Bridging the Extrovert-Introvert Gap

28 Jan

By: Lisa Betz

My son and his girlfriend have worked through many differences: ethnic, cultural, and geographic, among others. But the one that seems to challenge them the most is their very different temperaments. She is extroverted. He is introverted.

As an introvert myself, I understand my son’s tendencies, but to his extroverted girlfriend, he can seem insensitive and frustrating. What causes such misunderstandings? The fact that introverts and extroverts come into the relationship with different basic needs, leading to different expectations. Expectations their partner may not understand. At all.

Understanding our different energy requirements

I believe grasping the energy issue may be the number-one key to improving introvert-extrovert relationships. An introvert expends energy while relating to people and needs solitude to recharge. Extroverts are the opposite. They need people-time in order to gain energy.

An extrovert needs to understand that when their introverted partner says they need time alone they are not saying, “I don’t love you,” or “I don’t want to be with you.” The request for solitude simply means the introvert is running low on people-energy and needs to recharge. The wise extrovert knows that when their favorite introvert is feeling drained, spending time together right then won’t be fun for either. However, if the introverted partner can take some alone-time (thirty minutes may be enough) they will be ready to connect with enthusiasm.

On the other hand, the wise introvert understands that their favorite extrovert needs to spend time with them. Lots of time. Perhaps more time than they want to give. The introvert partner must learn to discern when they truly need alone-time and when they merely want to be alone because it’s easier than dealing with other humans.

Both partners must value the legitimate needs of the other and give up some of their wants in order to please each other. An introvert needs time alone. An extrovert needs time together. A healthy relationship has room for both.

GroupPartyOne more thought about energy

Large social events are big drains on an introvert’s people-energy, yet they energize an extrovert. When it comes to social events, find ways to compromise: Introverts enjoy these events more, and are more willing to attend, if they know they can leave when they have reached their energy limit. Many wise couples develop a code phrase that tells the extroverted partner, “We need to leave now.” They haven’t stayed as long as the extrovert would have liked, but at least they attended. An alternative solution is to drive separately so the introverted partner can bow out when they’ve had enough.

OpinonIconAnother basic difference that can lead to misunderstanding

Introverts tend to process their thoughts slowly. They often need time to think before answering a question—and not just a few extra nanoseconds. Extroverts are usually much quicker at putting thoughts and feelings into words. Which can make conversations tricky.

When the extrovert partner asks their favorite introvert an important question, the introvert wants to give their best, most insightful answer, but it takes time to drag their spinning and jumbled thoughts into some semblance of order. Please understand, when they request time to think it over instead of answering right away, it means they love you too much to give a quick answer.

At the same time, introverts must keep in mind that their favorite extroverts need frequent conversations to feel connected. The thoughts milling around an introvert’s head need to be put into actual words now and then, so their partner knows what they are thinking and feeling. And, as my son discovered, being forced to wrestle with his feelings and find a way to express them not only enriched his relationship but also helped him feel better about himself.

I hope these few suggestions will help bridge the extrovert-introvert gap. Putting up with the very real differences may be a challenge, but when each partner understands the other’s underlying needs, they can become advocates instead of adversaries.

Lisa Betz

Lisa Betz is a Bible study leader, writer, and unashamed introvert who enjoys helping people understand the sometimes-bewildering workings of introverted brains. She and her husband of almost thirty years live in an empty nest perched on a wooded Pennsylvania hillside. To Learn more about the writer, lisaebetz.com.

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