The Introvert/Extrovert Relationship

Mindy and Dave had an interesting dynamic that reminded me of my early relationship with Barry. Each June for five days we work with a small group of couples in our home. Each couple gets a chance to look deeply at what keeps them stuck in certain patterns. This year we had a chance to see beautiful movement and opening in all seven couples present. We’d like to write about Mindy and Dave.

Whenever it was their turn to share with the group, Mindy always spoke first. After she spoke, Dave would invariably mumble something like, “I agree with her.” We soon caught on and asked Mindy to let her husband speak first for the rest of the workshop. She responded somewhat in frustration, “Well, he won’t share what’s really going on.” Dave similarly looked doubtful about his ability to communicate.

Sure enough, next time it was their turn to share with the group, Dave sat back and Mindy jumped in to start talking. We coached her to let her husband begin. All eyes turned to Dave and there was a long silence during which Mindy looked uncomfortable. Just when we all thought Mindy would explode, Dave started to talk. He very slowly and awkwardly communicated in a few words exactly what he felt. His words were wise and well chosen. Mindy was surprised and then delighted to hear him speak. Their pattern of Mindy being the voice for the relationship was so deep that it took several more reminders, even during meal breaks, for Dave to have the opportunity to talk.

The fourth day into the workshop, Dave was amazing us with the depth of sharing that flowed from his lips, including very personal and traumatic experiences from his past. On the final morning in our appreciation process, where each couple had a turn to be appreciated by the whole group, Dave was universally considered the poet of the group, as he could speak in such beautiful ways to each person. Mindy was glowing with peaceful serenity. She had wanted him to share himself with her. The more she had tried and the longer she talked, the more he had backed into a silent corner. By empowering him and simply giving him space to talk first, his vulnerable and beautiful inner self had come forth. Of course she doesn’t always have to let him talk first, but she may need to do this until a more balanced pattern is developed.

In most relationships, one partner is more extroverted, one more introverted. These two different qualities are often attracted to each other. Sometimes the difference is great, sometimes small and sometimes the pattern reverses over the years. Barry and I met when we were each eighteen years old. I was very extroverted and the class president that freshman year in college. Barry was very shy and quiet and had few friends. Amazingly, seven years into our relationship the roles had reversed. I had become increasingly inward and Barry was finding his extroverted self.

A pattern developed that was increasingly painful to me. Barry started dominating our conversations with our friends. At first I thought he had more to say, after all he had a medical degree. Then I felt that what I had to say wasn’t good enough. Soon we were stuck in an unhealthy pattern. It took some outside help and conscientious work on our part to bring us into balance. Barry has since learned to make room for me to talk and I learned that what I have to share is equally important. I feel empowered by Barry when he listens to me and gives me the time I need to express my thoughts and feelings. Barry similarly feels empowered when he sits back and gives himself the time and quiet to reflect. Coming into balance has given our relationship more depth and connection.

Reflect on your relationships. Do you do more of the talking? Do you refuse your partner time to talk when you are with others? Do you get impatient at your partner’s slower pace at formulating thoughts or feelings into words? On the other hand, do you sit back and let your partner talk for you? Or do you withdraw, feeling what you have to say is less important? If the answer is even slightly yes to one of these questions, it’s time to do some conscious work on bringing your relationship into balance. Balance brings more connection and more love.

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