Still, she tells me, extrovert-introvert relationships can be high maintenance (as anyone who’s ever been in one well knows). “The research seems to suggest that introvert-extrovert dynamics generally pose challenges for the relationship,” she tells me.
There are a lot of differences between those with extroverted personalities and those with introverted personalities—and they go much deeper than a preference for going out versus staying in—but one key variation between the two is often the culprit when conflict arises. “Generally, an extrovert is drawn to higher-stimulus activities and introverts are drawn to lower-stimulus activities,” Dr. Helgoe explains. “So introverts are usually trying to turn down the volume while extroverts are usually trying to turn it up.” Hence, tension.
With that said, Dr. Helgoe tells me that navigating such a relationship can actually help you grow in ways that dating someone who is more similar to you cannot. To help you make it work, she offers some tips for dating an introvert when you’re on the other end of the spectrum.
Keep reading to find out how to make your extrovert-introvert relationship work.
1. Remember: Quiet does not mean disengaged
Introverts, says Dr. Helgoe, need a lot of time to process their thoughts before they speak. “We have a higher standard for what we put out,” she explains. “That doesn’t mean we’re better, it just means that we like to develop our ideas internally whereas an extrovert is more comfortable doing so relationally, putting out something that they might not have thought that much about and then kind of going back and forth on it.” Sometimes, she says, extroverts can misinterpret this lack of engagement as a lack of interest, which is just not the case. (It’s actually the opposite!)
2. Try not to talk over the silences
Therefore, to best enable dialogue with an introvert, she says, you need to give them space. This means not filling the dead air with conversation in order to avoid what you, as an extrovert, might perceive to be an awkward or uncomfortable silence. “It can be a conversation-stopper for an introvert if you get into that space too quickly,” Dr. Helgoe explains. “They will start to disengage because they don’t have time to process what you’re saying or think about how they want to respond.” If you allow them time to pause, on the other hand, you’ll likely “get something good” back and the convo can continue.
According to Dr. Helgoe, this knowledge should provide some relief for extroverts who often feel burdened to do all the work in a conversation. “Extroverts will be more likely to talk more when they’re anxious, so it might help to know that an introvert doesn’t really need you to do that—and in fact, might appreciate it if you just kinda look around and sip your coffee and do something else to fill that space,” Dr. Helgoe says.
3. Learn to read body language
With that said, sometimes conflict-adverse introverts can clam up when they’re upset about something, says Dr. Helgoe. And without verbal communication, you might understandably struggle to discern the difference between a pensive introvert and a pissed-off introvert. Dr. Helgoe advises paying attention to non-verbal cues, which she reiterates might be missed if you try to talk through the pauses. A furrowed brow, for example, might indicate the person is thinking (but not mad!), whereas crossed arms may suggest conflict is brewing.
4. Negotiate your social needs
As an extrovert, your need for stimulation often has you craving social situations, says Dr. Helgoe. Introverts, meanwhile, are easily overwhelmed by excess interpersonal interaction, especially if it takes place in big crowds (e.g. a party or a concert). Because of this disparity, compromise is often necessary. “The more that people can be upfront, especially early on in relationships, about what that sweet spot is for them and negotiate around that, I think the better the time the couple will have together,” she says.
This may mean devising a plan in which you attend a party for some finite amount of time before retreating into a more one-on-one situation. Or, Dr. Helgoe says, you can strike a more creative compromise. “An action movie might give the extrovert that stimulus [they crave] while the introvert gets to have a little bit of a break from social interaction,” she says. “So, that might be an example of something that works for both people.”
As an introvert myself, I’ve also found that a key component to navigating this often frustrating difference is to be okay with spending time apart, too. Though you may be bummed to have to go it alone to parties, doing so can help you get out of your comfort zone—which can be a very good thing. Plus, your introvert will be super happy to see you when you get home.
5. Set ground rules for fighting
Remember that whole conflict-adverse thing I mentioned earlier? It can be a huge issue in extrovert-introvert relationships, says Dr. Helgoe. “Fights can be highly stimulating,” she explains, which is why introverts tend to avoid them in favor of brooding. This can drive extroverts—who’d prefer to just hash it out and move on—crazy. To set yourself up for successful conflict resolution, Dr. Helgoe says the first step is to set ground rules. For the extrovert, this might mean asking your significant other to just tell you when they’re upset, assuring them you don’t mind being confronted in the same way they do.
Because introverts tend to need time to process their thoughts, you may need to make room in the process for that as well, Dr. Helgoe says. When I tell her I drive everyone in my life crazy by fighting via email rather than in person because I can’t think clearly when confronted, she tells me this is normal for introverts. Extroverts, who do better with face-to-face conflict, however, don’t need to sacrifice their comfort own level to accommodate their partner’s needs. Instead, Dr. Helgoe suggests they ask introverts who rely on this method of expression to instead read them what they’ve written.
If you do find yourself sparring with an introvert, Dr. Helgoe cautions that you need to be careful not to immediately bulldoze them—ensuring an unfair fight—by raising your voice. “Introverts tend to be highly sensitive individuals, so if somebody’s angry they might over-interpret its severity, actually,” she explains. “Therefore, a little goes a long way with them.”
This, Dr. Helgoe says, is where the introvert may need to reaffirm their boundaries. “[They might be like], ‘Hey, I can’t really process this when you’re talking so loud, can you tone it down?’ or ‘You seem agitated, can we talk about this later when you’re calmer?'” she suggests. Honoring these requests, she says, will help the introvert to actually hear you out. “So much of successful conflict resolution is negotiating in this way so there’s more room for both of you to tell your story.”
Originally published July 11, 2018; updated September 10, 2018.
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