Couple sitting together, one is engaged and the other looks bored

Five Tips for a Great Introvert-Extrovert Relationship

by Jeannie Assimos - January 24, 2012

Today’s guest blogger is Susan Cain, author of QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, available today!

Are you an introvert dating or married to an extrovert? Or an extrovert in love with an introvert? If so, you’re in good company.

Many successful couples are introvert-extrovert pairs. The two types are often drawn to each other out of a sense of mutual delight. One extrovert I interviewed for my book, “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” described her introverted husband as “the anchor of her world.”  Extroverts report that introverts give them permission to explore their serious, introspective sides. Introverts, on the other hand, often feel grateful that their extroverted partners make the atmosphere light-hearted and casual – and that they do so much of the talking.

But these mixed-type couples can run into a predictable set of misunderstandings. Here they are – and how to handle them:

1. How much to socialize: What do you do when one person wants to go out and the other to stay home? This was the number one complaint I heard from the dozens of introvert-extrovert couples I interviewed for my book.  It seems like an intractable problem, but it’s often possible to find a middle ground.  Negotiate in advance the amount of socializing you’ll do as a couple on any given weekend, month, or year. Then stick to your plan. That way, you don’t have to argue about it night after night. In my book, I tell the story of a husband who wanted to host a dinner party every Friday night, and a wife who hated giving parties. They agreed to have two dinner parties a month, with the husband doing most of the prep work. They also decided to go with buffet-style dinners rather than seating guests at a single table. This enabled the wife to have more one-on-one conversations, instead of feeling compelled to “perform” in front of a larger group.

2. How much to talk after a long day of work: At the end of the day, extroverts often come home longing for conversation, while introverts need to recharge alone. These differences can leave extroverts feeling abandoned, and introverts feeling pressured. A first step toward achieving compromise is for each partner to grant that the other’s needs are legitimate—to recognize that this is not a case of stubbornness but rather of genuinely different temperaments. Then the challenge is to accommodate each other’s needs. One idea is for the extrovert to grant the introvert an hour of private time at the end of the day. Having replenished himself, he may feel better able to energetically engage with his partner. 

3. How to handle conflicts: Extroverts tend to be “confrontive” copers, while introverts are more likely to withdraw at the first sign of conflict. This can leave introverts feeling harassed, and extroverts feeling stonewalled. The solution? Each partner needs to take a page from the other’s playbook. Extroverts should count to ten before raising issues calmly and respectfully –and consider letting some grievances go unaired. A raised voice will likely make it harder for an introvert to listen to what you are saying; her fight-or-flight instincts will be aroused. Introverts need to understand that locking horns can be a sign of respect, and even love. Your partner wants to resolve your differences instead of leaving them to fester. By engaging, you can show that you share that commitment to resolving differences.

4. How loud should the radio be?: This is a big one in my own marriage. My extroverted husband likes to blast the radio when we drive, and like many introverts, I prefer soft music. This conflict can make a simple trip across town feel like a bad sitcom, with my husband and I turning the volume up and down every chance we get. The only solution here is compromise: taking turns at controlling the radio – or finding a volume that works for both partners. If the same issue comes up at home—perhaps in the kitchen or in bed at night—one person could agree to wear headphones.

5. How to laugh at your differences: One of the primary differences between introverts and extroverts is how much stimulation they prefer. Introverts generally appreciate less stimulating environments–-a glass of wine with a close friend rather than a loud party full of strangers. This difference can come up in surprising ways. For instance, my husband and I have profoundly different reactions to airports. He speeds up, propelled forward by the noise, lights, and swirl of humanity. I slow down, feeling dazed and overwhelmed by the very same stimuli. Until we understood our differences, we wasted a lot of time telling each other to hurry up or slow down. Now we just think it’s funny.

Join the conversation at the Learn more about Cain’s fascinating new book,  QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.