Disclaimer: In writing this post, I have explored several general qualities and differences of introverts and extroverts, understanding that–to some degree–all introversion and extroversion is on a varying continuum, some qualities more pronounced than others. It is entirely true that some extroverts can have introvert qualities and vice versa. It is not my intention to oversimplify a very complex topic.
If my husband and I were to take every disagreement we’ve had in the last 11 years of our marriage, we can basically focus most of them down to one neat and tidy theme–his extroversion utterly exhausts my introversion. And vice versa. Don’t get me wrong, I love my giant man-child, but we are incredibly different in so many ways, and it has taken many years for us to somewhat understand the nature of the other. Luckily, I am older now–possibly a bit wiser–and I think I finally have the words Hubby wishes he had 11 years ago.
So extroverts, this is for you.
Here are six important things to help you understand and love your adorable introvert:
One of the important differences between introversion and extroversion lies in the way in which both derive energy. Remember playing Super Mario when you were a kid? There was nothing better than getting Powered Up by the mushroom. Then, you could jump higher and run faster, ensuring a more successful finish of the current level. For extroverts, their giant mushroom is being around people. Lots and lots of people. All the time. They are fed by the laughter and joy of others. “The more the merrier” isn’t just a saying; it’s everything.
Introverts, on the other hand, get their energy within the quiet stillness of silence and solitude. Being alone allows them to recharge, explore their thinking, read books, and other singular activities. For me, this time of selective loneliness is incredibly welcome after spending the week “on call” to the demands of education–a job I love, but one that can be draining of an introvert’s energy. When surrounded by people for extended periods of time, our minds are like over-worked muscles in need of a break. It’s not that we hate being around people (an entirely false assumption others often make), it’s just that we need an energy recharge before we can to do it again with fervor. Like the “Power Up” mushroom, stillness allows us to face the next challenge with ferocity.
What you can do:
Give your loved one an hour or two each weekend to be alone–not because she doesn’t love you but because she needs it to love you better.
Every now and again, forgo the giant group hangout in favor of hanging out at home, watching a movie, vegging on the couch, and eating snacks.
Every now and again, encourage your introvert to get out and hang out! That’s why introverts need an extrovert in their lives. Social connection is important for our humanity, and even introverts need a little social connection.
Substance Talk Over Small Talk
Hubby loves to call me throughout the day and chit chat for a couple of minutes each time. “Hey, how’s it going? What are you doing? I am just driving. I am about to eat lunch.” (For the record, he does this with his mom also.) He drives and works independently for a lot of his day, and as an extrovert, he gets bored and needs that human connection (see Energy Source above.) Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that he wants to check in with me 47 times a day. It’s cute. But, for an introvert, this type of interaction can be a tad draining. We much prefer substance talk over small talk. There is nothing more exhausting than talking about the weather in the checkout line or running into a colleague/old friend at dinner, “How’s your mom and dad? What you up to these days? How’s life treating you?” Again, we want to talk to you, but these types of stilted conversations can be surface level when introverts want depth of the human connection, more than breadth. Give us some quality topics, and you can’t shut us up, though! Politics? Education? Current events? Books? The difference between the “mind” and the “soul?” We’d love to talk to you about those things! For hours. I am not saying one has to speak their professor voice to engage us, but when we ask about your life, we truly want to know about your hopes and dreams and disappointments. Like surgeons, we want to open you up and inspect you fully. Weird metaphor–I know–but true, nonetheless.
What you can do:
Create an environment in which you feel comfortable talking about in-depth, quality topics that interest your significant other.
Ask questions about their passions! Be it education, politics, families, or moon phases, introverts want to have conversations.
Remind them that small talk is simply your way of regularly creating a connection throughout the day. When you explain this as a part of who you are, we listen.
Because introverts are inward-turning by nature, they spend a great deal of their time examining themselves, their strengths and weakness. In the process of self-discovery, they seek to better understand what motivates them and their behaviors. Consequently, they know what their passions are and want to spend time developing and growing their aptitude in those areas. For me, it is education. I am an educational research junkie! I could spend all day reading and writing about education, seeking to grow into a more knowledgeable instructional coach and teacher. For others, it might be cars or interior design or lawn care. Whatever the passion, introverts can wax poetic about it all day.
In turn, they understand their weakness and seek to improve themselves in that area. I knew pretty early in my life that I was an introvert. When other girls wanted to play Barbies with others, I wanted to sit by myself and invent my own storyline. I could play for hours by myself. As I got into high school, I much preferred being at home by myself or with a small group of friends than being in a big group. Sleepovers were demanding and exhausting for me. In being an introvert, though, I realized that this desire for solitude could potentially hamper me from reaching my goals, so worked very hard to allow extroversion a place inside me. Since then, I have learned how to enjoy groups and follow that up with a space for solitude, something I need to better serve my teachers and students and be a better wife and mother.
An introvert’s awareness of strengths and weaknesses can also manifest itself in negative ways. This understanding has the potential to make introverts hyper-critical of themselves and of others. The recognition of a failing can sometimes be debilitating. They might work feverishly to change that part of themselves, or it could render them incapacitated from participating in the things they enjoy. Also, we occasionally make the assumption that others are as critical of themselves as we are of ourselves. This is something that can create distance in relationships with others. Our high standards inadvertently get foisted onto others, making it difficult to navigate the waters of social connection.
What you can do:
Encourage your partner’s passions! Buy them books about the topic they’re interested in, learn about the subject, create experiences where they can cultivate their love of this passion.
Don’t destroy their passion for this subject by belittling it. If they want to talk about the varying types of flora and fauna in Southeast Texas or the best type of essential oil for burns and blisters, listen to them.
Don’t let them be so hard on themselves or you. Tell them it’s ok to not be perfect. Encourage a growth mindset with your loved one, but let them know that it’s ok to let something go–something we find very difficult to do.
In an extension of the above, introverts are often hyper-focused. Once they set their mind toward a goal, they commit. They commit so hard. You can always count on an introvert to run their dreams down and capture them with both hands! If they dream of writing a book, they write a book. If they dream of being a stay at home mom, they figure out a way to make it work. This laser-vision on a singular goal is what makes them annoyingly special. But, it is also why they find it hard to take a break from writing their doctoral thesis (or this blog) to take a vacation, or why they are in a hurry to rush to work and complete a presentation that isn’t due for a couple of days or even weeks.
It’s not that we don’t want to spend time with you, it’s that we have established a goal and a time frame, and we have to complete the task before we can concentrate on relaxation (sort of oxymoronic, I know.) Otherwise, the unfinished task will consume our waking (and–sometimes–sleeping) moments, leaving us unable to focus on more important things like board games with the family or enjoying new experiences. Coupled with our intense desire for perfection, this hyper-focus can sometimes lead to extraordinary stress for the introvert and–in effect–frustration for the extrovert.
What you can do:
Encourage your partner to pursue their dreams! It invigorates them to achieve their goals, reminding them of their power.
Help them reach their goals. Whether through taking the kiddos for a couple of hours or by joining them in their quest for success, they appreciate that you appreciate this quality.
Remind them to stop and smell the roses, even when they don’t think they have time.
When Hubby and I were pregnant with K, we were pretty solid in our desire to have a healthy baby over one gender or another. However, upon hearing that Hubby’s first baby would be a boy, he gave a loud “WHOOP!” and promptly lifted the X-Ray technician into a giant, crushing hug, gave her a little shake back and forth, and put her back on her feet. He, later, proceeded to high five anyone he passed, including doctors, nurses, and random people sitting in the waiting room. That moment exemplifies how he feels every emotion–to the extreme. If he’s happy, he’s incandescent. If he’s angry, he is flaming. He is a true extrovert in this respect, emotions always at the ready and visible for all to see.
Where extroverts tend to explode with whatever emotion they are feeling, introverts hang onto the emotions and marinate on them. Still waters run deep for introverts. They tend to be cautious, reflective, and even calm with their emotions, thinking through the ins and outs of that emotion before displaying it. Even when they do feel strongly about something, they are typically reserved on the outside–even if turbulent on the inside. After finding out that baby K was a boy, I was joyous. But, Hubby kept saying, “Oh my gosh! Aren’t you excited?!?!” Of course! I was ecstatic, but I relished my joy in silence and serenity, dreaming of the house filled with a rambunctious little boy and his man-child father, imagining tiny baby boy snuggles. I certainly did not assault the X-Ray Tech over it (a story that we still laugh about regularly.)
What you can do:
When you buy your introvert something nice, and they don’t jump up and down screaming, it doesn’t mean they don’t love the gift or the thought behind it.
Don’t take their emotions at “face” value. Probe with questions to ensure you can get to the bottom of what they are truly feeling.
Remind them that it’s ok to “hoot and holler” with happiness, scream in anger, and sob in sadness. It’s good for an introvert’s soul to let those emotions out.
When my husband and I hit a particularly rough patch in our marriage, we began seeking out ways to help us navigate our extraordinary differences. In doing so, we both took the 5 Love Languages quiz (https://www.5lovelanguages.com/). What we found is that we have entirely different ways of speaking and hearing love. For him, a true extrovert, “words of affirmation” gave him the outside validation he needed. In truth, most extroverts operate similarly; they are extrinsically motivated–whether in marriage, at their job, or in life. Extroverts want you to be proud of them, and they are invigorated by the praise of others–something I needed to learn about my husband.
Introverts, on the other hand, tend to get their validation from inside themselves. Where extroverts want others to be proud of them, introverts want to feel proud of themselves. We want to see the fruits of our labors in the world around us. Self-starters by nature, we picture our goals, pursue them, and find joy when the work is accomplished. While it’s certainly nice to hear that other people appreciate us and our work, we don’t have to have it to continue doing the work. Sometimes, however, we make the poor assumption that others are similarly motivated. We want the extrovert to want to do the dishes without our request/direction. We assume others are self-starters, and we sometimes forget to provide the outside validation our extroverts desperately need. We might forget to tell you how much we appreciate you doing the dishes–even if we had to ask you to do it.
What you can do:
Don’t laugh when they pick up another task to complete, and don’t be frustrated when they seem to work feverishly on their varied tasks in lieu of spending time with you. It’s not that they don’t love you.
Tell your partner you appreciate them. Even though they don’t need outside validation, it is still nice to have.
Remind them that you do need to hear you are appreciated. We don’t mean to forget about your needs, but we are sometimes so inward-looking that we forget.
Mostly, it’s important to realize that what makes you both different is also what makes you unique and interesting. Having such varied interests and needs, while demanding, can also help you grow into better, more well-rounded people. Without my extrovert husband, I wouldn’t have had such wonderful opportunities to meet so many great people. I would be less successful at my demanding job. I would be a less-than mom.
I would likely be a cat lady, living in a hermitage, reading books, and eating snacks.
“An extrovert looks at a stack of books and sees a stack of papers, while an introvert looks at the same stack and sees a soothing source of escape.” –Eric Samuel Timm