As I was preparing for our daughter's seventh birthday party, I anxiously remarked to my husband, "There are 20 kids coming to the party and 10 who haven't RSVP'd yet!" I'm an introvert, so I'll give you the introvert translation: That's a lot of noise, activity and things to keep track of. I'm feeling so overwhelmed.
My husband is an extrovert. So when he heard me say this, he thought I was counting on having 30 kids there and that I really wanted the party to be huge. He responded, "I can get 10 more kids to come if I invite some people from work."
After nearly 15 years together, I am no longer surprised by my husband's extrovert ways, although it often still feels like we live in two different worlds. And the truth is, we do.
Introverts and extroverts experience the world in a very different way, and neither mode of existing is better than the other. We like to categorize ourselves as introverts or extroverts based on our basic social preferences and tendencies. But these behaviors are also indicative of the ways our brains work. Extroverts tend to rely on external brain stimuli in order to feel engaged and activated, whereas introverts often have so much internal brain stimuli that outside input can feel overwhelming.
I am by no means anti-social: I have amazing friends that I absolutely adore. But after a fun dinner, party or playdate with other moms and kids, I need quiet time to decompress, mentally process all that I've taken in and replenish my energy.
My husband is the opposite. He thrives in a group, a team, a party. He can work a room and feel on top of the world. I can work a room too, but then I need to lie down and recuperate.
Thank goodness my husband and I have come to understand these differences in our personalities. We are able to celebrate them rather than resent them. We've learned how to make sure we both get what we need, and here's what I recommend to other introvert-extrovert couples:
1. Spend time doing what you love, even if that means spending time apart.
After we get the kids to sleep in the evening, curling up in bed with a good book is my idea of heaven. But for my husband, it's party time. He wants to watch the game, crank the music, have people over, talk and have some laughs. So what do we do about it?
We have a deal. I respect his time to enjoy himself in the ways that work for him, and he respects mine. That means he goes out a lot more often than I do. It means I go hiking in the quiet redwood forest on Sundays while he plays beach volleyball with friends. We've released the stigma of spending time apart in favor of spending time feeling good. That way when we're together, we get to enjoy each other in our happiest states.
2. Plan ahead; that way you can ensure everyone's needs are met.
Map out your social calendar and discuss it with your partner ahead of time. Make a game plan so that you'll both be happy with the experience. Drive separately to a party if one person may want to leave earlier. The more extroverted person in the relationship may want to plan spontaneous social gatherings, and should do so with free reign as long as they don't impinge on the other person's time and space. The introverted person may want to plan out regular alone time so that it is in the schedule as a definite plan, and respected as much as any other item on the social calendar. A little planning goes a long way when it comes to meeting everyone's needs.
3. Create spaces in your home that nurture both of you.
In a home with both an introvert and an extrovert, it's important that each feel they have their space where they can have as little, or as much, stimuli as they crave. An introvert's environment may be designed to help prevent overwhelm by remaining streamlined and calm, without excess distraction. Whereas those naturally more inclined toward extroversion may want to surround themselves with mental stimuli to keep themselves alert and inspired. Even a small home can have designated quiet spaces and nominated noisy areas. Make sure to communicate your needs to one another.
4. Don't automatically take things personally.
Your partner should feel free to express their true nature, which has nothing to do with you or anyone else. You fell in love with this person and for good reason; introvert-extrovert couples balance each other beautifully and are often extremely compatible.
If your introvert partner needs quiet time at the end of a busy day, hates talking on the phone or doesn't want your friends to come over every weekend, it's not because they don't love you. Likewise, if your extrovert partner invites a friend from work along on your date, brings home some nice travelers from the pub, or takes you to a crowded bar for your birthday, it's just because they want to share the love.
5. Find the commonalities. And laugh at the differences.
What do you enjoy doing together? For us, it's getting out in nature, traveling to new places and spending time between the sheets. As for everything else, it's best to keep a sense of humor about it and be thankful for the times your partner gives you the opportunity to accept and celebrate your differences while still being true to yourself.