Posted on April 20, 2020


I know, you’re thinking Old McDonald.  I wanted to talk about Introverts (I) and Extroverts (E) particularly as it applies to our current sheltering at home situation.

All of us are somewhere on a continuum between always choosing to be with people or always choosing to be alone.  This is mostly about where you get your energy.  Is it energizing to be with people or to have alone time?  Introverts can be social, but it may be more of a drain on their energy.  Extroverts may be able to enjoy solitary endeavors, but afterwards will be longing to have some human interaction to recharge their batteries.

If you accept my assertion that this is continuum, that is to say that most of us are not at the extremes, but somewhere in between, whether we seek company or alone time depends how much people or alone time we are getting relative to our natural tendency.  That was a convoluted sentence so let me try to make it clearer.  For discussion sake, let’s say I am somewhere in the middle between being an extrovert and introvert.  If in the course of my day I am continually with people, by the end of the day, I may be needing some alone time to recharge.  If in the course of my day I am working alone, at the end of the day, I may be starved for connection.

What does this have to do with marriage and COVID-19?  I’m glad you asked.  In marriage, there is often a balance to be negotiated between togetherness and separateness.  If our needs for time interacting and time alone are similar, this is a non-issue.  If they are different, this can be a point of pain in the relationship.  The introvert may feel that they are being asked to contribute energy they don’t have or that their need for alone time is not being honored.  The extrovert may feel neglected or rejected when the introvert wants alone time.

Even if you have negotiated this effectively heretofore, now that most of us are home almost all the time, our normal balance has now been disrupted.  Often (though certainly not always) we choose a profession that fits well with our need for social interaction or alone time.  Now you might find that you are working alone at home where you used to have social interaction in the office.  Alternatively, you might find that your space is continually invaded by family all being home when you used to have plenty of time by yourself to do your work.

This might be one of those perpetual issues that we don’t want to become a gridlocked problem.  The research says (and I am not making this number up[1]) that 69% of the things couples fight about are not solvable problems.  They are differences in temperament, lifestyle needs, and values.  The masters of relationship are able to dialogue effectively around these issues.  They are perpetual but now a continual point of pain.  For the disasters, these become gridlocked issues where we become locked into our positions and where we continually experience relationship distress.

What’s the solution?  My really short answer is the same as always: empathy.  A slightly more complete answer involves another continuum.  I would assert that we are also somewhere on a continuum between being completely self-focused and completely other-focused in relationship.  If we were completely self-focused, it would be difficult to sustain a relationship.  If I only care about my own needs and not those of my partner, that is not loving.  Love requires that I set aside what I want to make my partner feel loved and value.  The other extreme is also unhealthy.  You deserve to have your needs met in the relationship as well.  Always setting aside your needs will get old as well.  If your needs never get met, you will end up with nothing left to give.

The trick here is to love your partner and care about your partner’s needs while asking in constructive ways for what you need in the relationship.  Back to empathy.  There will always be a sense in which the things your partner says and does make sense.  In these stressful times, now more than ever it is critical that you both feel loved and cared for.  If you achieve that, negotiating the together and separate time is an academic exercise rather than a relationship stressor.

[1] Even though 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.