The Introvert-Extrovert Relationship Dynamic

17 07 2017

You already have some sense of what it means to be an introvert or an extrovert. If someone appears outgoing, loquacious, and charming, they are clearly an extrovert, right? While the quiet, thoughtful, reserved person in the corner is the introvert, who prefers one-on-one encounters, of course. If you are making assumptions based on this outward appearance, you may be getting it all wrong. This is why I often get mislabeled an extrovert.

My definition is quite simple. When you go out in a large crowd of people for an hour or two, or entertain a small group of friends for an evening, how do you feel afterward? I’m not asking if you enjoyed yourself- hopefully that answer is always yes! But do you feel satiated, maybe a little drained, and ready for some alone time to recover from being “on”? This makes you an introvert.


If you’re like my wife, however, you come home invigorated, excited, and pulsing with

energy! “What’s next?!?” is likely running through your brain, and you need time to let your brain finish mapping all the new connections you made in the evening’s many conversations. That makes you an extrovert! (Bethany is an extrovert times 10.)

Being in a relationship with a large discrepancy in your introvert/extrovert status can be challenging. Believe it or not, it is doable, and can be quite enjoyable! The key is recognizing that it’s difficult for BOTH people, at first. You will need to do a little legwork if you want this to be enjoyable.

You need to first understand your own emotional and physical needs, and learn how to effectively communicate your needs, while also listening to the other person’s (sometimes foreign-sounding) perspective. Living a happy life requires balancing the energy. After all, you likely love the person you’re with BECAUSE they balance you out. So in order to preserve this complimentary relationship, you must learn how to respect the Yin to your Yang.

Be aware that, like almost everything in life, there is a broad spectrum between introversion and extroversion. It’s not one or the other. You may find that some of these feel more or less relevant to you individually, because your personality is defined by far more than this one aspect.



The Extrovert

For the extrovert, she may feel like she has to compromise to stay in with her partner when she’d rather go out. She may feel torn between fulfilling her own needs for social interaction, and allowing the introvert to have enough down time. She might also feel like it is her role, as the extrovert, to be the social planner, to enrich the introvert’s life with as much fun as possible!

What you need to know about yourself

You’re often the life of the party, telling stories that make people laugh, and planning the next get-together at the end of the evening. People often assume that you have thousands of friends, and are way too busy to hang out with them one-on-one, so they never ask. You may spend so much time in group settings that you don’t feel like you have many really close friends, even though any one of your circle would jump at a chance to help you.

Even though you crave that social interaction, it is also important to allow yourself time to sit quietly and reflect internally. It doesn’t take much down time for you to balance out all your social time. Force your monkey mind to slow down, and instead of thinking about “what’s next?” relive the great experiences you recently had. What part of your week was your favorite? Why? It may feel forced at first, but doing this for just 30-60 minutes at the end of your week will help you to appreciate all the wonderful things you experienced even more, and enable you to recognize what truly makes you the happiest, so you can be more selective in the future.

Going out may be critical to your mental health. Even though you might feel guilty about indulging in too many activities, these are an important part of feeding your soul. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make adjustments. Tight budget? Invite friends to meet you for a picnic instead of dropping $20 on dinner out. It’s the social aspect you crave, and that can take many different forms. You need other people because they elevate your own energy level, allowing you to feel happier and be more productive.

When my wife and I went through a tight financial period, we slashed our budget for dining out. She worked from home, so she lost her only lifeline to the rest of the world. We quickly realized that this was affecting her mental state significantly, and came up with a compromise. Instead of us both going out with friends for dinner twice a week, she became a regular at the local coffee shop, allowing her to fulfill her social needs by herself, on a much smaller budget. I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t usually have time to go there on weekdays, so I’m not missing out either. And coffee is cheaper than a therapist. Win-win!

Let your partner know what your needs are, and don’t be afraid to take care of yourself independently. Find group activities that you know they have no interest in, and make connections that allow you to interact with others, without taking away from activities you enjoy doing together.

What you need to know about your beloved introvert

Your introverted partner would do anything to make you happy. Your energetic personality gives them joy, and elevates them, much in the same way you feel energized by larger groups of friends. They may push their own limits, going out frequently, choosing to spend what little down time they do have with you, instead of spending much-needed time alone. When they do this for too long, they become run-down, exhausted (and maybe cranky).

introvert timeEncourage them to have their alone time. It may mean that they go for a walk by themselves, or work in the yard, or simply lay down on the couch while you’re in the other room working on something else. Their need to be alone is not a rejection of you. You need to have a clear conversation and tell them (repeatedly) that it’s okay for them to ask to stay home while you go out and take care of your own social needs.

While you may want to verbalize everything, introverts often enjoy silence. At some point, your chatter (directed at no one but yourself) becomes mental clutter. Every time you say something, their brain wants to be attentive and alert, and it take mental energy for them to listen to you, even when you’re just muttering to yourself, “Was that David who just walked past? Nope, nope, just someone who looks similar.” If you can cut back on verbalizing things that are not intended for them to respond to, it helps them to relax.


The Introvert

Sometimes people mistakenly think that you don’t value their friendship, or don’t want to spend time with them. You frequently don’t respond to invites for events until the day of, because you never know if you’ll have enough energy to go out. You usually have a good time when you do venture out, but you know that you need to be in the right mindset to enjoy yourself.

You feel pressure by others to join them. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” they try to persuade you. It probably will be, but, much like going out and over indulging on drinks, you don’t want to regret it the next day. When you’re already at your threshold for social interaction, if you push yourself further, you will feel utterly exhausted and unproductive the next day. You sometimes feel like a bad friend for skipping out on so many things, and fear that eventually you might stop getting invited.

14322695_1256787684403853_1054437703607303099_nYou need to understand the physical way that social interactions affect you. Listen to your body. It’s perfectly okay to take your down time. You need significantly more down time than extroverts. This doesn’t mean you must be anti-social, but you can learn to create a safe space for interacting on your own terms. While a party where you only know one person might make you cringe, you can focus on spending quality time with the friends you already have. Did you skip out on your friend’s birthday party? Follow up the next day and invite them to join you for a nice walk to catch up! Instead of waiting for group invitations you don’t want, be proactive at inviting one or two friends for something more your speed.

While it’s important to know what your body needs, you can choose to strengthen and train your social skills. If you know that your introversion may be limiting you- from either making new friends, or learning something new, or networking and advancing your career- it’s up to you to decide whether its worth it to sacrifice a little bit of your down time, temporarily, for the sake of reaching that goal. I’m not going to say that it’s easy to learn to feign extroversion, but over 10 years, I have reached a point where I’m commonly mistaken for an extrovert. It’s helped me to grow professionally and personally, and it was worth the small sacrifice, in my case.

You don’t have to play by extrovert rules, just observe what they do and put your own twist on it. I loathe small talk, so when I had to network in my mid-twenties, I came up with lists of quirky, interesting facts, about either myself or the world, that empowered me to steer conversations into an area where I felt more control. And it worked.

What you need to know about your beloved extrovert

You admire them for their ability to be effortlessly charming and outgoing. Their confidence may boost your own, allowing you to be a bit more comfortable putting yourself out there. You should be careful not to become reliant on them for that, or risk falling into a dependent relationship.

13507146_10210053131315044_8251726965732768012_nJust because they like to go out and talk to everybody, does not mean that they think less of you. They need this social interaction just as much as you need your alone time. Don’t take it personally, and do not use their extroversion against them in disagreements. Most importantly, you need to have trust in your relationship. If you find yourself getting nervous that they are going out because you’re not good enough, then you need to turn your focus inward. Until you see and appreciate your inherent value as a person, and love yourself independently, you will continue to struggle to give your extrovert the trust and freedom they need to go out without you.

While you spend much more time structuring thoughts in side your head, extroverts often verbalize way more, and it is often more for themselves than for you. You want to be a good listener, which can make it hard to tune them out when they are not talking with/at you. This will be hard for extroverts to understand, since they may not even realize they are talking out loud. Let them know why this can be mentally exhausting for you, or remove yourself from the situation if you find it too stressful to filter them out.


The Sweet Spot


At its best, you will find that there is a delightful balance between the two of you, where the introvert feels more confident and enjoys more social interactions, and the extrovert learns to find peace in stillness, to reflect and grow individually. We all need a balance of this yin and yang, even if the balance is heavier on one side or the other for different people.

Find the things about your partner that you admire because they are things you aren’t so good at. Ask them to help teach you how to enjoy those things, so that you can grow as an individual. Allow them the freedom and trust to take care of themselves, without jealousy or resentment.

Always, ALWAYS put yourself first. You cannot be a good partner if you are not balanced internally. Your own well being is key to a successful relationship.



Introverted in Indy

11 08 2014

One year ago this month, I kissed my wife goodbye, packed up my car, and drove to a strange city to start a new job in sustainability. The introvert in me cringed at the thought of having to leave behind my rich tapestry of friends back in Michigan. I had found a community that, for the first time in my life, really felt like “home.” Ypsilanti was so good to me, that I was terrified to leave.


Unfortunately, I had no choice. My job was miserable. I was miserable. I came home each day exhausted from the toxic environment and the anxiety-inducing daily commute to Detroit and back on I-94. I knew that I could not stay at that job without becoming a withered shell of myself, no matter how much of a sanctuary my home and community created for me. Work is such a huge part of our lives, that I knew enough to prioritize finding a better fit. I just did not expect to find that fit in Indiana.


After being selected as a finalist for several great jobs located closer to home, but not getting the position, I expanded my search. I was very strict about what type of job I would take. If it meant relocating, I would only consider it for a dream job that I would be passionate about. Life is too short for a bad fit. Then I was approached for this sustainability position with Purdue.


10492426_677134702369157_7868290351175616890_nBefore I even agreed to come down for my final interview, I did my homework. I checked the stats on Indianapolis, searched for quality of life indicators that are important to me, and, well, I was impressed. In fact, on a number of aspects, Indy compared well to Austin, another favorite city of mine. The only thing I did not expect, was that when I drove down to interview and spend the weekend experiencing the city, it felt way further south than Indiana.


As Bethany & I walked the streets of downtown Indy, I heard southern twangs- some subtle, some strong- reminiscent of my childhood in Durant, Oklahoma. People here carried themselves with that same southern hospitality. Perfect strangers were polite! They held doors, smiled as we passed, and struck up casual conversations. When they learned we were from Michigan, folks leaped at the chance to tell us all the great things about their city, and why we should move here. In fact, one of our dear friends, Cindy, met us that very first Friday night as we were sampling wine in a cellar below a liquor store just three blocks from her town home. Most importantly, we walked holding hands, being ourselves, and were encountered with nothing but love from this city. So, I took the job.


Those first 3 months of living here alone were hard. I spent a lot of time driving back to Michigan on weekends. I was overwhelmed learning a new state, new job, house hunting, and trying to make new friends. I pushed myself- hard- to get out and meet people. I stretched my limits beyond what 23-year-old-introvert-me could have ever imagined.


10390266_797115186967272_2213055492363398838_nI became engaged in the fight for equal marriage in Indiana. I joined every relevant sustainability group I could find. I joined Meetup, and forced myself to go out by myself to strike up conversations with strangers who shared interests. I walked the streets of Fountain Square every night after work, observing my new community, and stopping to introduce myself to neighbors. People were really nice once I explained that I was new and just moved here!


1013708_589810657768229_313667675_nHere’s a perfect example of what it’s like as a natural introvert. One day, there was a big rally after work to celebrate a marriage equality victory and grow support. It was cold, and dark, and I wanted to just go home, but I didn’t. I made myself go downtown. I stood in a large crowd, filled with groups of friends and happy couples, but I was painfully alone. I had no one to share with, and could not find anyone to talk to easily. I wanted to hide in the corner. After the rally, people were supposedly gathering at the local gay bar, Metro. I texted Bethany and debated going. She urged me to celebrate on my own. I wished she was there with me. After sitting in my car for 10 minutes, I finally worked up the courage to go to a bar alone. It was practically empty. Instead of turning around and leaving, I walked up to the bar, and fumbled for an excuse to say something to the happy couple next to me. The victory was sweet, but my fear was bitter. Not only did I survive, but I actually had a very nice conversation with the folks next to me. It’s just overcoming that first hurdle and the lump in my throat that never goes away as an introvert.


970541_538055309610431_930777581_nThis does not come easy or natural to me. I work very hard to make friends and acquaintances. I come home from work and all I want to do is work in my garden, or curl up with the pets and work on my art or writing while listening to music. Instead, I push myself to go out to numerous events, and later return exhausted and drained. This is the definition of an introvert, in my book. Being around lots of people is EXHAUSTING for me, but for Bethany it is ENTHRALLING! It was a relief, when Bethany would come to visit me. We would go out at restaurants and she couldn’t resist telling someone she liked their necklace, and then asked if they lived nearby, and then explained that we are new to the area. She leaves with a few new friends every single time we go out! She makes it looks SO easy. That’s part of why I love her so much, and why we balance each other out.


I’ve worked hard over the past 10 years to learn how to make small talk without seeming awkward. I remember being annoyed at the meaningless drivel that is ‘small talk.’ “Get to the point!” I would think. I didn’t want to invest my time and energy in a conversation that did not result in something. As I began working, I realized that this was impacting my professional networking. All the successful people around me were loquacious, charming, and funny. And thus began my mission to become extrovert-esque.


It’s interesting to realize, now that I’ve been here one year, that most of my new Indiana friends think I’m an extrovert. They never knew me before, and all they really see of me is when I am ‘on.’  If I am an introvert, why am I so outgoing, and cheerful, and why do I pull other introverts out on the dance floor? That’s easy for me to answer… despite the hard work, it pays off! I have FUN when I pretend I’m an extrovert.

I live more.

I smile more.

I laugh more.

I dance more!1554378_695642937185000_99580933321624744_n

I’m more youthful, and active.

I no longer worry about what other people will think of me, because, I learned this amazing secret: If you live life with a smile, your joy shines through, and nothing else matters.


I used to be terrified of dancing in public. I was horrified that others would be looking at me, and judging me. In grad school, I was blessed to meet my dear friend, Raina. She danced without a care, flailing about with impossibly silly gestures, and having a blast! Only then, one the dance floor in Austin with her, did I finally feel safe enough to get out there and dance, knowing that, surely, SHE was the one people would be distracted by, and I could dance under the radar. Now, I make myself the center of attention to make other people feel more comfortable. That is a gift that others gave to me in my introverted 20s, and now I want to share that gift with others.


I have a perfect extroverted role model who now lives with me again in this new city we call home. Bethany impresses me constantly with her lack of hesitation to reach out and be vulnerable. I, too, have learned to take social risks, and I am rich in social dividends.

291833_388583231224307_1058986565_nSo, yes, I am an introvert. If you give me a choice between going out to a party or inviting a couple of friends over for a glass of wine and a game of Carcassonne, I’ll pick my home 9 times out of 10. Just because I get exhausted when I’m too social, doesn’t mean I don’t also love it. It just means that I need to have more balance and moderation than an extrovert. Right now, in this new place, I’m really enjoying the balance.

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