This one should be fun to look at as Verlynda and I personally sit on opposite sides of the field on this issue! But, as it turns out, there may even be some hope for folks like us!
It’s a classic scenario: you’ve got a free evening and one of you wants to go and hang out with friends and the other would rather curl up on the couch and watch Netflix. Or one of you is having the time of their life at a party and the other is secretly gritting their teeth through the entire thing.
When you have a marriage where one of you is introverted and one of you is extroverted it can seem like you’re on opposite wavelengths when it comes to how you spend your time, where your energy comes from, and how you make decisions and talk about important issues. If this is you, you may well be wondering if your differences along this dimension are going to impact your marriage.
Can Introverts and Extroverts Get Along?
I’m happy to say: yes! We can.
What I loved about the research on this episode is that it confirms what we suspected but it also has some very useful insights both for those who marry similar personality types AND those who marry other personality types.
A 2007 study[i] showed that similarity in the big 5 personality traits— those are the 5 traits researchers have identified as being the most fundamental part of our personalities, of which introversion/extroversion is one— predicted higher relationship quality. However, emotional similarity, which means experiencing and expressing similar emotions, was a strong mediating variable in this link.
So even if couples differ in personality, for example one is introverted and one is extroverted, they can still function well as a couple by being similar on an emotional level. This emotional similarity helps partners react to events in similar ways and feel understood by their spouse. That emotional connection is a deeper and more important predictor of happiness than similarity on a personality level.
So are introvert-extrovert marriages common? Generally folks do not choose spouses with similar personality types. If you look at the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator (in which introversion-extroversion is one of the four dimensions), it is most common for couples to share two of the four parts and differ on the other two[ii]. We’ve looked before at whether opposites attract, and while it’s not a simple yes or no answer, there’s certainly plenty of evidence that very different people can have thriving, passionate marriage.
A small study based around that idea showed that differences in personality types were not linked to marital difficulty, and being opposites on introversion/extroversion specifically, did not predict any specific problems in marriage. Another study[iii] supported this finding — differences along the introversion/extroversion scale don’t negatively impact marriage quality in any noticeable way.
So it does look like introverts and extroverts can get along just fine. However, there was one interesting caveat. Moffit & Eisen[iv] found that levels of neuroticism and emotional instability for wives — but not husbands — were significantly linked to the degree to which the couple was apart on an introversion/extroversion scale.
So having one spouse who is highly introverted and one who is highly extroverted could lead to emotional instability for the wife. The mediating factor in this effect is thought to be communication: highly divergent couples showed lower rates of intimate communication and agreement, which may be the cause of the emotional strain the wives were experiencing.
Again: even if there is a big difference, it’s not a death blow to the marriage. Rather, it just requires that you step up your communication game.
What Makes for A Happy Introvert-Extrovert Marriage?
So here’s an interesting study[v] of 365 couples who reported they had happy marriages. They looked at the common characteristics of marriages where one spouse was extroverted and the other introverted, and then marriages where they were the same.
Characteristics of households where the one spouse was extroverted and the other was introverted included:
- Close, intimate relationship with each other and family members
- Separate friends
- Conflict solved through negotiation as and when the issue arises
- Fewer common leisure activities
- Moderate levels of expression of love
- Joint decision making, but the extroverted spouse was responsible for economic management
And here are the characteristics of households where couples were similar on introversion/extroversion:
- Close, intimate relationship with each other and family members
- Joint friends
- Same conflict resolution style as above
- Many shared leisure activities
- Frequent expressions of love
- Shared all decision making and money management
So there were a couple of differences between similar and divergent couples: the introvert/extrovert couples had fewer shared activities, less expression of love, and some separate responsibilities, particularly money management.
Now that might seem like a bad thing — and maybe it’s something for these couples to work on — but remember that these were all couples who described their marriages as happy. So how they handled these issues was clearly working for them. And if you have a way of making it work for you, then that’s great, whether or not it looks like what we’ve described here.
While we’re on this topic, let me give you some tips for success in marriages where you’re paired introvert/extrovert[vi]:
- Accept and appreciate your differences. “Although these differences provide fertile ground for increased conflicts, they also provide balance and potential for growth”. You can choose how you see those differences: something to appreciate as variety? Or be dissatisfied with?
- Understand your own, and your spouse’s personality, and factors which affect it. Some people’s levels of introversion/extroversion are influenced by their energy levels or the specific situation they are in. These aren’t fixed traits that apply universally, so learning to see how they are nuanced for you individually can help you navigate them.
- Commit to personally develop and grow. Couples who are different along this dimension can learn a lot from each other. Introverts can aim to expand their social world and gain new experiences from the outside world, while extroverts can “find themselves building a richer inner world”.
- “Understand the importance of give and take”. In terms of socializing, time together, decision making etc. You’re going to have different preferences and ways of handling certain situations, and you’ll need to accommodate both.
- Combine and play to your strengths: if one of you is better at dealing with certain social situations, or if one of you is more thoughtful and takes longer to reach a decision on something, then acknowledge and utilize those strengths in your marriage.
We have a great bonus guide available to our patrons this week on the strategies you can use to build a stronger introvert/extrovert marriage.
Strategies for Successful Introvert/Extrovert Marriages
The guide helps you actually negotiate your way to a happier acknowledgement of the differences between you as introvert vs. extrovert, and see them as strengths and opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to overcome. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
Introversion/Extroversion Changes Over Time
We often see personality as fixed — especially in others and especially when we are frustrated with them. But these traits can change over time. A study from 2006[vii]: studied 1,130 participants over 8 years and found that increases in extroversion increased relationship satisfaction.
To me, that seems to show that the introvert is learning to be more social. However, as an introvert myself, I don’t want to imply that there’s something wrong with introversion and that extroversion is the gold standard. Mind you, I adore my extroverted wife (you are the gold standard for me :-p) but you get my point, right?
It’s also interesting to note a phenomenon called personality convergence: spouses generally become more similar in terms of personality over time[viii]. Becoming more similar in personality traits such as extroversion/introversion increases relationship satisfaction, while becoming less similar led to “steep drops in marital satisfaction”.
So if major differences in extroversion/introversion are affecting your marriage, those traits can change. Again: let’s not get into a fight over who should change, but let’s help each other grow! So we need to think about these things in a healthy way.
Of course, since the whole extrovert/introvert thing relates mostly to how we interact in social situations we have to consider this in light of the marriage too.
It’s a well established fact that social and emotional support is one of the most important factors in a happy marriage[ix].
Look at this: extroverts offer more social support and perceive themselves as having more support than introverts[x]. The same study also found a positive correlation between extroversion and stress. Perceived availability of support, particularly feelings of belonging, mediate the relationship between extroversion and stress.
So perhaps for introverts married to extroverts it is important to make them aware you are there for support, in order to buffer your spouse against stress. This might not come as naturally to you as it does to your extroverted spouse, but sometimes you need to remind them that they do belong, that they are appreciated, and that they matter not just to you but to a host of people. I think this is necessary because extroverts are more likely to draw energy from their social network.
Finally we should mention differences in conflict style between the two.
In a study in 1998[xi], 461 participants were measured for personality types and conflict style. They found that:
- Extroversion is correlated with the integrating style of conflict
- Extroversion is negatively correlated with avoidant conflict style
- Extroversion is positively correlated with a “dominating” conflict style
So extroversion is linked to an integrative/collaborative conflict style, and makes you less likely to avoid conflict. Which is good. But it was also linked to dominating conflict style, so in introvert/extrovert couples the extrovert may come to dominate the introvert in terms of conflict resolution.
I’d love to tut-tut over this for a while, but I think the point here is just to be aware of this dynamic and, again, seek to be both respectful of the difference as well as be willing to be challenged yourself. As an introvert or extrovert. We have plenty of material relating to conflict for you to go back over that’ll definitely help you figure out a helpful conflict style regardless of whether you’re introverted or extroverted.
I am not asking extroverts to avoid conflict, but to pursue being collaborative and to just be more self-aware about needing to come out on top in conflict. That need to be right or have the last word can get frustrating for your introverted spouse.
So I hope the message you’ve got from this is that there’s no reason introvert/extrovert marriages can’t be happy, intimate and supportive. There are a few potential differences to navigate but these can also be seen as ways you can complement each other and grow as a couple. With introversion and extroversion it’s not that one is right and one is wrong. It’s just about knowing your own and your spouse’s natural way of thinking, and being willing to step outside of that for the good of the marriage.
[i] Gian C. Gonzaga, Belinda Campos, and Thomas Bradbury, ‘Similarity, Convergence, and Relationship Satisfaction in Dating and Married Couples.’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93.1 (2007), 34–48 <https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168>.
[ii] Frazier M. Douglass and Robin Douglass, ‘The Validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for Predicting Expressed Marital Problems’, Family Relations, 42.4 (1993), 422 <https://doi.org/10.2307/585343>.
[iii] Stephanie Nemechek and Kenneth R. Olson, ‘FIVE-FACTOR PERSONALITY SIMILARITY AND MARITAL ADJUSTMENT’, Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 27.3 (1999), 309–17 <https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.1922.214.171.1249>.
[iv] Paul F. Moffitt and Peter Eisen, ‘Factors Correlated with Neuroticism Scores for Married Women’, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 44.2 (1982), 491 <https://doi.org/10.2307/351557>.
[v] Manijeh Daneshpour and others, ‘Self Described Happy Couples and Factors of Successful Marriage in Iran’, Journal of Systemic Therapies, 30.2 (2011), 43–64 <https://doi.org/10.1521/jsyt.2011.30.2.43>.
[vi] Marti Olsen Laney and Michael L. Laney, The Introvert and Extrovert in Love: Making It Work When Opposites Attract (New Harbinger Publications, 2007).
[vii] Christie Napa Scollon and Ed Diener, ‘Love, Work, and Changes in Extraversion and Neuroticism over Time.’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91.6 (2006), 1152–65 <https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1992>.
[viii] Gonzaga, Campos, and Bradbury.
[ix] Michael Argyle, ‘Causes and Correlates of Happiness’, in Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, ed. by D. Kahneman, E. Diener, and N. Schwarz (New York, NY, US: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999), pp. 353–73.
[x] Rhonda J Swickert and others, ‘Extraversion, Social Support Processes, and Stress’, Personality and Individual Differences, 32.5 (2002), 877–91 <https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-8869(01)00093-9>.
[xi] David Antonioni, ‘RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BIG FIVE PERSONALITY FACTORS AND CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STYLES’, International Journal of Conflict Management, 9.4 (1998), 336–55 <https://doi.org/10.1108/eb022814>.