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Count me among the mighty fortunate (or smart): I picked an excellent husband who understands and respects my introversion. He always has, intuitively—he’s part introvert himself—but since I’ve started writing about introversion and learning more about it myself, both of us have become clearer on how to avoid (gender-neutral) Bitchy Introvert Syndrome. You know what I mean: that testy, prickly attitude we can cop when we’ve completely depleted our energy stores with too much interaction.
The good news is that we can avoid BIS if we simply monitor and manage our energy. We’re responsible for monitoring and catching ourselves when we start feeling depleted. But if you are in a relationship, your significant other can also help—as long as he or she knows what you need and why. I hope this post will open up conversations that will help everyone get their introvert-related needs met, including the non-introvert in the relationship. After all, nobody wants to be around someone seized by BIS. And that’s the first thing to explain: If your energy is properly managed, you’re more fun to be around.
Because yes, this discussion has to include your partner’s needs as well—where and how are his or her feelings being hurt by your introversion, are there lines you need not to cross and can you live with that, what trade-offs will keep you both happy? Compromise is usually possible, but open communication is necessary to find it.
1. Let you shut down when necessary. This can be one of the hardest concepts for non-introverts to understand and not take personally. But sensitive partners recognize the thousand-mile stare of an overextended introvert and tiptoe away, closing the door quietly behind them without feeling neglected or put out (as long as they’re also getting needs met—this is a trade-off, of course). I need at least a little bit of me-time every day; often I get it by staying up late, after husband has gone to bed. He gets his in the morning, since I’m a night owl and he’s an early bird. This helps.
2. Don’t torment you with the telephone. My husband and I don’t agree on this. He prefers the telephone, I prefer text. He has become generous about texting, though; he might be so outnumbered in the world, he’s given up the fight. Most people seem to be texters these day. However, I don’t expect instant responses from him, and if we have to exchange more than a couple of texts to work out a plan or whatever, then I call.
3. Be gracious when you want to skip the party. Since I’ve learned to monitor my energy and save stores of it for exhausting events, I’m getting better at saying “yes” to energy-intensive events—I just save up for them. But my husband is also perfectly cool with going places without me sometimes, and he’s wonderful about making excuses for me. And when we do go out, he’s good at respecting when I’ve reached my limit and want to leave.
4. Let you go alone sometimes. This isn’t common to all introverts, but I love traveling alone. It’s a touchy subject sometimes, since it involves spending money, and leaving my husband to cope with the boring day-to-day stuff. Fortunately, I do make part of my income as a travel writer so I can justify some solo travel, but even more fortunately, my husband doesn’t grouse (much) when I do it. He gets it. You may not be a solo traveler, but you may prefer running, biking, or exercising alone; enjoy going to the movies yourself (I do); or like cooking without any help, thank you very much. A partner who accepts this graciously is a keeper.
5. Stay cool when you’re monosyllabic. This is a hard one for me to remember. My husband gets taciturn sometimes when he has things on my mind, and my brain goes immediately to “Why is he angry at me?” I have to remind myself that sometimes he goes quiet for reasons that have nothing to do with me. And vice versa. Often if I’ve gone silent, it’s because I’ve used up all my words on other people that day, and for a while, at least, I need to just sit silently and play Candy Crush on my phone, or watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. Or both at the same time. I feel so very loved when my husband leaves me to do this without fussing or worrying. I believe we both can do this because we trust that the other will speak up if something is genuinely bothering us. Sometimes I ask him outright: “Are you mad at me?” But then I believe him if he says no, he’s just got stuff on his mind. And I listen if he wants to vent. Otherwise, I let him have his head space and go about my business.
Again, I stress that if your partner is feeling neglected, shut out, or otherwise unhappy with the effects of your introversion on your relationship, the best thing you can do is talk it out. An example: As I said, I’m a night owl and my husband is an early bird. Usually he’s had a whole day’s worth of activity (made coffee, read the paper, walked the dog, biked an hour) before I even open my eyes. To really get me moving, he brings me coffee in bed. But he has asked that I not give him dirty looks when he wakes me in the morning. It seemed a fair request, so I try to comply. In turn, he tries not to chatter at me in the morning, while the gears in my brain are slowly grinding into action.
It’s one of the bargains we’ve struck. And we’ve been together thirty years and counting, so we must be doing something right.
Think this advice is useful? Check out my book, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After for more.
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