Myers-Briggs Compatibility: Does It Matter In Relationships?
Romantic relationships are a vital part of our lives, so it makes sense that we'd want to maximize our chance of finding the best possible life partner. But is there a way to use science and psychology to give us an edge? Many people feel that the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) is a tool to figure this out.
Although you're probably not asking someone about their MBTI before a first date, knowing it can be a shortcut to more information about a potential partner's personality. Let's dive into some of the basics on Myers-Briggs relationship compatibility.
The basics of Myers-Briggs personality types.
The MBTI is based on four dimensions: extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Your type is a combination of each of these qualities, and it's based on how you answer 93 questions. There are a total of 16 possible personality types.
Extroversion/introversion speaks to how you get your energy. Enlivened by crowds, parties, and spending time with others? You're likely an extrovert. If you prefer to re-energize through quiet time and solitary pursuits, introversion probably describes you better. Most of us are probably a mix of the two, but your type depends on which one you tend to gravitate toward more.
Sensing/intuition is your style of information gathering. More factual and detail-oriented? That suggests sensing. Acting on intuition means you tend to lean more toward abstract thinking and interpretation.
Thinking/feeling is all about decision making. Logical, fact-based decisions are a sign of thinking, while feeling is concentrated on values, emotions, and relationships.
Judging/perceiving looks at how you tend to approach your life. All about structure, schedules, and clear expectations? You're judging. Flexibility, spontaneity, and the art of the possible are hallmarks of the perceiving type.
How to decide what type you are.
The Myers-Briggs Foundation has developed a list of common characteristics of the 16 personality types. If you haven’t taken the test, scrolling through these descriptions may give you a sense of your personality type, but heads up: You'll likely see aspects of yourself in many different combinations.
For example, I did a quick review of the descriptions for myself and couldn't decide between these two:
"ENFJ: Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.
"INFP: Idealistic, loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened. Forceful in presenting their ideas."
Notice that I chose both an extroversion and an introversion type. How can that be? When I completed the actual test, I’m an ENFJ but just barely. My extroversion/introversion answers are split almost down the middle, and the same is true for my intuition/sensing and judging/perceiving dimensions. The only clear-cut consistency is in thinking/feeling.
Another word of caution: Not everyone is a whole-hearted fan of the MBTI. There's a camp of psychologists who believe the 16 different personality types aren't a comprehensive, reliable determination of personality. Ideally, taking a psychological test one day and repeating it six or 12 months later should give pretty similar results, but that doesn't always hold true with the MBTI.
However, most of us can agree that information like that presented in the MBTI type can help us focus on areas of personal growth over time.
What's the evidence about MBTI compatibility?
Research has shown that having two personality types in common may make for the best combinations. Specifically, if you and your partner are the same in sensing/judging (ESTJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ISFJ) or intuition/feeling (ENFP, INFP, ENFJ, INFJ), there's a greater than 70 percent chance of compatibility. The way your potential partner approaches the world and communicates (similar in sensing/intuition) is another good indicator of initial attraction.
On the other side of the spectrum, differences in extroversion/introversion may cause the most conflict in long-term relationships. Opposites in this dimension may really enjoy each other in the beginning, but over the long haul, the stay-home-vs.-go-out debate can result in repeated friction.
A (potential) good Myers-Briggs matchup.
If your type includes intuitive, feeling, and perceiving (ENFP and INFP—adaptable, curious, and interested in supportive relationships), there's a good chance you'll match well with someone who's sensing, feeling, and judging (ESFJ and ISFJ—conscientious, concerned about meeting the needs of others, preferring harmony).
A few problematic Myers-Briggs pairs.
As an ESFJ, loyalty and commitment are paramount. Matched with an ISTP (logical thinker, less interpersonally oriented), roadblocks in relationships may center around the ESFJ's need to be needed (since from the ISTP's perspective, that's an indicator of insecurity and a big turnoff).
In a similar vein, an INFP is often all about personal values. When their partner is in tune with those values, everything's golden. But an ESTJ (practically oriented with clear logical standards) might pose a problem by needing to be right, prompting a stand-off between values and standards.
Overall, some overlap in MBTI type may help ease the way, but before you narrow your search to the "best" type match for you, remember that mutual respect, good communication, common interests, and a strong friendship are still the best predictors of a successful relationship.
Another fun area to apply your Myers-Briggs type? Home design. Here are a few ideas for further expressing your personality in your space.
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Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP, is a board-certified clinical psychologist with a background in neuroscience. She is the Director of Clinical Training at Bay Path University, and an associate professor in graduate psychology. Hallett has a private practice in Suffield, Connecticut, and over 25 years of experience providing psychotherapy, consultation, and supervision to medical and mental health professionals in addressing relationship and major life issues with a specialty in complex trauma and dissociative disorders.
Hallett is also an executive coach, host of the Be Awesome podcast, and author of two books. She's passionate about stress reduction and self-care. Access her free guide to being stress smart and becoming your own best friend.