I married into a family of introverts.
After we got married, we moved into an apartment on my in-law’s property.
I think suddenly having a very extroverted young woman in a house full of boys was somewhat of a shock to my husband’s family. (We weren’t technically in the same house, but we spent a lot of time there.)
But if it was a shock my in-laws didn’t say so, and they always made me feel like I was one of the family.
Being suddenly not only in a marriage with someone very different than myself but also in a family of introverts was eye-opening and educational.
Here are some things I have learned from living with and loving my introvert:
1) Ignore the introvert myth. First of all, let me correct a myth that is widely accepted among extroverts: being an introvert is not a character flaw or a personality problem. It is not something that needs to be corrected. It is something that needs to be understood and appreciated. When I hear someone say, “Well, our kid was shy, but we fixed that problem and now he’s not anymore,” I cringe. You just taught that child that they’re not allowed to be the way God made them. Nowhere in scripture does it teach us that being introverted is a sin. So don’t act like it is. Different is better and valuable. So value it.
2) Understand him. Being introverted isn’t really the same thing as being shy or anxious. Anxiety can coexist with introvertedness but it’s not automatic. So what’s introverted? It means that they recharge their energy or their batteries by being alone. Extroverts get recharged by being around people. The more the merrier! Not so, if you’re introverted. If I had understood this, I never would have insisted on a wedding with over 400 guests. I couldn’t understand why my future husband found that so overwhelming. I understand better many years later.
3) Curb your emoting. My husband is an awesome listener. He really is. But when he’s had a really long day at work, he needs to come home to a reprieve –not me greeting him at the door with a hundred complaints and frustrations. I have struggled with balancing this for our entire married life. It was really bad when I had very small children and I was desperate for adult interaction. I have found a solution that works for us. If he gets home and I need to talk I’ll ask him if he’s ready to talk about problems with homeschool, or discipline, or extended family, or whatever the issue may be. If he looks overwhelmed and says no, I ask him to tell me when he is ready. This way I know I’m going to have a chance to talk about it soon, and he doesn’t feel accosted every time he walks in the door.
4) Give your introvert a chance to talk. Back in 2010, I was lamenting to a counselor that my husband didn’t talk to me. She knew my husband was introverted and recommended that I ask him a question and wait. However long it took. She suggested that he wasn’t ignoring me, but that I just needed to give him time to answer. So, I asked him a question and shut up. I sat there for 5 minutes and bit my tongue while he thought about how to answer. When he finally answered he talked for over 30 minutes. I was flabbergasted! I learned that if I would stop talking and listen he would talk to me. Listening is not my first reaction, so it has to be intentional on my part.
5) Don’t interrupt. This is so hard for me. I grew up in a family where we would all get excited and talk over each other, interrupting each other. This drives my husband crazy. Interrupting is the ultimate sign of disrespect to the introverts I know and love. I really try not to do it, but my excitement gets the best of me sometimes. Breaking the train of thought makes answering your questions or continuing the conversation very challenging. So wait your turn. Unless the house is on fire. Then, by all means, interrupt. If you interrupt less, you may find your introvert willing to talk more. This is really just an extension of listening.
6) Be patient –especially when he’s processing and explaining things. My introvert doesn’t like to be pushed or pestered for answers. I’ve had to learn to be patient. It’s my fault for asking God to teach me patience. He gave me opportunities to learn it. Most of those opportunities come in the form of children –but sometimes it’s my husband. He’s wired differently than I am. So that means I have to let him process and reach conclusions and decisions in his own way, in the way that makes sense to him. This is part of letting them talk but a connected point that you shouldn’t push them to answer before they’re ready.
7) Don’t push him to be more social than he’s comfortable. If you begin to understand your introvert, you’ll find that social interaction is taxing. You’ll probably find that the less social stress he has the more social energy he’ll have for you. You may wish to have a party with 100 of your closest friends, but more than likely he’d rather if you pulled his teeth one by one. I used to push my husband to do more, to be like “normal” people (ie extroverted people) before I really understood him. Contrary to popular belief introvertedness isn’t abnormal. Studies show that it’s almost a 50/50 split between extroverted/introverted, but extroverted is slightly ahead. Our culture values extrovertedism, but they devalue something wonderful that has been a huge blessing in my life. Many of my dearest friends since I was young have been introverted. Can you imagine being in the 50% of the population who are considered by everyone else (the other 50%) as broken?
8) Give him space to himself. The more social he is, the more he will retreat into books, video games, art, an iPod –or whatever is his choice of nonsocial existence. He’s not avoiding you. He’s recharging his batteries. I read once that people who very introverted need 10 minutes of recovery for every hour they’re with people. So if my husband works 8 hours, I figure he needs an hour and 20 minutes to recuperate before I bug him for something. This is not always possible, but I try to be mindful of it.
9) Be his gatekeeper. Take phone calls, answer letters, turn down social invitations. Guard his time if you can. If you know he hates parties, don’t try to convince him to attend your friend’s Christmas party (in some situations, I go without my husband). If you know he always declines birthday parties –and if he doesn’t mind– decline for him and save him the social stress of declining. The same is true of phone calls or any other thing that stresses him and keeps him from feeling socially rested. Remember, if you’ve got extrovertedism, you have like three 5-gallon buckets of social energy, and he may have but a thimbleful. If you want him to use some of that thimbleful on you, you can help by making sure he doesn’t use it all up on silly things like telemarketers. Of course, you need to know his likes and dislikes intimately and make sure it’s okay with him before you go making decisions for him.
10) Be thankful for what you have. If you’re married to an introvert, you were drawn to him for a reason. I knew from a young age I wanted to marry an introvert. I was always drawn to the quiet, thoughtful, intelligent kind of man. I remember –after a conversation with a very extroverted young man in high school– thinking that I didn’t want to marry an outgoing guy because I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgewise. No matter how frustrating it can be to try to learn to work within our different temperaments, my husband is a great guy. He’s sweet, kind, and loving. Even if your personalities are very different, I’m sure you can find something to be thankful for –if you’re so inclined.
The key to living with an introvert is understanding, and above all, don’t try to make him be an extrovert!
Let him be who God made him to be.