Introverted, But Not Shy – Does Your Mate Need Space?

Posted by: Shel 21 Comments
Introverted But Not Shy - Does Your Mate Need Space?

Does your spouse seem to hibernate every once in a while? Does your husband wander off by himself or unexpectedly shun socializing with people he usually enjoys? Does your normally chatty wife frantically wave her hand while mouthing “I’m not here” when you try to hand her the phone, leaving you to make a lame excuse on her behalf?

If events like this happen periodically and they are not connected to changing life events or an argument, don’t take it personally – maybe your mate just needs some space.

A couple of years ago I was driving back from a conference with writing-buddy Sonia Gensler, telling her about how I just got on the other side of my semi-annual funk. About every six months or so I have a two or three day period wherein I withdraw socially, avoid phone calls and ignore emails. I never knew what brought it on or how to characterize it. I didn’t feel depressed and had no problem getting out of bed and being productive in an enjoyable way – I just didn’t want to be around people.

Sonia nodded and said: “You’re an introvert like me.” She was as blasé as if she had just stated the obvious fact that we both have brown hair. I’m quite sure my jaw dropped and I looked at her like she had just sprouted a second head.

Me? An introvert? I’m one that would be voted most likely to plop myself down at a table full of strangers, introduce myself and end up with a new pal and a lunch date twenty minutes later. As a matter of fact, that’s pretty much how I had connected with Sonia six years prior.

“Have you met me, woman?”

That’s when I got educated about what being introverted means. To my surprise, being an introvert had nothing to do with being shy. Introverts can be shy, but being shy doesn’t make one an introvert. Psychologist Carol Bainbridge provides this simple definition: “Basically an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around others.”

In contrast, she defines an extrovert as one who is energized by being around others. So an outgoing person may be an extrovert, but being outgoing does not make one an extrovert. The difference between the two is simply how we go about recharging our batteries.

Light bulb! I didn’t have ‘funks’ – I had recharging sessions (whew!)

Understanding the dynamics of these two types of personalities can help us to better meet the needs of our mates. Do we need to give them some space periodically to recharge so that they can enter social situations with more enjoyment?

On the flip side, if we’re married to an extrovert, do we need to cooperate and be supportive of the activities that replenish their energy?

Understanding the introvert versus extrovert dynamic can help us depersonalize our mate’s behavior. Her wanting to be alone for a day doesn’t mean she’s shunning him, pouting, or being hormonal. Him wanting to go to a party where they will know few people doesn’t mean he’s being insensitive to her insecurities about being around strangers. If we realize it’s not personal and focus on what the need is of the other at a given point in time, we may both end up  replenished and in sync.

Does the introvert/extrovert dynamic affect your relationship? Let us know how you deal with it in the comment section below.

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  • […] Shel Harrington, Mary Kincaid,  Anne Marie Davis,  Jonah Gibson, Barbara Shoff, Joy Lewis, Sarah Leslie, Margie […]

  • Christine

    I have just started dating an introvert – is that why he takes days to respond to texts and often doesn’t initiate contact for days on end?

    • Shel Harrington

      Hmmmm, I can’t comment on your situation specifically because I don’t have enough information. But I will say – generally speaking – that being an introvert should not be an excuse for being rude or dismissive to someone. I’m so glad you visited, Christine – I hope you have a great week!

  • Get outta my head! 🙂

  • I love the fresh perspective on differences. I am an extrovert but as I add more birthdays I am noticing some changes in how important a balance is for me. Sal is an extrovert full out, so he gets a little worried when I want to go to the lake by myself! I will encourage him read this blog, thanks Shel.

    • Shel Harrington

      Interesting that sometimes aging goes with replenishing more internally. If Sal reads this, tell him I made you promise not to go to the lake AND be screen-free at the same time!

  • Well, there you go. I guess that’s why we get along so well, we’re cut from the same introverted cloth. 🙂
    Great post!

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Mari. Looking forward to our next introvert reunion!

  • “Light bulb! I didn’t have ‘funks’ – I had recharging sessions (whew!)”

    I love this! It is a relief to realize that your desperate need to be alone doesn’t have anything to do with being antisocial or depressed. And phrasing it as “recharging” helps communicate that need to other people in a positive way.

    Steve and I are both introverted, so we each understand that need to withdraw. And most of the time we can withdraw together and just coexist quietly until we’re ready to be with people again.

    I’ve had that book QUIET on my shelf for ages–my introverted editor raved about it and then sent it to me. I really need to read it!

    • Shel Harrington

      If you actually read QUIET, let me know what you think. Thanks so much for enlightening me on this topic, Sonia – it really was a light bulb moment for me!

  • Gina Kishur

    Well done again Shel.

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Gina. In your line of work you probably deal with this dynamic on a regular basis in parental/child relationships as well as spousal relationships.

  • Interesting, Shel, and so true. A book which offers more information on this subject is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

  • This is hugely informative, Shel! Who knew I was an introvert? I would not have categorized myself that way, but I can see how the definition clearly fits me. It also fits G, so yes, that dynamic affects our relationship. I will share this with him…still thinking “wow!” 🙂

  • Lindsey Vanhooser

    I cannot agree with you more about recognizing our own needs regarding recharging as well as our partners. Additionally, I think that often times it is not black and white about what we need. I am an insanely outgoing person as well, and being around people does energize my soul and emotional well being. However, as I get older I find myself needing actual time alone to recharge, and it has surprised me just as much as it has surprised my boyfriend. Perhaps the job (which includes just a teeny bit of drama, right?) has exacerbated that need for alone time, but I agree that it is so important for us to recognize and respect that need within ourselves as well as recognize and respect that in our partner. Good post, very insightful!

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Lindsey. I agree with you that working in family law probably does exacerbate need to find some non-dramatic down time!

  • Judy Sherman

    This is really true. After heavily committed events my spouse goes into a funk. But I realize he’s out of adrenalin and in need of some quiet, alone time. But I’m the same way at times. After working with people all day I just want it quiet and little noise around me. Thanks for making me aware of ‘reenergizing’.

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