Introverts and Relationships
Are you or your spouse introverted? Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today as they talk with author Holley Gerth about celebrating the spouse God has given us.
About the Guest
- Find more from Holley Gerth and take the "What % Introvert are YOU?" quiz. https://holleygerth.com/
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Are you or your spouse introverted? Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today as they talk with author Holley Gerth about celebrating the spouse God has given us.
Introverts and Relationships
Bob: Most often in marriage, one spouse will lean more in the direction of being an extrovert; the other will lean in the direction of being an introvert. Can that cause problems in a marriage? Holley Gerth says it can, but it doesn’t have to.
Holley: Say you know this, going into marriage—you’re engaged maybe—you say, “What’s your ideal weekend?” and listen to that person’s answer. If it’s different than yours, then it’s figuring out: “What does that look like?” Maybe, “Okay, every Friday night we are going out with our friends; every Saturday morning, we are sleeping in,”—and that’s our strategy. You try it; and if it works, you continue. If it doesn’t, you try something else.
It’s better to have those conversations, upfront, instead of it being Friday night and one saying, “I’m out”; the other saying, “Let’s go”; or Saturday morning, and the other way around. I think any two people God calls together can absolutely make a relationship work.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 14th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What are strategies we can employ, as couples, to help introverts and extroverts get along with one another better? We’ll talk about some of those ideas today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m trying to wrap my head this week around this whole idea of introversion/extroversion—what it is. Part of the reason for this is I’ve told people, over the years, that if we walk into a room, and there’s a microphone there, I am drawn immediately to it. [Laughter]
Ann: So is Dave; what is this with you two?
Bob: “Is this on?” “Can I get up? Can I perform?”—right? MaryAnn wants to leave the room immediately if she sees a microphone, because it might pick her up from the far corner. Her aversion to speaking is matched only by my delight in it. And yet our guest, who is joining us again today, Holley Gerth—Holley, welcome back.
Holley: Thank you.
Dave: —who is behind a microphone at this very moment—
Holley: Yes, at this very moment; yes.
Bob: —an introvert behind a microphone. She’s written a book called The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to be You. We’re talking about that this week.
You said, as we talked earlier, that you had given a keynote at some event; and I thought, “Introverts don’t give keynotes.” I mean, introverts stay away from that kind of thing; so I’m still trying to wrap my head around what it is. Can an introvert be a public speaker, who likes a microphone?
Holley: Absolutely, yes; many of the top public speakers, actually, according to the Speakers Bureau, are introverts.
Bob: So its not a fear of being in front of the crowd that makes you an introvert; it’s not that you just want to be alone all the time; it’s not that you don’t like people; it’s that you don’t get energy from what?
Holley: It’s that we have a preference for minimally-stimulating environments. When there’s a lot going on outside for an extended amount of time, it’s eventually exhausting to us. We need to pull back and process, and then we’re ready for more. That’s really the difference.
Dave: When you walk off the stage after a keynote, is your inclination like, “I’d like to go to my room now”; or are you thinking, “I’d really enjoy talking to the people I just talked to”?
Holley: I usually take a nap.
Dave: Do you?
Holley: Literally, like my tank is at zero. The talk before and after the microphone is, actually, much harder for me. Because, often, introverts can speak well because we’re good at preparing. We are thoughtful and reflective; we have a message, often, we want to share—ideas we’ve spent time coming up with. We care about getting that out to people; we can speak and share that. That’s more comfortable, a lot of times,44 than doing an hour of mingling at the cocktail party after.
Ann: But it’s not because you don’t love people.
Holley: No, we equally love people; introverts and extroverts equally love people. Just the settings we likely prefer to engage with them are different. I would rather have coffee with one person and talk to them for two hours; where I’m thinking, extroverts, you might prefer to have more than one person that you get to have a conversation with in that amount of time. Or you’d like to have a dinner party at your house, where you get to have a lot of people that you love around the table. If you think about that—not in terms of people—but in terms of how much is going on that your nervous system has to process, that’s the big difference.
Bob: I’m hearing this and thinking part of me feels introverted and part of me feels extroverted. I mean, I would rather have a one-on-one conversation with somebody, but I also can multitask and like a lot going on.
Dave: You’re bio-verted. [Laughter]
Bob: Or there’s this phrase—you’ve heard it; right?—where people say, “I’m an ambi-vert”; but you go, “I don’t think that’s a real thing.”
Holley: Yes, for the most part, I don’t think we’re ambi-verts. There’s been studies that follow people from infanthood through adulthood; and these characteristics show up, starting when they’re little bitty—like you talked about your son, his entire life, has showed introverted characteristics. For that reason, and it is based on brain and nervous system wiring like we talked about, I think we are usually one or the other. That being said, it’s like being right- or left-handed. We use both of our hands, all day every day; but there’s one that is usually stronger than the other and that we rely on more, especially in certain situations or for particular tasks. Again, we’re all on a continuum.
Yes, you could definitely have parts of you that look a little more introverted. It’s just: “At the end of the day, which one is a little more dominant for you?”
Ann: We’ve had our counselor describe it to us as “Oh, you’ve matured in your extroversion.”
Ann: Which was an interesting way of saying it in terms of we kind of know what we are/what we need, but we’re okay with going to the other side with introverts, knowing how to treat them, how to get along with them, and how to appreciate them.
Bob: I’m thinking about when MaryAnn and I met. I don’t know that I stopped to even think: “Is she an introvert or an extrovert?” I was attracted to who she was—
Ann: You just thought “Oh she’s pretty.”
Bob: Yes, “She’s pretty, and she’s smart, and I like talking to her.” Of course, when you meet somebody like this, what you lock onto is all of the things you have in common rather than stopping to think about all of the things that are different about you; right? So it was only later that I recognized: “Oh, there’s a lot that is different about her,” and “She is more introverted than I am."
How important do you think it is, Holley, for people who are dating—getting to know one another, thinking about marriage—to stop and ask the question: “First of all, what am I? What are you?” and “Is this thing going to work?”
Holley: I think it’s very important; because it does impact all different areas of our lives—from relationships, to work, to daily life, what we do on the weekends—and so having that self-awareness, I think, is important. I think that we all go through life with one of three perspectives: either self-critical, where we’re really hard on ourselves—leads to insecurity/self-focus, which is more pride and that end of the spectrum—or self-awareness, which is what David was expressing in Psalm 139, which was: “I praise You because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.”
When we understand ourselves, it leads to praise not to pride. It also helps us understand others. The most self-aware people I know are also the most other-aware. Because, when you understand who you are, you recognize when someone is different than you; and you can appreciate it rather than it feeling like a threat. I would say, for couples who are dating, absolutely, there’s lots of great assessments out there that tell you if you’re an introvert or extrovert. I have a one-minute quiz on my site, where you can find out what percent introvert you are; because we all have a little introvert in us. You can do that, but I think it’s a piece to understand.
That being said, the most common pairing in marriages is introvert and extrovert. Again, I think it goes back to that we see in creation; God did a lot of complementary pairings: day and night, land and sea, masculine/feminine. I really believe introvert and extrovert is another one of those pairings.
Bob: We do have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to the quiz you’re talking about. If listeners want to do that one-minute quiz and figure out, “Where am I here?” you can do that.
Ann: Can kids do that? Can you do that with your kids on the site?
Holley: Yes, yes4.
Ann: Oh good.
Dave: But you’re not saying, if a couple’s dating, and they realize by taking your quiz or another way—“I’m an extreme extrovert; I’m all the way on the far end of the continuum,” and “I’m dating a woman, who’s an extreme introvert,” are you saying, “Don’t continue”? Everything else lines up, but this one’s way apart; what do you think?
Holley: I would say educate yourself about yourselves and each other so that you can make strategic decisions together about what life is going to look like and so you don’t take it personally when that person acts out who they are. For example, when an introvert is taking time to process or needs solitude, it can feel like holding back or rejection; but it’s actually not. That introvert is actually giving their full mental strength to what you have just said, and that means they have to be quiet for a moment. Where it can feel like dismissal, it’s actually they’re expressing how much they value you.
Ann: When you’re in the midst of a conflict, what would be a good thing for the extrovert to say to the introvert, who’s pulling back—or the introvert to say, “Here’s what’s happening,”—because we make a lot of assumptions in conflict or in relationships. What would that look like for the extrovert to say what?—as you sense your spouse pulling back.
Holley: I think saying, “It feels like you’re getting a little overwhelmed; do you need some time to process? Can we circle back to this?” Then pick a time because, when it comes to fight or flight, extraverts are more likely to fight and introverts are more likely to flight. You don’t want to let them just run off forever; set a time to come back together and discuss it again. I think it’s really about being intentional and strategic. I think any two people—who say, “We are going to practice self-awareness so that we can also practice other-awareness. We’re going to be intentional, and we’re going to be strategic,”—can make the relationship work.
That’s having conversations like: “Okay, what’s your ideal weekend?” when you’re dating. Say you know this going into marriage—you’re engaged maybe—you say, “What’s your ideal weekend?” and listen to that person’s answer. If it’s different than yours, then it’s figuring out: “What does that look like?”—so maybe—“Okay; every Friday night, we are going out with our friends; every Saturday morning, we are sleeping in”; and that’s our strategy. You try it; and if it works, you continue. If it doesn’t, you try something else. It’s better to have those conversations, upfront, instead of it being Friday night, and one saying, “I’m out”; the other saying, “Let’s go”; or Saturday morning, and the other way around.
I think any two people God calls together can absolutely make a relationship work; but I think it starts with understanding and a lack of shaming, or guilt, or judgment to just say, “Help me be curious about you.” Choosing curiosity over condemnation, I think, is so essential.
Dave: And even getting—tell me if I’m right—even getting to the place of: “I’m not just going to tolerate it; I want to get to a celebration of her introversion,” or “…his introversion or extroversion”; because you get to a place where it’s like, “Oh, okay; we’re not going to go out again, because she doesn’t want to,”—rather than—“This is awesome; she’s actually balancing me by saying, ‘Let’s stay home tonight.’”
Bob: You’re talking about receiving your mate as God’s perfect provision for you. One of the things we talk about—
Dave: You ever heard that phrase?
Bob: —we talk about this all the time at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway—that we can’t just accept our spouse—we have to receive our spouse and receive the good gift God has given us. That good gift is going to include differences that may seem like sandpaper at the time but are actually designed by God to be good for us and good for our marriage.
Dave: Here’s another question: “Is it okay for an extrovert, who is married to an introvert, to go out with the guys? Or she goes out with the girls; because she wants energy and her husband or spouse is saying, ‘I’d rather stay home.’” That’s good, and I’m celebrating that; but every once and a while, I just—and sometimes you think, “I should never go out with the guys.”
Ann: Well, I say that to Dave, “You need way more friends; you need like hundreds of them.”
Bob: —and “Would you please get out of the house and leave me alone for a little bit?” [Laughter]
Holley: Yes; I think that’s actually a great strategy—is to say, if one spouse has a higher social need than the other—to say, “You have permission to go out with your friends when you need that.” That usually works well because then the introvert gets their solitude, and then everybody comes back together.
Again, that’s another strategy of just saying: “What are some other ways we can get this need met in your life?”—whether it’s/I hear that a lot—permission to go out with your friends; or maybe, it’s an introvert momma, who’s home with kiddos all day, and she needs a partner, who’s going to say, “I’ll take the kids; you go to a coffee shop and be quiet for an hour.” Then she comes back home as a better momma, because that need is met in her life.
I think it’s, again, just understanding: “What is the capacity that we have for social and solitude? Then, how do we work together to get everybody’s needs met?” I think there’s a way if you just negotiate through it.
Ann: One of the things that you said earlier that I wanted to mention—I was assuming that introverts are more lonely—and yet, you said the opposite.
Ann: You said that extroverts tend to feel more loneliness; talk about that.
Holley: It was fascinating. I did a study with my blog subscribers; I asked them: “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” and “What’s your biggest struggle as an introvert or extrovert?” I got over 2,000 responses the first week. When I looked, the extrovert said their biggest challenge was loneliness, which I would not have guessed at all. Because I tend to look at extroverts and say, “Y’all have people around you all the time; you’re always with your friends; you’re always doing something; you never get lonely.” That was just a huge surprise to me.
Bob: I had this “Aha” moment about 15 years ago. I was in Orlando, Florida, on a business trip. At the end of our meetings down there, things ended early; and I thought, “I’m going to Disney World.” [Laughter] I remember riding this ride—I don’t remember what it was—but at the end of the ride, I got off and it was like, “That was great!” I looked around, and there was no one to share that with. It was the most depressing moment to think, “No; things like this—the joy of them is not the ride—it’s the shared experience. It’s the joy that comes from being together.” Yes; you can get lonely, even in the midst of activities that you like, no matter whether you are an introvert or an extrovert; right?
Holley: Yes; and I think that is a great story for extrovert spouses to tell introverts, because we don’t experience the world that way. Exactly what you said—it’s not about this activity I’m asking you to do—it’s about your presence in it, because it’s about the joy of shared experience. That’s really helpful for even me to hear in those terms. I think that’s a great conversation to have too.
Bob: You said you were in college when you first heard the term, “introvert.” You went, “This is me. They’re talking about me,” and that was a great moment for you. Then you met Mark later; right?
Holley: Yes; well, we met in college but after/about two years after I found out I was an introvert.
Bob: So were you thinking, “Is he an introvert? Is he an extrovert?” Was this a part of your calculus as you’re getting to know him?
Holley: I think we had that conversation pretty early on—just I love all the personality type stuff. I probably made him take a test; I remember exactly. [Laughter] But yes, we’re an interesting pairing; because we’re introvert-introvert, which is unusual in marriage. Like I said, usually, you get one introvert, one extrovert. We have our own challenges in making sure we spend intentional time together. We have a breakfast date every Saturday morning, and we know that’s our face-to-face time to connect/to make sure we’re having those conversations. I think any pairing/any two people, there are things to figure out; and there are ways to make each other better.
Bob: Were you attracted to his introversion?
Holley: I was; I remember just his calm presence was really comforting to me, as an introvert, and his care for me/his thoughtfulness. A big rain storm blew in during class one day, and I didn’t know it was coming. I didn’t have an umbrella, and I walked out the door of my class; and there was Mark with an umbrella.
Ann: Nice, Mark.
Holley: I think that is a pretty good picture of how we do life together. But he’s a gift for caring for whatever’s entrusted to him. I’m grateful to be one of the things that has been entrusted to him.
Bob: This is one of the areas where, for MaryAnn and me, as we were growing in our marriage, it came to a point, where we began to recognize what has been a principle that has helped us over and over again. It’s the principle that: “Different isn’t wrong; it’s different.” I think we thought it was wrong for a long time: “The way you think, the way you act, your preferences are the wrong way to do life. My way of thinking, acting, and doing life, that’s the right way,” and “If you’d just be more like me, everything would get better.” To recognize/I think it was after taking some personality test that I went, “Oh, this is who she is; and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just different than how I do things.” Now, MaryAnn is always quick to point out: “Sometimes, different is wrong”; right? [Laughter]
I think, here, we also have to be aware, Holley, because sometimes people can say, “I’m just an introvert”; and they’ll use that label as a way to excuse sinful behavior or a lack of spiritual engagement. I mean, you can use this as a crutch and kind of hide behind it; and that’s not what you are trying to do by providing this definition for people.
Holley: Yes; not at all. I think you ask: “What is the fruit? Is this person choosing time alone, and then coming back out, refueled to do what God has called them to?” Then that is fruitful and helpful. If they are making bombs in their basement forever by themselves, that’s not helpful. [Laughter]
Holley: It’s like: “What comes out of this?”—because I think the reverse can be true—that extroverts can use being extroverts as a way to avoid self-reflection.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Holley: I think any part of who we are, taken to an extreme, is unhelpful. It’s just asking: “What’s my tendency? Is my tendency to withdraw too much/to give myself a pass on the entire people thing, or is it the other end for maybe I need a little bit of time?”—and just understanding which one we are naturally more vulnerable to.
Bob: You said extroverts can avoid self-reflection; and Dave said, “Oh, yes.” Ann looked like: “Tell me more, honey; I want to know more about why you said that.”
Ann: He said it kind of loud, too; did you hear him? [Laughter] Did you relate to that?
Dave: No; not at all. [Laughter] I need to go into the closet and think. No; I mean, when you said that, yes, I’ve done that. It’s like you can use that almost like as an excuse: “This is who I am; this is what I do—I’m around people.” But often, you can use that to not reflect; I don’t want to look at what’s really going on in my heart; I’ll just live in the party. That’s an excuse, because there needs to be time.
When you were talking about pulling away, and reenergize and come back, here’s what I thought: “Jesus.”
Dave: So is Jesus an introvert?
Holley: I think He’s a perfect blend of both, [Laughter] which I love that He models both. He models ministry to the crowds, and then he models praying alone on a mountain. I love that—that He is the hybrid—so I say Jesus is an ambi-vert.
Ann: He’s the true only one.
Holley: Jesus gets to be an ambi-vert. [Laughter]
Bob: And the idea of pulling away and needing time for yourself, I think some people can feel guilty. Ann, you talked about this earlier. I need some me time; well, just the idea of me time sounds narcissistic. It sounds—it’s not other-centered; it’s not God-centered—it’s me-centered. How do we get the balance there between: “This is appropriate recharging,” and “This is just me doing what I want and not caring what anybody else thinks?” Is it the fruit that you’re talking about?
Holley: Yes; I think you ask, “Why?” if you’re saying, “I need me time,”—that’s one word our culture uses for it. If you ask someone, “Why?” and they say, “Because I’m exhausted; and I know, if I get 30 minutes to myself, then I’m going to be a better wife, momma, spouse, friend, daughter of God,” then to me that is the opposite of selfishness. It’s saying, “I’m doing this as an act of service.” Where if the answer is: “I hate the world and everyone in it, so I’m done with humans; I’m out,” that—which we can have those moments—that’s a different thing.
I think for people, who feel guilty, just follow that to the end: “Why do I need this?” Usually it ends up that there is a good intention underneath it; it’s not about self. It’s about being able to have sustainable service for a lifetime.
Dave: I think it’s awesome, as I listen to you, Holley—think you have become you—and you’re impacting the world by writing, and you do that as an introvert. You pull away everyday, and you impact a lot of people; but you do it in a quiet calm. It’s beautiful to say: “There’s the powerful purpose of your life.” If we could all be able to grasp that—who God made me to be and celebrate: “I’m going to be that person,”—we could change the world. You’re changing the world; it’s beautiful!
Bob: I’m just thinking about the introverts who are cheering, hearing us talk about this and going, “I’ve got to get this book, because I’ve been longing for someone to help me understand me better.” That’s what Holley does in the book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts. You can order a copy of the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let me also mention—Holley’s got on her website; I appreciate this—there’s a ten-question kind of a little diagnostic quiz to help you determine: “How introverted are you?” or “How extroverted are you?” because everybody’s on a scale somewhere. It’s not really, you’re an introvert or an extrovert; it’s you’re somewhere on that scale. The quiz on your website helps everybody figure that out. We’ve got a link at FamilyLifeToday.com to that quiz if our listeners would like to take it. Again, you can order your copy of Holley’s book The Powerful Purpose of Introverts. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I’m thinking about the fact that all of us, who are raising kids, our kids are going to be somewhere on this continuum as introverts or extroverts. Part of our responsibility, as we raise them, is to understand how God has made them and to know how to raise them no matter who they are. Earlier this week, we talked with Chap Bettis about our assignment as disciple-making parents. He’s written a book by that title. The audio book that he’s developed is available for FamilyLife Today listeners this week for free. We’d love for you to be able to download this audio book, The Disciple-Making Parent by Chap Bettis; it’s completely free. You can go our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for information on how you can get a copy. Again, the title of Chap’s book is The Disciple-Making Parent; the audio book is free. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get your copy; or if you have any questions, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We hope you enjoy the book.
And we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about kids—kids who are introverts and kids who are extroverts—and what we do, as parents, raising those children. Holley Gerth will be here again. We hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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