When I was thirty-years-old, I fell in love with an introvert named Adam. Resistant to being put in boxes, he pushed back: “I’m an ‘Adam-vert,’” he insisted. In some ways, I had been groomed to marry someone with more introverted tendencies. By the time I said “I do,” I had already formed a framework for what relationships with introverts looked like.
I’m an extrovert, but I’ve lived with introverts for the past twenty years. Freshman year of college, my roommate puzzled me. I didn’t understand how she could sit on her bed doing nothing as I flitted about joining every intramural sport, club, and interest group on campus. After college, I lived on a busy street in Chicago with two introverted roommates. Again, I’d rush in after a long day teaching middle school and find one of my roommates perched on the couch with her head on the back cushion. She wasn’t sleeping, she was doing something I couldn’t grasp: She was “being.” I didn’t get it. Shaking my head, I’d bustle into my own bedroom and toil away at my next task.
Where Do You Get Your Energy From?
Over the years I’ve seen how the simplest definition of introvertedness and extravertedness plays out in social events. When I spend time with people, I absorb the other person’s energy and I become energized myself, nearly to the point of bursting; when my husband spends time with people, his energy seeps out as if from a leaky hole. His energy is decidedly finite, often depleted by spending time with people. Unlike me, he approaches people with caution, acknowledging his limited social capacity. Once given, it’s gone. Like water draining out of a reservoir, he needs time for his reservoir to replenish before engaging with people again.
In my experience, hosting with an introverted spouse requires careful planning and set parameters. In our current season of life with three little ones who leech energy from us both, we know we can’t host more than once a week. We need a buffer of time on either end of our social engagements. When we do host, my husband knows he’ll have time to refuel before entering the world of people again.
Create Calm Spaces for Your Introverted Guests
When gathering groups, creating actual spaces to recharge provides breathing room for introverted spouses or guests. Last Christmas we hosted a Christmas party for our neighbors. Our next-door neighbor Jim texted before the party, “Will you have the Broncos game on?”
Although we watch plenty of T.V., we didn’t have a television in the living room where the party would gather. We were skeptical—wouldn’t the blaring football game distract from the holiday festivities? But at the last minute, we decided to honor Jim’s wishes.
We texted, “We’ll have the game on!”
During the party, we showed the football game in an adjacent room. Throughout the night, I noticed the introverts in the room wander over when their eyes began to glaze over from overstimulation. They’d stand in silence, holding their drinks, and eventually walk back over to join the crowd. Even my non-football-loving husband joined the quiet group for a few minutes as an excuse to collect himself before returning to the party.
Brainstorm Ways to Make Introverts Comfortable
Some spouses have an unspoken rule that when the more introverted spouse feels overwhelmed by communication, he or she can silently wander upstairs for twenty minutes before coming back down to join the group.
Being introverted doesn’t mean you’re antisocial or don’t enjoy people. Most introverts I know crave deep relationships—especially one-on-one, but loathe small talk. When extroverts plan events, perhaps we can provide ways for our guests to travel beyond small talk to delve into deeper conversations. Conversation starters, ice breakers, or intentional questions can move us from talking about our new sprinklers to exploring our souls.
I’m learning to appreciate my introverted husband’s wiring. He requires time away from people, including his wife and children, for a set amount of time each day to feel fully alive. Knowing this helps me not label his needs as “anti-social” or “rude.” For me as the more extroverted spouse, my husband helps keep me from burning out by overcommitting. As we abide by our unspoken and spoken personal social needs, we stay healthier. We navigate life in tandem—me, sometimes pushing him beyond his limits, and him often keeping me within mine. Understanding these principles about ourselves ensures we reserve emotional space for others so we can cultivate a culture of welcome in our family.
Here are some things to remember if you are extrovert married to an introvert:
- Communicate about your expectations, particularly concerning social events. Deciding on how many social events you can both comfortably commit to and providing a way for your introverted spouse to “get away” keeps you both on the same page.
- Respect your differences and be careful not to voice judgment. Remember that your personalities can balance one another (as God has designed).
- Let your personalities push each other to grow–we all need a little challenge sometimes!
Copyright (c) 2019 Leslie Verner, used with permission.