I live my life in a suit Monday through Friday. It’s a high stress, highly competitive environment and often I am not home until 9 pm. Then I grab a beer and microwave whatever take-out is left in the fridge. I mindlessly devour my leftover dinner at the computer where I tackle emails until I faceplant into the keyboard.
So as you can imagine, by the time Friday night rolls around I am ready to rip off my tie and cut loose. I want to head to a club or a party and just get rid of all the tension from the week. On weekends I want nothing more than to barbecue with friends or attend a sports event.
The problem? My partner never wants to do these things. I don’t understand it. She is a copy editor for a major newspaper, so her week is pretty stressful as well. But come Friday night, she just wants to don her yoga pants and curl up with a book and the cat. She would be happy to spend all weekend in a Netflix haze or writing her novel, never making contact with another living soul.
I try to compromise and stay home some weekends, but I get cabin fever by noon on Saturday. Sometimes she tries to compromise and tags along on whatever crazy adventure my friends and I have concocted for the day. But it’s clear that she is miserable and doesn’t want to be there.
I just don’t understand why she doesn’t want to go out and have some fun after a long workweek. Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with her.
—Funless in Seattle
Dr. Donna Says . . .
This is clearly a situation where no one is wrong, but you two are different in a very fundamental way. It boils down to an aspect of temperament—the personality characteristic of introversion vs. extraversion. This characteristic represents a cornerstone of personality psychology and is an aspect of many of the widely accepted personality measurements (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator MBTI, Big Five Model, Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire 16PF, etc.). It can be thought of as existing on a continuum with extremes on either end, and a lot of room in between. But generally a person favors one over the other.
Often the words are misused in casual conversation. We consider an introvert to be a shy, nerdy wallflower and an extravert to be the outgoing life of the party. But the real essence of this trait centers around how a person reenergizes. Introverts naturally reboot their psyches by temporarily withdrawing from the outside world and turning inward for quiet reflection. While they can be very social, the interaction drains them and they must have their down-time away from the hustle and bustle of group activities.
Conversely, extraverts (also spelled extroverts) have the opposite experience of being around other people and engaging in group activities. Interaction with others is what recharges them. Solitude saps their energy.
Essentially, these two personality types truly experience the world differently. It can be hard to understand how the very same activity can feel so different to another person. But, it does. Recent research in neuropsychology has focused on how the brains operate differently, particularly with respect to responding to stimulation and differing set-points for normal levels of attention and arousal.
The two personality types truly experience the world differently. It can be hard to understand how the very same activity can feel so different to another person.
In any event, the struggle is real, regardless of its origins. You, as an extravert will not generally find the same satisfaction in the quiet, solitary activates that bring so much joy and relaxation to your partner. And vice-versa.
The key is to recognize that these are natural tendencies of temperament, not the other person being stubborn or inflexible. Understanding how each of you cope with stress will help you devise a practical plan. Instead of forcing yourselves to participate in activities that will just add to your stress, allow each other the space to reenergize in the ways that come naturally to your individual personalities. Then you will find that you’ll be in a better place psychologically and emotionally to engage in your common interests.
While you probably already have an idea where you and your partner fall on the introvert-extravert spectrum just by the descriptions, these sites offer quick online tests to give you greater insight:
Someone Once Said . . .
“Telling an introvert to go to a party is like telling a saint to go to Hell.”
―Criss Jami, Killosophy
For more info on the topic of Introversion and Extraversion personality types take a look at these titles (synopses from Amazon.com):
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain—Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture.
I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You: The Real Meaning of the 16 Personality Types by Sarah Albritton and Roger Pearman—Focusing on individual tendencies, this new analysis of the MBTI-type indicator shows how personal preferences affect our interactions with others.
Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types by David Keirsey—This book will be a quick introduction to personality typing the Myers-Briggs way—with a Jungian accent. After presenting a brief rundown of 20th-century psychology movements, Keirsey and Bates encourage you to take the 70-question “Keirsey Temperament Sorter,” a sort of mini-Myers-Briggs test that places you in 1 of 16 personality types. Like the Myers-Briggs system, this test sorts your personality into groups of extraversion/introversion (E/I), sensation/intuition (S/N), thinking/feeling (T/F), and perceiving/judging (P/J).
Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers—Written by the creators of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, this book explains the essential personality types and their practical significance in your daily life; in school, at a job, in a career, or in your personal relationships.
Questions for Dr. Donna? Send them to