and Learns to Ask Three Questions
After 34 years of marriage, I don’t know everything about how to build and nurture a strong, lifelong marriage. I don’t know everything about my husband. And I don’t even know everything about myself.
Perhaps that sounds like a recipe for failure.
Or maybe all that “not knowing” gives me freedom to keep learning, to keep asking questions. And maybe that can breathe life into my marriage, even after all these decades.
I have spent the last several years reading and thinking a lot about introversion. I read Susan Cain’s bestselling book, Quiet and Adam McHugh’s thoughtful volume, Introverts in the Church. I’ve also enjoyed The Powerful Purpose of Introverts by Holley Gerth. And I enjoy reading the ruminations of introverts on the IntrovertDear blog.
All of that reading and thinking spills into the conversations I have with my husband on our daily walks. It has helped us learn about each other. And ask each other some honest questions.
1. Would you call yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
Of course, we cannot overlook nuance and simply box people into just a single personality type. But we can learn some valuable information about each other by understanding where we fit in a one broad personality category.
You would think that after 34 years, my husband and I had a firm grip on our personality differences and their impact on our marriage. We did not. In fact, we have only started using the terms introvert and extrovert out loud to each other in the past few years.
I always knew my husband came alive in a room of people. I saw it over and over at family parties, around our dining room table, at a block party . . . But I didn’t know why. Turns out, like most extroverts, John draws energy from engaging with people. Susan Cain says it so well in her book Quiet: “Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slipper slopes, and cranking up the stereo” (page 11). Yep, that describes John (except for the love of slippery slopes). He is an extrovert.
While I admire John’s people-oriented personality, I have finally come to realize that I have a different personality. Susan Cain describes me well when she writes in Quiet: “Introverts . . . prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation” (page 11). Cain and countless other authors also write about introverts need large doses of quiet—it acts like fuel for them. Yep, that’s me. I am an introvert.
Once John and I unearthed our differences by naming them out loud, we grew in our appreciation for each other: “You do that well.” We also grew in our understanding of what challenged us: “This will probably feel hard for you.” And that deeper understanding strengthened our marriage.
Try This. Have you considered reading a book about introversion with your spouse and then discussing it? I highly recommend the ones mentioned above. Or have you both considered taking the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator Test online and then comparing your results?
2. What do you need from today?
I blogged about this question a few months ago. You can read it here. I can’t tell you how many times in any given week John and I use this question with each other.
The question developed from our understanding of our personality differences. As an extrovert facing a blank Saturday morning, John might need to plan people interaction. As an introvert facing a blank Saturday morning, I might long for a long nap in the quiet of our basement.
By understanding our personalities in the basic extrovert/introvert way, John knows I’ll function better when I emerge from the basement. That quiet will have fueled me. And I know that he will return from his people time with a grin on his face and a happy heart. In short, we return to each other better.
If I try to shove aside my own needs and focus solely on John’s needs, I eventually get crabby. I start to putter and spit like a car running out of gas. If John tries to ignore his need for people, he eventually get restless.
Of course, sometimes we do need to give up our need for the sake of the other’s more pressing need, but we try to do it in a way that acknowledges the others’ need: “I really would love to have you do this with me, but then when we get home, you can have the basement.”
Try this. Strike up a weekend conversation with your spouse: What do you need from today? Bonus points if you incorporate the words introvert or extrovert.
3. How do you feel about ____________________? (situation, conversation, etc.)
The more I began to understand my introverted personality, the more I began to understand why certain situations made me uncomfortable. And I began to put out-loud words to those feelings: “I know that this wedding reception will wear me out even though I really like these people. I will need to take a break at some point and go for a walk alone.”
When I could put out-loud words to my feelings, John could better understand my actions. He would know that my leaving the table didn’t represent rude behavior but rather self-care. And he could help me make that escape if I could not do it easily myself.
As an introvert, I primarily process internally. I happily dwell within my always-busy brain. In fact, I find it such a cozy spot that I sometimes forget to “use my words.” And I certainly cannot expect John to read my mind. If I want him to understand my needs, I must put words to them. Actual, spoken words.
And by asking John, “How do you feel about ________________?” I slow him down and cause him to reflect and evaluate situations. That often helps him enjoy the situation more by anticipating the joy of it: “I so look forward to talking to Steve tomorrow morning.” Or it helps him understand why he struggled with something: “That conversation felt stilted. I think the restaurant was too loud.”
No surprise that we might feel differently about the same situation or conversation. We have different personalities.
All of this data helps us understand and appreciate each other—even after 34 years.
Try This. Think about an event you and your spouse will attend in the next week. Set aside a time to ask and answer this question: How do you feel about going to this event? And then when you return from the event, set aside some more time to ask and answer this question: How did you feel at that event?
Just three questions. So worth asking and asking again. And questions that would also work well within friendships committed to honesty and growth.
We, especially we introverts, need to find our out-loud words in marriage; we need to learn to ask and answer the deep questions that will help us know ourselves better and also help us know better how to nurture a spouse.
All of this question-asking work helps cultivate a partnership, a friendship, a place where we can become more whole and more holy, more like the God who created us and gave us His good gift of marriage.