Remember the old adage–“opposites attract?” That’s partially true in that opposites in some personality traits attract each other, but couples who are totally opposite are only about 4% of couples. In our work with couples, one of the most common “opposites” has to do with how we relate to other people. Most of us are energized by our interaction with others, and are called Extroverts. And then there are those who are drained of energy when they are in a social situation. We call them Introverts.
I’m and introvert and my wife Jan is an extrovert. When we first met, I was drawn to her freedom in interacting with other people. I could get all the socializing I needed by just tagging along behind her. She says she was drawn to me because I was quiet and mysterious. And then we got married!
What was quiet and mysterious in me gradually became frustratingly morbid in Jan’s experience. What I saw in Jan was how easy and fluid she was in her relating to others. But over time it became too much for me. I needed some space. But the more I needed space, the more Jan was frustrated with me, and eventually I began to feel pressure to be something I wasn’t.
As we’ve talked with other couples, this difference can go either way. Many men are extroverted, and many women are introverted. It’s really not based on gender. In fact, Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, has been studying 373 couples for the past 25 years. She found the need for private space, a strong need of an introvert, was more of a need for wives than for husbands (31% versus 26%).
Here’s Dr. Orluch’s advice to couples who struggle with a balance of “enough space” in their marriage:
1. Be specific. If you need some private time, say what you need specifically.
2. Make sure your spouse knows it’s not about him or her.
3. No secrets. Talk about what you did in your private time.
4. Make sure you have time together. Too much space can weaken your connection.
5. Talk together about each of your “space needs” and what that means to you.
One couple I worked with developed a signal. The wife was the one who needed space more often, so she used a hat which she would put on that said to her husband–”Nothing personal, I just need some quiet time.”
How about you? In your marriage, or in your family, who are the people who have greater “space” needs? How have you typically handled that?