One of the hardest lessons we learn in marriage (and in our other relationships, too) is this: it’s impossible to meld and become one. We are two separate humans with two separate personalities.
This realization is often scary. My spouse isn’t just like me? What’s wrong with him?! Because if something isn’t wrong with him, then something must be wrong with me!
That’s why it’s so tempting to try to mold our spouses into versions of ourselves.
But doing so is not only unhealthy, it’s a recipe for marital discontent. As soon as you go about trying to change an ingrained aspect of your spouse’s personality – say by trying to make a loner more outgoing or a quiet person more talkative—you are basically telling your spouse, “There’s something wrong with you. You are not good enough.” And no one likes to hear that.
For instance, I’m an introvert. I also probably have some sort of sensory issue that you all can have a lot of fun diagnosing in the comments. This sensory issue was never diagnosed, thank God, so I managed to get through childhood without being labeled as someone with the D-word (disorder). Basically, I am sensitive to light, sound and scent. Too many conflicting sounds are difficult for me to understand. Like in restaurants, when a lot of people are talking at once, I can’t separate the voices so everyone sounds just like the teacher in Peanuts.
I get exceptionally sensitive to light, sound and scent when I’m tired, when I’m hormonal or whenever I get the bright idea that someone like me can do that thing called multitasking. Like, tonight, I tried to bake chicken thighs while also microwaving a few things and simultaneously washing the dishes. During all of this, my daughter kept asking me questions like, “What is a gridiron?” and “Do you know that Neptune is blue?”
Oh, and the stupid dog kept barking.
I dang near almost checked myself into a mental asylum, let me tell you. At one point I started shouting, “Where is the stupid oven mitt? Who took my oven mitt? Where did someone put my oven mitt?” Keep in mind that the only other beings in the kitchen were my 5 year old and my dog, and my 5 year old had not moved from her position at the table the entire time. Now, my dog is capable of a lot of sneaky things, but he doesn’t generally hide oven mitts just to see if he can irritate me.
You want to know where the oven mitt was? It was right in front of me, where I’d just left it.
My husband came home some time later. The poor man. You will understand why I call him that soon. Promise.
I greeted him with a, “Heh.” That was about all I could manage. My daughter rarely greets my husband. It’s a stage she’s going through. She clings on me and tells me she loves me and that she will never let me go. If Daddy asks for a kiss, she runs and hides in her bedroom.
But the dog wagged his tail. “At least someone is happy to see me,” my husband said brightly.
Later, after getting our daughter to sleep, I said, “You don’t want to be around me right now.” He waved his hand in front of his nose. He assumed I was broadcasting that I’d eaten beans for lunch.
“No, not because of that,” I said. “I’m grumpy. You might want to stay away from me.”
“Why are you grumpy? How was your day?” he asked.
Sweet, right? It was. He’s sweet. But I wanted to amputate his vocal cords. The only thing I wanted in that moment was an empty house.
“You’re leaving, right? You’re going out tonight, right?’ I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
I said, “Good, I think that’s for the best. I really need to be alone.”
He understood about as much as someone who doesn’t have a sensitivity to sound, scent, and light and who doesn’t get into grumpy snits can. That’s to say that he understood that whatever was wrong with me was not his fault. It’s not to say that he didn’t think that I was in dire need of a little pill that might work some magic among the neurotransmitters in my brain.
As soon as he left, I felt better, much better. My daughter was asleep. My dog was curled up in a tight ball. The house was quiet. I was alone. Nothing smelled funny. I ate a chocolate covered banana. Cold and hot things always soothe me. I don’t know why. I’m sure it’s part of the disorder I have that does not have a name.
So then I wrote this post that rambles on and on and doesn’t offer much in the way of helpful information.
I don’t want to disappoint. I’m much too sensitive and grumpy to add feeling like a failure to my list of troubles, so here are a few tips for getting along with an introverted spouse.
- When your spouse says, “It’s not you, it’s me,” believe it. We get grumpy. We require solitude. It’s nothing personal.
- Help your spouse find moments of solitude, especially if you have children. If your spouse seems grumpy, offer to take over as a parent and suggest your spouse do whatever he or she needs to do to re-energize.
- If your spouse grunts one-word answers to your questions, it probably means that your spouse does not have the emotional ability to carry on a conversation in that moment. Again, this is nothing personal. Every time you ask a question, your spouse’s nervous system reacts as if it were just plunked down in the middle of a loud rock concert where two completely different types of bands – say Moby and Rush—are playing in the same room, at the same time, and at 1000 decibels each–along with millions of cheering fans who are crowded so close together that they are sharing each other’s air. And while that might turn you on, it’s torture for an introvert. If you really need to get an answer to your question, write it down and ask your spouse to give you an answer at his or her earliest convenience.
- If you are an extrovert and in need of companionship, allow your introverted spouse to offer companionship in spurts. Introverts can be social. We can be conversationalists. We can even be engaging. But we can only do it sometimes. We have an on, but our on only works if you allow us to have a lot of off, too.
- Create a quiet haven for your introverted spouse. It might be a spare bedroom or somewhere in the basement or even a closet. It could be the garage. Wherever it is, it’s a Do Not Disturb Zone. That way your spouse can put him or herself in timeout as needed, so you don’t have to.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you deal with your spouse’s personality differences? Care to diagnose my little syndrome? Leave a comment.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.