse to be social and should learn how they can join their spouse’s activities.
  • Introverts usually monitor their energy throughout the day and often need sufficient time alone in order to regenerate before they can resolve a conflict. Extroverts should respect their spouse’s sacred time and let them know ahead of time about future social activities.

As you’re both working to better understand your own personalities, do so with the understanding that you complement each other.

“Acknowledge, embrace and respect your own [personality] as well as that of your partner,” Dr. Walfish advises. “Only then can adjustments, accommodations, negotiations and mutually acceptable compromises happen successfully.”


Todd Foley is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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