Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences
Personality differences can complicate relationships. You may start out feeling like opposites attract and really fall in love with some of the things that are different about your partner. Over time though, personality differences can impact your relationship and cause conflict, especially when there is a lack of understanding about your different needs and how you think about the world around you.
Does Personality Matter in Relationships?
Sometimes. The research on the topic is complicated. Studies have found that people tend to pursue relationships with people that are similar to them in some areas such as age, religion, education, and political orientation. However, when it comes to fixed personality traits, some traits are more predictive of relationship satisfaction than others.
Some couples have different personalities but similar interests, so they find lots of ways to have fun together and bond as a couple. Other couples really don’t share a lot of interests, but they love each other and so the other strengths they have in their relationship help them to establish and maintain emotional intimacy.
How To Manage Personality Differences in Relationships
Couples may differ in their traits of introversion vs extroversion, their style of thinking, their openness to new experiences, their empathic tendencies, and other traits. Here is how some of these differences manifest in relationships and how couples can manage these differences as they build their partnership.
- Introversion vs. Extroversion
These traits exist on a scale, so some people will be highly extroverted and some people may be very introverted, and many people fall somewhere in between. When you are a couple in a relationship where you’re very far apart on this scale, you will need to understand that you have different needs and work together to make sure both of you are getting your needs met for social connections and personal time.
This means understanding that sometimes your partner might need more time spent out with their friends because they thrive on the energy they get from social relationships. The other partner may need time spent alone to recharge and renew their energy, because too much time around a lot of people drains them of their energy. As a couple, you need to find a balance and understand that your partner isn’t rejecting you if they need either of these things. Making sure you dedicate couple time together will help both partner feel more connected to each other.
- Engineers vs. Artists (Left or Right Brain Thinking Style)
This has to do with thinking style. People who think like an engineer are very logical, solutions-oriented, and not always very emotionally perceptive. People who think like an artist are not rigid, they focus on beauty as much as function, and they like to use creativity to solve problems or come up with new solutions. This traits are both valuable in different situations, so partner who differ in these traits need to find ways to utilize the strengths of both people. This might come down to who does what things better, and learning to allow the strengths of each person to shine in different areas. This may mean one person always does the taxes, and the other person decorates the home or plans time spent together in ways that express their creativity. These couples can thrive together if they learn how to use each person’s strengths to make them stronger as a couple.
- Adventurers vs. Homebodies
This has to do with people’s individual comfort level with new experiences. Some people love new adventures and crave the thrill they get from trying something new. This doesn’t have to mean they’re out cliff-hanging every weekend, but they are more likely to want to try new things, go new places, and experience things that excite the. Other people love the safety and comfort of their routine, their home, and their normal activities. This doesn’t make them boring, it just means they know what they like and they prefer to stick to what they know.
When these two different personalities get together in a relationship, it’s not uncommon to have some conflict over what to do and when. This is where compromise is a key strength to develop. The more adventurous of the couple will need to respect their partner’s discomfort with certain activities, and recognize that they may have to plan some activities with other people who share similar interests. The homebody folks also need to recognize that stepping out of their comfort zone can be a great way to bond, but it’s okay to set limits when needed and know how to communicate those limits.
- Empaths vs. Psychopaths
Okay so getting involved with a psychopath is not recommended. But seriously, empathy exists on a scale too. Some people are very empathic, meaning they are highly perceptive of other’s feelings and are emotionally affected by the people they meet and the situations they experience and witness. Psychopaths are the opposite end of the spectrum, with no empathy for others and an inability to understand or care about other people’s feelings. As with introversion and extroversion, though, there are many people who fall somewhere in between, and that doesn’t make them bad people. Many people empathize and care about other people, but it doesn’t affect them or their mood as much as it does with very empathic people.
In a relationship, empaths may be sensitive to their partner’s needs and moods, but someone less empathic may have a hard time understanding why their very empathic partner always gets so upset or affected by things. They may be less likely to perceive when or why their partner is upset, which makes conflict resolution hard sometimes. In this situation, empaths need to understand that a difference in sensitivity doesn’t mean your partner doesn’t care about you, they just might need more direct communication to understand how you’re feeling. The people who are partner with a very empathic person need to understand that their partner’s personality makes them more sensitive, and they don’t need to grow a thicker skin or be different. Empaths feel things deeply, so talking to them and validating their expression of feelings is a key way to connect with them.
- Organizers vs. Free Rangers
Similar to engineers and artists, organizers and free thinkers both have strengths, but they thrive on different things. The highly organized person needs structure and tidiness to feel in control and able to handle all of life’s craziness. When the home or their personal space is in disarray, they feel out of control and this causes anxiety. Free-rangers are people who feel overwhelmed with the prospect of having to keep everything looking perfect all the time. These are people who know exactly where to find something, but it might be in a place that doesn’t make sense to an organized person. They don’t necessarily prefer symmetry, and they don’t feel bothered when everything is not in it’s perfect place. This doesn’t mean they have to be messy or cluttered, they just have a different tolerance for disarray that might cause a highly organized person to feel anxious.
These people can be in a relationship together, but there needs to be some understanding about this personality difference. If you are a highly organized person who needs the structure and stability that good organization provides, but your partner is not similarly oriented, you may need to accept that you will be doing more of the organizational tasks, because it matters more to you. Likewise, if you are a free-ranger, you need to understand the anxiety that disarray can cause in your partner, and be prepared to respect your mutual space by participating in keeping things maintained. It’s always a good idea as well, to both have even a small space of your own that can organized, or not, according to personal preferences.
Why It Is Important To Understand Personality Differences in Relationships
Personality differences do not have to mean constant conflict and struggles. It is worthwhile, however, to talk about the personality differences you do have, and what they mean to how you function as a couple. Understanding each other’s needs and respecting the personality traits that you each have can help you as couple learn how to use your strengths to build a great partnership.
Compromise and understanding are part of all healthy relationships, but you can’t change your personality. Of course people grow and change over time, but there are some personality traits and preferences, like the ones listed above, that remain pretty constant over a lifetime. Couples can absolutely function and thrive with these personality differences, but it does take some communication and respect for those differences.
If you have identified some of the traits about where you think that there are some significant personality difference that impact your relationship, talk about these differences with your partner! Think about how your personality impacts what you need from your partner and where there are some areas for compromise. Talk about how the different personality traits can be a strength at different times and who is better at what when it comes to shared responsibilities.
When you understand your partner’s personality and how it affects their needs, you will be able to be a better partner as well. Communication and respect for your differences will help you use those personality traits to your advantage and build a stronger partnership along the way.
For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship” and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.
For more posts in this series, please see:
Relationship Series: Shared Values
Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy
Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership
Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication
Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship
Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership