By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
They say opposites attract. Therefore, your introverted spouse is most likely very different from you. That's why sometimes it's difficult for an extrovert (like you and me) to live with an introvert. We tend to think our spouses communicate and respond like us, have the same preferences, and show and interpret love in the same way we do.
After nearly 35 years of marriage to a genuine introvert, I've likely made every mistake a wife can make in trying to show love to her husband. But I've also learned a lot through those failed attempts and misunderstandings, and I'm finally reaping the benefits of knowing how to let my internal-processor spouse feel loved.
To spare you from repeating my mistakes – as well as some by others I interviewed for this article – here are seven ways to show love to your introverted spouse:
1. Give them time to talk.
In the working world, time is money. But in your relationship with an introvert, time is love. Giving them time to mentally and emotionally process matters equates to showing them love through your patience. The first line of the often-quoted biblical description of love reads: "Love is patient and kind…" (1 Corinthians 13:4). Be patient by letting them take more time than seems reasonable to you for them to answer a question, provide an explanation, or simply reply to something you've said, whether it be trivial or life-changing. (In that last scenario, most times, the introvert is trying to figure out if you're just thinking aloud or if you want a verbal response.)
Don't interpret your spouse's silence or delayed response as a personal dismissal of you. Instead, give them time. By lowering your expectations regarding the speed of a reply, you are showing your spouse that their need (to internally process, calculate, or just form words) is just as important as your perceived need for an immediate response. Give your spouse time to talk, and you'll be showing them love.
2. Understand their needs and expectations differ from yours.
Chelsea, who is in her seventh year of marriage, said her introverted husband "needs his downtime whether that's winding down at the end of the day and watching something or on a weekend making sure he can do something for himself – something he enjoys whether it's with me or by himself. He especially needs quiet time."
"I've also learned not to expect we will talk through everything he's feeling at every given moment. He might be acting a little quiet, and I used to profusely ask, 'Are you okay? What's wrong? Do you want to talk about it?' but really, he's just processing things." Giving your spouse the right to remain silent or speak when they're ready is another way you can show love to your introverted spouse. Realizing their needs are just as important as yours goes a long way.
3. Respect their aversion to crowds.
None of us likes chaos, right? But your introverted spouse may define chaos a lot differently than you. For instance, you may love the idea of a late-night weekend party, but that might conjure up images of the chamber of horrors to your spouse. What gives you energy might feel chaotic to an introvert. So, be sensitive to your spouse when it comes to a crowded, bustling restaurant, an excessive amount of talking from one particular person, or a party held in their honor in which they're expected to be "on" for most of the evening. (Helpful hint: Never assume your introverted spouse will love being surrounded by the people they love in a surprise party held in their honor. What rocks your boat might sink theirs.) While extroverts are energized in social settings, introverts tend to run from them (or hide out someplace quiet so they can "attend" but not participate).
"Communication is key when it comes to planning social events," Chelsea said. "If I've been talking with someone about getting our families together, I can't forget to check in with him to make sure he has the bandwidth to do something like that."
Ellie, who has been married to an introvert for four years, said: "With everything in life, there is a give and take. I cannot have it my way all the time, and he cannot have his way all of the time. So we communicate compromises based on importance. Some gatherings he cannot pass up (even though he may want to) due to their importance to our families and me. I have also compromised that if I really want to attend something but it isn't high on the priority list, I am free to go on my own, or sometimes I don't go at all to spend time with him, as husband and wife.
"At the end of the day, the only person who should matter to me more than God is my spouse and vice versa. We chose each other to be confidants, partners, and friends. If that isn't a priority, there will be no happiness, and resentment can creep in." Consider giving your spouse a hall pass (or more like a "party pass") a couple of times a year, especially if your spouse is prone to social interaction overload. Around the holidays or during a hectic month socially, one less gathering – or even two or three less – will be received by them as a gift of love.
4. Learn their love language and then pour it on.
Because I'm an external processor who is very verbal in my communication, I can tend to use an exorbitant amount of words with my husband, to the point that I forget he doesn't love talking as much as I do. And just because I feel loved when we spend time in conversation does not mean he conveys love the same way. He feels loved when I iron his shirts, empty the dishwasher so he won't have to, and when I help keep the garage clean. He feels loved by my words when they are affirming and respectful, not because of the sheer quantity of them. Learn your spouse's love language (how they prefer to show love and what makes them feel the most loved) by asking them what makes them feel the most connected to you and the most loved by you. Then pour it on.
5. Gift them with solitude.
As an extrovert, I can't imagine going to a movie by myself. But my introverted husband loves it. (Could be because I like to dialogue with my husband during the movie while he'd prefer to listen in silence.) I also can't imagine taking a trip by myself. But introverts operate on a different bandwidth. They don't go stir crazy if there's no one to talk with or nothing to do.
Several years ago, I gave my husband what turned out to be one of the best gifts he'd ever received: a trip to Israel and Jordan by himself. We had passed up so many opportunities to go together because of my work schedule that I finally asked Hugh if he'd mind going on a scheduled tour without me. He had a wonderful time and came back refreshed, refueled, and really missing his wife (and her words).
Gift your spouse some time alone without you or the kids. Give them a day off to themselves in the house or at a hotel (or spa) where they can experience downtime and be free of a "to-do" list. Get creative. Chances are, they'll come back ready to extend love to you because of how it was extended to them.
6. Don't try to change them.
I gained a whole new appreciation for the introvert I married after reading Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. My eyes were opened to how introverts are neither recognized nor applauded for their personality type or skill set in our society. Many of them have to work much harder to do what comes naturally (and is fun!) for extroverts (like making public presentations or leading focus groups).
When I realized the wonderful traits that introverts possess, it helped me appreciate, respect, and provide more affirmation to my introverted spouse. It also helped me understand how our strengths and weaknesses complete one another. Ask your introverted partner, "What are the main ways I misunderstand you or try to change you?" and "What are the top three things I can do to show you love regularly?" (After you ask that question, wait – even if it seems like an extraordinarily long time – for their answer.) You may be surprised at what you learn.
7. Listen with the goal of understanding them more.
Ellie readily admits, "It has taken me far too long to truly listen to what my husband asks in regards to personal privacy, social gatherings, and public outings. I am stubborn, and I tend to stand my ground when it comes to something I want to do, and he may not want to participate. There is a reason introverts do not want to go to parties, and it's not to spite their spouse - which is how I saw it. I need to continue reminding myself of that when I feel frustrated about his hesitancy."
Are there assumptions – and judgments – you've made about your spouse because they operate and refuel differently than you? Listen with the goal of truly knowing your spouse and what makes them tick, and you'll be showing them love.
For more on building your relationship with your spouse, regardless of their personality, see Cindi’s books, When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection, (co-authored with her husband, Hugh), When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, and 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband.
Related article: 3 Big Secrets Extroverts Who Married Introverts Need to Know
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, Bible teacher, and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is also a mother, pastor’s wife, and author of 17 books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 150,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, and When Couples Walk Together:31 Days to a Closer Connection, which she co-authored with her husband of 35 years. For more on her speaking ministry, coaching services for writers, and books to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.