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    Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {What’s Love Got to do With It?}

    February 9, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    The Introvert Advantage:
    How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

    by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a chapter on dating and marriage which didn’t use the word love, but this one didn’t. At least, I don’t think it did. I didn’t really notice this problem until the end. I just kept waiting and thinking that love would come up. But it didn’t. So then I scanned back through the chapter. There was a single usage that I could find…in a quote preceding the section on dating.

    This means that in all the marital advice given in this chapter, love is never a key player.

    As I read this chapter, I felt like I was encountering a foreign country. The author speaks English, yes, but she thinks about these things so differently than I do that we might as well be from two different planets.

    Now, I just can’t believe that love is not a key player in how the author behaves within her own marriage. She explains near the end of her chapter that she and her husband have been living together for thirty-eight years. I just don’t think that two people can conquer the difficulties involved in that amount of time together sans love.

    After all, love never fails.

    Unfortunately, love, this ultimate key to marriage, is missing from all of Dr. Laney’s advice.

    On Dating

    I am not a huge fan of dating as a philosophy for meeting a husband. I don’t want to get into my own views on dating here because they don’t have a lot to do with the topic of introversion and extroversion. With this said, I can see how the characteristics of introversion and extroversion would change the dynamic when it comes to moving toward marriage. The author obviously sees the birth of a marriage–which is to say, the birth of a new family–as an event almost completely isolated from the community {or communities} to which the two individuals belong.

    The dating advice focuses a lot on energy management, avoiding getting overwhelmed, and so on. Because I mostly experienced dating with people I already knew well {for instance, my husband and I were friends for years before our “first date”}, I don’t really know if this advice is helpful in a practical sense or not. If any of you have reflections on the dating portion, I’d be interested to hear them. I had this underlying Red Flag feeling, but I was never able to put my finger on what it was {other than the obvious difference in philosophy}.

    Temperament Combinations and Their Impact on Marriages

    The author spends a number of pages discussing these combinations: introverted husband and extroverted wife, extroverted husband and introverted wife, and both husband and wife introverted. {She doesn’t discuss extrovert/extrovert because this is a book about introverts.}

    It’s ironic because she tries to say that homosexual relationships are impacted in the same way, but then goes to all the trouble of explaining that there is a difference between these three combinations. Her logic, in other words, doesn’t follow. How could it be the same if she needs to spell out a difference between having, for instance, an introverted husband and an extroverted husband. Apparently, gender has an impact on this issue.

    But Dr. Laney is the quintessential egalitarian: the sexes are completely and utterly interchangeable. This means that many marital difficulties are due to “our social conditioning.”

    Yes, I’m serious. We evolved, and gender roles and differences are a result of social conditioning.

    I’m thinking she doesn’t have sons.

    The first combination she tackles is introverted husband and extroverted wife. Here is probably the most important fact about this combination: research suggests that this combination has the most serious conflicts in their relationship. This is good to know, especially if you find yourself in this situation.

    The author says that the reason for the conflict is because the combination “goes against our social condition.” I disagree, of course, but what she goes on to say is important:

    Introverted men can feel overwhelmed, intimidated, and unheard by extroverted women. And extroverted women may believe that the introverted man’s quiet nature means he is weak, submissive, or unprotective. They can also feel lonely and understimulated by the relationship.

    The author then details a counseling session with just such a combination. In the process, we see the wife dishonor and disrespect her husband–even calling him a wimp. The husband explains what he would like to see in the relationship, doesn’t seem to expect respect from his wife, and the wife is in obvious and complete rebellion against him.

    And then the author explains that all of their problems stem from the fact that “underneath this fight they both feel flawed.” They “feel shame” about their basic temperaments, and “don’t think they are lovable for who they are.”

    We will come back to some of this, but I want to touch on something the author says near the end of this part, that the husband lacks traditional masculine traits. I wish she had shared more about the husband, because I don’t see any reason to think that introversion is anything of the sort. In fact, we have a cultural saying {“he’s the strong, silent type”} to describe the introverted man.

    The problem might come with the woman trying to fill the quiet space in their life together with her own power, or perhaps with the husband refusing to guide and direct their home, but neither of these is a direct result of introversion or extroversion.

    I am saying this because I find my thoughts circling around a key question: What does it mean {or not mean} to follow Christ as an introvert? I think each of the ‘verts has their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses, and to know ourselves in this way allows us to be attuned to these things. However, this books lends itself to concluding that “I am just made this way,” when in reality there are specific temptations from which to flee, and also specific graces given to us in our strengths, which are to be used for His glory.

    The author says that the combination of extroverted husband and introverted wife is the most common. She said something I find to be true in my own home:

    The extroverted husband often gets most of his extroverted needs met at work, so by the time he comes home he wants some downtime…His introverted wife, on the other hand, looks to him to fill her extroverted needs, because she’s comfortable with him. She wants intimate conversation. From the outside, it looks as if the husband is the one who’s introverted and the wife is the one who’s extroverted.

    Again, the author gives an example from counseling, and again I was pretty convinced there were other things going on apart from temperament type, even though the argument itself essentially revolved around a temperament issue.

    The last combination given was where both husband and wife are introverts. She explains that this combination is going to have the fewest conflicts because they understand each other and do things in a similar way. Their biggest weakness is that they may build a very small world for themselves, and may “rely on each other for too many emotional needs.” What I saw in her examples were two weaknesses of this type: {1} a tendency to not participate in a larger community and {2} a tendency toward idolatry {making each other the whole world}.

    In all of these things, it seems to me that the Gospel is the only true remedy.

    A Note on Methods

    Before I go on and share the author’s general methods for improving the marital relationship, I want to note something that I think is important. Much of her advice sounds decent, or would look decent when worked out practically. I actually take little issue with the advice per se. My objection comes into play in regard to faith.

    As Christians, we believe that love is the foundation of the marital relationship. God is love, love is the substance of the relationship within the Holy Trinity, and we {male and female together} are made in this image.

    So, when I deal with difficulties which come up in my own marriage, the first issue I deal with inside of myself is love. Am I really loving my husband? Are the things I want to do or say motivated by love?

    When I read the advice in this book, it seems very scientific and calculated, as if a vibrant relationship were a goal I could reach by knowing the mechanics of relationships and tinkering accordingly with the parts. It reminds me, actually, of education. Are we going to use a sterile “method” or are we going to chase wisdom through love? On a standardized test, these two approaches might yield similar scores, but they come from a different place within the heart, and, in the end, produce a different type of person. I’ll discuss this in more detail as we move through her list.

    Five Steps to Improving Any Introverted/Extroverted Combination Relationship

    1. Try On Each Other’s Specs. What she means is, try to see things from the other person’s perspective. I think this is wonderful advice. However, let’s talk about motives for a minute. I don’t try to see things from my husband’s perspective because I want a “good relationship” with him. I want to see what he sees because of something I learned from Sheldon Vanauken years and years ago: I love him {my husband, not Vanauken}. Because I love him, what he sees is worth seeing, his perspective is worth knowing, and what he loves must be worth loving.

      Because I love him, I will learn to love like him, and he like me, over time.

      If our method doesn’t pour forth from a heart full of love, it is nothing but an empty technique, or an interesting experiment in perspective.

    2. Try Five Easy Steps to Resolve Couple Conflict. These were pretty basic, nothing very striking or original. Again, I wish we could start from love. Love is the motivation for reconciling in the first place.
    3. Bridge the Gaps. This is basically a “learn how to communicate” list for introverts and extroverts. All married couples have to learn how the other person communicates, and what is the best way to communicate with that person. I appreciated that she mentioned trying to communicate with an introvert in writing at times. Writing is an easier mode of communication for me, and I gather that it is for a lot of introverts.
    4. Take Turns Getting Your Way. I actually laughed out loud when I read this one. It just sounds so…selfish…as if the purpose of the marriage was to get my way, but since we are different we will just have to take turns! Here is where my comment earlier applies most. I already mentioned the idea that it is worth learning to love what my husband loves because I love him, and so there must be something in the thing worth loving. To apply that here, let’s say we were really very opposite. It would be kind, loving and gracious to learn to take turns, alternating, for instance, quiet evenings with more exciting or noisy evenings.
        TIME OUT: Can I just say that the “problems” she keeps discussing in these marriages seems to be something only the affluent could manage to have? Around here, if we are in an extroverted mood, we mainly indulge this Amish-style: we “go visiting” or invite others to come and visit us.

      Moving on, if we were to decide alternating in the way the author suggests, we’d likely describe it as taking turns giving or submitting to one another. Or we would just say we’re each trying to love each other better.

      To call it “getting my way” is to frame the whole arrangement from the perspective of a selfish heart–seeking myself, my needs met, and so on. Worked out, it might all look the same, but I guarantee that intangibles {love, generosity, selfishness, etc.} will matter over the long run.

    5. Appreciate Your Differences. This was the best, and final, advice. Dr. Laney mentions how thankful she is for the many adventures she has had because she is married to an extrovert. She mentions what a “dull world” it would be if all people were exactly the same. I completely agree. Though introverts and extroverts both need to learn to grow up in Christ, the resulting maturity won’t all look the same. God has made a great variety, and He delights in it. We reflect His heart when we learn to delight in it, too.

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts February 11, 2010 at 11:57 pm


    I adored your thoughts! I especially liked your phrasing here:

    Were it not for love, we would find our daily existence to be a struggle for dominance.

    Exactly! Those are words fitly spoken.

    I love that you and your husband can joke about your temperament differences. We do a bit of that, too, around here. 🙂

    Regarding your final comment: I really think that intro/intro temptations are much more common outside of the faith. I think that most of us inside of the faith understand our duties toward the brethren, even when they feel a like they are outside our natural inclinations.

    I am so thankful that the Lord gives us direct guidance, rather than us just having to stumble through or missing out on the richness of life due to capitulation to our own temperaments…And I really think extroverts could say the same thing, for the Lord’s perfect balance of the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither…

  • Reply Emily February 10, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Off the top of my head here, Brandy. (Wishing I had the book!)

    As a Christian married to a Christian, love has a LOT to do with our behavior toward one another: two sinners living out a sacrament instituted by our Creator. Were it not for love, we would find our daily existence to be a struggle for dominance (“taking turns” – that sounds so contrived as to be ridiculous).

    “Love,” according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

    Now, what does that look like for me as an introvert living with a somewhat, but not-as-introverted husband? If I am to follow the Godly precepts listed by Paul, I will defer to my husband instead of using my “nature” as a crutch to indulge in selfish behavior. There have been times in the past when I would have preferred to be alone, but have set my “feelings” aside to do what was the right thing to do at the time – be there when he needed me.

    We are very aware of our “selves” and can even joke about it. Last night, for example, I was lying on the couch, and Dwayne came in and stood next to me, looking down at me. I glared up at him, exclaiming, “What do you want?!!” and he replied in a sneering voice, “Oh, am I in your ‘space’?” Then we both burst into laughter. All in fun.

    Though we are both introverts, we’ve not experienced the danger that you mentioned of excluding community and becoming the whole world to each other, simply because we are discerning enough to realize that we do require others in the body of Christ – to serve, to encourage, for accountability, and the list goes on – because we are functioning members of that body. God made us that way and we would suffer without it.

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