When You're Married to an Introvert
I'm an extrovert, a fountain where water constantly flows. Shirley is an introvert, an artesian well. When there is enough pressure—after she's reasoned through her feelings—water gushes to the surface.
When I don't know how I feel about an issue, I talk it out (often to Shirley) until I hear my own answer or the other person points it out. Concepts don't seem real to most of us extroverts unless we can discuss them; reflecting on them usually isn't enough. We may not have depth—and we probably don't know that—but we communicate on the level of most people.
I have to speak to know what I think; Shirley has to think before she knows what to say. When she faces a serious issue, she goes inside herself and pulls from her rich inner world.
For example, Shirley was an editor for a denominational publishing house and the workload became intense. On the bus to and from her job, she edited. She brought manuscripts home at night and sometimes went into the office on Saturday mornings.
"Why don't you take an early retirement?" I asked.
She shrugged and that was the end of the conversation. About four months later, she complained about the workload and I said, "Why don't you take an early retirement?"
"Okay," she said.
It was settled. Just that simple. Because I know my wife, I didn't have to ask, "Are you sure?"
That's one way we differ in our marriage because I'm the extrovert and she's the introvert. To be clear on my terms, introverts go inward to make sense of issues or solve problems; extroverts relate to the outside world. We find answers by interacting with others.
Many healthy marriages function on the principle that introverts attract extroverts. Genesis 2:24 explains marriage after God created a wife for Adam. "This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." Jesus quoted this same passage in Matthew 19:6.
Shirley and I have long understood that it takes people of two different temperaments to function as one whole, healthy unit. Shirley provides qualities I lack and I do the same for her.
Carl Jung, who originated the terms "introvert" and "extrovert," referred to them as preferences. That means we're not prisoners of our personalities. I'd call them our default modes, because that's our normal, natural way of making decisions. We can choose to move out of our customary modes of action.
Here's how I see these differences in Christian marriage. First, if you're an introvert, your spouse is probably an extrovert. It's a natural attraction in relationships—you unconsciously seek another person who complements your personality.
Second, introverts can function as extroverts—it may exhaust them to expend so much social energy, but they can do it. In her work world, those who knew Shirley pegged her as an extrovert because she functioned well around other people. Once she returned home, Shirley wanted solitude and to get away from people. She needed to refocus and recharge her energies.
If you're an extrovert, you can learn to go inward, but it's more difficult. (Or perhaps, as an extrovert, it seems that way to me.)
Extroverts don't do well in solitude and can become bored without others around. When given the chance, many will talk with strangers rather than sit alone and think.
By looking at default modes, we can understand our commitments to God. In many ways, introverts have the richer, more spiritual life, even though they may not be as good at communicating their faith.
Outward-oriented people mix well, and reaching out toward others at church or on the street seems natural. They may do well in teaching, speaking, and singing in church. They do less well in private Bible study and prayer. Those two spiritual disciplines may actually be a chore to them.
Above, I said these are our preferences and we can adapt. I'm an adapted introvert. As a professional writer, I work at home all day—alone—and that's an introverted function. The most difficult adjustment for me in becoming a fulltime writer was to stay in my home office all day, five days a week, with no one around. Some of my extroverted writer friends practice their craft in cafes or coffee shops. They need people around even if they don't talk to them.
As an alone-all-day-writer, when Shirley came home at 5:00, I wanted to go out—to eat, to be with friends, to see a film. I yearned to be around people; she was ready to read or watch TV after dinner.
Through our more-than-50 years together, I've learned to value her inward life. She's far deeper spiritually than I am. She often sees depth in things I'd hurriedly overlook. I've learned to move inward and she's opened up a little to the extroverted world.
Our goal is to be "one" as God intended. Becoming one means not remaining who we are, but slowly embracing the less-preferred side of ourselves.
When we do that, two marvelous things happen unconsciously. We grow as individuals. We respect and value the personality of our spouse. And as a result, we live more happily together and edge closer to becoming one.
Cecil Murphey, whose books have appeared on the New York Times' bestseller lists, is the author or co-author of 125 books, including 90 Minutes in Heaven and Making Sense When Life Doesn't.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
When You're Married to an Introvert
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