When thinking about compatibility in romantic relationships, we might think about common interests and shared values and goals. And if you want to take it to the next level, you might consult astrological birth charts or numerology too. (Side note, but if anyone out there knows the best way to ask the person you've just started dating for their birth time, we would like to know).
Another factor when it comes to compatibility is personality, like being an introvert or an extrovert. When you're in a relationship with someone who seems like the polar opposite of you, it can seem like a red flag. But, hey, sometimes, opposites attract and you might find yourself an extrovert dating an introvert or vice versa. To keep the relationship healthy and growing, it's all about creating a balance.
Introverts and extroverts have different needs and ways of fulfilling those needs. "That presents a really interesting tension because introverts and extroverts want to connect with their partner but they want to connect in a way that's going to fill them up," says Laura Heck, LMFT, who teaches the Seven Principles Leader Training Program at the Gottman Institute and co-hosts Marriage Therapy Radio. "One person wants to do one thing, one person wants to do the other, and how do you manage that tension? That comes up all the time in relationships."
To figure out how to navigate that tension, we asked Heck and two other therapists for their tips, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert.
If You're an Introvert in a Relationship
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Introverts tend to get classified as people who are timid, anti-social, or even nervous, but that can be an overgeneralization. "Being introverted does not necessarily mean that someone is shy, and the main difference between being introverted and extroverted is in regards to how energy is gained," explains Madeleine DiLeonardo, MEd, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Mind Body and Soul by DiLeonardo Wellness. "Introverts typically do not like being the center of attention, need a significant amount of alone time, can be overwhelmed by large gatherings or events, and value quality time."
If you're an introvert, you might need more time to recharge after spending time with others, explains Joanna Filidor, LMFT, peer consultant and Talkspace therapist. That doesn't necessarily mean you are anti-social—you just need more alone time to energize and you might enjoy the company of others in more intimate settings.
"Introverts also tend to value slowly building trust within a relationship as well as spending quality time together," DiLeonardo adds. For those who are in a relationship with an introvert, she says being able to understand those needs and providing space for them can be valuable.
If You're an Extrovert in a Relationship
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"Extroverts feel energized by communication and engaging with others, tend to be very social, are often comfortable in group settings, enjoy stimulating activities, and value direct expression of feelings within relationships," DiLeonardo says.
An extrovert might want to unwind by going out and spending time with lots of friends. Heck says, "The extrovert comes home and they are exhausted by their workweek and they're looking at their partner and looking in the fridge and they're like, 'I just don't want to eat at home tonight, I want to go out. Not only do I want to go out, but I want to call six of my closest friends and I want to meet up at the local noisy and packed bar and grill, and I want to be out until three o'clock in the morning and then maybe head over to somebody's house for an after-party.'"
If you're in a relationship with an extrovert, it will be helpful to give them space to talk things out, since some might feel the need to express their emotions in real time in order to process and address any issues. "Additionally, if you have an extroverted partner, you can encourage them to talk and spend time with others as this tends to be energizing for these types of individuals," she recommends.
What to Do in an Introvert-Extrovert Relationship
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If one person values alone time while the other feels fulfilled by going out and being in big groups of people, it might seem that that can lead to a lot of conflict or differences. This is where compromise comes in and communication. Here are a couple of things to be mindful of…
Deal With Conflict
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It's important to remember that conflict is natural and unavoidable in relationships. "Dr. Gottman had said that in relationships when there's conflict, 69% of that conflict is going to be unsolvable," Heck says of the renowned relationship expert's take on the subject. "It's going to be based on these fundamental differences between people. When you sign up to be in a relationship with someone, you're essentially signing up for 69% of these tensions to arise because of the fundamental differences in personalities of who you are as a human being."
Introverts and extroverts deal with conflict differently. "Introverts may face conflict regarding wanting alone time or not wanting to address conflict right away," DiLeonardo says. "Instead of wanting to process, introverts often value time to themselves; the ability to process internally before expressing things outwardly. If an introverted person can express their needs and desired outcomes to their partner, their partner can be aware of this and not take this personally but instead understand why the individual may sometimes need some space." Extroverts, on the other hand, might want to address the conflict right then and there.
To help both parties, Filidor recommends a 20- to 30-minute break so everyone can self-regulate. It will give the introvert more time to process, while the time won't seem too long for the extrovert who wants to deal with the issue head-on. "Differences on conflict resolution can be one of the biggest causes of conflict," she says. "It’s important to be clear about what the needs and expectations are of one another when conflict arises or when there's tension."
Like any relationship, communication is key. That includes letting your partner know your needs and preferences so they don't misread a situation. "Since introverts tend to rely on alone time to recharge, if the introvert is with an extrovert who tends to recharge with others, this need might be perceived as a withdrawal from the person or the relationship," Filidor says. "It is important to have a conversation early on with that partner to explain what those needs are and to explain that these reactions are not personal."
Understand Their Needs
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This goes hand-in-hand with both points above. It's important to respect and understand each other's preferences and boundaries, especially when it comes to conflict or disagreements. "Respecting that each party is different and has different needs is important to find a compromise," Filidor adds.
That also means respecting your introvert partner's need for alone time, or your extrovert partner's need to go out and see friends.
Don't Try to Change Them
I mean, how many times have you read that or been told that? It can be impossible to change someone—and inadvisable. "In any relationship, it's important to remember the goal is not to change someone, but instead to understand each other's needs and support each other," DiLeonardo says. "There can certainly be value in being in a relationship with someone different than you in this way."
Align Goals in Social Settings
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Things can get tough for introvert-extrovert couples in social settings. The extrovert might want to mingle about the room at the party and talk to everyone, while the introvert might want to sit down and talk to just a few people. This can lead to feelings of abandonment or frustration. Heck says it's important to have a game plan for these situations and understand what's the goal for the event or night.
She says that might mean having a conversation before the party or event, where the introvert might ask the extrovert if they can spend some time together alone in a corner for a bit, and then once they've had some quality time, the extrovert can make a lap around the room and socialize.
"You might have a goal of 'I want to connect with my friends,' whereas your partner, the introvert, has a goal of 'I want to connect with my partner,'" she explains. "If your goals are not aligned, you're going to miss each other. That's where miscommunication happens. So it might just be saying, 'What's the objective of tonight?'"
Find Things to Do Together
When an extrovert wants to spend a lot of time with a lot of people and an introvert prefers smaller, intimate settings, you both might miss connecting with each other. It's like the scenario above, where you're at a party and the introvert partner is hanging back, while the extrovert is walking around the room—you're going to miss spending time together. So it's all about compromise here.
Heck suggests that couples "be more intentional about trying to find things that they can do together that they both really enjoy so that they are getting that balance."
And If You're Not in an Introvert-Extrovert Relationship
It's not all smooth sailing if you're in an introvert-introvert or extrovert-extrovert relationship. Just because you have similar personalities and preferences doesn't mean there won't be some conflict or issues that arise. Here's what to look out for…
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Heck says introvert-introvert couples can be secluded, but they do want to connect with other people. They might socialize by inviting another couple over and have a nice quiet evening entertaining them.
But when it comes to conflict, there can be some avoidance. "In an introvert-introvert relationship, it's likely that there is a tendency to avoid confrontation and conflict resolution," Filidor says. "This can cause resentments which can impact the relationship. To address this, it is necessary for both partners to become active participants in these moments of conflict resolution. There are many tools and steps a couple can take to learn how to confront these challenging issues."
Filidor's advice for these types of couples? "Push each other to do fun activities that get you both out of your comfort zone, learn to communicate your feelings, and engage in conflict resolution in a healthy way," she says.
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Heck says extroverts are rarely at home and normally will be out with lots of friends, which might mean that sometimes they might not get a lot of alone time together. So, being able to carve some quality time apart from social situations is important for these couples.
As for conflict, it can get heated. "Two extroverts in a relationship can experience more reactivity during conflict," Filidor says. "It is important to schedule a 20- or 30-minute break to self-regulate first prior to continuing."
What to keep in mind if you're in an extrovert-extrovert relationship? "Learn to identify ways to build intimacy with one another at home instead of out in a social setting. Create a routine to wind down with one another, take turns speaking, and self-regulate when conflict becomes reactive," Filidor recommends.